CanSIA 2016 – Thoughts from Joshua Reinhart, a Future Renewable Energy Leader

A few months ago, ELSE contacted the Sustainable and Renewables Engineering Society at Carleton, offering a student a chance to attend the 2016 Solar Canada Conference in exchange for a day of volunteering. As an engineering student and an Electrician, I was excited about the opportunity to meet industry leaders and learn more about Ontario’s solar industry. When I began my electrical apprenticeship in Alberta I wanted to become involved in the renewable energy sector. As an engineering student in Ontario, I had finally found an opportunity. I packed my bag, jumped on the Via train (the carbon conscious choice to travel over 400 km), and headed to Toronto.

While at the conference I attended a session on current and new electrical code rules for solar installations. Simple things like rodent protection are often overlooked in the engineering and design phase. The electrical code is often ambiguous and difficult to implement especially in a rapidly developing field like solar. This session helped clarify which code rules applied and how to implement them. It also served as a powerful reminder to consider the challenges faced in construction during the design processes.

Throughout the day, I heard several people say the conference had lower turnout then in past years. Recently Premiere Kathleen Wynne announced the cancellation of 1000 MW of renewable energy projects. I found myself wondering if I was too late to the party. Has Ontario reached peak solar?  Is there room in the industry for new insights and innovation? Why were exciting technologies like clear solar panels (Onyx solar distributed by Belnor Engineering) and conductive Concrete (Conducrete distributed by SAE) forgotten in the back corner of the conference centre?  Will solar be restricted to small scale micro generation and slight variations in the construction of panel racking solutions, or will it realize its potential as a key part of the energy economy? The more people I talked to though, the more optimism I found. Net metering, blockchain and sharing economy, concepts synonymous with innovation were being discussed. The people talking about them seemed eager to hear my thoughts and share their insights.

I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with the president of RESco and an official from the City of Toronto about the changing national and global energy landscape. Writing this blog, and reflecting on the experience, I find myself realizing that the most exciting concept to take away is that this truly is an emerging field. The fledgling solar industry seems to be experiencing growing pains here in Ontario, but as a former Albertan I can say that this province is truly paving the way for renewables in Canada.

I’m now a member of a network comprised of professionals and students who are shaping policy and technology for a cleaner and healthier energy system. I hope that the opportunity I had at the Solar Canada Conference is the first of many I will have. I look forward to having a role in Canada’s energy future through potential internships and my continuing career.

Thanks to ELSE and RESco for the great head start!