Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sunny Saskatchewan a potential solar power leader

I have reposted an interesting article in the Vancouver Sun yesterday. It is only a matter of time before a solar PV developer recognizes the potential in Saskatchewan and starts development of a utility-scale solar PV project. I was quite surprised when SaskPower announced the winners of the 50 MW Green Options Partners Program earlier this month and not a single solar PV project was awarded.


Given few places in the world are better suited to deploying the solar solution, the potential exists to build a major solar industry in Saskatchewan. And while the end of Saskatchewan's renewable energy incentive last March may be a threat to existing solar companies, it is also an opportunity to create better policy and programs to strengthen the industry.

Generally sunny conditions in Canada mean the potential for solar power generation here is significantly superior to many other countries, including Germany, the nation with more than 50 per cent of the world's operating solar technology. In Canada, the best conditions for solar are in the prairies, and especially Saskatchewan, which has the most bright sunshine of any province.

That's why the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) - a trade association that represents 650 solar companies - anticipates big growth for their industry here and across the country. By 2025, CanSIA hopes to see solar energy widely deployed throughout Canada, its market competitiveness such that the government incentives are unnecessary, and recognized as an established component of Canada's energy mix. They envision a solar industry that supports more than 35,000 jobs and displaces 15 million to 31 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year - providing a safer, cleaner environment.

CanSIA believes that Saskatchewan has the potential to be a solar energy leader given its excellent solar resource, rising electrical demand, distributed power-consumer base, the need to replace aging generation infrastructure, an existing power supply that is more greenhouse gas intensive than most other provinces, as well as aggressive targets for energy conservation (150 MW reduction by 2017).

They point out that solar energy technology is quickly deplorable, scalable and a complementary option to the available solutions for securing a clean, affordable and reliable energy mix.

Of course a solar industry can't take off without some public incentives. It is standard practice to support a new industry until it can stand on its own and CanSIA has proposed its wish list of policy measures to the Saskatchewan government. First, the province should explore innovative financing mechanisms that would provide private business with better access to capital through measures such as government-backed loans, utility bill financing and the use of municipal tax incentives and loans assigned to property.

Second, there should be a transition from programs (such as Saskatchewan's Net Metering Rebate that ended in March) that provide an incentive for installing solar panels to programs that reward energy production performance. The old program provided 35 per cent rebates of the total system installed up to $35,000. CanSIA points out that while the rebate was popular with consumers, it sometimes led to solar installations that operated sub-optimally, given all systems received the same rebate regardless of actual performance.

A better approach would be a program that pays an incentive only on electricity produced. This would create an incentive to ensure any system installed performs optimally. It would also prevent funds being spent on under-performing equipment and maximize the return on investment for public funds.

This approach, used in a number of jurisdictions around the world, pays solar producers a premium price for excess electricity they produce for sale to the energy utility. The premium price helps to build the industry and recognizes he social and environmental benefits of renewable power over fossil fuels.

CanSIA also recommends that whatever policy is adopted in Saskatchewan should be stable. Rebates and incentives that last for a year or two and then end abruptly lead to a boom and bust cycle for the industry. Programs that are put in place should be designed to ensure the industry grows sustainably until it can stand on its own without public funding.

CanSIA points out that solar has many spin off benefits. If 20 MW of solar were installed in Saskatchewan in 2012, for example, 700 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs would be created. As industry capacity and momentum increased in subsequent years, Government investment in the industry could decrease, as would the cost of producing solar power due to economies of scale, industry experience and expertise and consumer awareness.


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