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U of Sask students building solar greenhouse


May 3, 2010
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.


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.

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“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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