#GEDONA Weekend: Sustainable Sunday at The Living City Campus

By: Yvonne Ho

On Sept 11th, GEDO and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) collaborated to host the “Sustainable Sunday” event at the Living City Campus at Kortright, located in the City of Vaughan. TRCA is a not-for-profit environmental organization that works together with partnering organizations, corporations and the municipal government to protect and restore the health of our urban environment to create a greener and cleaner living space. Their main areas of expertise include ecological protection, sustainable community development, and environmental education.

I arrived at the Campus on Sunday afternoon, excited to kick off a day of learning surrounding sustainability and renewable energy technology. Having read and heard about the Living City Campus at Kortright over a dozen times, I was grateful for this opportunity offered by GEDO to finally visit the Campus and witness first-hand what I’ve only learned in articles and videos in the past.


Visitors were greeted warmly by TRCA staff and volunteers at an information tent set up near the parking lot. A tour guide awaited our arrival to lead us on a tour down what was called an “Innovation Trail”, a short trail through the natural landscapes of the Campus that featured renewable energy technology and showcases set up around the area, including a small-scale wind turbine test site, a solar array test site, and an off grid cottage powered by renewable energy.

Wind turbine test site


Figure 1 Three wind turbines installed at different heights and generation output at the Campus

The use of home scale wind turbines to generate electricity is not a new phenomenon, but with increasing interest in renewable energy, it is becoming more common. When wind turbines are connected to the grid, they can offset the owners’ utility bills while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, the Small Wind Turbine industry presently does not have clear and systematic standards for approving or rating their products, leading to inconsistencies in performance claims from some manufacturers, and creating uncertainty in the marketplace. How much energy these “suburban” turbines will produce, for how long, and with what degree of neighbour acceptance remains to be proved.


Figure 2 A three-kilowatt vertical axis turbine at the Campus

The studies conducted by TRCA at this wind turbine test site helps address these uncertainties by assessing the feasibility and performance of three small wind turbines installed at different heights at the Living City Campus, and comparing monitored performance to manufacturer rated power outputs using a standardized wind test protocol. The three turbines monitored have manufacturer’s rated output of 1 kW, 2.4 kW and 10 kW and installed on 55, 50 and 60 foot towers, respectively. By testing them in an urban setting, it is hoped that they can produce renewable energy and provide ‘real world’ data that are useful to both system designers and prospective users alike.

Solar Photovoltaic field test site


Figure 3 Eight kilowatts of grid-connected photovoltaic systems

The use of photovoltaic (PV) technologies in Ontario to generate electricity has increased substantially since the introduction of the Feed in Tariff (FIT) program 7 years ago. This program offers renewable energy producers guaranteed rates per kilowatt hour (kWh) of solar and wind energy sold back to the grid.

Despite the growth in the industry, questions remain about the performance and return on investment that may be achieved through PV technologies in Ontario’s climate. To help address these questions and demonstrate the range of technologies available, TRCA constructed a solar PV field test site in 2011 at the Living City Campus.


Figure 4 Sample of a roof-mounted photovoltaic system

This PV field test site is a central location where photovoltaic technologies are being demonstrated, monitored, compared and assessed under weather conditions characteristic of the Greater Toronto Area. It includes various PV system design configurations that can be easily modified or re-wired to serve different purposes.  A custom monitoring and data acquisition system provides live data logging capabilities for education and research. In addition to the on-site arrays, the Kortright Center hosts a number of other solar installations, including solar shingles, solar thermal and solar air demonstrations, as well as one of the oldest PV installations in Canada. Since its establishment, this test site has become a well-reputed center for research collaborations with public agencies, universities, and industry professionals from across Ontario and North America.

Off grid cottage and Energy Literacy presentation

For residents living in remote areas far from the electrical grid, it can be costly to have hydro installed. Fortunately, alternatives exist— including off grid cottages. These are energy efficient buildings that rely solely on renewable energy sources to provide all their heating and electrical needs.

