Calgary: An unlikely location for a creative solar solution

CALGARY — Rows of luxurious Audis hide from the sun under a canopy of solar panels on the north edge of Calgary, but it’s not the sun that poses a threat to these cars.

The 933 solar panels on this lot produce 306,000-kilowatt hours of power, about 60 per cent of the dealership’s yearly energy needs, and also protect the cars from the frequent hail storms that pummel the region each spring and summer and result in millions of dollars of damages for property and car owners.

As a result, the covering of solar panels here generates both power revenues and insurance savings for the Audi Royal Oak dealership, which was the first to install a solar canopy in Canada, though other dealerships in Southern Alberta – dubbed “Hailstorm Alley” by insurance companies – have since followed suit.

“I had to come up with hail protection,” said Murray Dorren, the owner of the dealership, adding that in 2013 a hailstorm hit and he had to make a $3 million claim. “It was disgusting. The next day, I had no cars to sell.”

Now, he said, with the solar canopy generating power and making him eligible for an insurance rate cut, he expects to pay off the solar panels in 10 to 11 years, which makes the solar panels cheaper than other options dealerships are considering.

An AMA Insurance report this month showed Alberta accounts for 51 per cent of all storm related damage claims in Canada including $5 billion in damages from storms since 2010. A similar 2017 report from Desjardins Insurance found that due to the disproportionately high number of claims in the province, homeowners have experienced 20 per cent increases in premium policies.

Sol Power Projects Ltd. director Tod Petersen said, depending on how the deductibles in the insurance policies are structured, he’s seen dealerships in the area reduce their annual premiums by 75 per cent. His clients have also told him they’ve reduced their deductibles from $400,000 per occurrence to $75,000 per occurrence.

“I think it pushes them over the line in terms of the economic justification,” Petersen said of the lower insurance premiums, though he said the costs for solar panels have also fallen sharply in recent years and the energy source has therefore become more economically viable.

Sol Power installed the solar panels at Audi Royal Oak, at a Honda dealership south of Calgary and expects to do more in the coming years. The company is also installing solar panels on the roof of a parkade at another local Toyota dealership, which was recently built to keep the inventory safe from hail.

The solar canopies in Calgary exemplify a broader trend within the solar power business. Companies are looking for inventive ways to repurpose existing land – some of which might have few other obvious uses — to fix their power costs by installing solar panels to generate renewable power. The installations allow landowners to generate income from land that would have otherwise been underused or sat idle.


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