U of C is home to award-winning solar house

By Pauline Anunciacion

The 2011 solar house project, Cenovus Spo’pi, is currently being built near the Calgary Centre of Innovative Technology building at the University of Calgary.

Fourth-year petroleum land management student and project manager Alexandre Ste-Marie estimates that this rebuilding will be completed and opened to the public by late November.

Cenovus Spo’pi, or the Technological Residence Traditional Living, was the sole Canadian entry for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition in Washington, D.C. in 2011. The TRTL placed 10th out of 20 other competing schools. The solar house team also won an Emerald Award for sustainable leadership in Alberta.

TRTL incorporates a First Nations design with the teepee-inspired rounded rooftop and with east-facing entrances and south-facing windows. It was designed to be completely net-zero, producing its own energy with solar power.

“We expect a big launch event sometime in December to welcome the community and showcase what we’ve done. This is a display of the Albertan knowledge. Every Albertan should be proud of what we have accomplished,” said Ste-Marie.

The reason for this incorporation was to address the social issues of deplorable aboriginal housing.

“Right from the beginning, our goal was not just to create a solar house. It was more of solving a social issue,” said Ste-Marie. “How can we use a home and leverage that to empower a certain demographic that didn’t have access to homes that are not as well-adapted to their living conditions?”

The solar house team will be building a new sustainable home for 2013 called the Borealis solar house project. Ste-Marie and his team is building a house that is both affordable and transportable to overcome the problem of home ownership.

“What came to mind immediately were Fort McMurray and other resource towns. There is a severe shortage of skilled labour to build homes in those remote Canadian areas. There is also the mismatch between who lives in those homes and what that home is,” said Ste-Marie. “A lot of those who work in Fort McMurray either live in camps or similar houses as we have here, but they pay $700,000.” 

The Borealis is in its final stages of planning and design and is described to be “rearrangeable” and “reusable.” The interior side modules are completely identical and it is very manageable in terms of space and furniture. 

Ste-Marie and his team are striving to achieve a balance among proper living, leisure, affordability, flexibility and functionality for their new solar house. The project is estimated to cost between $300,000 and $350,000. 

“This is quite affordable, especially considering the remote context and given that it is a net-zero home. You wouldn’t have to pay electricity bills since the amount of energy produced is equal to the amount of energy consumed,” said Ste-Marie.

The Borealis solar home will be a collaborative effort between students from the U of C, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Mount Royal University.

“We expect to have a much better house and hopefully fare much better in the competition,” he said.


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