The Smart Energy Company™, New Brunswick’s first utility-scale solar developer, proudly announces the NOREASTER, specifically designed for cold harsh climates where energy is needed most…
Located in Quispamsis, NB, not far from the port city of Saint John, The Smart Energy Company is a member of the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, and the province’s leading solar developer, whose projects account for over 50 percent of all grid-tied solar installations in New Brunswick.
The company was founded in 2016 by CEO Mark McAloon, with a vision, the company says, to “accelerate the world’s transition to clean energy” and a mission to “create the most compelling renewable energy packages for commercial enterprises globally.”
To learn more about this impressive vision and mission, we spoke with McAloon who explained that the company had begun as a residential solar energy business, “but because I am an entrepreneur by definition, I am always looking to see what we can do to grow the company, where there’s a need, and what we can offer that has value.”
A need for new ideas
A major issue for homeowners attempting to achieve solar-energy efficiency and predictability, he learned, stems from placement of the panels on the roof. The energy generated for one home may be quite different from that generated on a neighbour’s roof, either because the panel had to be placed in a different position in relation to the sun or because of differences in the roof’s pitch.
But, he realized early on, “if you take solar panels off the roof and put them on the ground, you have much better control of the panel and can optimize the angle it is facing into the sun.”
And that’s not the only benefit, because if the solar array is installed on the ground there is the option of utilizing bi-facial solar panels which produce electricity from both front and back of the panel, angled to get maximum light hours. The end result is considerably higher efficiency and predictability than most roof-top systems achieve.
However, while ground solar arrays were impractical for small residential urban lots, they could be eminently suitable for spacy rural areas, and of particular value to farmers.
This is where McAloon turned the company’s attention in 2017, engaging in research and development and partnering with community leaders, all of whom were intrigued by the potential of solar as a viable option.
Designed to work here
For the company’s first large-scale solar utility project, no equipment was available in Atlantic Canada, so it was all purchased from outside the province.
“But after a year of operating we found that we had to replace many of the components and modify the system. We modified it so much that there was barely anything left of the original system. We were forced to innovate and become more of an engineering firm, taking a product and learning how to design it to work in our environment.”
The products had to be modified structurally to withstand the north-east gale-force winds and still be attractive. Howling winds weren’t the only problem, either, because the wet and sticky snow of Atlantic Canada’s long winters threatened electrical components.
The solution was the NOREASTER®, a ground-installed solar-energy system specifically designed to withstand all that wind, snow, and freezing rain. But that wasn’t all. The system was also designed to make it easier for farmers, who are used to setting up generators themselves, to assemble the system on site, since the NOREASTER® is really just an electrical generator powered by sunlight instead of diesel.
Farmers can order a package online, receive all the materials, components, and instructions, and assemble the entire system themselves up to the point of commissioning it and connecting it to the grid, which requires a certified installer.
An added plus of NOREASTER’s® portability is that it can be marketed and sold not only regionally but nationally and internationally, bringing McAloon’s mission to be a global supplier a step closer to reality. “It’s really a solar farm in a box,” he says.
Today a number of New Brunswick farms, including dairy and cattle farms and greenhouse operators whose owners were looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, are utilizing the NOREASTER’s® power and reliability.
One example is McCrea Farms, an eighth generation New Brunswick family farm. Since John McCrea arrived in Shannon, NB in 1821 the family has stayed to live and farm in the area. With a herd of beef and dairy cattle, forestry, maple syrup, a hatchery and farm tourism among the list of their offerings, this is an incredibly busy farm.
Seventh generation owners Bruce and Nancy Colpitts (nee McCrea) worked with The Smart Energy Company to implement a grid-tied solar system that would offset their energy costs and to align with their mission of being good stewards of the land that their family and community rely on. McCrea Farms are now the first customer to install The Smart Energy Company’s Solar Farm in a Box. After receiving the materials, an instructional video, and a manual, Bruce, Nancy and their sons built their very own 100kw solar farm on their property.
In the weeks following the McCrea’s project, two other New Brunswick businesses have followed suit in building their own NOREASTER® in a box. The company is readying itself to supply customers and electrical contractors in other parts of Canada and New England.
