Solar power: Coming to a greenhouse near you

With funding from the Campus Sustainability Grants program, students, faculty and staff from different disciplines are coming together to develop sustainable gardening practices powered by the sun.

Energy Management and Sustainable Operations - 24 March 2021

How the project started

The Solar Greenhouse project began when an unexpected connection ignited between the members of the student group Renewable Energy Design (RED) and local Edmonton startup company Exceed Solar. The two groups first came together a couple of years before to explore how to bring a net-zero housing unit to campus.

Larry Zhong from RED, Bachelor of Applied Science in Electrical Engineering Co-op 2021 and Campus Sustainability Leaders Award 2020 winner, approached the teams at Energy Management and Sustainable Operations (EMSO) and Campus Planning and Space Optimization. Together they created a working group involving students and academics from several faculties.

Their first discussion quickly turned to sustainable gardening practices and aquaculture, utilizing the power of the sun and placing it in an accessible location on campus where everyone could see the possibilities and progress. The Solar Greenhouse project was established.

Transforming the Campus Community Garden

Combining research, testing and innovative technologies, the Solar Greenhouse project will transform the Campus Community Garden. It will also serve as a platform for training two co-op students and student volunteers from RED and the UAlberta Permaculture Group.

The project involves using a ready-made Sol Space Solar Greenhouse created by Exceed Solar. This ready-made greenhouse is being used as a laboratory to test the performance in the cold northern climate and evaluate the ability to support an aquaculture installation as well as gardening activities like seed-starting by members of the Sustain SU Campus Community Garden.

Aquaculture or aquaponics integrates the farming of fish and vegetables to utilize fish by-products, eliminate water wastage and grow produce year-round.

Campus Sustainability Grants program funding

Although the pandemic threatened to slow or possibly halt the project, the program team persevered. They continued to explore the Solar Greenhouse project in person and then virtually.

After months of preparation, the project was successful in receiving $50,000 of funding from the Campus Sustainability Grants program for the initial greenhouses costs, student co-op placements and research costs over the next two years. With assistance from Exceed Solar providing installation, research and development hours, the project is about to become a reality.

Preparing to break ground

Carlos Lange, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, in collaboration with others from the Faculty of Engineering, leads the growing research team for this project, ensuring there is strong and diverse research expertise.

After they break ground this spring, co-op students and volunteers from RED and the UAlberta Permaculture Group will continue working with the project team to conduct initial research, establish ongoing operations and promote the greenhouse through various outreach activities.

From sustainable building design to sustainable agriculture, their combination of perspectives and united dedication to building a more sustainable University of Alberta will propel this project and help shape the future of sustainability on campus.

Stay tuned for updates on the fully operational Solar Greenhouse this fall.

If you have an idea for a grant, reach out to us at emso@ualberta.ca. The next major grant deadline is May 15, 2021.