Solar Power and the Waterloo Co-operative Residence Inc. (WCRI): A Bright Idea?

Mike Amaral, Tom Bird, Michelle Colin, Elizabeth Nguyen, Christine Rikley

Course: ERS250 (Winter 2002)

Supervisor: Susan Wismer

1.0 Executive Summary

This study examined the feasibility of implementing a solar electric photovoltaic system at 139 University Avenue, the Waterloo Co-operative Residence Inc. (WCRI) presently being considered for renovation/reconstruction. This residence is a part of the WCRI student housing cooperative and this study was initiated at the request of a number of tenants from the residence. These tenants desired to have a WATgreen project designated to investigate options to improve the environmental quality of their building and have these options included in the renovation plans for their residence.

This study investigated the following question: Is it feasible to implement a solar power configuration at 139 University Avenue? The term feasibility was examined in the context of economic and technical practicality and the level of desirability of the tenants for solar power. Information on economic and technical practicality was attained through literature reviews and interviews with solar power system distribution companies. Information on tenant level of desirability was attained through a survey. The results of these aspects are discussed and recommendations for how the WCRI residence should proceed are provided.


Table of Contents

1.0 Executive Summary pg. 1

2.0 Introduction pg. 3

3.0 Rational pg. 3

4.0 Purpose pg. 5

5.0 Background Information

5.1 WCRI pg.6

5.2 Electrical Generation pg. 6

6.0 Description of Actors pg. 10

7.0 Research Methods pg. 12

8.0 Results of Interviews pg. 14

9.0 The Survey pg. 16

9.1 Survey Results pg. 17

9.2 Interpretation of Survey Results pg. 20

10.0 Limitations pg. 20

11.0 Bias and Assumptions pg. 21

12.0 Conclusions pg. 22

13.0 Recommendations pg. 23

14.0 Acknowledgements pg. 26

Bibliography pg. 27

Appendix 1 pg. 30

Appendix 2 pg. 32


2.0 Introduction

The WCRI residence at 139 University Avenue is being considered for either a major renovation or a complete reconstruction within the next two years. The proposed funds allotted for this project are approximately $5,000,000 for redevelopment or $6,000,000 for reconstruction of the building (WCRI 2002). As this is a cooperative residence, the tenants have the ability to influence the proposed changes. A number of tenants formed the WCRI Redevelopment Committee and approached Patti Cook, chair of the University of Waterloo’s WATgreen program, to request that research be done to explore the different environmentally conscious options that could be incorporated into the new building design.

A main principle of the WATgreen program, as noted in its "vision statement" is the intention for students "to improve the quality of their environment, while decreasing the overall operating cost of the University" (WATgreen 2002). This study, which examines the potential for implementing solar power at the WCRI residence, was conducted as part of the WATgreen program and to fulfill the course requirements of ERS 250. This study is germane to the principles of the WATgreen program as a solar power system both reduces reliance on fossil fuels for energy and has the potential to reduce costs by producing its own energy instead of purchasing it from a utility.

3.0 Rationale

Sustainability is the ability of humanity to ensure it meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In today’s society, this ability to sustain future generations is jeopardized by the methods humans take to fulfill their needs and wants. With respect to Ontario’s electricity production, nuclear generation accounts for almost half of the province’s electricity needs. Almost one quarter of Ontario’s Power Generation electricity production is done using fossil fuels (Ontario Power Generation, 2002). Nuclear fission creates materials that remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years, making it next to impossible to ensure that any underground storage site can remain safe for its life cycle duration. As well, after thirty-five years or so, the entire nuclear power plant must be decommissioned at a very high financial and environmental cost (Go-Green, 2001). The large amount of persistent air emissions generated by coal burning plants contributes to global warming, acid rain, and various health ailments (Go-Green, 2001). These implications of Ontario’s electricity generating methods make them dangerous and a burden to the future populations of the province. According to the definition above, this makes them unsustainable.

Electricity generation by the sun’s radiation through photovoltaic (PV) systems has no consumption of non-renewable resources, no waste or byproducts, and provides electricity that is generated at the spot needed, therefore side-stepping the energy needed to transport from the source (Strong, 2002). This bypassing of the costs that are usually transferred on to future generations through traditional energy production methods makes photovoltaic systems more sustainable than the previous methods. Because of this, solar energy production should be used more within the province of Ontario, as well as elsewhere.

As more universities and colleges around North America begin to adopt solar energy within their electric supply, the University of Waterloo is left behind without this innovative and fast growing trend. With declining oil reserves, escalating energy prices and the deregulation of the energy sector, solar energy production within the University would prove to be economically stable. Also, with declining air quality, increased land degradation from mines, and increased public awareness of the implications of traditional energy production, the introduction of a solar energy system within the University would be socially advantageous and a right step in the direction of environmental awareness and innovative thinking.

