Canada Committed to Solar Thermal Energy

The first solar seasonal storage facility on the North American continent: Since September 2007, 52 single-family homes at the Drake Landing Solar Community in Okotoks near Calgary have been heated using 800 collectors of the Canadian manufacturer Enerworks and a ground reservoir with 140 boreholes. Photo: Enerworks

The Solar Conference 2008 in Toronto, Canada, at the beginning of December was a great success. The organisers, the Canadian Solar Industry Association (Cansia) counted 650 participants – 63% more than last year. The number of exhibitors also increased from 43 in 2007 to 87 this year. “I was deeply concerned that the present economic situation would be problematic - but - in fact - it was sold out and there was a real air of optimism - practical - but optimistic,” says Elizabeth McDonald. According to the Cansia executive director, numbers showed a 60/40 balance between photovoltaic and solar thermal energy. “PV companies tend to be larger and may have made more of the visual impact,” explains McDonald.

Solar installation of Tamas Hydronic Systems Vacuum collectors are picking up in Canada: The company Tamas Hydronic Systems, Calgary, specialises in solar heating systems with vacuum tube collectors imported from China. Photo: Tamas Hydronic Systems

Canada is, indeed, committed to solar thermal energy. The federal government runs three incentive programmes for different target groups, such as private individuals, commercial and public customers and multipliers. The most successful is the EcoEnergy for Renewable Heat Programme which subsidised 116 solar air installations and 43 solar water heating systems in the industrial, commercial and institutional sector. The programme provided the basis for installing almost 30,000 m2 and investing a total of 15 million Canadian Dollar (CAD) in all projects between the 1st April 2007 and the 4th December 2008. 36 million CAD can be spent until the 31st March 2011. The programme has been especially well received in Ontario and Saskatchewan because the two provincial governments double the amount of subsidies, without requiring a second application process.

 Greater Toronto Airport Authority Solarwall Cost effective solar thermal technology: On the façade of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority Solarwall air collectors of the manufacturer Conserval Engineering, Toronto, preheat the supply air. Photo: Conserval Engineering

Furthermore, the federal government set apart 9 million CAD to support utilities and developers in testing large-scale, long-term sustainable methods of utilizing residential solar water heaters. The Residental Pilot Initiative (RPI) estimates shipping 8,000 solar domestic water heating systems to private households until October 2010. The Canadian energy ministry, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), selected 13 innovative and inexpensive distribution ideas. Among them are “systems by rental” or “lease-to-own” as well as a lottery and a solar district heating system for new homes. The systems are subsidised with 750 to 1,436 CAD per unit. More information: www.regie-energie.qc.ca

The third support programme of the Canadian government has been created for the benefit of end customers. The EcoEnergy Retrofit Programme grants a certain number of construction measures. The list includes solar domestic hot water heaters – with a lump sum grant of 500 CAD. According to sector representatives, this is too little to provide a true purchase incentive. Thus, it came as no surprise to many that the number of applications fell short of original expectations. The Retrofit Programme only subsidised 112 solar thermal installations between April 2007 and the end of November 2008, although the energy ministry approved 57,000 applications for grants totalling 61.2 million CAD within the same period. This means that not even 0.1 % of the granted funds benefited solar installations. The situation looks differently in the provinces, which combine their rebate with the 500-CAD-rabate of the federal government – such as Ontario with an extra rebate of 500 CAD, Saskatchewan with 1,000 CAD and British Columbia with 625 CAD.

Industry insiders estimate the solar thermal market to grow around 30 % throughout 2008. How are estimations for 2009? There are too many unknowns - especially the impact of the global financial crisis is difficult to assess, says McDonald. “Some believe that there will be an 'Obama effect' in Canada which will encourage federal government to do more in the area of renewable energy. We will know more when the government tables its budget at the end of January."

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