We sat down to chat with John Gorman, President & CEO of CanSIA, about the outlook on renewable energy, how government has been supporting the move to clean energy and how Solar Canada will deliver a top notch line-up at this year’s conference.
As spokesperson for the Canadian solar energy industry, John is a seasoned, strategic and thoughtful leader and recognized expert in building effective partnerships and coalitions to affect positive change.
John brings expertise in government relations and public policy to the CanSIA Team developed during his 20-years of professional involvement in the solar energy and sustainable infrastructure sectors.
John is a native of Ottawa where he lives with his wife and two children in their solar-powered home.
Let’s dive into the interview.
How has the Canadian Government’s support for carbon-free energy encouraged a more national outlook on (renewable) energy strategy/policy?
The government has done two very important things for encouraging a carbon-free energy outlook for the country. Those two things are:
- Providing a supportive framework for provinces; and
- “Walking the talk” when it comes to their powering own operations
Electricity planning and regulation falls under provincial jurisdiction, so the Federal government is loath to step-in and tell the provinces how to run their electricity systems. Instead, we’re seeing the feds encourage the shift to lower-emitting sources of energy through the implementation of national climate policy measures and by setting an example in their own operations.
An example of how the Federal government is influencing the energy landscape is through the introduction of the national carbon pricing regime. Carbon pricing is good for clean energy because it affects the electricity system but it also helps to create certain behaviors. Mandatory carbon pricing means—among other things—that each province must examine whether their electricity system is too carbon intensive. Certain provinces are having to phase out coal, for example, which is creating room for renewable energy.
The federal government also set a national target of having 90% non-emitting sources by 2030. That’s sending a signal out to the provinces and generating conversations around phasing-out pollution-generating energy like coal. They’re also taking a look at gas-fired generation and studying the emissions that these sources create over time. Gas-fired generation will slowly be phased out as well. So, even though the Federal government doesn’t directly control energy policy province-by-province, these contextual pieces are having an impact.
The Federal government has also said that their goal is to have 100% of its own operations be powered by renewable energy by 2025. CanSIA and CanWEA are collaborating and working with the Federal government to show them the pathway to get there. It’s not an easy task as each provincial market operates differently, but it’s a great example for other agencies and organizations to follow.
Lastly, Minister Sohi has been quoted saying that over the next ten years, there will be $800B spent on green infrastructure through the three levels of government, so there is the potential of significant spending in the area of renewable energy. This is huge for our industry.
What are the biggest opportunities and surprises for the solar energy market across Canada this year?
There are three opportunities that I see for the solar energy market across Canada this year and one of them is developing surprisingly quickly.
In Ontario, the opportunity lies in the shift toward net-metering and the accompanying spending by the Green Ontario Fund, which is pumping in about $750M per year for Ontario residents, businesses and industry to adopt green technology. The combination is encouraging the adoption of clean energy, which includes solar PV and thermal.
Alberta presents a huge opportunity because of their aggressive renewable energy procurements, which are happening at all project levels and is in progress as we speak. This will be interesting to watch as it will definitely provide an influx of opportunity into the renewable energy market.
The surprise? Quebec. Pierre Arcand, Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife, has unveiled an action plan that contains a number of opportunities, such as the $1.5B investment toward Quebec’s green infrastructure and the investment in a 100MW utility-scale solar facility. This is being matched on the residential side with a smart and solar home demonstration program.
Which topics are you most excited about for this year’s annual conference?
I’m excited about the full conference program but there are three things I’d like to highlight for anyone attending or thinking about attending this year’s show.
The first has to do with the upcoming provincial elections. Ontario and Alberta—two of our most dynamic markets—are holding elections over the coming months and there’s a lot at stake. Both provinces have moved aggressively to renewable energy, so it’ll be really interesting to hear the political speakers who will be in attendance. There are a number of high-profile politicians and government officials expected to be in attendance.
The second piece of programming that I’m excited about is hearing from the IESO under their new President and CEO, Peter Gregg. IESO is putting together a new energy plan, which will set the stage for all energy sources in the province. Peter’s views will have a real impact on where the province is headed. This will give the industry some understanding and insight about how things will develop on the renewable energy front.
Finally, the involvement of different utilities across the country. From the networking sessions to the plenaries, I’m going to be watching to see how the attitude of energy utilities has been changing toward solar. If you were to talk to a utility in Ontario five years ago about solar, there was a lot of resistance and a lack of understanding about the technology but utilities are becoming more supportive and this is happening across the country.
All in all, the show is going to provide a number of insights into the current state of solar and where we’re headed as a country.
Where do you see the next market opportunities emerging in 2018 and beyond?
Many of the opportunities lie in the areas we’ve previously discussed but there are a few more highlights that I want to cover.
The first opportunity is in the move across Canada toward renewable energy. We’re going to see continued uptake of renewable energy policy across the country and we’ll see new markets open up as a result. That’s exciting and there’s no stopping the momentum that the industry has earned.
The second opportunity lies with the consumer. The demand for renewables—particularly distributed generation and enabling technologies—is growing. Canadians want to generate and manage their energy in a more cost-effective and more sustainable fashion. This is changing the dynamic around how solar PV and thermal are adopted. Just a few years ago, renewable energy (solar) was adopted because the government was pushing solutions down to system operators and directing them as to how much solar needed to be adopted. Solar PV and solar thermal are now being requested by people, businesses and industry—so there is a consumer demand building up for clean technology and for people in business to better manage and control their electricity. Consumer demand is driving things forward and it’s being encouraged in most provinces through direct consumer rebates.
Finally, I need to go back to the Green Ontario Fund, which as I mentioned is deploying $750M / year into incentive programs to encourage people, businesses and industry to adopt low-carbon technologies. In Alberta, they are doing something similar. Alberta is taking carbon levy revenues and rewarding those who adopt clean-tech and conserve. Consumer demand is being directly addressed and incentivized as a result and the framework is no longer systems or utility operator focused but rather consumer-focused.
I think we’ve entered a very exciting and dynamic period for renewable energy in Canada. It’s going to make this Solar Canada show a unique and valuable experience for our industry as we examine these new market trends and developing government policies.