Urban, commercial, industrial
New Brunswick leaders took notice of The Smart Energy Company’s products and their success in farming operations which led to opportunities to install variations of solar arrays in public schools, and in a number of small to mid-size businesses.
While ground installations have definite advantages over roof-top installations, McAloon has by no means given up on urban needs and the company has designed installations that work well on flat roofs.
Another ‘first of its kind’ installation is currently generating energy for the Social Enterprise Hub, a facility in uptown Saint John where land space is at a premium. Instead, an innovative system is installed on the building’s flat roof. It effectively faces both east and west, picking up rays from the rising sun, and on the other side, from the setting sun.
“That was a really good project for us to gather data from and compare with other systems,” says McAloon of the project which received an Environmental Recognition Award from the City of Saint John in 2017.
The success of the installation in Saint John also shows that solar energy systems do not need a huge amount of sunlight to function, as the port city is wreathed in fog as often as not. All that’s needed is light.
The Smart Energy Company™ has also developed a rooftop and canopy solar energy system for the Saint John Regional Hospital.
Better and better
But its innovation doesn’t stop there. When Day & Ross, Canada’s second largest transportation company, with over 8,000 employees, drivers, and owner-operators in Canada and the U.S., considered how they could achieve their sustainability goals, they turned to The Smart Energy Company™.
The result is that their state-of-the-art terminal in Moncton is now powered by the largest net-metered solar installation in Atlantic Canada. The 100 KW NOREASTER® solar array will save Day & Ross thousands in utility bills and offset 34.5 tons of equivalent CO2 emissions a year, which equates to 3.2 hectares of carbon-absorbing forest.
Kevin Chase, CFO at Day & Ross, says, “The Smart Energy Company™ completed the project on time and to our satisfaction. We have been impressed with how they have adapted to working during this pandemic and have provided great overall project management and guidance. They have helped improve our understanding of renewable systems as this solar installation in Moncton is a key step in our larger sustainability strategy.”
Just as the Day & Ross project was wrapping up, work was beginning on a 1.63 MW community solar farm in the Town of Shediac. In partnership with NB Power, The Smart Energy Company™ is building and installing over 4,000 solar panels and several hundred NOREASTER® arrays, connected to an energy storage system, making it the first utility-scale solar farm in Atlantic Canada.
It is scheduled for completion at the end of 2021 and is an important component of the Smart Grid Atlantic Energy Program being implemented by NB Power together with Siemens Canada, Nova Scotia Power, and the Town of Shediac.
“This clean energy project will offset the electricity used by a few of the industrial buildings in Shediac, and will be an important signature project for both our company and our province,” McAloon said.
The right direction
McAloon says that in 2017, when the team started researching and developing ground solar installations for farms, they didn’t intend this product to be competitive with large-scale projects such as Day & Ross or the partnership with NB Power to build in Shediac.
“But now it is, and companies all across Atlantic Canada are calling us and asking, ‘what is this solar farm in a box?’ It really simplifies things for them, as they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time an organization asks them if they can put solar on their property. We can offer them a full turn-key package.”
McAloon grows reflective when he starts talking about climate change and how we can reduce our carbon footprint. “There is no absolute solution for everything, but there is a need for us, as a society, to take steps toward the right solution and that is where this small piece in the large puzzle comes in. Renewable sources of energy like the NOREASTER® won’t change everything, but it is moving us in the right direction,” he says.
“We can’t continue the way we were, so the shift starts when people and organizations start taking a leadership role. It’s people like the Pownings [sculptor Peter Powning and author Beth Powning, early adopters of the NOREASTER® on their property near Sussex]. It’s the farmers, like McCrea Farms, businesses like Radical Edge (outdoor outfitters in Fredericton) or ALIVE Kombucha in Moncton who put our logo on their beverage bottles. It’s large organizations like Day & Ross, or Saint John Energy or NB Power [which awarded its Energy Efficiency Excellence Award to The Smart Energy Company in 2018],” says McAloon.
“It is all our partners who are making a difference and for this, our little grassroots company is very grateful.”
In addition to solar energy systems, The Smart Energy Company is also a source for Generac PWR CELL Clean Energy Storage Systems and is an approved installer for Tesla Fast Charging Stations.