Calgary mall solar installation successful in putting power back into grid

A hurdle to adding solar that feeds back into the grid in high-density areas has been overcome by a Calgary utility and shopping centre.

Thursday, Enmax and Cadillac Fairview announced their 53,000 square foot solar panel pilot on the roof of the CF Chinook Centre mall was successful in putting electricity back into the grid, a first for secondary networks.

Secondary networks serve electricity to high-density areas of the city through an interconnected web of transformers. Enmax said secondary networks provide high reliability for the users, but weren’t previously able to export power back into the greater grid.

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The Chinook Centre system uses specialized hardware, software and communications systems that facilitate the two-way power flow while maintaining safety and reliability.

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“The success of this pilot is an exciting step forward in enabling customers on our secondary network to adopt renewable energy options such as solar and battery storage,” Enmax president Jana Mosley said in a statement.

“This innovative solution will give urban customers – both in Calgary and potentially across North America – more choice in how they generate and use electricity while maintaining a safe, reliable grid.”

Most parts of the city’s grid is capable of two-way power flow, allowing customers with solar panels to get credits for excess electricity from solar generation.

The pilot between Calgary’s largest retail complex and the city-owned utility started in April 2021, and involved enough solar photovoltaic panels to cover approximately three hockey rinks. The system has generated over 600,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) since its installation, and has exported 5,425 kWh back into the grid since May – enough to power a typical-sized home for 10 months.

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Cadillac Fairview’s VP of sustainability, energy and smart technology called it an “exciting turning point” in the corporation’s sustainability and carbon footprint reduction journey.

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“Through our partnership with ENMAX, we’re able to make collaborative and impactful environmental change that will help to efficiently power neighbouring communities moving forward,” Karen Jalon said in a statement.

The solar panels are a start to help the city achieve its climate strategy goals of having 15 per cent of residential electricity demands offset by rooftop solar installations by 2030, and 60 per cent by 2050.

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