PCL Construction's solar unit is expanding its reach across North America after securing $1.4 billion in new projects.
PCL Solar, the Toronto-based renewable energy arm of the mammoth Canadian construction company, has contracted for work on eight new solar installations in Canada, the U.S. and Australia with a combined capacity of 1.5 gigawatts.
"This year, we officially surpassed four gigawatts contracted – marking a new record for the company," Andrew Moles, general manager of PCL's Solar Division, said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada. "This growth reflects the increased demand for renewable energy projects across the world."
The company has already completed nearly 60 solar projects across North America and Australia.
One such project is the Travers Solar power plant in Alberta, the largest solar installation in Canada. In just 16 months, the Travers plant has offset more than 472,000 tonnes of carbon emissions and is the first PCL Solar project to surpass one million megawatt-hours of electrical output.
PCL Solar seeks to become major solar power player
A subsidiary of PCL Construction, a group of independent construction companies with an annual construction volume of more than $8.3 billion, PCL Solar is also wrapping up what Moles describes as an "exciting solar project in Southern Alberta" with an as yet unnamed client which has an "existing pipeline of renewable energy projects across North America and Australia."
Canada figures prominently in PCL Solar's future plans.
"Our business in Canada continues to flourish, driven by the energy transition away from greenhouse-gas-emitting power-generating facilities and the projected increases in energy demand," Moles said.
"Most recently, our Canadian team secured a 500-plus megawatt direct current project near Claresholm, Alta. and have been selected to install three battery energy storage system (BESS) projects in eastern Canada, totalling 600 megawatt-hours."
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PCL Solar expects to more than double its existing solar powered electrical generation capacity in both the North American market and Australia in the near term.
The eight new projects the company made official on Oct. 19 are:
- Peacock: 150-megawatt photovoltaic power station in Taft, San Patricio County, Texas.
- Azalea Springs: 180-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy installation in Angelina County, Texas.
- Clearview: 145-megawatt solar project in Adams Township in Champaign County, Ohio.
- Goose Prairie: 80-megawatt solar photovoltaic project in Yakima County, Wash.
- Spring Coulee: 30-megawatt solar facility in Cardston County, Alta.
- Homestead: 400-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy installation in Claresholm, Alta.
- Stubbo Solar: 400-megawatt solar energy facility in Gulgong, New South Wales, Australia.
- Gunsynd: 94-megawatt solar farm in Southwest Queensland, Australia.
PCL Solar plans major BESS rollout
Another key component of PCL Solar's strategy is its planned rollout of BESS projects in response to accelerated North American demand.
BESS delivers critical infrastructure support to the renewable energy sector by storing energy that can be accessed by electrical grids when demand reaches peak levels and places major stress on regional power systems.
Much of the financial stimulus for the construction of BESS installations comes from incentives under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Canada's Clean Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC) legislation.
"The IRA and ITC for both the U.S. and Canada respectively have been assisting in ensuring new, cleaner technology that can be deployed while maintaining competitive pricing for the ratepayers," Moles said.
According to Moles, the pending BESS construction boom will likely be an instrumental step forward in promoting renewable energy and solar power in particular.
"Globally, stand-alone BESS solutions as well as combined BESS and solar facility solutions are becoming more popular. Installing BESS solutions will allow the power being generated by solar facilities to be consumed more advantageously, extending the time when this power is available for consumption, while minimizing the impacts to the grid.
"(The implementation) of combined BESS and solar facility solutions and strategically located stand-alone BESS solutions will help renewables continue to offer some of the lowest cost-per-watt energy that is available in Canada. We also continue to see the trend of higher wattage modules reducing the overall land-use requirements and the amount of infrastructure required per unit of electricity generated."
Thriving BESS market in Canada and U.S. fuels expansion plans
PCL Solar intends to expand its workforce by 25 per cent this year in order to meet the expected increase in demand for solar power installations and related BESS systems.
"The BESS market in Ontario is heating up and we are starting to see additional opportunities in Eastern Canada, Alberta and other provinces as well. In the U.S., there is a significant market for both stand-alone BESS solutions as well as combined BESS and solar facility solutions.
"California has been leading the charge, but now Texas, where our Solar Plus BESS team is located in the U.S. is also developing very quickly. We expect to see some great projects breaking ground in 2024."
Alberta, Ontario offer greatest potential to grow solar sector
Canada has long stood at the forefront of the renewable energy sector by virtue of its large-scale hydroelectric facilities, particularly in Quebec. Substantial new wind farms are also on the verge of being built in Newfoundland where World Energy GH2 will be delivering energy for green hydrogen production.
But the principal advantage of solar power generation lies in its relatively unobtrusive and environmentally neutral impact. Moles believes Alberta and Ontario offer the greatest potential for future solar power expansion.
"Provinces like Ontario, with aging power plants and significant increases in load being forecast, will require additional non-emitting power plants to be built. (But the demand for such energy) varies greatly between provinces in Canada.
"By comparison, Alberta’s grid operates more freely for private investment from independent power producers, and Southern Alberta will remain a hot-bed for solar with 300-plus days of sun and long days in the summer months where demand is highest."
Ontario identified as major potential renewable market
The evolution of PCL Solar was triggered by what Moles and his colleagues at PCL believed was a "significant amount of renewable energy opportunities coming to Ontario" in the context of ongoing problems in the province's electrical grid.
"After identifying this potential demand, I worked together with our executive leadership at the time to develop a business plan to enter the (renewable energy) space, solely focused on the Ontario market to start," Moles said. "In 2016, I worked with our COO’s to develop an expansion plan, focused on solar and BESS, and offering our services across Canada and the U.S."
One of the prime challenges for PCL Solar is the need to connect as closely as possible to existing energy grids.
"Projects are most often conveniently developed and located near existing infrastructure with capacity to connect to the grid. This keeps the cost of transmission or distribution line construction down, leading to better pricing for the consumers," Moles said.
"Of course, grid connections are not without their challenges. In some locations there may be lines which have more power quality issues than others. All of this needs to be properly modelled and understood during the development, design, construction and commissioning phases."