In addition to these numerous environmental reasons, solar power is worth considering due to its increasing market presence and its potential for net metering – a situation where the solar power system produces excess energy that is sold back to the electrical utility. The solar power industry has been growing at a rate of 40% per year (Strong 2002) and there are several examples of solar power applications being used in Southwestern Ontario (Arise 2002). Based on all this information, our group decided to investigate whether or not there was a suitable solar power application for the WCRI residence at 139 University Avenue. As this research is essentially being done on behalf of the WCRI Redevelopment Committee, we consulted with them and found them to be amenable to our research proposal.

4.0 Purpose

The purpose of this study is to analyze the possibility of implementing solar power at the WCRI cooperative residence at 139 University Avenue using a qualitative research approach to determine the practicality and demand for such technology and convey the results to the WCRI Redevelopment Committee.

Research question: Is it feasible to implement a solar power configuration at 139 University Avenue?

The term feasibility was addressed in the following contexts:

Economic feasibility – will the implementation of a solar power system fit within the constraints of the renovation/reconstruction budget, and will it have the potential for reducing tenant costs through net metering?

Technological feasibility – is the present level of solar power technology sufficient in regards to efficiency and durability? Also, has the technology advanced enough to function in a climate as found in southwestern Ontario?

Social feasibility – is there a willingness among the tenants of WCRI to implement a solar power system?

5.0 Background Information

5.1 WCRI

The Waterloo Co-operative Residence Inc., known as WCRI, provides housing to post-secondary students in the local Kitchener-Waterloo area. It caters to students from the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Conestoga College. The WCRI residences are based on apartment and dormitory style. In this study, the use of the term WCRI refers to the residence at 139 University Avenue.

The WCRI first came into existence in the early 1960s (WCRI, 2002). Richard Rowe, who was a University of Waterloo Co-op student, initiated the construction of the WCRI. During his first work term, Richard’s placement was located in Toronto where he later joined the Co-operative College Residences, Inc. (CCRI), now Campus Co-operative Residences, Inc. (WCRI, 2002). Richard became inspired and took these ideas back with him to Waterloo. The residences at WCRI are unique because they are owned and operated by students.

Presently, the WCRI residences are located on 268 and 280 Phillip Street and 139 University Avenue (Figure 1).

Figure 1

5.2 Electrical Generation

Electricity is a secondary source of energy, which means that it needs to be produced from a primary source of energy before it can be used. Some examples of primary energy are the chemical bonds of a molecule, or the kinetic energy in falling water. This electricity can be used in a home by many different appliances including a hair dryer, computer, or light bulb.

During the first half of the twentieth century Ontario relied on electricity produced from falling water (hydroelectric production). But because electricity demand has grown tremendously since the industrial revolution more electricity was needed so there is a need for different methods of generation like nuclear and fossil fuels. Nuclear and fossil fuel generation however have many serious magnifying environmental impacts. Because of these serious environmental impacts, there is a need for change or a reduced dependence on these harmful technologies.

Nuclear - Nuclear power provides for approximately forty-one percent of Ontario’s electricity demand. Nuclear power works through the splitting of uranium atoms to create heat. This heat is then used to create steam, which in turn spins a turbine. This turbine is connected to a generator that produces the electricity. Nuclear energy is relatively cheap and does not produce air pollutants (Miller, 1998, pg432). On the other hand, through the process of splitting uranium atoms, radioactive waste is produced. These products have proven health impacts that can affect many different organisms, including humans, if not contained properly (Miller, 1998, pg432).

Fossil fuels - Fossil fuels were produced underground millions of years ago by the decomposition of organic matter while being exposed to high temperature and pressure. There are two main difficulties with using fossil fuels as a power source. First, there is a limited amount of these materials present on the earth and they require far too much time to reproduce, making the fuel unsustainable. Second, the fuel when utilized produces harmful air pollutants (Miller, 1998, pg 432). Fossil fuels including coal, oil, and natural gas are all hydrocarbon based. To produce electricity these fuels are mixed with oxygen and reacted with some form of activation energy (like a spark). This process is called combustion. The chemical reaction creates three by-products: heat, carbon dioxide (CO2), and water. The heat is used in the same way as in the nuclear process. Carbon dioxide is natural to the environment. Plants use CO2 to produce food energy, which many organisms, like mammals consume and convert it back to CO2. CO2 becomes a problem when it is produced in high quantities, which is common due to today’s reliance on fossil fuels.

When a surplus of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere it begins to trap heat within the earth. Ultraviolet light travels through space, in the form of short wave radiation, and some of that light hits the surface of the earth. Once that light reaches the surface it is instantly converted into long wave radiation and reflected back to space. The CO2 molecules bounce this radiation back to the earth, further increasing the temperature of the surface (Logan, 2001). This process resembles that of a greenhouse, which is why carbon dioxide is referred to as a greenhouse gas. These gases can have highly significant negative environmental impacts, which is why there is a need for alternative technologies.

