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With Randy Anderson, Canadian Energy

It's an opportune time for Canada's renewable energy sector, yet as many industry players can attest, there is no shortage of obstacles ahead. For a snapshot of market trends and what's next for solar and wind technologies, we reached out to Canadian Energy's Randy Anderson.

What are the biggest challenges facing Canada's renewable energy companies?

One of the big challenges right now is simply being sustainable. In Ontario, we've seen a lot of companies ramp up to get into the renewable energy installation business only to contend with extremely small margins and diminishing business opportunities. Reversely, we're also seeing more electrical companies get into that space because they have the capacity and existing business to offset the risks of purely focusing on solar. 

What market changes have impacted the industry?

Up until recently, it was consumer incentives that really drove the sale of solar systems. Now that Ontario is moving away from its Feed-in Tariff (FIT) and microFIT programs, and back towards a net metering program, we're starting to see that change. After all, the ability to buy a solar system and sell energy back into the grid at above-market rates was very enticing to consumers. Now that this is being taken away, there will certainly be an impact on the Ontario market. 

It's a different story in Alberta where we're starting to see a surge in the use of renewable energy systems because of the province's own incentives. They are different from Ontario's incentives in that the Alberta government is offering to rebate a portion of the installed cost of the system, but not a monthly payback. For that reason, I don't believe we'll see the same solar “gold rush” we saw in Ontario, but it will do something.

The US recently imposed a 30% (max) tariff on imported solar panels. Are Canadian suppliers feeling the impact?

Certainly, a big issue in the renewable energy sector is the commodity price of solar panels, and that's definitely being driven by the US's decision to drive the price of solar systems up in hopes of giving US manufacturers a competitive advantage over imported supply. Other than in driving up the cost of solar panels, however, I don't see it having a larger impact on the renewable energy community.

What can be done to make renewable energy more appealing to consumers?

It has to be economically feasible for consumers and that's not going to happen until we see our price of electricity go up. That said, our electricity costs in Canada are relatively inexpensive when compared globally aside from some remote areas in the north where there is grid parity and it makes sense for communities to generate their own power at less or the same costs. So it's happening, but it will be some time before we see that trend in larger metro areas.

What technologies and innovations are driving the industry?

One thing we're seeing a lot of today are solutions for load and peak shaving. There are large cities that are having issues with not being able to provide enough power during high usage times of day and are implementing storage devices like Canadian Energy's CUB (Containerized Universal Battery) alongside solar systems to offset peak load in high demand areas. We're also starting to see that same set up deployed more and more commercial and residential applications.

Otherwise, there are a lot of people who believe microgrids – systems which can generate and store power on a regional basis – are the solution for future energy needs. There is a lot of discussion around that right now, and given the increase in energy needs, I believe microgrids will become more common in large urban areas.

Randy Anderson is the National Technical Sales and Training with Canadian Energy. For more insights and renewable energy solutions, visit www.cdnrg.com.

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