Is solar a viable long-term energy source for Canada?
For the panel, Jake Sadikman, Dr. Jose Etcheverry, Ryan Magee, and Andrew Knapp, the answer was a resounding “yes!” Here are three themes from these experts to guide the future of solar (and other renewables) in Canada:
One: The RE-volution will be community-led
Broadly speaking, we need people involved and engaged as we head into the next phase of energy production and distribution in Canada. There are many aspects to this, starting with meaningful community engagement throughout project development. If Canada is committed to renewable energy, people must be involved in decision-making processes.
We must also discover the community benefits of renewable energy development, whether it is ownership through co-operative models, new infrastructure and income for municipalities, local job creation, or a combination of all of these and more.
Renewable energy also needs to align aesthetically with the communities where projects are built. Dr. Etcheverry used an example from Barcelona to describe how solar has been seamlessly integrated into the existing built form of one of the most historically beautiful places in Europe, making it welcome in public spaces.
Two: Renewable energy increasingly makes economic sense – but we can keep innovating
The costs of building and buying solar are coming down rapidly. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the levalized cost of solar PV was halved between 2010 and 2014. What’s more, renewable energy generally is competitive with traditional fuels in many markets, demonstrating that these technologies are viable from an environmental and economic perspective.
At the same time, we can push for even greater efficiencies by continuing to innovate. This means innovation in technology, including energy storage in order to realize the full potential of solar. This also means streamlining processes – within Ontario, the process of building solar and connecting to the grid is done in dozens of ways across jurisdictions, not to mention each province’s independent approaches to energy. The economic case against renewables gets weaker every year, but there is also so much potential to explore new ideas and new ways of doing business.
Three: We have the tools, now we need the goal
There is no dearth of policy options to get us to 100% renewables. We even have a road map - in March, 2015, a group of scientists, engineers, and economists released a paper describing the steps Canada could take to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035. With 62% of our energy already coming from renewable sources (mostly hydro), we are in a fortunate position to continue the transition that is already underway.
We also have a growing and valuable workforce in the renewable industry, especially in Ontario as a result of the Feed-in-Tariff program. We need to view those skilled workers as an asset for the future of Canada’s energy system. Finally, as explained above, cost is no longer a measurable hurdle for the deployment of renewables.
In other words, we have the tools, and now we need the goal – i.e., a commitment from Canada to transition to 100% renewable energy. And here’s where you can help: ask your Federal candidates their thoughts on energy and environmental policy in advance of the election in the fall, and to support parties that see renewables as the way forward for Canada’s energy future.
Bonus: All renewables are solar!
Though the evening focused on solar PV technologies, Dr. Etcheverry reminded the audience in his presentation that in fact all renewable energy comes from the sun. To find out how, check out the first article in our energy literacy series.