Hydroelectric - Hydroelectric power generation is slightly different from the production using nuclear or fossil fuels. Hydroelectric does not rely on heat to spin a turbine, but instead the energy present in falling water. Kinetic energy is present in all moving objects. The energy in falling water is harnessed by a turbine, which in turn spins the generator. This form of production does not produce any air pollutants but it does affect local habitats surrounding the production area. Because falling water is a necessary ingredient, at some locations dams must be created. These dams flood the banks of these bodies of water displacing people and other local organisms. But because most of the areas that can produce hydroelectricity have already been exploited and these areas can never be returned to their natural state it is important not to allow these areas go to waste.

Photovoltaic- Photovoltaics refer to the process of creating electricity by sunlight. A single photovoltaic cell is a semiconductor that is extremely sensitive to light energy created by the sun (Ross, 1999, pg 3). When this cell is exposed to sunlight it will generate 0.5-0.6 volts direct current (DC) electricity as seen in figure one (Florida Solar Energy Center, 2002).



Figure 2 (Florida Energy Center, 2002)

When assembled in a group, or a module, these cells are able to produce more power. If many modules are grouped together, as seen in figure 2, then higher voltages can be produced. When modules are grouped together they are called arrays. The larger the array is the more sun that can be captured therefore the more power that can be produced.

Figure 3 (Florida Energy Center, 2002)

Because the electricity produced by photovoltaic cell is in the form of a direct current it must be convertedto an alternating current before today’s appliances can use it. This is done using an inverter.

If the photovoltaic array is wired directly to an electric appliance, then the appliance can only operate while there is light. Batteries can be used to store what electricity is not used so that it can be used later. Figure 3 shows how the 139 University residence can use the electricity it produces and supplement the difference using the local electrical grid. The use of photovoltaic cells will allow the residence to become less dependent on the grid and therefore reduce the environmental impact that it would have.


Figure 4 (Florida Energy Center, 2002)

Photovoltaics have many advantages. First, there are no moving parts, which have a tendency to break. As a result photovoltaic cells can operate without maintenance for 20 years or more (Ross, 1999, pg 13). Secondly, light is the ‘fuel’. A reliable supply of sunshine has been freely available for billions of years, and this is not expected to change any time soon. Third, the production of electricity using photovoltaics has no environmental impacts. The only pollution created would occur during the production of the cells themselves and their set-up (Roberts, 1991, pg 16). Fourth, modules can be added or removed from the array easily to respond to demand. This makes the array very flexible to the needs of the residence.

6.0 Description of Actors

The reconstruction/renovation of the WCRI residence has four development phases: planning, construction, operation, and decommissioning. The discussion of actor systems will only be concerned with the first three stages. It is felt that the time frame for decommissioning is too lengthy for consideration in this project. Within these phases are many participating actors. These actors fall into three main categories based on their different degrees of involvement (Murphy, 2000). The first group is the core actors. Core actors are those who are continuously and intensively involved with the issue of concern. The second group, the supporting actors, are those who are less involved with the issue, but can exert a significant effect on decisions if called upon. The third and final group is the shadow actors. Shadow actors are those who are affected by what happens but for some reason are not involved in the decision making process. This section will briefly look at who these actors are and how they are involved with this project.

Planning stage - During the planning stage, the first group of core actors are the ERS 250 research group of Mike Amaral, Tom Bird, Michelle Colin, Elizabeth Nguyen, and Christine Rikley. This group will be collecting information to allow the WCRI residents to make an informed decision on whether or not to implement the recommendations of this project. The residents of WCRI are shadow actors because of their lack of involvement in the decision-making. However, two core actors represent the residents: the Redevelopment Committee and the Executive Committee. Both of these committee’s make decisions on what is to be carried out during the reconstruction or renovation of the existing residence. There decisions are based on information the committee’s receive from various groups like those carrying out this project on solar panels. Some supporting actors are various solar technology companies who are involved in the planning process by giving information and quotes on the feasibility of WCRI implementing solar power. Another potential supporting actor would be the chosen architect who would develop the plans on how the solar system was incorporated into the new building designs. The current electricity provider, who would decide whether it would be acceptable to connect the system to the local electricity grid, is another example of a supporting actor. The last supporting actors involved in the planning process would be the financial institution which will be providing the loan for the redevelopment, as they would make the final decision on whether the project is worth funding. An example of a shadow actor in the planning process is Bob Spano, the General Manager of the WCRI. He is an important factor in the decision process however he was not involved in this particular project

Construction stage - the actors participating in the construction phase include the contractor and the chosen solar equipment provider. The core committee groups, who were introduced in the planning stage, would select these new participants. These actors would be involved in the actual building of the solar system. Because of their direct involvement in this stage, they would be considered core actors. The current electricity provider would also be involved in hooking up the system to the electricity grid making them another core actor.

