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"Solar wall provides valuable renewable-resource lessons"

By Nick Martin
Winnipeg Free Press, January 20, 2011

Even when we all wake up to minus-34 temperatures, the sun rules at Carpathia School.

The River Heights elementary school is the latest to get heat from a solar wall, a black contraption on the south side of the gymnasium that's now providing half the gym's heating needs.

But the kids can explain it so much better.

"That black thing on the edge of the building is the solar wall," Grade 5 student Tannis Hydesmith told a media briefing Wednesday morning. "The heat rises and goes into the ducts."

The solar power, explained Logan Currie in terms that non-scientific adults could understand, covers about half the gym's heating needs, with the rest coming from natural gas from the school's boiler.

"It costs less and it doesn't create any carbon dioxide," Logan said.

Said Tyler Cassidy: "It's more efficient than heating with anything else. It costs less."

Thus, Tyler said, it uses renewable resources.

OK, so teacher Kevin Brown prompted that last bit.

Laura Nierinck said the solar wall can't provide all the energy required to heat the space because the gym is way too big.

"It faces south, because we get more sun from the south," she said.

Summed up Tannis: "We have a massive gym compared to our school size, obviously. Go green!"

About 20 Winnipeg School Division buildings have had environmental upgrades, but there's more to this green chapter. There will be another project involving 20 schools in the division that will include solar walls, said George Andrich, technical analyst with NRG Management, which is the division's energy management co-ordinator.

The solar wall at Carpathia is approximately three metres tall and 12 metres wide and costs about $20,000, which the school is expected to recover in five to 10 years through reduced heating bills, said Dave Peacock, project manager with MCW Custom Energy Solutions Ltd.

"There are no moving parts -- it's as simple as can be," Peacock said.

The solar wall faces the school's unusual inner courtyard, accessible only from inside the building.

"You can't see it from the outside, because of the positioning," Brown said.

A gym wall being a gym wall and all, and kids being kids and all, what happens if a ball hits the solar panel?

"They had that question themselves," said Brown. "It may dent, but won't break."

The solar wall is covered with a ceramic coating guaranteed to hold up for 40 years to weather and kids.

Carpathia is considering what it would take to heat the entire school. Brown notes it is possible to put solar panels by every window.

"You could theoretically do an entire wall," he said.

The four students leading Wednesday's briefing are all Green Team members heavily into the school's composting and recycling programs.

Reproduced with permission.