Canada: Solar Thermal Energy Competitive with Natural Gas

biggest installation in Canada Canada’s biggest solar thermal installation with 223 kW (319 m²) pumps heat to Wood Green Community Services in Toronto. Photo: Mondial Energy

Toronto becomes the first city in North America to purchase solar thermal power. Mondial Energy Inc. was selected in mid-October to provide solar thermal installations for 15 municipal buildings. The local facilitator of solar projects will install, own and operate the solar thermal systems and sell the produced energy to the city. In return, the city has signed a 20-year contract to purchase heat energy from those sites at a fixed price, competitive with current natural gas rates. Five more sites went to CC Solar Inc., also of Toronto. The construction will likely begin in March 2009 and systems are expected to be operational some time next summer.

"Until very recently, the solar thermal industry in Canada has been struggling out of its niche position, in which it primarily served residential, small commercial and small institutional markets", describes Ian Sinclair, the vice-president of Mondial Energy, the solar thermal sector in Canada.
He argues that his company has proved his country's solar industry to be commercially successful for the first time ever. Indeed, Mondial Energy managed to install the country’s biggest solar thermal installation with 223 kW (319 m²) on a 170-unit housing complex in Toronto. Since September 2007, its proprietor, Woodgreen Community Services, has acquired solar thermal energy from Mondial at a competitive 10-year fixed rate. The facilitator is responsible for the system's financing, operation and maintenance throughout the contract period.

"Mondial’s financial strength allows suppliers to scale up to projects that would typically be out of their financial reach", affirms Sinclair. According to him, Mondial, founded by a successful broker, is not the only company benefiting from the model of a power purchase agreement. On the one hand, the model has drawn new customers. But it has also created new markets for traditional construction companies desiring to expand into renewable energy. Sinclair also regards the solar utility model to be a technological step forward. "Necessary advancements in metering, data acquisition and commissioning have pushed the solar thermal industry to new heights of service, quality and stable energy delivery."

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The text was written by Joachim Berner, a Munich-based journalist and solar thermal expert.


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