Operation stage - the final actors participating in the operation and maintenance of the solar power system would again include the General Manager, and the head of maintenance who would be the ones keeping track of the upkeep of the system. The residents and those providing loans would be involved through economic links by providing any additional funding needed for the upkeep of the system. The residents would also be largely involved by being the recipients and potential benefactors of the project. Lastly, the electricity provider would be involved through the possible recipients of additional power and possible payment back into the hands of the WCRI for positive electricity production.

General Overview of Actors

Core Actors

Supporting Actors

Shadow Actors

WCRI Executive Committee

Solar Power Company

WCRI Tenants

WCRI Redevelopment Committee

Electrical Utility






WCRI General Manager



Financial Institution



7.0 Research Methods

Our research objectives were primarily descriptive in nature. Palys (1997, pg. 80) describes descriptive research objectives as attempting to "adequately represent the phenomenon of interest as it occurs in the population of interest." The phenomenon we were interested in representing was the feasibility of implementing solar power at the

WCRI residence. The population of interest was the WCRI residents. We followed an inductive approach to collecting and analyzing our data. It was inductive in that we attempted to understand the different variables that contributed to the "feasibility" of solar power for WCRI. We were not developing a hypothesis and then making observations as in deductive reasoning. We began with observations and then gathered data to move toward a theory. Our theory or conclusion pertains to whether or not it would be practical to implement a particular solar power configuration at the cooperative residence.

The three methods of research that were employed in this study falls into two categories: archival methods and interactive methods. The archival methods consisted of reviewing pertinent literature from texts, journal articles, and websites. The interactive methods consisted of an interview of key informants, and a survey of the population of interest. Though not specifically an interview technique, information was also obtained by attending a WCRI tenant meeting. To some degree, the means of obtaining information at the tenant meetings resembles the oral history method, which is concerned with gathering data that is not otherwise available in written form (Palys 1997).

The interview (see Appendix 2) was designed to gain information about the technological and economic feasibility of implementing solar power at WCRI. It provided details on the cost, efficiency and opportunity for net metering of solar power. The subjects of our interview were representatives from two solar power technology sales companies. One interview was conducted face to face and the other via email. Attempts were made to also interview two University of Waterloo professors recognized as being familiar with solar power technology. However, the interviews were not completed as they felt their knowledge was too specialized and would not lend itself to answering the more generalized information sought.


8.0 Results of Interviews

Though the information gathered from the interviews was only from two sources, the results were similar, indicating some degree of reliability of the data. Also, the data was comparable to the information found in relevant literature. The interviewees were given information about the WCRI residence such as the number of rooms, its orientation to the sun, and its average daily power consumption (619 kWh). The following are the interview questions with an aggregate of the answers received for each:

1. What different types of applications of solar power systems are available for a building such as the cooperative residence at 139 University Ave.?

There are several types of systems available that use the sun’s energy: roof mounted photovoltaic systems, sun shade photovoltaic systems, solar thermal water heating systems, and solar wall heating systems. Solar photovoltaic systems that produce electricity are the most expensive and least cost-effective. The types of solar cell used in photovoltaic systems are either monocristalline, polycrystalline, or amorphous. The type of solar cell used is not a significant factor, as the average price per kWh for all is approximately $15,000.

2. What are the annual maintenance requirements of these systems for the period of: 1-4 years, 5-10 years, and 10+ years?

Solar photovoltaic panels require virtually no maintenance. The inverters, which are relatively inexpensive, require output tests and possible component replacement every 5 to 25 years. A solar photovoltaic panel has an expected lifespan of 50 years.

3. Are you familiar with the application of net metering? Y N

In your opinion, is net metering feasible in the Waterloo Region?

Net metering is possible in all regions in Ontario. There are several examples of systems that are presently net metering. Permission for this must be arranged through the local electrical utility. Net metering can only occur when the photovoltaic systems is producing power in excess of the demand.

4. Could you elaborate on how the efficiency or success of solar power systems can be measured?

The efficiency of solar power is largely determined by its application. Energy produced from solar electricity is used most effectively from a cost perspective when the demands for energy are lowest. The first step in implementing a solar power system is to decrease the load or demand for power.

5. Are you aware of solar power systems working in the Kitchener-Waterloo area? If so, where are they located?

Solar power systems are being used in several applications: single detached homes in Waterloo and Mississauga, at Ontario Power Generation in Toronto, and a several off-grid locations in cottage country.

6. a) Given the different solar power options that are available, which are preferable?

For strictly, photovoltaic applications, solar sunshades are preferable over rooftop solar panels because they also serve to reduce building heating. Solar thermal water heating is preferable over both because of its lower cost.

b) Which have the shortest payback period?

Solar photovoltaic systems for producing electricity have a payback period of 50 –100 years. Solar thermal water heating systems have a much shorter payback period.

c) Which have the lowest initial cost?

Solar thermal water heating has a lower initial cost than photovoltaic systems. A photovoltaic system designed to provide enough power for WCRI to net meter (619 kwh/day) would cost roughly $2,000,000 to $2,500,000.

d) What other criteria do you recommend for the WCRI residents to base their decision on?

