U of Sask students building solar greenhouse

March 16, 2012
Written by Matt Cheetham, The Sheaf.com
May 3, 2010, Saskatoon – This spring, Footprint Design, an engineering student group at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, plans to begin construction on a solar powered greenhouse.

One of the focuses of this greenhouse is food production.

“Right now, more than 90 per cent of the food that we eat in Saskatchewan is imported from other places and probably all of that is imported using fossil fuel transportation. We need ways to eat food locally,” said Footprint Design co-chair Steffen Bertelsen, who has studied solar greenhouse design.

“Solar greenhouse design utilizes solar storage of heat and uses environmentally friendly materials. It’s very possible to grow fruits and vegetables year-round without fossil fuels. These greenhouses require less than 10 per cent of the heating costs of normal greenhouses.”

In January, Bertelsen went on a trip to China where he viewed a number of solar powered greenhouses that have been used for decades to great success.

While in China, Bertelsen, Glen Sweetman, the Government of Saskatchewan’s greenhouse specialist, and a number of local greenhouse growers toured some of the country’s greenhouses with the goal of bringing back what they learned to adapt to Saskatchewan greenhouse growing.

Bertelsen wants to learn to better adapt and implement that technology in Saskatchewan.

“We learned lots of things,” he said. “But the challenge is because the climate is different as well as the economic influences are different — labour is cheap, building materials are different — the challenge is finding out how we can take the same basic ideas and the same designs and adapt it to our materials, our labour costs and materials costs and our climate.”

One thing Bertelsen learned is that Saskatchewan needs to catch up.

“I learned that we are in the stone age in terms of greenhouse growing in Saskatchewan,” he said. “We saw acres and acres of solar greenhouses in China and compared to the industry in Saskatchewan, it’s just huge.”

Bertelsen acknowledged the hypocritical nature of flying to China when this contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions he is trying to mitigate.

“I struggled very much with this. This is contrary to what I believe but this is probably the only time I will go to China. And I (went) there to learn how to reduce carbon emissions and learn how to do that in the most effective or efficient way possible. So, sometimes you do have to make a deal with the devil.”

Bertelsen feels passionately about these issues because they have such important larger consequences.

“We are warming the climate and we are doing that by carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. There are large deposits of organic material that are decaying, which releases methane.

“As the polar icecaps melt, this methane is released and creates a runaway climate change effect. This occurs when we are at two degrees above pre-industrial levels and the correlates to 450 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Right now we are about at 380. If we continue to this we are going to hit a tipping point in 2015.”

Bertelsen said in order to change this we need to get government policy to get big industries to cut emissions, as well as getting people to start using electric cars and eating locally to start reducing carbon emissions. He also suggests walking and bicycling more to help with this approach.

Bertelsen’s main goals throughout this are to better educate and help people understand what is happening within the environment.

“We don’t need to necessarily scare people but we do need to tell people what the situation is. There are tons of misinformation campaigns from both sides and we really need truth to come out. People need to know the truth because once you actually know what’s going on instead of what the media tells you, you are going to act accordingly.”

EXTRA CREDIT
Home is a 2009 documentary that focuses on the environment, climate and global warming issues. The film was directed by Yann Arthus Bertrand and is narrated by Glenn Close. Bertrand intended the movie to be seen by as many people as possible and has no official copyright.
Home can be viewed for free on the Internet on websites such as YouTube. Home was also created as an educational tool and is free for use in schools.

Footprint Design has held screenings of this movie twice. They chose it in the hope that it would be more meaningful than just presenting scientific data would be.

“The purpose of this is to gather like minds and have a discussion and come up with some plans,” said Bertelsen.

“This movie is a really good way of getting people familiar with the subject without having to throw lots of scientific data at them.”

Matt Cheetham is a news writer with The Sheaf.com, the University of Saskatchewan student newspaper since 1912.

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