The off grid solar cottage at Kortright derives its energy needs from a solar and wind electrical system that is practical, reliable, and cost-effective— a 165-watt solar PV system and a 400-watt wind turbine. These two systems charge a battery bank, which in turn provide electricity to operate appliances like lights, a refrigerator, water pump, television, and radio. Solar water heating panels convert solar energy into heat to provide hot water for the cottage. Solar/wood heating is also used to heat the cottage. A combination of passive solar heating and a high-efficiency wood stove keeps the cottage warm during the cold winter months.


Figure 5 The off-grid cottage that is powered by solar and wind

Representatives from Powerstream and TRCA were also present to give a short yet informative presentation on energy literacy. Visitors were briefed on what energy/power is, where it comes from, how it leads to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, as well as how we can reduce our household electricity consumption by switching to energy efficient products and appliances.


Figure 6 Representatives from Powerstream and TRCA giving a presentation on Energy Literacy

Sustainable Archetype House


Figure 7 Exterior view of the sustainable archetype house at Kortright

One of the top attractions at the Living City Campus is their “sustainable archetype house”, also known as the “Living Laboratory”. This model house highlights sustainable technologies in energy and water conservation, materials and building practices, and promotes a holistic approach to home and community building. It features demonstrations that provide a real-life learning facility for trades, builders, students and homeowners who are looking into these green building methods and standards. The units are rated under a variety of new home labeling systems including EnergyStar, GreenHouse, and LEED (Platinum).


Figure 8 The backyard of the house

The goals and missions of this sustainable archetype house include:

  • Demonstrate sustainable technologies, materials and practices in the production of residential housing.
  • Facilitate the market transformation of green or sustainable building practices and technologies.
  • Educate and inspire people about the benefits of adopting sustainable practices and technologies.
  • Provide specialized training for the installation and operation of sustainable products and systems.
  • Promote a holistic approach to community building and sustainable home building.

Main takeaway from the event:

Overall, what was most memorable for me during this short visit to Kortright was the rare opportunity to actually see and experience being in both an off grid solar house and a sustainability model house. Ultimately, what sets this facility apart from other educational institutions is the abundance of real world demonstration facilities available to teach students sustainability solutions that are more than just textbook-based theoretical concepts.

I really appreciated that the entire area served as a real life educational experience for visitors and students, allowing people to witness and even contribute to practical solutions in action. I believe that education in sustainability and environmental awareness can and should be made more mainstream for the general public and be integrated heavily into educational programs in schools. Thankfully, collaborations such as this one— made between GEDO and TRCA/the Living City Campus— is already working to making that a reality!


About the Living City Campus at Kortright Center:

The Living City Campus at Kortright, an initiative owned and operated by the TRCA, is a centre of excellence for urban sustainability where people gather to learn, research, demonstrate, and be inspired by technologies and practices that help build sustainable city regions. Situated among 250 hectares of protected forests, rivers, fields and wetlands, the Campus is unique from other environmental educational centers in part due to its natural setting and capacity in bringing sustainability solutions to life. The harmonious interconnection between nature and urban sustainability infrastructures at the campus serves as a constant reminder to visitors that human activity and technologies can be truly sustainable when designed with the natural world in mind. Watch this short introduction video to learn more about the Center— Video: Welcome to the Living City Campus.


Yvonne is an environmental professional with an educational background in environmental science and sustainability. She has several years of work experience in the environmental non-profit sector— carrying out research on key environmental issues, writing reports and educational articles, executing membership development and outreach initiatives, as well as implementing marketing and communications plans for campaigns. She has a keen interest in renewable energy, impact investing, sustainable development, and environmental laws and policies. Prominent environmental organizations she has volunteered at and worked for include Sierra Club, Environmental Defence, Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, Toronto Environmental Alliance, and Pollution Probe. Yvonne is motivated to work together with like-minded people and organizations towards greater environmental justice and climate action.