The combined vision of Canada’s solar energy industry was on display at the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) Solar Canada 2014 event, held from December 8-9 in Toronto, Ontario. That vision was outlined in the “Roadmap 2020” document, which laid out the goals, opportunities, targets, and challenges that the industry faces.
Ontario has developed into a force within the solar industry. Currently 99% of Canada’s solar energy is generated in the province, with nearly 2 GW of capacity that makes the area one of the top 20 world markets for solar electricity. This capacity improvement represents an over twenty-fold increase in just six years.
A pivotal force in the development process was the passage of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEGEA) in 2009. The preamble of the act sums up the intent nicely – it is a commitment to “remove barriers and promote opportunities for renewable projects.” Certainly it succeeded in Ontario, but can the philosophy be spread throughout the provinces?
Perhaps, but the task requires significant salesmanship as well as technical expertise. Both politicians and the public must be convinced of more than just the green benefits – they must also see economic benefits and practical applications. Thus of the five barriers listed in Roadmap 2020, the solutions are as much psychological as they are technical.
1. Regulatory Barriers – Solar energy policies are favorable in Ontario, but they can be inconsistent and not supportive in other provinces. If regulations are not reasonable, fair, and consistent throughout the provinces, solar energy can only develop in small regional pockets where conditions are favorable.
2. Difficult Grid Connections – Roadmap 2020 refers to grid interconnection requirements as “confusing, slow and expensive.” There has to be incentive for the electric companies to expand the connection and metering capabilities in areas where solar energy has the greatest potential for payback.
3. High Costs – In particular, this refers to the non-hardware costs or “soft” costs such as installation and maintenance, permitting and regulatory compliance, and grid interconnection. PV cells and other hardware components have dropped almost exponentially in price thanks to technological advances and the economy of scale (among other factors); soft costs have remained stubbornly constant and thus are taking up an increasing share of the cost profile.
4. Perception – Solar energy has great public support in Canada as a concept, but the practical benefits and applications are not fully understood and accepted. Much of the issue is rooted in solar energy’s perception as overly expensive – and that is a difficult argument to win until some of the projected soft cost improvements are realized.
5. Synergy – For solar to breakthrough in larger scale, there has to be improved synergy in multiple directions. Since solar is an intermittent technology, it will be difficult to take true economic advantage of it until complementary technologies and applications are advanced – novel energy storage systems, smart grids, electric vehicles, and similar applications.
Many of these technologies are on a development curve similar to solar energy, and mutually beneficial development is critical to advancing both technologies.
What are the goals for 2020 once the barriers are overcome? Produce around 1% of all of Canada’s electrical generation needs, displacing nearly 1.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually – and along the way, employ around 10,000 annually in the construction, manufacturing, and operation of solar facilities.
In summary, Roadmap 2020 does an excellent job of outlining the path to mass adoption of solar energy technologies. Now comes the hard part of convincing skeptics to join and follow that path to a green, cost-effective energy future.