Net-zero Egg Barn with Solar Energy Opens in Alberta

High-tech egg farm will test a variety of technologies to cut carbon footprint

By: Kyle Bakx

The goal of the net-zero egg barn is to balance the facility’s energy inputs and outputs. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The Brant Hutterite Colony in southern Alberta is trying to do something that has never been done before — it aims to produce roughly 13,000 eggs a day while creating no net greenhouse gas emissions.

The colony of 105 people recently cut the ribbon on Canada’s first net-zero egg barn, which is designed to produce as much energy as it uses.

Solar panels on the roof and various high-tech equipment should drastically reduce the facility’s carbon footprint and mark the latest attempt by agriculture groups to improve the industry’s sustainability.

“This project really is a first of its kind in Canada in trialing new technologies that could potentially define the new normal for energy efficiency and reducing climate impacts for animal housing,” said Nathan Pelletier, a University of British Columbia professor specializing in sustainability.

The Brant Colony initially dismissed the idea of adding solar panels and several energy efficient modifications to the new barn it was planning to build, after it was approached by the Egg Farmers of Alberta.

“I don’t think it was fair for us to bluntly say no, so we decided even if it doesn’t work out we’ll do it more so for the industry than for us,” said Darrel Mandel with the colony.

The colony received a $250,000 provincial government grant to help offset some of the costs of the project, including the 100 solar panels. Data is gathered daily about all aspects of the operation.

“It looks very promising, I think we’ll be very close to net zero with solar,” said Mandel. “With the colder months coming we’ll have more data available to maybe prove that it was a good cause.”

Popular project

The colony has hosted several tours for other farmers who are showing interest. The free-range layer barn houses 13,000 brown birds, which each produce one egg every day.

Some of the stipulations for the colony include having to provide data to the Egg Farmers of Alberta and installing a live video web stream inside the barn. That raised some eyebrows at the colony.

“That was one of the things that really, I felt, this is something to adjust,” said Mandel. “But we sat down and talked about it and said, ‘What do we have to hide?’ If you don’t treat those birds right, they are not going to perform. So there is no difference doing that the right way in front of yourself or in front of the public.”

The Brant Colony received a $250,000 grant to cover some of the costs to go net-zero. (CBC)

Agriculture groups across Canada are under pressure from retailers and consumers to improve their sustainability through added measures involving animal welfare, biosecurity, food safety and the environment.

Uncertain results

So far, the solar panels are operating as expected, offsetting the facility’s energy needs. An energy-efficient refrigeration unit and other equipment are also performing well, although the heat recovery ventilation system that uses outgoing warm air to heat fresh incoming air is still a work in progress.

“This is agricultural research,” said Jenna Griffin, who helped manage the project with the Egg Farmers of Alberta. “There’s bumps and obstacles and barriers that you run into. You really have to be willing to be the one that goes through this for the greater good of the industry.”

Whether the barn actually achieves net-zero energy consumption is unknown at this point as the project is still in its early days. Officials said the colony may have to purchase more solar panels to achieve the status.

The Alberta government is trying to take action on climate change through a series of initiatives, which includes boosting renewable energy production. Alberta’s goal is to rely on renewables for 30 per cent of electricity consumption by 2030.

Agriculture accounts for about eight per cent of Alberta’s total greenhouse gases.

“Whatever we can do will make a difference, and the colony here has taken that leap of faith,” said Oneil Carlier, Alberta’s agriculture minister  “You can’t find any more progressive farmers in Alberta than the colonies themselves.”

The majority of renewable energy investments were in Ontario in 2015. (CBC)


Massive Solar Powered Drone Takes Flight

A full-scale version of Facebook’s huge Aquila solar powered drone has successfully completed its first test flight in Yuma, Arizona.

We first reported on Aquila back in August last year. The unmanned airplane has a wingspan of around 42 metres – the same as a Boeing 737 – which is covered by solar cells.

Far lighter than a Boeing due to its design and carbon fibre structure, around half the weight of the craft is taken up by lithium-ion batteries. Its cured carbon fiber wings are stronger than steel for the same mass of material.

Aquila will ultimately fly far above the clouds and commercial air traffic, enabling it to be fully solar powered during daylight hours and by its batteries, recharged by the solar array, during the night.

The goal of the project is to create a fleet of Aquila-type craft that will beam internet access to remote and underserved communities around the world.

Free space laser communications, operating at fibre optic speed, will create a network between the craft  and e-band technology will transmit data to receivers on the ground.

The recent test flight went for 90 minutes, three times longer than planned.

“We were able to verify several performance models and components, including aerodynamics, batteries, control systems, and crew training. In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet,” says Jay Parikh, Facebook’s Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure.

The final version of Aquila will be able to stay aloft for up to 3 months at a time.

“When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter wave systems,” stated Mr. Parikh.

Aquila will consume around the same amount of electricity as a couple of small fan-heaters when at its cruising speed.

As to when Aquila will be ready for prime-time; that isn’t clear. Mr. Parikh says the Facebook Connectivity Labs team still has a long way to go before realising their goal of Aquila playing an important part in providing internet access for all.


Solar Impulse Completes Historic Round-the-World Trip

The first round-the-world solar powered flight has been completed, after the Solar Impulse aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi.

Bertrand Piccard piloted the plane for a final time, steering it safely from the Egyptian capital Cairo to the UAE.

