Photography by Max Amerongen
Gordon Howell has more than 30 years of experience studying solar power, since he researched solar and wind energy for the Province in the 1970s. In 1995 the co-owner of Howell Mayhew Engineering Inc., which specializes in the design and development of solar electric systems, installed a solar-electric system onto his side of his duplex. It was the first solar electric system west of Toronto and the city’s “first to feed clean green solar electricity onto the electric grid,” he says.
Since 2000 his passion has led to running Edmonton’s Eco-Solar Home Tour, now held every spring to share his expertise, not just about powering up a house off the sun, but how to integrate the little things, like a refrigerator that’s kinder to the environment.
At the inaugural tour in 2000, he welcomed over 200 people – more than the bus could transport. Seven years later, when a Riverdale net-zero house was added to the mix (a structure, he says, that didn’t have a roof and had sticks for walls), it still attracted 500 people eager to view a home that could produce as much energy as it expends.
Finished in 2008, the two-storey duplex in Riverdale now resembles a greenhouse, with its roof made from photovoltaic cells that convert solar radiation into direct current electricity. When it was first built, it was one of 12 in the country like it. Now, 12 of these homes are under construction in Edmonton.
On June 4, the Eco-Solar Home Tour returns with five more local homes that meet his high environmental standard. Howell says, people’s interests are held most strongly by solar energy. “The knowledge that they can generate their own energy, rather than just by buying it and paying bills from some far off place, really intrigues lots of people.” The other surprise to them is the affordability, a recent phenomenon. When Howell bought his system in 1995 it was $40,000. It now goes for around $15,000, including installation, drawing the attention of just about everyone under the sun.