The UK is one of the countries leading the way in encouraging the uptake of solar panel installations, so what can a country like Canada learn from the UK to to help smooth the way in developing this energy conservation technology?
Similarities and Differences
There are certainly many similarities between the two countries. For instance, both are in the northern hemisphere and so need to consider the most efficient solar energy technology to make the most of limited sunlight. However, there are also important differences which could make it harder for Canada to follow the UK’s lead. For example, Canada heavily subsidizes the production of fossil fuels, keeping energy costs low, so customers will obviously be less keen to investigate renewable energy alternatives.
What is the Current Situation in Solar Energy Technology?
Canada accounted for 5% of the global market outside of Europe in 2011, an increase of 340% on the previous year. However, this increase took place mainly in Ontario, which has had a very specific program to develop solar energy production. Overall, growth has been slower than expected, so Canada is currently considering how best to encourage a higher take-up and better distribution across the country. It is hoped that the solar energy market could increase to 4.2 GW capacity for solar panel installations by 2016.
How Could Feed-In Tariffs Affect Solar PV Growth?
People need incentives to take up solar energy, especially in these difficult financial times. The UK introduced Feed-In Tariffs (FITs) so that those who produced energy using renewable technology are paid for the electricity they produce for their own use, as well as being paid for any excess which they sell back to the National Grid. However, in view of the reduction in the cost of solar technology, these tariffs were recently amended to bring them more into line with FITs for other renewable energy, and concerns have been raised about a slowdown in uptake as a result. In 2009, Ontario also introduced FITs, but as in the UK they were set high, and led to a relatively high take-up. Research implies that sudden changes to FIT tariffs can damage consumer confidence, so being careful to set realistic FITs is likely to help Canada to achieve good growth.
How Might Solar Panel Installation Costs Affect Growth?
Even though Solar PV costs have reduced significantly, there is no doubt that customers are put off opting for renewable technology if they have to pay out for installation. The UK government has tackled this in a variety of ways. Most notably, the new Green Deal ensures that nothing need be paid upfront. Instead, costs are recouped from customers’ energy bills. It is expected that bills will be lower because of money earned from FITs and because customers are producing their own energy rather than having to ‘buy’ it from the energy supplier.
Although there are grants available in Canada to help with solar panel installation, these do not cover the full cost, and so customers may be discouraged from investigating Solar PV because of the initial cost. Perhaps a scheme to enable Solar PV to be installed without any initial outlay might encourage faster development?
How Important is a Unified Approach?
In the UK, the government has introduced countrywide strategies to encourage the uptake of Solar PV. All energy companies are subject to tough targets in which the percentage of their energy sourced from renewable sources increases annually, with fines for those who do not comply. Also, financial incentives for customers, such as the Green Deal, are a powerful way to encourage customers to invest. This twin approach is likely to be successful, as Solar panel installation is a ‘win-win’ solution, benefiting both parties. However, Canada has a regional governmental structure, making it much harder to adopt a unified strategy for the whole country. There are also issues around local interest. For example, Ontario has introduced a requirement for all companies to source 60% of their ‘products’ from Ontario, which could restrict growth of Solar PV.
Taking steps to implement a countrywide approach to encouraging growth would be of great benefit to Canada. Regulations (e.g. planning permissions) vary from region to region, making it hard for companies to branch out into new areas. If Canada could put in place countrywide initiatives to make commercial installation easier, enable customers to access installation without initial outlay and provide incentives for customers to change (e.g. reduce subsidies for fossil fuel), growth will be faster in the future.
Ian Wright is a Canadian living in London. He works with TheEcoExperts.co.uk the UK’s leading solar panel information site. When he’s not helping the UK go Green he can be found wandering the streets oif London.
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