Energy-sharing among West 5 buildings makes net-zero goal possible
Written by: Norman De Bono, PostMedia
After a two-year wait, work has begun to put solar panels on the remaining townhouses in Sifton’s West 5 community in London. Curtis Visser of German Solar in London secures anchors into the roof of a townhouse, one of 13 buildings where solar panels will be installed. After the anchors, come rails to which the solar panels will be secured. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press
West 5, the Sifton Properties residential and commercial development in London’s west end, has taken a big step toward becoming a community that will generate as much energy as it uses.
The development has recently overcome provincial government hurdles to install solar panels on 73 townhouse units that were not previously approved.
It’s a small example of complex energy policy giving way to common sense, putting West 5 on track to becoming a net-zero community, said Richard Sifton, president of Sifton Properties.
“This is the only way we could become a net-zero community. We can now overproduce (electricity) and share it to the community,” he said. “We pulled it together. London Hydro helped, the city helped.”
West 5 is a 28-hectare (70-acre) development on Oxford Street West where 2,000 housing units share space with 350,000 square feet (31,500 square metres) of commercial and retail space.
It has an aggressive green energy plan to be self-sustaining, but that hit a roadblock when Sifton wanted to install solar panels on 73 townhouses at Kains and Shore roads. If Sifton did install them, it would not get a break on its energy bill because the panels would create more energy than what is being used in each townhouse unit. Such surpluses are discouraged by the Energy Ministry and Ontario Energy Board, Sifton said. The government does not want to pay for energy generation that is not needed.
But Sifton convinced the ministry to allow energy gathered at the townhouse units to be used by nearby apartments that are part of the complex.
That energy-sharing plan between developments in the same community is a step toward entire communities becoming self-sustaining and not relying on the grid, said Neil Carter, director of commercial construction with Sifton.
“We would have produced too much energy to get a credit on our hydro bill, but our goal is to be net zero and we were trying to use it at other buildings at West 5,” he said. “It would mean substantial savings.”
Anchors for the panels are being installed this week and the panels are expected to be in place in January and February and operational by spring.
Sifton has also built 87 townhomes that have solar panels, Carter said.
“This means in the future there could be off-grid communities who don’t rely on hydro,” as they can share the energy they produce
In October, the Ontario government announced it will allow community net metering, meaning customers can generate renewable electricity for themselves and send excess energy to the grid for a credit on their bill.
“The net metering project was the key” to getting the Ontario government to allow the townhouse units to install solar panels, said Vinay Sharma, chief executive of London Hydro.
“A subdivision can consolidate consumption so when you have surplus on some and you are under on others, you can balance against each other.”
In July 2020, West 5 received $5.1 million from the federal government to install micro-grid technology, allowing energy to be shared among the many buildings at West 5 and allow more solar energy to be stored. That brought to $11.5 million the amount Ottawa has invested in West 5.