As the cost of implementing a solar photovoltaic system to provide all of WCRI’s electrical needs is likely too great, a smaller system, for demonstration purposes could be installed at much less cost. This would allow a small portion of WCRI’s electrical demand to be provided by renewable energy. The first step should be to reduce the electrical demand by increasing efficiency. This way, solar power is used most effectively.

9.0 The Survey

The survey (see Appendix 1) was designed to assess the level of demand for solar power by the WCRI residents. The survey assessed demand in two scenarios: solar power that would reduce tenant fees, and solar power that would increase tenant fees. Assessing demand for this technology was relevant to our research question, which was concerned with the feasibility of installing solar power. A major barrier to the feasibility of this proposal would be if the residents were not in favor of it. This project was initiated at the request of a few interested WCRI residents, though it wasn’t assumed that they represented a majority. We were fortunate in having the opportunity to survey the entire population of the residence. This eliminated concerns about the representativeness of our survey sample. The participants in the survey were homogeneous in regards to their attribute of all being residents in the same building. It is important to note that at the time the surveys were distributed, the cost of a solar power system capable of net metering had not been determined.

The survey also explored the attitudes of residents toward solar power in general. This gave indications of the tenant’s level of knowledge regarding solar power technology. Tenant attitudes could help explain why they may be for/against this proposal. We surmised that if it were found that the tenants are not in favor, then the attitudes might indicate a course of action that could be used to change their perceptions (e.g. education of the benefits of solar power).

We administered our survey to the participants by placing the surveys under the doors of each room at the residence. In this way, our means of distributing the surveys most closely resembled the "mail-out" method. The disadvantage to this method was that we were not able to be present to answer questions the participants may have had. Consequently, the language in the survey was kept simple in an effort to reduce misunderstandings. In an effort to achieve higher response rates, we arranged for an easily accessible and centrally located drop-off point within the residence for the surveys.

9.1 Survey Results

The survey was administered to the population of the WCRI residence at 139 University Avenue, which totaled 78 tenants. The tenants were given four days to complete the surveys and return them to a drop box located in the cafeteria. 20 of the 78 surveys were returned, which is equivalent to a 25.6% response rate. Palys (1997) suggests that response rates should be expected to range between 10-40%. This indicates that the response rate for this survey was sufficient and that it is appropriate to generalize the characteristics of the respondents to the remainder of the population.

Chart 1 – indicates the level of interest among tenants in the context of solar power either causing increased or decreased tenant costs.







Chart 2 – indicates the amount the tenants would be willing to pay if solar power were to increase their monthly costs.




Chart 3 – contains adjusted values from Chart 2, which include a column for those respondents who were not willing to pay for solar power. This was necessary as it was found that a number of respondents who indicated that they were not interested in paying for solar power, in a subsequent question, indicated that they would be willing to pay between $1 and $5 per month. It is assumed that due to the way the survey was written, the respondents felt they had to choose an amount that they would be willing to pay, even if this was not the case (see Appendix 1).




Attitudes toward solar powerthe respondents were asked to indicate which one of ten statements best represented their opinion of solar power. The statements reflected either negative or positive opinions regarding solar power and were equally divided into each category (5 positive, 5 negative). To view the specific statements, please see the survey in Appendix 1. From the 20 respondents, 10 chose positive statements, 5 chose negative statements, 3 chose that none of the responses represented their opinion, and 2 were not considered due to the respondents having chosen more than one statement. Of the positive statements, the most frequently chosen (6 out of 10) was:

"Producing electricity from solar power is less harmful to the environment than producing electricity from fossil fuels."

The most frequently chosen negative statement (2 out of 5) was:

"Solar power technology is not an efficient way to produce electricity."

There was no distinct correlation between participants’ choice of interested or not interested in solar power and the positive or negative statement that they choose (e.g. a participant may have responded that they were interested in solar power in question 1 and then chose a negative statement to represent their opinion about solar power).


9.2 Interpretation of Survey Results

The survey indicates that 80% of the respondents are willing to pay for solar power and that the mode or most frequent amount willing to be paid is $6 to $10. There is a significantly higher level of interest in solar power if it decreases the amount of fees paid by the tenants. The responses indicated that 56% (10 of 18) of those surveyed have a positive perception of solar power.

Given the high cost of implementing a solar power system for the purpose of net metering, it is interesting to postulate whether or not this data indicates a potential desire among the tenants for other environmentally sound projects for their building.

10.0 Limitations

As with other ERS 250 projects, time was a crucial element affecting the depth of this study. A significant amount of time was lost in the process of having this project approved by the Research Office, which limited the ability to contact key informants. Ideally, more than two interviews would have taken place. This would have possibly provided additional information on which to make our recommendations.

