Out of the dark ages

According to John Gorman, President and CEO of Canadian Solar Industries Association, the price of solar has come down so dramatically that the cost of the panels is no longer an issue. The need for government programs and policy is now more a case of changing the way that utilities and regulators are dealing with electricity.

“I think in the next 10 years we’re going to see solar on a global scale — first reaching 5 percent of the total energy generation and then maybe grow up to 10 or 15 percent.

“For the last 130 years, ever since the electricity grid was invented, it has operated in one way,” Gorman explains. “That is this idea of building the biggest possible generating station, powered by the cheapest possible fuel, which is usually coal or gas, so you can produce as many electrons as possible and force them down smaller and smaller pipes, until they flood the homes of consumers. It’s a completely centralized, one-way system.”

As with many antiquated systems, our current one is so deeply entrenched, that it’s exceedingly hard to change, according to Gorman. For evolution to occur here, electrical utilities essentially need to make competitors out of their customers. A process which is, understandably, taking a while to sink in but is by no means an impossible feat.

Making the change

The question of whether or not solar tech will grow in the coming years is not something that’s up in the air, according to Shawn Qu, Chairman and CEO of Canadian Solar Inc. “I think in the next 10 years we’re going to see solar on a global scale — first reaching 5 percent of the total energy generation and then maybe grow up to 10 or 15 percent. New solar installations reached 58 gigawatts (GW) in 2015 and that’s almost a tenfold growth in the past eight years. So, the growth rate is huge. I do expect the global new installation market to reach 100 GW in no more than seven to eight years and then sustain at that level until around 2030 or so.”

"If you set a quota for solar, set a renewable energy standard portfolio, and let the private sector figure out how to reach those targets, that gives Canada the chance to grow as a real global player.”

This global growth means that the issue is no longer about solar’s future in Canada, but Canada’s future on the international solar-tech market. According to Qu, if policies can help sustain a certain market size in Canada, then burgeoning solar companies will be much more inclined to use it as a base of operations. “Ontario has played a leader’s role in the past few years and it would be great to see other provinces follow suit,” says Qu. “This progress can be achieved if the federal government set a standard for other Canadian provinces to increase their percentage of renewable energy. If you set a quota for solar, set a renewable energy standard portfolio, and let the private sector figure out how to reach those targets, that gives Canada the chance to grow as a real global player.”