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HANSON ISLAND, B.C. – Fourteen 270-watt solar panels donated by Canadian Solar Inc., and installed by St. Lawrence College professor Steve Lapp and Energy Systems Engineering student Ronnie Giberson, are now powering a world-renowned orca whale research centre on a remote island off the British Columbia coast near Alert Bay.


The panels will power the main OrcaLab site, and a network of underwater microphones and cameras which track migrating orca whales and other marine animals. The live signals are monitored by OrcaLab staff and a dozen volunteers during the summer months, and stored on computers for later expert analysis.


“We are going to reduce the carbon emissions from the gas generators by 1.5 to 2 tonnes per year, which also means a fuel cost saving of up to $2,000 per year for OrcaLab,” says Steve, who devoted part of his sabbatical to design and install the system. “And what’s also cool is that the conservation of a species can now occur using an energy source which causes no harm to the environment or atmosphere.”


For graduating student Ronnie Giberson, who spent a month on the project, including two weeks living on-site with Steve for the install, it has been an unparalleled hands-on learning experience using the skills and knowledge gained in the ESET program and putting it to practical use. “This has been the experience of a lifetime,” he says. “The ESET program has given me an incredible opportunity to put my knowledge to use on this important project with huge positive impact for our environment and wildlife.”


OrcaLab has been recording the Johnson Strait whales for more than four decades. Founder Dr. Paul Spong and his wife Helena Symonds have spearheaded global research which confirms orca ‘clans’ have distinct, highly sophisticated dialects. This scientific evidence in turn has led to bans against commercial orca hunting, and to the creation of nearby orca sanctuaries.


“What this solar upgrade is doing for us is fantastic!” says the sprightly, 74-year old whale expert and advocate. “We are now running all of our power needs without a generator, and looking forward to a future here without oil. We are so grateful to Canadian Solar.”


“Our ambition has long been to expand our network of underwater microphones and high-definition camera imagery of orcas, in some of the most important parts of their habitat, then stream this to the internet so everybody around the world can hear and see what we are privileged to. To do that, we needed more power, and solar will do that for us”.


The new donated solar system allows the off-grid OrcaLab to cut gas generator use and fuel costs dramatically, increase battery performance and life, expand the range of microphones and cameras, and improve amenities for summer volunteers. It is designed to perform with minimal maintenance for decades.


The donated panels were made at Canadian Solar’s plant in Guelph, Ontario (Canada), and related equipment to upgrade the OrcaLab network and replace gas generator use was donated by Simpatico Solar, a private foundation established by social entrepreneur, Paul McKay.




For information

Laura Tulchinsky

St. Lawrence College, Communications

613-544-5400, ext. 1291