Another limitation encountered during the completion of our project was seeking the approval from the WCRI Executive Board. In order for any type of project to be initiated involving the WCRI, consent must be given beforehand. The Executive Board Committee at WCRI follows strict procedures for the protection of their residents and the release of any confidential information. This was unknown by the group. Due to a miscommunication with the committee, problems were encountered with the use of data collected at the residence. This encounter reminded us that before conducting a study involving any organization or company, we should ask for their permission to participate in advance. Our group did not realize that there was a complex hierarchy system at WCRI. We dealt with various committees that were responsible for different functions, but lacked communication with the appropriate individuals.


11.0 Biases and Assumptions 

As student researchers belonging to the faculty of Environmental Studies, we brought our own biases and assumptions to the study and research that cannot be ignored. Our goal during our project was to be as impartial and objective as possible, however, our biases still affected the outcome of our research. 

Alternative energy, such as solar energy, should be considered and implemented instead of the traditional methods of providing energy, such as fossil fuels. These are the beliefs of the group members; therefore, not considering any alternative source of energy does not make sense. We believe that people should be educated on the alternative energy, thus when it came to the interview process, selecting key informants that shared the same views as our group came easily. When it came to key informants that did not agree to solar energy because of the cost and their lack of information, their views did not hold well with our views, hence their key points might have been over looked, resulting in bias data. Recognizing this, the group attempted to treat the subject matter and information examined from a neutral standpoint.

The literature search that was undertaken by our group members was primarily in the Internet field with few books being taken out. The research that was gathered was pro-solar and other alternative sources of energy; therefore, the opposite side was not researched as in-depth as the alternative methods were. This again links with the groups’ belief that alternative energy should be either implemented to complement traditional methods or as the primary source of energy. 

The University of Waterloo should implement solar panels and make their buildings more energy efficient thus becoming more sustainable. This assumption and belief that this can be done stemmed from the fact that numerous universities in the United States have implemented solar panels in their new buildings (primarily residents), use energy efficient appliances, and conduct educational sessions on how to involve the environment into ones everyday life. Our group believes that with education of the necessary people, the University of Waterloo can become more environmental friendly. 


There is a lack of knowledge about alternative energy sources, for our purposes solar energy. This assumption was demonstrated through the discussion sessions that were held at WCRI and the key informants that had negative attitudes directed to solar energy.  

At present time, there is no environmentally friendly energy source providing the University with the necessary energy supplies, either in buildings or in residences. This assumption was observed through the lack of solar panels on campus, lack of education, and the lack of enthusiasm directed to alternative energy.

12.0 Conclusion

This study was concerned with the ability to implement solar power at the WCRI residence in the context of economic, technical, and social feasibility. The findings can be summarized as follows:

Economically feasible? No. The cost to implement a solar power system of net metering is roughly between $2,000,000 and $2,500,000. This cost is well beyond the budget of WCRI.

Technically feasible? Yes. The present state of solar power technology has the capability to supply the power requirements for the residence and to allow net metering. However, technical aspects of the WCRI building itself would require modification to reduce the present average power consumption to a level more suitable for implementing solar power.

Socially feasible? Yes. There is a desire among the tenants for solar power and it is generally viewed positively. The majority, 80%, are willing to pay $6 to $10 per month.

At this time, given the present electrical consumption of the WCRI residence, it is not appropriate to implement solar power for the purpose of net metering. This leaves the WCRI Redevelopment Committee with the option of installing a much smaller solar power configuration. This option could be justified based on the tenants’ desire for solar power and their recognition of the environmental benefits of this technology. A smaller scale solar power system would reduce the impact on the environment by decreasing the amount of fossil-fuel energy used by the building. As this study was oriented toward determining the cost of a net-metering system, the cost of a smaller system was not researched and could be the focus of a follow-up project. Regardless of the type of solar power system installed, the WCRI Redevelopment Committee should investigate means to increase energy efficiency before proceeding with any environmental initiatives.

13.0 Recommendations

This study concludes with possible ways for the WCRI Redevelopment Committee to proceed in order to make their building more energy efficient. This would be a necessary first step in implementing any type of solar power system. If it were assumed that the survey reflects a desire by the tenants for a more environmentally sound building, improved efficiency would be in keeping with this desire. It is recommended that the Redevelopment Committee request another WATgreen project to determine which would be the most appropriate environmental initiative for their building given their budget. The following are some considerations.

Lighting – The renovation/reconstruction should include natural lighting as a major aspect of the design. Daylight can significantly reduce energy consumption and peak energy use, which is essential because 30-50% of energy used within buildings is used to illuminate the interior (Robbins 1996). Natural light is also of better quality. Less daylight is required to perform a task then would be necessary to perform the same task under electric light. For example, reading beside a window requires about 35% as much light that would be needed from a florescent system (Robbins 1996). This light is typically produced by incandescent lights, which are inefficient because 90% of the electricity used is lost through heat.

