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Alberta’s Positive Solar Growth: How Geotech Makes it Happen

PRI Engineering performed the geotechnical investigation for a new solar foundation in Alberta. Read on to find out why our role was critical for the development of a successful project.

The project will combine a 13.5MWdc ground-mount solar facility with an 8MW/8MWh battery storage system on land owned and currently unused by the Town of Drumheller. As a town of only 8,000 people, the Drumheller Solar Project will provide a large revenue stream to the community, among other benefits such as job opportunities.

Solar developer Longspur Developments held an Open House early this year, where they proposed the project to the town. In a wave of support from the local community, the project was approved in late April 2020.

Geotechnical Investigation Manages Solar Project Risk through Sound Design

PRI Engineering’s role in performing the geotechnical investigation for the solar project in Alberta was perhaps the most consequential step in the development process to minimize the risk of construction delays and cost overlays.

The results that PRI found will inform the major structural and foundational decisions that will last the lifetime of the solar array. Their geotechnical report describes the subsurface conditions and recommendations for the construction and design of the project, specifically, the solar racking foundations.

Foundations designed to the specification of the site have an outsized impact on the construction timelines and the lifespan of the solar product. Design and implementation issues with foundations often arise during construction and may result in delays and monetary penalties. Sourcing geotech designs from companies with solar experience will prevent these construction issues from occurring and having a resulting impact on revenue.

For companies that go on to own and operate their own solar projects, the long-term durability of foundations is particularly important. The foundations must be able to withstand normal to extreme instances of unexpected weather events, changes in climate, and other environmental challenges like changes in local hydrology.

For Drumheller, PRI prepared a report looking at the site’s suitability for solar and conducted:

  • Field investigation
  • Piezometer installation
  • Materials testing for engineering classification
  • Field resistivity testing
  • Subsurface overburden testing
  • Analysis of bedrock and other obstructions
  • Groundwater and borehole stability analysis

For a full list of the services we offer solar developers, visit our Services page.

New Source of Electricity for Drumheller Businesses and Residents

The Drumheller Solar Project presents many potential benefits for the community. The generated electricity will be exported to ATCO’s Electric 25 kV network and is estimated to provide around 3,000 homes with clean energy – nearly all of the current households in Drumheller.

The residents also can take advantage of a less common addition to a solar project, a solar battery storage system. It will allow the community to offset peak loads by saving energy from low-demand periods and discharging at times of peak demand. The storage system is supported by Emissions Reductions Alberta, via the Biotechnology, Electricity, and Sustainable Transportation Challenge.

The town of Drumheller will also be able to earn tax revenue from the unused parcel, and the construction of the project will offer many opportunities for local contractors. Projects like this that facilitate clean energy and job creation are good for both the community post Covid-19, as well as for mitigating and adapting to climate change in the short-term.

If you are interested in hiring PRI Engineering as your geotechnical engineer for a current or future project, please contact us at info@priengineering.com.

Visit our website at priengineering.com for more information on our services and history in Canada and the United States.