July 24, 2008

A Unique Solar Powered Community in Canada

by Mahesh Basantani

Drake Landing Solar Community, Drake Landing Alberta Canada, solar thermal community Canada, solar thermal community, solar thermal energy, solar thermal heating, Okotoks solar community, drake1.jpg

The Drake Landing Solar Community is the first solar powered community of North America. Located in the town of Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, the project sets a wonderful example of how every household can lead a sustainable lifestyle. There are 800 solar panels located throughout the community on garage roofs, and they produce 1.5 mega-watts of thermal power during a summer day and supply heat to the district heating system. The whole system meets 90% of the annual heating and hot water needs of the homes.

Drake Landing Solar Community, Drake Landing Alberta Canada, solar thermal community Canada, solar thermal community, solar thermal energy, solar thermal heating, Okotoks solar community, drake2.jpg

The 52-home solar community has installed an array of solar panels on the roofs of their houses and garages. Glycol solution runs through an insulated piping system, or collector loop, that connects the array of solar panels. The solar panels absorb the solar energy during the daytime and heat the glycol solution. The glycol solution travels through the collector loop and reaches an underground heat exchanger within the community’s centralized Energy Center. The heat is then transferred from heat exchanger to the water stored in a short-term storage tank. The glycol solution returns to the solar collector system. The Energy Center has short-term thermal storage tanks and long-thermal storage tanks (Borehole Thermal Energy Storage (BTES) system).

During the warmer months the heated water is transferred to the underground borehole thermal energy storage (BTES) system via a series of pipes. The water heats up the surrounding earth increasing the temperature to 80 degrees C (176 °F). The water returns to the short-term storage tanks to be heated again. The heat is stored underground insulated with sand, high-density R-40 insulation, a waterproof membrane, clay, and other landscaping materials. The stored heat is used to provide heat and hot water to the entire community throughout the winter.

The homes are moderately sized, ranging from 1,492 to 1,664 square feet, and have low energy demands, suitable to work with the system. The homes are located close to one another, which provides a walkable neighborhood, and reduces the lengths that the fluid for the solar heating system needs to travel. Water conservation has been made mandatory in the homes. The homes have been built using locally manufactured materials, and recycled material too has been used in construction. The homes will be certified to Natural Resources Canada’s R-2000 Standard for energy efficiency, and the Built Green™ Alberta program. The precedence set by the Drake Landing Solar Community can serve as an example for every community.

+ Drake Landing Solar Community

Via Green Building Elements

Drake Landing Solar Community, Drake Landing Alberta Canada, solar thermal community Canada, solar thermal community, solar thermal energy, solar thermal heating, Okotoks solar community, drake3.jpg

Drake Landing Solar Community, Drake Landing Alberta Canada, solar thermal community Canada, solar thermal community, solar thermal energy, solar thermal heating, Okotoks solar community, drake4.jpg

GE - Imagination at work

24 Responses to “A Unique Solar Powered Community in Canada”

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And how much energy do residents of this development use to drive to and from work/the grocery store etc? And how much fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide are they contributing to the watershed with their green lawns? Like Civano, this devlopment is simply a token “green” neighborhood made for the middle class so they can feel somehow less guilty about their consumeristic lifestyle. Those who live in walking/biking distance to work in an apartment surely use less energy than these folks.

Brian Lang
Brian Lang Says:

I think it’s disappointing that the back lanes appear to be paved. Why not use some kind of porus material to help with run off? Like Chicago’s Green Lanes initiative.

Brian Lang
Brian Lang Says:

Also, why use forced air heating? Why not in-floor radiant heating?

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sandmansd Says:

Christysixty…. This is a step in the right direction. Most likely if the developer hadn’t built this solar community, someone else would have built a less efficient one. So how is this as bad or worse than that? It seems to me like it’s better. Not to mention, if they took steps to conserve energy and water, don’t you think they also considered the landscaping?

I found this development on Google Earth, and I have to say, you should try doing some research before bashing projects like this as being all about making middle class folks feel less guilty about being consumers…. The town of Okotoks looks like a great little bikeable/walkable town, and this development is actually quite close to the center of it.


Considering this is right next to the heart of Alberta Oil country, I’m pretty impressed. Good to see the built-green standard being used and referenced, I think it is a viable cost effective alternative to the LEED program.

pinkrobe Says:

I’ll agree with sandmansd to a point. Okotoks is a tidy little town that is fairly walkable. This development is a wonderful example of what you can do with a standard subdivision to make it more energy efficient. As buildings represent about 50% of all energy use in Canada, that’s an important step in the right direction.

Unfotunately, it’s a bedroom community for the city of Calgary [NE of Okotoks]. I don’t know exactly how many of the people in Okotoks commute to Calgary to work, but it is a significant portion. There isn’t a whole lot of work in Okotoks beyond a smallish mall and various Mom & Pop shops. Commuters would need to drive 20 km to Calgary just to get to public transit. If they drive all the way downtown in their predominantly single-occupant vehicles, it would be almost 100km round-trip.

Regardless of the drawbacks with this development, it’s a huge improvement over neighbouring Calgary’s sprawling ‘burbs and unwalkable subdivisions.

@ Brian Lang - I imagine forced-air heat was a cheaper building method than radiant heat, which is not very common outside of million-dollar homes here. Convincing buyers to live smaller isn’t easy, where a starter home for young professionals runs 2200 sqft. Competing on price [and guilt] is a common strategy for “green” communities.

