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Should Squamish chase the sun?

Q&A with Martin Ordonez, Canada Research chair in power converters for renewable energy systems
Martin Ordonez, Canada Research chair in power converters for renewable energy systems

With talk about the viability of solar power in Squamish, The Squamish Chief caught up with Martin Ordonez, Canada Research chair in power converters for renewable energy systems, to talk about going solar in the district.
Q. What are ideal conditions for solar to be a viable option in a community?
A: For viability of systems, one of the things that you need to focus on is solar irradiance – basically, the power that can be produced by the sun. Some geographical locations will have better irradiance: It is not the same to be in sunny California than being here in Vancouver or somewhere in Germany.
The other factor is the price of electricity. If the cost of electricity is high, then solar installation is more feasible.

Q: Does Squamish fit the bill as a place where solar would work to supply energy year round?
A: I’ll say this, British Columbia is sunnier than Germany, and Germany is the world champion of solar electricity. It has a 21 per cent share worldwide, so they have done extremely well. One of the reasons is that they had government incentives – they got very serious about this – so that means that from a sun irradiation point of view, it is more competitive in Squamish than Germany. The difference is we don’t have the incentives.
Also, BC Hydro allows net metering, that means that you can sell [power] back to them, the thing is what they pay is not much because the cost of electricity here in B.C. is the lowest in North America. So that means from a financial point of view, there is a need for closer study to see what happens with BC Hydro pricing.
It [solar] is a large capital investment, but it lasts 25 years; electricity costs go up every year.
If you don’t go for solar, once there is significant population growth, if you go for traditional power, you need to add infrastructure. So BC Hydro has to put in transmission and distribution lines.

Q: Any suggestions of renewable power sources that might be better suited to Squamish?
A: I can see how any community would be excited to try new things. There is an emerging market for small wind turbines and also there’s an emerging, but immature market for small ocean turbines, but I would not overrule any options. In the short term, the thing is you can’t get, for example, an ocean turbine. You can’t go buy it off the shelf. It is a demonstration project.

Q. Is it true that solar panels have come a long way in the past few years?
A: You have very high efficiency technology in research labs, but manufacturers, what they are trying to do is essentially lower costs. They focus on reducing the cost of large scale production – and they have been successful. Every year, prices are going down.

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