The sun could be the largest electricity source in the world by 2050 (IEA, 2014), and Edmonton is uniquely positioned to be a leader in solar power generation.
It’s almost unbelievable. The global solar energy industry has grown over 40% in the past 8 years. Unlike other centralized energy sources that require hundreds of megawatts (MW) to operate, solar energy can effectively deliver from using as little as 25 kilowatts (KW). As a result, it is the only energy source that is modular. More importantly, capital investments in solar energy are skyrocketing, in which the current low oil price crisis plays a role in. This will contribute in allowing solar energy to become a mainstream power source in the near future. According to the 2014 IEA Renewables report, solar energy is by-far the renewable resource with the most global investment.
As the city with higher solar power density than most of Ontario, Edmonton has a tremendous opportunity for installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roofs of residential and commercial buildings. Receiving 2300 hours of sunlight a year, Edmonton is one of the sunniest cities in Canada. Edmonton currently ranks 4th among Canadian cities with the highest solar PV capacity, with an annual potential of 1,245 KWh/KW.
By 2020, the City of Edmonton aims for a 50% reduction in GHG emissions from city operations, which will result in a higher demand for renewable resources. The City is most interested in solar PV, since it does not require large infrastructure to generate energy and the sun is a stable renewable energy source. Solar projects the City was involved with included the NAIT Solar Array Project, in which a solar PV subsystem was installed on the roof on NAIT’s main campus. In addition, the city implemented a $200,000 Solar-Electric Pilot Program that offered rebates for property owners interested in installing solar electricity systems. The program was a success, with 17 residential and 5 commercial systems installed.
With increased interest in the solar energy market comes the need for more technological breakthroughs. In 2013, the University of Alberta developed nano-particle based cells for solar spray on coatings. These cells were able to be produced with far less energy than conventional silicon cells, which lowered costs and decreased production time. This could greatly complement SolarWindow™ Technology, which is a coating that enables see-through windows to generate electricity by spraying the glass surfaces. These coatings make use of both natural sunlight and artificial sources such as LED lighting installed in buildings.
With growing global investment & growth, abundant resources, solid goals to reduce GHG emissions and new ground-breaking technologies, Edmonton has the potential to be a solar power leader. Will Edmonton take advantage of these opportunities? Will Alberta be able to shift from being a global leader in oil & gas to a leader in solar power? No one can completely predict the future, but we do know it will take long-term investment and planning from both industry and policy-makers.