Solar Colwood: Engaging Community in Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy
In 2015, the community of Colwood BC completed its four year community wide mission to engage local citizens in energy saving and GHG reducing initiatives within their homes and municipality.
As a result of this project, Colwood has now earned a place as one of Canada’s leading communities in energy conservation and renewable energy.
Solar Colwood was a community-wide project that engaged residents of Colwood BC in renewable energy and energy saving projects in their homes and local community. This project was developed in response to findings published by Colwood’s Task Force on Energy and Emissions which showed that, in order for the community to reach its Climate Action Charter commitments, existing buildings in the community would need to be retrofitted with renewable energy and energy saving upgrades.
The four-year project was completed in 2015 and resulted in over 500 residents (3.11% of the population) achieving over 1000 improvements in their community. These improvements included installing solar hot water systems, ductless split heat pumps, electric vehicle charging stations, solar photovoltaics, and smart home monitoring systems. The City also provided free energy and water savings kits and discounted EnerGuide home evaluations to enable home and business owners to access incentives for upgrades from various incentive programs. Colwood became a Canadian leader in per capita solar retrofits and the City of Colwood redefined itself as a regional and provincial leader in energy conservation and renewable energy.
Solar Colwood was supported through the Federal Government’s Clean Energy Fund. Additional funding and technical support was contributed by Solar Colwood’s other partners including: The T’Sou-ke First Nation, Royal Roads University, Horizon Technologies, SolarBC, League Assets, the Province of British Columbia, Camosun College Pipe Trades Department, Horizon Technologies, B.C. Hydro, Fortis BC, Ministries of the Province of British Columbia, SolarBC, The Canadian Solar Cities Project, The WestShore Chamber of Commerce, Vancity’s Bright Ideas, The New Car Dealers Association of BC, The Capital Regional District.
Energy Savings/GHG reductions
The original energy and emissions target of over 33% GHG reduction for existing buildings when compared to the 2007 baseline was exceeded. On average, household upgrades implemented through the Solar Colwood project resulted in a community wide energy savings of 4.96 million kWh/year (enough to power 182 average homes in BC) and greenhouse gas reductions of 651 tonnes of C02e/year (the equivalent of taking 119 cars off the road each year).
The reductions in energy use measured per household participating in Solar Colwood were higher than those experienced with other programs. The Royal Roads University’s Monitoring Study identified that Solar Colwood participating households reduced energy consumption on average by 37% two years after the installation while GHG emissions were reduced by 43% on average over the same study period.
Single family homes participating in both ecoENERGY and LiveSmart BC incentive programs achieved an average energy savings of only 15-28% annually. The higher average annual energy savings experienced by Solar Colwood program participants is attributed to residents completing multiple upgrades in addition to installing solar hot water. Reductions can also be attributed to participants changing behavior as a result of them committing to take on an energy leadership role in the community.
“We’ve reduced our energy consumption and GHG emissions, improved our community’s resilience, supported local clean energy jobs, and gained local and international recognition.” – Colwood Mayor, Carol Hamilton
Providing a clear business case to residents was key to Solar Colwood’s success. Solar Colwood provided customized analysis for each potential participant on the costs and energy savings that would be achieved through the upgrades the City was providing incentives for. Residents were also provided discounted home energy evaluations so that they could make informed choices priorities for energy upgrades.
The business case for the overall Solar Colwood program is solid. The Solar Colwood project cost approximately $11.9 M and was partially funded with $3.9 million worth of grants from Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Energy Fund. The total energy savings resulting from this project represented a collected reduced energy cost in the community of an estimated $525,552 every year at current energy prices. This equals more money for residents to purchase goods and services in the community. In addition, the project generated almost $2.7M of in-kind support.
In addition to reducing GHG emissions and reducing energy consumption in the area, Solar Colwood generated several co-benefits.
- Colwood is now a Canadian leader in per-capita solar thermal retrofits, second only to the T’Sou-ke First Nation with a total of 82 private solar hot water systems installed across the entire Capital Region.
- One of the outcomes of the program was a strong demand for the ductless heat pumps technology with 100% of available incentive funds fully allocated for the installation of 120 heat pumps well before the project’s end.
- Eleven T’Sou-ke Nation members became CanSIA certified solar installers. The training and work experience provided through Solar Colwood not only provided skills and jobs in solar installation, but also provided encouragement and confidence for trainees. Additionally, four solar installers received Solar Colwood scholarships for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Entry Level Solar.
- Solar Colwood directly supported the development of new energy conservation and heating system technologie such as “Smart Home For Us”, which is a unique monitoring and management system that improves energy literacy to encourage reduced energy waste.
- By driving local demand for solar thermal technology, Solar Colwood indirectly supported the development of the CamoSun solar hot water system designed by a local company, Pacific Solar Smart, with assistance from Camosun College.
- Solar Colwood helped reduce annual water consumption by 11.4 million litres by providing free Tap by Tap energy and water saving kits.
- Colwood residents are able to power their vehicles with solar electricity they’ve harvested on their own rooftops.
- Program participants are enjoying financial benefits too. Collective reduced energy costs from upgrades incentivized and/or promoted by Solar Colwood are estimated to be over half a million dollars ($525,552) every year at current energy prices.
- Colwood’s Fire Station was equipped with solar thermal and solar PV systems that are now providing renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and shrinking the City’s energy bills.
The Value of Human Capital in Community-wide Projects
The process of organizing and implementing the Solar Colwood project showed that these kinds of projects depend on the leadership, co-operation and shared ambition of many individuals. Installers, suppliers and energy advisors are a valuable resource for marketing these types of programs. Likewise, having support and champions on council and among staff is essential. All departments, especially Finance, Building, Planning and Engineering must be involved.
The Benefits of Low Cost, Low Barrier, Climate Actions
Solar Colwood’s success demonstrates that incorporating low‐cost, low‐barrier measures to achieve GHG reductions in a large number of buildings can be a very effective way to work toward achieving GHG reduction targets
Community-wide Change Takes Time
Public understanding of the benefits of solar technology can take years to develop. For local governments aiming to encourage the development of emerging industries, long-term support is highly recommended.
Flexibility is Key to Success
Every community is different so taking an adaptive approach to learning is very important. . Maintaining a flexible approach to renewable energy, energy efficiency and smart home initiatives is especially important as these technologies are rapidly evolving. Staying up to date and keeping programs flexible allows communities to respond to and take advantage of these changes.
Large Upfront Costs and Long Payback Periods
While there is a solid business case for solar hot water systems and other energy retrofits for suitable buildings in Colwood, home and business owners are still reluctant to invest their money upfront to benefit from savings in the long term. Future programs must continue to experiment with measures to overcome this barrier.
More details on this project are outlined in the Solar Colwood Outreach Report.
Local Government Contact
Communications Manager, City of Colwood