Solar West 2016

The sun is rising in the west. Well, not literally, but Alberta is becoming a major player in the solar industry in Canada. On September 14, 2016, the Alberta Government announced a firm target of 30% electricity used in Alberta will come from renewable sources such as wind, hydro and solar by 2030. On a brisk October day in Edmonton, Minister Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks, doubled down on Alberta's commitment to renewables by announcing that the Alberta Government is setting a goal to power itself with more than 50% renewable energy.

This announcement was welcomed by a rousing audience on the opening day of CanSIA's Solar West Conference. According to John Gorman, CanSIA CEO, the attendance has more than doubled from last year, reaching a record 400 in 2016. The large number is no surprise - as I peered around, many of those in attendance were solar professionals, eager to get started with the transformation of Canada's Energy Capital.

I was fortunate to be in attendance at Solar West this year; representing the ELSE National Board. The conference was highlighted by the prominence of the speakers present. The day started with a speech from Gianna Manes, President & CEO of ENMAX Corporation who preached a comprehensive approach to transitioning away from carbon-intensive activities. It was followed by several panels that spoke about policy, system, and market dynamics, distribution-connected solar, and utility-scale solar. The panelists were insightful as they spoke with vigor about the rapid new trends and policies that have come in a flurry since the NDP took over power in the province from the 40-year reign of the Progressive Conservatives.

The day was It was refreshing to be surrounded by individuals that exuded sheer optimism, a stark contrast to the flailing solar industry in Ontario followed by Premier Wynne's announcement of the cancellation of procuring an additional 1,000MW of renewable energy projects (equivalent to all of Alberta's current renewable energy assets combined!)

The Ontario Government has taken a lot of criticism for its renewable energy program. Even as an avid solar supporter, I have my reservations about some of the decisions that were made along the way to get here. But the more people that I chatted with at Solar West, the more a peculiar conclusion started to come into focus from the fray - most of the solar professionals in attendance were from Ontario! While the program was costly and inefficient, it nonetheless developed an workforce of experience and skilled solar professionals. It carved the path for innovation from companies like Morgan Solar and Green Sun Rising Solar. It allowed for a multitude of technical, research, and academic programs across the post-secondary schools in Ontario. It allowed for scale - solar now costs 90% less than it did in 2009 when Ontario first introduced the Feed-in Tariff Program. 

Alberta seems primed to reap the rewards of the costly leadership Ontario took to forge a thriving solar industry in Canada.. With an average demand of 10 GW, an energy mix that has 64% coal and only 10% clean energy, a strong transmission system, and a looming carbon tax, there are some very accessible low-hanging fruit available for the picking. 

Change is never easy. Many of the people that I spoke to in Alberta had their reservations about this embrace of solar and the agenda of the new provincial and federal government. However, with time, it may become clear that procuring solar to replace coal will benefit Albertans through jobs, a cleaner environment, and a more diverse future. Alberta can easily stay its title to being Canada's Energy Capital. In fact, it could probably enhance its claim with this new direction.