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Major growth potential for on-site, rooftop solar in Canada: report

Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors report says behind-the-meter solar should increase 20 to 40 times

Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors consultant Anirudh Kshemendranath. (Courtesy Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors)
Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors consultant Anirudh Kshemendranath. (Courtesy Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors)

Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors has released a comprehensive study which outlines enormous growth potential for on-site and rooftop solar power to help Canada achieve its 2050 net-zero target.

Entitled BTM Solar: Canadian Market Outlook: How Behind-the-Meter (BTM) solar can contribute to Canada’s net-zero future, the report argues for a massive 20-40 times scaling-up of rooftop solar as part of an overall renewable energy strategy.

The Dunsky study was commissioned by the Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) and, its authors say, represents the first serious attempt to quantify the potential for BTM solar deployment in Canada. 

"CanREA commissioned this independent report to investigate the progress to date and potential market outlook for BTM solar in Canada," Vittoria Bellissimo, CanREA’s president and CEO, said in a statement accompanying the release of the report in December. 

Key conclusions of the report

One of the key findings is that the proportion of BTM solar used to satisfy domestic energy demand needs to be ramped-up from its current adoption rate of 0.2 per cent to between two per cent and four per cent. 

At the residential level, this means one in three Canadian homes needs to deploy solar photovoltaic systems by 2050; currently, only one in 200 homes relies on zero-carbon solar power. 

"Several (previous) studies that include BTM solar energy have concluded that (it) is crucial in reaching net-zero by 2050 . . . The contribution of behind-the-meter solar power is a crucial step in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a cost-effective manner," Anirudh Kshemendranath, a consultant with Dunsky, said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.

"It's important to acknowledge the challenge ahead, as the total BTM solar capacity installed in Canada over the past decade, despite policy support, has generated only 1.5 terawatt-hours. This amount is less than five per cent of what needs to be deployed by 2050.

"To accelerate the growth of the solar market in Canada and make the most of its potential benefits, we should consider designing holistic, sustainable and dual-focused policies. Having a holistic approach to policy development can ensure that financial and non-financial barriers can be addressed by different actors."

Study calls for enhanced Canadian solar strategy

At the current rate of BTM solar adoption (described in the report as the "business as usual" scenario) under the existing government policy environment, Canada will fall far short of this desired adoption rate. 

Accordingly, the report concludes federal, provincial and municipal governments need to provide expanded policy support and financial "incentives and access to low-cost financing options".

In addition, the domestic solar environment needs to undergo a "market transformation through permitting and interconnection process enhancements, and mandates for solar deployments on newly constructed homes" to boost the share of solar in Canada's energy mix.

The latter measures would go a long way to addressing the substantial non-financial barriers including split incentives and unsuitable building designs, as well as government efforts designed to improve general public awareness and understanding of solar technology and its advantages.

"CanREA will continue to advocate for policy measures that will accelerate the adoption of BTM solar across Canada," Erwin Heuck, director of distributed energy resources at CanREA, said. 

"In the short term, it is critical to refinance the Greener Homes program (due to expire this year) and to ensure a swift rollout of the Clean Technology ITC (investment tax credit) which will have a beneficial impact on the expansion of commercial rooftop solar in Canada."

Factors affecting BTM solar adoption in Canada

Up to now, solar deployment in Canada has been driven primarily by an assortment of federal, provincial and municipal government incentives and related programs including the Greener Homes Grant and Loan Program and the Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance.

But neither of these initiatives have been sufficiently attractive to homeowners to overcome the high initial costs of installation that generally discourage people from considering solar as a viable component to their home energy usage.

"To encourage the growth of solar energy, governments should consider setting clear targets for behind-the-meter solar within their jurisdictions," Kshemendranath, who was chiefly responsible for preparing the report, said. 

"This would send a strong signal to the market about the need and potential for this renewable resource. Additionally, governments can take a more active role by expanding access to low- or no-down-payment and low- or zero-interest-rate financing programs . . ."

Integrating battery storage with BTM solar

One of the main technological obstacles to the rollout of solar power across the energy grid is the difficulty of storing such energy and compensating for intermittent supply. 

Although the share of solar electricity in the global energy mix is now approaching five per cent, future growth is constrained by the low dispatchability of this renewable. The key to improving solar's share lies in developing battery storage technology that will smooth out solar electricity generation and allow for better matching with daily electricity consumption.

This view is echoed by Kshemendranath, who argues enhanced battery storage capabilities will lead to improved solar dispatchability.

"Encouraging the integration of battery storage with behind-the-meter solar can help manage the growth of BTM solar and increase its value." 

Dunsky committed to accelerating clean energy transition

Dunsky is engaged in enabling its clients to better identify the pathways to reduce GHG emissions from industrial operations and do so in the most cost-effective ways. 

"Our mission has been the same for 20 years – to support leading governments, utilities, corporations and others across North America in their efforts to accelerate the clean energy transition, effectively, responsibly and at scale," Kshemendranath said.

"Renewable energy and storage have critical roles to play, as will the corresponding scaling-up of labour and supply chain activity. Our clients – energy utilities, governments, corporations and non-profits – are all working to build a more sustainable energy future and play a critical role in accelerating the clean energy transition."

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