The engineering department is developing new solar panel research
Our planet has advanced technologically over the decades and this has led to a harsh environmental impact. However, technology in sustainable research has made discoveries and inventions to help preserve our planet. In support of preserving our planet, Concordia leads the Centre for Zero Energy Building Studies (CZEBS), an organization with the motive to develop buildings with less of a harmful impact on the environment. The CZEBS has been involved with the development of solar panels, with research being conducted on campus.
As the design of the John Molson Building was drafted, engineering professor Andreas Athienitis contacted those planning the design in hopes of a sustainable addition to the structure. The university wanted to create a building that was different from the others on campus. Athienitis decided he wanted to apply a specific model of solar panels to the structure, a collaborated design with several industry partners. He had strong support from the CZEBS’s government partner, CanmetENERGY, an energy technology and innovation centre within Natural Resources Canada. Natural Resources Canada aided in funding the project through the technology early action program which was created to stimulate the market for climate change research. With approval from the university, the CZEBS planned, manufactured and set up the solar panels—with the testing of these panels taking place at Concordia.
However, these are not ordinary solar panels; the combined photovoltaic and solar thermal system uses a unique ventilation system to keep the panels cool. These models are implemented with fans, passing air through the back side of the panels, which causes a more efficient generation of energy.
“On a sunny day, a 20 degree Celsius reduction on the solar panel operating temperature boosts the solar electricity generation by roughly 10 per cent,” said Costa Kapsis, a Concordia PhD engineering student involved in research of CZEBS solar panels under Professor Athienitis’ supervision. “We [then] collect the air heated by the rear side of the solar panels with a fan and use it as preheated air in the building.”
The CZEBS is a partner within the Concordia-led Smart Net-zero Energy Buildings Strategic Research Network (SNEBRN) which is part of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). This research council is a network, which connects 29 Canadian researchers from 15 different universities to create commercial buildings and homes that are smart net-zero energy structures. These are structures that rely on sustainable energy generated by solar panels which provide heat and electricity to the building. The CZEBS is a leading research group within SNEBRN, which received a $5 million in funding from the NSERC between 2011-2016.
The Varennes municipal library, located south of Montreal in the city of Varennes is the first building in Canada to be a net-zero energy structure. The building was developed by the CZEBS and opened to the public in summer of 2015. This the largest photovoltaic installation in Quebec and the first commercial building in Canada to generate as much energy as it consumes, said Kapsis.
The CZEBS develops these buildings and solar panels, while these solar panels are created by mainly Canadian producers that can export this technology to other countries. This project not only gives life to buildings which can naturally generate enough energy to efficiently self-power themselves, but it teaches students renewable building energy and gives them work experience.
The solar panels are tested in Concordia’s very own solar simulator, located in the basement of the Hall building. Different tests are made to produce sustainable energy through the aid of natural sun, wind, temperature and pressure. The research lab has the ability to mimic the temperature of a certain environment and has the unique ability to test models of varying sizes.
The solar simulator and environmental chamber, located in the basement of the Hall building, has eight special lamps which imitate a daylight spectrum with an artificial sky used to eliminate any infrared radiation. The chamber tests if the solar panels will work in real life conditions. Engineering student Zissis Ionidis, who has been involved with the project, said the solar panels contain dials which, when exposed to light, cause electrons to move, generating electricity.
Research continues to be done to improve the efficiency of the photovoltaic system within the solar panel.
“[The solar panel will] create more electricity depending on sun radiation,” Ionidis said. “This is better in winter because the lower the temperature, the higher the efficiency.”
Ionidis also explained that “cooling [the solar panels] down prevents them from emitting heat from glasses.”
PhD candidate in building engineering Vasken Dermardiros commented that the soil simulator environmental chamber could “go from 50 C, like Dubai weather, down to -40 C, like Yukon. We can also play around with the humidity of the chamber.”
Athienitis said there are plans to use their solar panels on commercial and public buildings and how other buildings on Concordia’s campus could benefit from solar panels.