Compact fluorescent bulbs are a shortened version of the regular length fluorescent bulbs and can replace or be an alternative to energy wasting incandescent bulbs. The basic components include a screw-in base, allowing the bulbs to be used anywhere that a traditional bulb is used. The installation of high efficiency fluorescent light bulbs requires minimal maintenance, double illumination levels and cut electricity use. This is because the compact fluorescent light bulb uses only a fraction of the electricity and lasts approximately ten times linger then an incandescent bulb. A typical compact fluorescent bulb has a life of 10,000 hours. During the first 3,000 hours the bulb pays for itself and the next 7,000 hours result in energy savings (Bevington and Rosefield 1990).

High intensity discharge lamps (HID) are similar to fluorescent lamps except the glass tube surrounding the discharge is much smaller. HID’s use different chemicals within the bulb to produce light. The most efficient are the low and high-pressure sodium HID lamps. The difficulty with these lamps is that their cost makes them rather difficult to find economic.

Insulation - Heat flows naturally from a warmer to a cooler place. In the winter, this heat moves directly from a heated living space to an adjacent area that is not heated, like an attic or to the outdoors, this will occur whenever there is a difference in temperature. To maintain comfort, the heat lost in the winter must be replaced by a heating system and the heat gained must be removed by a cooling system. Insulating ceilings, walls, and floors helps to decrease this heat flow by providing an effective barrier to this flow.

Insulation decreases this heat flow by creating an area of dead air space. This dead air is the barrier, preventing the movement of the hot or cold air. The effectiveness of the insulation depends on how the insulation is installed and well as its insulative rating. This rating is directly related to the insulations ability to prevent the transfer of heat. If the insulation is compressed it will decrease the amount of dead air space reducing its efficiency. Also high ratings provide better insulative characteristics, like loft (dead air space) and residence to changes in shape.

Within WCRI it is important to include insulation on the walls, ceiling, and floors because these are major areas that dissipate heat. This is especially important on the

walls that are exposed to the outside environment, because these areas have the largest temperature difference and are most likely to transfer heat.

Windows - As discussed earlier, light from windows add a lot to the interior of a building. They also provide a feeling of openness and space to the inside of a building, providing a great area to live and learn. Although, they can also be a major source of heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. This is the result of the same heat transfer principles that apply to insulation. This heat loss can have significant impacts on the heating and cool efficiency. However, when using high efficiency windows energy requirements can be significantly minimized.

The efficiency of a window is represented by its R-value (resistance to heat flow). If the R-value is high then it will lose less heat then one with a lower value (Dept of Energy 2002). There are two main factors that affect the R-value:

The glazing materials have direct effects on how much light passes through the window. For WCRI Low emissivity (Low-e) glass is likely the best option for the Canadian climate. This glass has a special surface coating that reduces heat transfer back through the window. The coating reflects 40 to 70% of the heat that is normally transmitted through clear glass, while allowing the full amount of light to pass through (Dept of Energy 2002).

Standard single-pane glass has very little insulative value. It provides only a thin barrier to the outside and can have significant heat loss and gain. Traditionally, the approach used to improve a window’s efficiency has been to increase the number of panes in a window because they create more dead air space, but more panes increase cost and weight. But in heating and cooling costs these windows will pay for themselves.

Heating -The heat is needed during the winter months to make buildings livable. Burning fossil fuels normally creates the heat needed. These fossil fuels create harmful by-produces and are finite making then unsustainable. This is why it is so important to increase the buildings efficiency to reduce the amount of fuel used. Most buildings used is a central radiator system because of the efficiency related to the size of the area needed to be heated. Because the temperature of the system is normally regulated at the boiler, hot and cold areas are easily created. To regulate these hot and cold spots each room should have a thermostat or a temperature control. This removes the need to open windows or use electric heaters to improve a room’s comfort.


Energy Efficient Appliances - Appliances are the machines in a home that require electricity to do work. The older appliances within WCRI currently should be replaced when considering redevelopment because today’s appliances are more effective, quieter, and more energy efficient. Appliances such as a refrigerator, freezer, range, dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer and room air conditioner, and all other electrically powered appliances for sale in Canada display an EnerGuide labels (Natural Resources Canada, 2002, What is it). The EnerGuide label does not warrant that a specific appliance is energy-efficient, but it can be used to see how energy efficient a specific model can be compared to its competition. The lower the kWh number the more energy-efficient the appliance (Natural Resources Canada, 2002, What is it). For WCRI it is important to choose the size and type of appliance that corresponds to the particular needs of the people living in the building. Once that has been established then it is the most energy-efficient model available should be chosen to ensure energy efficiency and money savings. - FNote3

(Natural Resources Canada, 2002, How to use it).

14.0 Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following people whose assistance was instrumental in the completion of this study:

Simon Boone of Generation Solar Renewable Energy Systems Inc.

David Elzinga of Arise Technologies

Alastair Farrugia of the WCRI Environmental Committee


Arise Technologies. (2002). Arise Success Stories. [On-line]. Available: 

Bevington, R. & Rosefeld, A. (1990). Energy for Buildings and Homes. Scientific

America, 76-86, pg. 263. 

