Edmonton’s Earth Day concert shows off solar energy

By MaxRausch

By Maxwell Rausch, Jesse Snyder and Rob Smethurst

April 25, 2010

EDMONTON—Edmonton’s Earth Day festival reached its 21st anniversary Sunday, April 18th, and for the first time it staged an all-acoustic concert powered completely by solar energy.

The power for the concert was supplied by Rob Harlan, executive director of the Solar Energy Society of Northern Alberta, who teamed up with Mike Kurylo of FM Systems sound company to produce the energy for the event.

Seven-year old Katherine Jameson waits for a batch of cookies from Rob Harlan's oven, powered entirely by solar energy. Photo by—Maxwell Rausch

“It worked better than I ever thought it could,” Kurylo said. “It was a one hundred per cent experiment: we hadn’t had a chance to test it.”

Harlin’s Solar Trailer

The energy came from Harlan’s photovoltaic array, built into his trailer purchased by the Solar Energy Society. The trailer powered the acoustic concert for five hours on less than 15 amps, generated entirely from the ambient sunlight that afternoon.

“We weren’t even close to using up all the power,” Kurylo said. “We ran totally off the panels.”

The Solar Energy Society purchased the trailer “as a demonstration of solar technologies,” said Harlan.

The trailer sports features resembling a system one would find in an off-grid home:

  • Five solar (photovoltaic) panels, comprising a 720-watt system.
  • The capacity to generate its own electricity and store with batteries.
  • A solar heating system to provide hot water
  • A solar oven for baking that heats up solely by the power of the sun’s rays

Up-front Cost

While solar energy is creeping into the mainstream, it has yet to be embraced by the majority of the public. Harlan believes price is the main factor behind its lukewarm reception.

“The economics of [solar power] are different than your utility bill in that you pay up-front for a system and then your savings are over time,” said Harlan.

Harlan’s 720-watt system is relatively small, but costs about $12,000 on top of the $10,000 trailer.

However, the price of solar energy is dropping, while Edmontonians’ utility bills continue to increase by 4.4 per cent each year, according to Harlan.

“At a certain point…you get what’s called ‘grid parody’ when the systems get cheap enough that solar electricity is equivalent to getting electricity from another source, such as coal, natural gas, or nuclear,” said Harlan.

Once grid parody occurs, said Harlan, “everyone will be interested in it, because it just makes economic sense.”


Small-scale application

Solar power is a renewable and readily available energy source, but is highly dependent on the weather. Sunday was bright and sunny, allowing the concert to run purely on solar rays. On a cloudy day, Kurylo likely would have had to dip into the reserve battery power.

“Here in Alberta, here in Canada, our weather is so unpredictable. Last two years at this time, we had a blizzard one year, and a snowstorm last year,” said Kurylo.

Even on an ideal day like Sunday, the solar trailer could only provide enough energy to power a small acoustic venue. Regardless of the weather, said Kurylo, a full-scale electric concert would still be impossible to power on solar energy alone.

“Will concert stages ever run on solar? Maybe one day. But not in my lifetime,” said Kurylo.

Awareness and Education

While solar energy is slowly catching on, Harlan and the Solar Energy Society continue their quest to spread awareness and education about the feasibility of solar energy in Alberta.

Harlan said the Solar Energy Society “is devoted to education,” and are offering two courses this spring through Grant MacEwan University:

  • A renewable energy course for the general public designed to be accessible to the general public
  • A specialized class in photovoltaics for the technically savvy.

The Society is also slated to exhibit their trailer at a series of schools in the Edmonton area.

While the mainstream has yet to embrace solar energy, events like the Edmonton Earth Day festival give the Solar Energy Society an outlet to demonstrate up-and-coming technology.

“It gives the Solar Society…a really good idea of what we can do. Maybe next year we can fire up more,” said Kurylo, referring to the success of the concert’s success this year.

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