Haliburton has first offgrid demonstration centre
By Darren Lum
Published March 21, 2017
The new home of Haliburton Solar and Wind is sustainably built, solar powered and off-grid; the first of its kind, says the company’s owner Brian Nash.
The building showcases off-grid technologies on the Abbey Gardens property a few kilometres from West Guilford on Highway 118.
“I’m just driven by passion. I’m a real big believer in ... getting involved in organizations that lessen dependencies and increase our communities’ abilities to be independent. I’m a big passionate believer in that,” he said.
Solar and Wind is a locally owned service company, enabling homeowners to go off-grid and use hybrid grid tied systems, harnessing solar, wind and water power.
The staff of Haliburton Solar and Wind moved into the new building, built by Fleming College sustainable building design and construction students, in late-November. The building is currently being powered by solar energy and radiant in-floor heating. It was constructed using a blend of contemporary, straw-bale construction and rammed earth method.
All material used in the construction was sourced locally. The power generated for the building is stored in a battery bank that holds up to four days of power when there isn’t any solar energy to harness. If the stored energy is exhausted, the building can use its propane-powered prime generator.
Having his personal off-grid residence for close to 10 years has taught Nash valuable lessons. His business started from the desire to help others go off grid. Being able to stand behind his services as a business person is one thing, but to be able to do it as a homeowner lends credibility to his company.
He started the company in 2012 and it has steadily grown. In partnership with Outback Power Technologies, Solar and Wind won the Solar Projects in North America award in 2015.
This year the business has already doubled its work from 2016 with 43 off-grid and net-metered projects.
The claim his home office building is the only demonstration centre of its kind is derived from speaking with companies such as Outback Power and Home Energy Solutions.
“When we say [the office is] Canada’s first and only complete off-grid demonstration centre, we are not aware nor is anyone we know of [aware of] anything else,” he said.
Both of these companies are among the largest in the field related to off-grid system implementation, Nash said.
The office will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. On weekends, it will be open by appointment.
The centre will include a soon-to-be built half-acre outdoor alternative energy park. Think of it as a self-guided interpretative walk explaining the photovoltaic effect, solar irradiation, wind power, off grid independence, Ontario’s Smart Grid and independent community grids.
The plan is to have a red stone path, dotted along the perimeter with solar powered lights for evening visits, solar panel array and in the centre of the circular path will be an 80-foot-tall wind turbine, which will also power the office building. The plan is to have it completed some time in May and will be open to the public all the time, except when it is impassable with snow.
The centre will host its grand opening with an event on Saturday, June 10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (See future editions of the Echo for details.) There will also be other events, featuring Nash, his staff, and special guest speakers and interesting opportunities for alternative energy education.
The idea to have the centre at the Abbey Gardens came from Fleming College’s Ted Brandon.
Back in late-2015, Brandon wanted a partner for a sustainable building project to give his college’s sustainable building design and construction students a project.
He contacted Abbey Gardens about their involvement and then Nash, who thought of the idea for an off-grid demonstration centre. The solar and wind owner didn’t know this was going to be the country’s first, but part of his motivation came from the feedback from past customers.
“If we put together a centre that was able to have people come in, see, understand, touch and feel and see a location off-grid, operating off-grid to get a sense of the size of equipment,” he said. “We thought if we put together something where people could come and experience it [it would help]. Off-grid is very experiential.”
Prior to this demonstration centre, Nash would often invite people to his home to see his system.
When it comes to ideal locations, this location doesn’t get any better, Nash said.
The site has a 98 per cent “solar access,” clear and open for the wind tunnel, necessary for the wind turbine, expected later this year.
Another consideration was to find a location that would be accessible by the people who share the values consistent with his customers – who favour off-grid systems and renewable energy. This is where the partnership between Abbey Gardens and Solar and Wind is ideal.
The people who are interested in Solar and Wind’s services are those who are making a conscious decision to be environmentally responsible. Sometimes it is a challenge for them to get connected to the provincial power gird based on their home’s location, or they want to be able to control their finances when it comes to energy consumption.
Abbey Gardens director of operations Heather Reid said having Solar and Wind on the property is in line with the Abbey Gardens’ education focus. Visitors will often have questions about the gardens’ sustainably-built food hub building, also created by Fleming College students. With this demonstration facility nearby, visitors can be directed to see how power is harnessed with solar panels and more advanced questions can be answered by the Nash and his staff.
“Definitely the clientele that comes here and the folks that stop here are hungry for that type of information, so to have Haliburton Solar and Wind to really bring that knowledge to the site is wonderful,” she said.
For Abbey Gardens’ future, Reid said, there have been preliminary discussions and planning around a retreat centre, using the house at the back of the property. It could serve as a cancer care retreat centre. This would be separate from the gardens. A not-for-profit will be created and have a partnership with the Ottawa Integrated Cancer Care Centre and the College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.
Reid said being able to direct people to the demonstration centre to see everything in operation is an important component for visitors. She said it’s a ground-breaking effort that wouldn’t have happened without Solar and Wind.
“To see when the snow melts, I think it’s going to be a real exciting addition to the property and propels us forward and creates interest for people to come farther on the property and spend more time here. That’s great for everybody,” she said.
See www.haliburtonsolarandwind.com for more information.