Boyle, Godfrey. (1996). Renewable Energy, Power for a Sustainable Future. Oxford

University Press. 

Crowther, Richard L. (1983).  Sun/Earth: Alternative Energy Design for Architecture

New York, USA: Van Norstrand Reinhold Company Inc. 

Department of Energy. (2002). Energy Efficient Windows: Fact Sheet. [On-line].

Available: http://www.eren.doe.goc/erec/factsheets/eewindows.html 

Florida Solar Energy Center. (2002). Photovoltaic Fundamentals. [On-line]. Available: 

Go-Green. (2002). Renewable Sources of Electricity Production. [On-line]. Available: 

Hollands, K.G.T. and Orgill, J.F. (1997).  Potential for Solar Heating in

Canada.  University of Waterloo.  

Logan, Ralph. (1999). What is the Greenhouse Effect?. Dallas County Community

College District, North Lake College. [On-line]. Available: 

Miller, G.T. Jr. (1998). Chapter 16: Nonrenewable Energy Resources: Living

Environment, 10th Edition. Wadsworth Publishing Company, pg. 430-460. 

Murphy, Stephen. (2000). ERS 100: Issue Analysis and Problem Solving For

Environmental Studies 1. University of Waterloo. 

Natural Resources Canada. (2002). EnerGuide Label: How it works. [On-line]. Available: 

Ontario Power Generation. (2002). Operations. [On-line]. Available: 

Oppenheim, David. (1981). Small Solar Buildings in Cool Northern Climates. London:

The Architectural Press. 

Palys, Ted. (1997). Research Decisions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives.

Toronto: Harcourt Canada. 

Patton, Arthur, R. (1975). Solar Energy for Heating and Cooling of Buildings. London:

Moyes Data Corporation 

Robbins, C.L. (1996). Daylighting. New York: Van Norstrand Reinhold Company. 

Roberts, Simon. (1991). Solar Electricity: A Practical Guide to Designing and Installing

Small Photovoltaic Systems. United Kingdom: Prentice Hall International Ltd. 

Ross, Michael. (1999). Photovoltaics in Cold Climates. London: James & James

(Science Publishers) Ltd.

Strong, Steven. (2002, Feb. 13). Open Lecture: Solar Electric Architecture. University of

Waterloo: Davis Centre, Rm. 1351.  

WATgreen. (2002). Greening the Campus. University of Waterloo. [On-line].



WCRI. (2002). Waterloo Co-operative Residences Incorporated. [On-line]. Available: 



Appendix 1 – WCRI Survey

Solar Power at WCRI – 139 University Avenue

The present level of solar power technology allows owners of solar power producing devices to at times, reduce the amount of power they draw from the local electrical grid. Part of our research is to assess the resident’s level of interest for implementing this technology in your building. Please take a moment to answer the following questions.

For each of the following questions, please circle the response that best represents your views on this subject.

1. How interested are you in having a solar power system installed in your building if it were to decrease your monthly bills during a portion of the year?

not interested undecided interested

2. How interested are you in having a solar power system installed in your building if it were to increase your monthly bills?

not interested undecided interested

3. If a solar power system in your building would increase your monthly bills somewhat, how much extra per month would you be willing to pay for it? Please circle only one.

$1- $5 $6 - $10 $11 - $15 $16 - $20 $20 or more

Please check the one box that best represents your opinion on solar power technology.

_ Solar panels are unattractive.

_ Solar power technology is not an efficient way to produce electricity.

_ Solar panels don’t produce electricity in the winter.

_ There isn’t enough sunlight in this area for solar power to work well.

_ Solar power technology requires a lot of maintenance to work well.

_ Advances in solar panel designs have made them more attractive.

_ Improvements in solar power have caused this technology to be more widely used.

_ Improvements in solar power have caused this technology to become more efficient.

_ Solar panels are a way to reduce the amount of electricity required from the electrical utility.

_ Producing electricity from solar power is less harmful to the environment than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

_ None of the above represent my outlook on solar power technology.



If you wish, please make additional comments about the possibility of having solar power at your residence and/or solar power in general in the space below.





Please place the completed survey in the drop box located in the servery by

Friday March 22 2002.

If you have any questions regarding this survey, please contact Tom Bird at Thank you for your participation.


Appendix 2 – Interview

Interview Questions

1. What different types of applications of solar power systems are available for a building such as the cooperative residence at 139 University Ave.?




2. What are the annual maintenance requirements of these systems for the period of: 1-4 years, 5-10 years, and 10+ years?


3. Are you familiar with the application of net metering? Y N

In your opinion, is net metering feasible in the Waterloo Region?


4. Could you elaborate on how the efficiency or success of solar power systems can be measured?


5. Are you aware of solar power systems working in the K-W area? If so, where are they located?


6. a) Given the different solar power options that are available, which are preferable?


b) Which have the shortest payback period?


c) Which have the lowest initial cost?


d) What other criteria do you recommend for the WCRI residents to base their decision on?