SAINT JOHN– The Social Enterprise Hub in Saint John, a building that houses non-profits and social enterprises, will soon be home to the city’s largest rooftop solar installation.
The Saint John Community Loan Fund has partnered with NexGen Energy, the Saint John Learning Exchange and Hemmings House for the project, which is being funded by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation (ESIC).
The installation of solar panels began Tuesday and is expected take until June 29 to complete. Hemmings House Pictures has been on site filming the journey, which will be shared at a later date.
Seth Askimakos, general manager and co-founder of the Saint John Community Loan Fund, says when the Social Enterprise Hub was being built a few years back, solar power was always part of the plan.
“It’s always been there as far a being an innovative hub. We’re a collaborative enterprising centre and we focus on poverty reduction, but I think innovation has expanded to what are sustainable communities? What are inclusive communities? What are innovative communities?” says Asimakos.
“If we’re constructing a really neat building, it only makes sense to put solar on the roof. To me, it was always there. It was just trying to put together the financing for it.”
The solar panels will deliver an 18kWp with 18.99MWh of annual production. The project is expected to recover costs and create positive cash flow by saving around $83,000 over its 25+ years lifespan.
The annual production works out to be about 15.6 tonnes of greenhouse gasses, or the emissions from three passenger vehicles each year. During peak periods, when generation is greater than consumption, the excess energy will be fed into the grid via a net-metering agreement with Saint John Energy.
Askimakos says the project has what he calls a “triple bottom line.” It’s not just good for the environment and finances, but it’s giving some people from the Saint John Learning Exchange’s GOALS Program and OutFlow’s Catapult business on-the-job experience too. Once the project is completed, it will also serve as an educational tool for the public.
“It doesn’t stop there because for us it has to continue to be a learning opportunity. We want to leverage that by putting a widget on our website which basically monitors the hourly production by the panels,” says Askimakos. “Anybody can look at what 60 panels are producing on any given day depending on how much sun we have. That’s open-source data for people to play with.”
The solar installation will also be used for ongoing education for students and youth.
“We also want to go further and create a specific learning opportunity where we bring people in and take a look at the actual installations. We’ll have a deck up there and have an interpretation plaque that explains what’s happening,” says Asimakos.
“Then hopefully with youth, we can take them into a classroom setting and put an actual power pack together that’s based on solar power, so they really see what can be done and what the future is.”
The solar panels along with its online tracking widget are expected to be completely operational in about a month. The rooftop deck will be constructed soon after. Asimakos hopes the project will show others in the city the switch to solar power is possible.
“I think that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not an environmental agency, but we’re an organization that tries to innovate and creates sustainable communities and I think this is part of it,” he says.
“Hopefully it will be the start of many. It’s the biggest one right now, but I’m sure it won’t stay the biggest very long. That’s my hope, anyway. There are a lot of flat roofs in and around Saint John and I think this is just a spark to get things going.”