Integrating sustainability through solar thermal

Darren Vaux has been an instructor at Camosun in the Plumbing and Pipe Trades department since 2008. During this time, he has been a true change-agent and has collaborated with others in finding ways to use the campus at Camosun as a living lab for i

 Darren Vaux poses beside an energy efficient hot water tank

"We are helping students position themselves for the future." - Darren Vaux Pipe Trades Instructor, Solar Hot Water Expert & Green Trades Leader

Integrating sustainability through solar thermal

Darren is passionate about solar hot water, rainwater management and  green trades and has been able  to collaborate throughout the college community, integrate sustainability into his teaching and provide an experience to his learners that will be valuable in our current climate. An example of this is his involvement in working with Pacific Solar Smart Homes to develop a leading-edge "CamoSun" solar Thermal Heating system for residential homes. Because of this work, Camosun has become a Canadian leader in solar thermal heating education and development.

You don't need to spend much time with Darren to discover his passion for renewable technology and the future of green trades. While he has always been interested in environmental work, solar thermal technology first captured his attention when he started plumbing and worked for a foreman who had a solar heating system:  "It really appealed to me and it seemed so obvious – the need for this technology, and the training for it – whether it's required or not."  Since then, he has been informing and promoting solar thermal energy to as many people as possible.

Teaching concepts of renewable energy

Darren also wedges in concepts of renewable energy wherever he can while teaching the "traditional stuff", and he finds that it really piques student interest. The Solar Thermal Entry level course, which he developed and teaches, is one example of how the School of Trades and Technology is helping to position Camosun as a leader in sustainability. Offered through Continuing Education, the course prepares students to write the NABCEP entry-level exam. "Passing this exam demonstrates that the learner has a basic understanding of the design, function and operation of solar heating systems," explains Vaux, "the benefit to the student is that it discriminates them from their peers and it looks good on a resume to have experience in renewable energy technology." Teaching these courses at a time when these technologies are not recognized in Provincial and Federal levels program outlines is all about foresight: "We are putting the cart ahead of the horse so to speak, but we know the market is coming – it's inevitable. The students want it and they demand it. So we are helping students position themselves for the future."

A diversity of knowledge and expertise at Camosun

Darren says that the diversity in expertise and knowledge in the Camosun Plumbing and Pipe Trades department really sets it apart from similar programs across Canada. "There is a great atmosphere in our department. Our instructors are specialized in all different areas – there are no two people with the same background in this industry - and we are able to share that diversity of knowledge and expertise. No one here has to be told to think outside the box." Darren goes on to explain that the opportunity for growth in Trades and Technology sector is huge, and that he thinks plumbing and pipefitting will be the most affected by the coming changes in water conservation and renewable technologies: "There are so many facets of our trade related to renewable technologies – heating/cooling, rainwater capture and reuse, biofuels from grease, sanitary waste . . . "

One issue that is coming to the forefront is rainwater management. "[It]is a complex issue: it involves, plumbing, landscaping and storm-water management," says Vaux, "Our groundwater supplies are limited and are becoming polluted, but since we have abundant rainfall here in Victoria, we should be able to take advantage of it as a resource so that we don't have problems with our water supply. The run-off from storm-water is expensive for districts and municipalities to deal with so there is a lot of incentive to create on-site systems that deal with storm-water.  The potential for creating systems where rainwater can be captured and filtered for use in the home – even turned into potable use– is huge." A large storage tank for harvesting rain water entering the municipal system is already in place at the lab at the Plumbing shop, and the department is setting itself up to become a training facility, a showcase for industry, and to play an advisory role for local and municipal programs.

Government support is crucial

Government support is key to advancing sustainability, as it is the driving factor behind the growth of the green trades within British Columbia. Darren notes that while the culture in BC is supportive, industry does not have the same support from Government as in other parts of Canada. This barrier, coupled with heavily subsidized electricity, makes the choice to switch to a solar hot water system challenging. He also mentions that the most common critique of solar is that it is not enough: People say 'I could cover my roof in solar panels and still not have enough to power my home.' But what people need to realize is that solar is just one piece of the puzzle that is going to help solve our future energy needs."

Loving learning at Camosun

Staying motivated in his job is easy, Darren says. He loves that he learns something everyday, and there is a lot more to come: "There are a lot of projects I would like to develop with the Centre of Applied Research here at Camosun. I would love to do a joint project with the horticulture and grounds departments with solar energy. I would also love to see a solar parking structure put in place here at Camosun. We did get an electric vehicle charging station, which was very cool, but how great would it be if the electricity was sourced through solar?"

Contact information

Camosun College

Communications Department