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seamusdubh Says:

A step in the right direction. Maybe add an extra loop in the roads to capture even more energy during the hot summer days.

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davefp Says:

@christysixty: Have you ever seen Canada? It’s REALLY BIG. It’s the second largest country on the planet (Russia is bigger). living within ‘walking/biking distance’ just isn’t possible for a lot of people. Vehicles are essential for anyone in a rural area.

@Brian Lang: I doubt that a porus road surface would survive a Canadian Winter ™. The regular roads suffer pretty badly, I’m willing to bet that surfaces that are *designed* to absorb moisture would crack horribly when frozen repeatedly.

My opinion is that this is a great idea, any move away from fossil fuels towards clean sources of energy gets a thumbs up from me.

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Morridin19 Says:

I just stumbled on this site and amazingly enough I work for a company that provided building materials for this project. They built some of the houses out of Structurally Insulated Panels, which instead of 2×4 frame construction consists of 2 wood skins between an high density structural polyurathane foam. The resulting increase in insulation and lack of thermal bridges brings an approximate 55% reduction in heating requirements for the houses.

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discoblue Says:

I know there are a lot of things that we could pick apart about it not being right in a lot of ways, about how something could be done better, and I agree they haven’t gone all the way, but at least it is a step in the right direction. These people are likely paying a significant cost to be eco-friendly, so at least they are putting their money in a good direction. There are a lot of people who want to be able to do something, but their ability to go all out is not readily available, so good on them for choosing something positive.

hambargarz Says:

I support the energy savings, but the housing looks a bit space inefficient. I think the amount of fuel per resident used would greatly outweigh the benefits of the amount of electricity produced. I hate to bash the project, but don’t like how they have chosen a high fuel guzzling location to build it.

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jard Says:

Okotoks is a great town… very green thinking. They have a population cap of 30,000 (at ~20,000 now), though many people live in the surrounding rural areas. Many commute to Calgary and take public transit there (I am the opposite…I live on the edge of Calgary, and travel to Okotoks by carpool), which though unfortunately does mean driving, it is only a 20 min drive to the nearest Calgary train station. In this part of the province, driving is needed as places are so far apart, but good roads and low density mean the commute is not that long. The town has a wonderful recycling plant (better than Calgary’s, though it does not need to handle the same volume), and they have many water awareness campaigns. Mike Holms (of “Holms on Homes” fame) has decided to make a new green, sustainable district along with the town.

goober Says:

christysixty stfu…you are a beating. at least they are trying to make a change. quit beating everybody down by being so negative and support at least the effort. life is too short to be as bitter as you are.

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ethiconsu Says:

I agree, this is a step in the right direction. Any step toward using less fossil fuels is going to help. You have to remember developments like these are the testbeds for the future. Once all the kinks are worked out we may see new developments that are better and more efficient. Mahesh, thanks for this contribution!

Probatus Says:

Brian Lang Says:
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July 24th, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Also, why use forced air heating? Why not in-floor radiant heating?
Brian, I live an hour away from this place. Have you ever used infloor radiant heating in -40c ? In floor heating doesn’t keep you warm like air does and cannot keep the ice buildup on windows.

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chrisp68 Says:

I’m glad they left some trees standing… the community is not green it is gray. Why detach the garage and have a paved backyard? It’s just another developer trying to make a buck by throwing on some panels, claiming forward thinking and packing the homes together. Why did they even bother to leave space between the homes? It’s just that much more construction labor, materials, waste etc. etc. that goes along with this ridiculous style of building!!!! If Canada is so big, why is your neighbor 3 feet (sorry 1 meter) away?

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This is a fantastic experiment in sustainable community living. Compromises had to be made to make the project work in Alberta\’s very harsh climate (paved lanes, forced air heat) Not every component can be 100% green because it hasn\’t been developed or practical yet. Having lived in Okotoks, it is indeed a wonderful progressive, walkable community. It also has excellent commuter bus service to Calgary, no cars necessary! The houses are single detached because what’s being demonstrated is how “normal” your life can be while being environmentally progressive, owning a detached single family home is the gold standard for most Canadians. Drake Landing shows the county you don\’t have to live in a hippie commune to be environmentally responsible.
cristysixty makes an excellent example of why people want to move away from the arrogant, unfriendly urban centres and into the countryside.

chrisp68 Says:

it’s called waste having the houses that close and not attaching them! You could easliy get the last 10% of the heating plus some left over for electric for the homes. How normal is to have an detached house right next to your neighbor? they should have put all the garages in one location and only foot paths to the homes. that would force you into the outdoors, which everyone could use more of… cold or not.

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DRJG Says:

That was wonderful to see some beginning.

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jneville Says:

It is a start. When I saw the link to the story, I thought it was about a community running on solar energy. I was disappointed to see it was just a group of housing with solar heating. It would have been impressive to read about a community that was off grid with PV and thermal solar - along with non-fossil fuel vehicles, local shops, local foods, etc. It\\\’s coming…we hope. Visit for more ideas.

Ommid Saberi

It is a great development, fantastic job. Better if the houses are not repeated with the same shape. Some changes in height or form could make a sense of identity for each house. The renewbles technologies could be a beauty not only our energy servants. (Ommid Saberi 28 July 2008)

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andar909 Says:

hi, andar here, i just read your post. i like very much. agree to you, sir.

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I bet this would work great in Hawaii. I wish we had more new homes like this in the United states.

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