Saskatchewan and BC represent solid opportunities for solar energy deployment, sort of
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Perry Hoffman

December 14, 2010

While it comes as no surprise that Ontario is the place to be when it comes solar PV deployment, other Canadian provinces such as Saskatchewan and British Columbia represent jurisdictions that hold substantial promise for the deployment of not only solar PV but solar thermal technologies.

For Saskatchewan, the opportunity lies in its solar resource. Along side Alberta, the two Prairie provinces have the most abundant solar resource in the country. An analysis done by Canadian Green Tech based on Natural Resources Canada data shows that two-thirds of Saskatchewan can generate between 1200 and 1400 kWh/kW depending on the solar PV system configuration. In Alberta , the same level of energy can be produced in about half of the province. Both provinces can generate a minimum of 1100 kWh/kW across their entire geographies.

The need to develop new sources of energy in Saskatchewan is critical with industrial development in the provincial clipping along quite nicely. According to Ian Loughran, leader of renewable energy programs at SaskPower Eneraction, the province will need to generate an additional 3300 MW of electricity annually by 2030. The Crown corp is exploring a number of alternatives, including micro hydro, wind, combined heat and power, biomass gasification and solar. For more on SaskPower’s energy plan, click here.

“Definitely we’ve got this resource that needs to be tap into,” he said of solar.

But while the province could generate an abundant supply of solar energy, Saskatchewan’s renewable energy policies for both small projects and utility scale deployments are not been solar friendly. For utilities, it offers power purchase agreements with 20-year contracts at $0.0942 kWh, escalating 2% annually. And on the residential side, SaskPower offers a rebate program under which the developer gets a 35% rebate on the cost of the project. The net metering program essentially offsets usage and doesn’t allow the project owner to earn income. By the end of the year, SaskPower estimates that it will have 185 customers using solar in its net metering program.

“So it doesn’t make a lot of sense for solar, either of these programs as of right now. But we’re working on some other stuff that will help complement this,” Loughran said.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for consulting services to help the province determine better ways to leverage renewable energy sources. “We’ll hopefully be awarding the contract before Christmas and we’ll be moving ahead in 2011 with researching a program,” he said.

British Columbia, which tabled its Clean Energy Act in the summer, is contemplating a feed-in-tariff program, but it won’t be on the scale of the FiT program that exists in Ontario. Geoff Turner, senior policy advisory for the BC Ministry of Energy, said one of the reasons for this decision is “we’ve already got a pretty clean electricity system so we’re not in a position of trying to find a replacement for coal for example. We’re also a very cheap jurisdiction when it comes to resale electricity prices.”

Under the proposed BC FiT, a number of different technologies will be allowed, including hydrogen fuel cells, wave and tidal power and biomass gasification. Despite perceptions that solar was excluded from the proposed FiT, it wasn’t. During consultations held this fall, solar proponents suggested that the BC FiT program recognize the additional value that solar brings, such as the benefit of solar PV in distribution congested areas, benefits of having generation that matches peak demand, benefits around saving the utility money by having solar in the local area. And there are suggestions around using solar in very efficient buildings.

“We’re now looking at those [suggestions from the consultation] and moving forward with the regulatory development process. Given that we are between premiers right now, the timelines are looking like they might be longer than we initially hoped,” Turner noted.

On the energy efficiency of buildings, the province is contemplating an update to the provincial building code that would require new buildings to be solar ready. The provision is very popular with more than 30 communities such as Vancouver, West Vancouver and Kelowna saying they will enact the voluntary solar ready clause when it’s part of the building code.

“Down the road, we might look at pushing that out to the whole province, to be some sort of a renewable energy supply requirement as part of new buildings,“ Turner said. “So there are a number of options that we’re examining there that would be pushing renewable energy and solar into new buildings as a requirement under the building code.”

Two other mechanisms BC is exploring to encourage renewable energy deployment are alternative financial approaches and local improvement area charges. On financing the province is considering the “pay as you save” approach where homeowners could finance a solar thermal system on their utility bill. Another potential program is to allow municipalities to use the local improvement area charge, usually reserved for municipal infrastructure such as sewers, to fund the rollout of solar thermal or solar PV systems.

BC has been active on the solar thermal front, and according to Turner, that’s the result of the climate change plan in the province. Because natural gas heats about 60% of the province’s hot water, “it’s easier to make the case for investments in solar based on greenhouse gas emissions reductions through solar thermal programs as opposed to PV programs to date.”

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