Alberta is known as Sunny Alberta because it has more hours of sunshine a year than any other province in Canada; sunshine is the most abundant renewable ressource in Alberta. This combined with the price of solar panels continually dropping, and the price of electricity slowly urching upwards - result in a great opportunity for commercial solar power opportunities.
Solar panels will last a long time - most reputable solar panel suppliers offer a 25 year performance warranty where after the 25th year the solar panels are guaranteed to produce 80% of what they did when you first bought them. We can speculate comparing to other industries that if the warranty is offered for 25 years, that the panels will continue to produce power beyond that time. It isn't uncommon for the industry to predict solar panels lasting 30 years when calculating return on investment for owners.
So if the solar panels are going to last 30 years, the plan for where the solar panels will be installed on your building becomes even more important; the roof is often a good candidate, and so the roof must have the appropriate structure to handle to load (both the self weight of the solar panels and the uplift from the wind load) and the roof membrane must have a lifespan of 30 years or more to ensure the return on the solar power investment is protected.
If you are keen to do more research on your own before pursuing solar power for your commercial building, the document in the link below was published by the US Department of Energy is a good ressource.
A conventional wind turbine converts 80 to 90 percent of the kinetic energy of its spinning rotor into electricity. This is a good conversion rate - though in order to justify the investment from both an economic and environmental perspective - you have to have enough wind speed. There are some regions of Alberta that have sufficient wind speed to justify investment in wind power. The windspeed around your building should be consistantly over 20 km/h; though it should be understood that the measure of windspeed is not to be taken at ground level but rather at the elevation where the wind turbines would be located.
The economics of wind power in the commercial context become more cost effective when using economy of scale, though this also requires a bigger capital investment. Thebigger the area you have to work with, the more cost effective your installation will become the more attractive your return on investment will be.
Unlike solar power systems which don't require a great deal of ongoing maintenance - wind power systems do. If you don't maintain your wind turbine, your system will prematurely wear out and the value of your asset will be compromised.
Although the link below is geared for smaller systems and not necessarily commercial ones, National Ressources Canada has put together a buyer's guide for wind turbines. It is thorough enough to give the reader an understanding of what is involved when moving forward with a wind turbine project.
As a developer looking at a combination of developments in an area of close proximity, often district energy systems can offer attractive return on investment and large carbon footprint reductions; more and more utility companies are joining these types of projects along side developers primarily based on the return on investment but also to add to their green portfolio and company image.
Renewable district energy systems can draw their "fuel" from a variety of sources such as geothermal, solar, biomass, rivers, lakes, heat from wastewater, etc.
Though it isn't very common to see these types of projects in Alberta.
Alberta lags behind other provinces in the pursuit of renewable district energy systems primarily because we have enjoyed such an abundance of fossil fuels and haven't been forced to think of cost effective alternatives. I find that the saying typically holds true that "necessity is the mother of invention". Hopefully moving forward we can be open minded to cost effective district energy systems that are also kind to our planet.
Some examples of successful district energy systems in Canada are shown below.
Richmond, BC. geoexchange district energy system: heating and cooling.
Toronto, ON. geoexchange district energy system: cooling.
Vancouver, BC. heat recovery district energy system: heating.
Geothermal is a deep well renenwable energy system used to produce electricity. Geoexchange is a shallower version of geothermal, and used for heating and cooling purposes. Although the title of this section is geothermal, for the sake of viability on commercial projects, we will discuss geoexchange. The title geothermal is used because the word resonates more with most people for the application than compared to geoexchange.
Geoexchange can be an attractive option for commercial buildings in that it isn’t just the heating load in the winter that can be addressed but the cooling load in the summer where there is a high air conditioning load.
There is a general misconception geoexchange doesn't have a solid return on investment and that these systems can be plagued with performance and maintenance issues.
When it comes to return on investment, the low price of natural gas generally leads people to believe the pay back is not very attractive. Though with commercial buildings especially, this is not the case. The pay back can be on par with, or better than, other renewable energy investments if the system is designed correctly with proper constructability in mind. Consider that a properly designed geothermal system can eliminate many of the mechanical equipment typically used for HVAC systems commercially - combine this with proper constructability, and the pay back can be less than 5 years on many commercial projects.
In terms of the performance of geoexchange systems, as long as the system is flushed and commissioned properly, it will perform as it was intended. Finally with respect to the maintenance of the system, there will be some maintenance involved - though this would be the same amount of maintenance that you would expect for a regular HVAC system and not as much as would be required for say a wind power system.
The Pembina Institute has an informative fact sheet on geothermal and geoexchange systems and can be found by clicking on the link below.
Economy of scale comes into play when considering a commercial opportunity for renewable energy; the economics are more appealing than as compared to smaller systems intended for domestic use. The canadian government also offers tax incentives towards depreciation of renewable energy investments which help improve the financial viability. As is the case when considering any type of infrastructure investment - working capital, return on investment and market conditions often dictate the best choices owners can make when pursuing renewable energy. Though it is becoming increasingly popular for clients to pursue renewable energy investments based on environmental merits, so that owners can make a statement supporting a lower carbon footprint.
The below provide an overview of some of the opportunities and considerations for commercial renewable energy projects.