He has been taking turns at the controls with Swiss compatriot Andre Borschberg, with the mission aiming to promote renewable energy.

It brings to an end a voyage that began in Abu Dhabi on 9 March last year.

“The future is clean. The future is you. The future is now. Let’s take it further,” Mr Piccard said, arriving into Abu Dhabi to cheers and applause.

The 17-stage journey covered some 42,000km, taking in four continents, three seas and two oceans.

The longest leg, an 8,924km (5,545-mile) flight from Nagoya in Japan to Hawaii, US, lasted nearly 118 hours and saw Mr Borschberg break the absolute world record for longest (time duration) uninterrupted solo flight.

It was just one of 19 official aviation records set during the global adventure.

Mr Piccard and Mr Borschberg have been working on the Solar Impulse project for more than a decade.

The pair had hoped to complete the challenge last year but progress was not quite swift enough to get the best of the weather in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer.

And when battery damage was sustained on that epic five-day, five-night passage over the western Pacific in June/July 2015, the decision was taken to ground the effort for 10 months.

Solar Impulse is no heavier than a car, but has the wingspan of a Boeing 747. It is powered by 17,000 solar cells.

Its experimental design presents a number of technical difficulties, with the airplane being very sensitive to weather conditions.

Indeed, the passage from Cairo was very bumpy for Mr Piccard as he battled severe turbulence above the hot Saudi desert.

The cockpit is about the size of a public telephone box, with the pilots having to wear oxygen tanks to breathe at high altitude and permitted to only sleep for 20 minutes at a time.

LEG 1: 9 March. Abu Dhabi (UAE) to Muscat (Oman) – 772km; 13 Hours 1 Minute

LEG 2: 10 March. Muscat (Oman) to Ahmedabad (India) – 1,593km; 15 Hours 20 Minutes

LEG 3: 18 March. Ahmedabad (India) to Varanasi (India) – 1,170km; 13 Hours 15 Minutes

LEG 4: 18 March. Varanasi (India) to Mandalay (Myanmar) – 1,536km; 13 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 5: 29 March. Mandalay (Myanmar) to Chongqing (China) – 1,636km; 20 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 6: 21 April. Chongqing (China) to Nanjing (China) – 1,384km; 17 Hours 22 Minutes

LEG 7: 30 May. Nanjing (China) to Nagoya (Japan) – 2,942km; 1 Day 20 Hours 9 Minutes

LEG 8: 28 June. Nagoya (Japan) to Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) – 8,924km; 4 Days 21 Hours 52 Minutes

LEG 9: 21 April. Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) to Mountain View, California (US) – 4,523km; 2 Days 17 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 10: 2 May. Mountain View, California (US) to Phoenix, Arizona (US) – 1,199km; 15 Hours 52 Minutes

LEG 11: 12 May. Phoenix, Arizona (US) to Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) – 1,570 km; 18 Hours 10 Minutes

LEG 12: 21 May. Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) to Dayton, Ohio (US) – 1,113 km; 16 Hours 34 Minutes

LEG 13: 25 May. Dayton, Ohio (US) to Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) – 1,044 km; 16 Hours 47 Minutes

LEG 14: 11 June. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) to New York (US) – 230km; 4 Hours 41 Minutes

LEG 15: 20 June. New York (US) to Seville (Spain) – 6,765km; 2 Days 23 Hours 8 minutes

LEG 16: 11 July. Seville (Spain) to Egypt (Cairo) – 3,745km; 2 Days 50 Minutes

LEG 17: 23 July. Egypt (Cairo) to Abu Dhabi (UAE) – 2,694 km; 2 Days 47 Minutes


Better-Looking Solar Solutions on the Horizon

Technology is making, or will soon make, solar power easier to use and more efficient—both on your home and on the go

Bavarian Village Pioneers Clean Energy Revolution

By: Pauline Curtet

A row of wind turbines towers on the edge of the picturesque Bavarian village of Wildpoldsried, population 2,600, where rolling meadows meet pine forests and Alpine peaks line the horizon.

“I love them,” says Thomas Pfluger, a local resident, gazing at the windmills jutting out above the tree-tops. “To look at them, it makes me proud.”

Pfluger’s home village, with its old Catholic church and traditional beer garden, may be rural Bavaria at its most idyllic, but it’s also at the cutting edge of Germany’s green energy revolution.

Known as the “Renewables Village,” it uses mainly wind, solar and biomass to meet all its electricity needs, and sells the rest back into the national grid at a profit.

Like many other communities in Germany, Wildpoldsried took advantage of generous subsidies and price guarantees that were rolled out in recent years to boost alternative energy.

To ensure local acceptance, Wildpoldsried relied on a simple idea: to involve the entire village and spread the benefits among its people.

Like 300 other locals, Pfluger, a 55-year-old IT developer, put his money into the wind farm, which offered guaranteed, above-market-rate returns for 20 years.

“I invested 100,000 euros ($110,000) in the wind turbines,” he said. “Every year, I get about six percent of this amount as profit.”

Village mayor Arno Zengerle, 59, stressed that “the participation of the citizens is the most important thing”.

“They must profit from the renewable energy. If only private investors from the outside took part, it wouldn’t work.”

So far business has been good. Last year, the village produced five times more electricity than it consumed.

The goal for this year is to raise that ratio to seven-fold. Read more »