Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay powers up with solar panels and Tesla battery packs

Solar power got another big boost on Haida Gwaii last week, with batteries included.

Thanks largely to $138,000 in funding from the B.C. carbon tax, an array of 146 solar panels is now soaking up rays on the roof of Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay.

The Masset high school’s 50 kW array is about as powerful as the one installed last year on the George Brown Rec Centre in Skidegate and will likely provide about 40 per cent of the building’s power.

“If enough of us do this, all of a sudden the diesel production will slow down,” says Steve Goffic, IT manager for the Haida Gwaii School District.

“We’re putting a dent in it now.”

Four of the six public schools on Haida Gwaii now have solar arrays, as do several public buildings, and Goffic noted that solar-panel prices for the GTN project are about half what they were when the first school array went up on Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary.

Besides a larger, cheaper set of solar panels, GTN is also getting some cutting-edge back-up power — a pair of Tesla Powerwall batteries.

Goffic said the two 5 kW batteries will take the place of a diesel or propane generator, providing the high school with back-up power for essential things like servers and telephones during a power outage. The home-sized, lithium-ion battery packs will be among the first Powerwalls 2s installed in Canada when they arrive in January.

“It just goes to show that we can actually use these things, if we think about it a little bit,” Goffic said.

The new solar panels on GTN have a 25-year warranty, and the recently refinished roof was reinforced so that more can be installed in future. Several new security cameras were also installed to prevent students or anyone else from clambering up on the roof, stepping on a solar panel, and getting shocked by the live voltage.

“This is heavily monitored, because this is dangerous,” said Goffic, standing a safe distance from the panels.

“I’d way rather put up all this security than have anyone ever come up here and get hurt.”

At 50 kW, GTN Principal Ian Keir said the school’s new solar set-up is among the largest on a school in B.C.

“I think it really fits in with the ethos of the teachers here, too,” Keir said, noting how staff and students help run compost and recycling programs, not to mention the solar-powered veggies growing in the school greenhouse.

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