Tag Archives: Canadian Solar

A Brazilian solar initiative serves as model to better the lives of world’s poorest

My Clean Break column this weekend takes a look at the efforts of Brazilian social entrepreneur Fabio Rosa and how, with the donation of 560 solar panels from Canadian Solar Solutions, a subsidiary of Canadian Solar Inc., impoverished villages in the Amazon will soon get a clean, reliable source of power for keeping lights on, pumping clean water, and keeping medicine, vaccines and food cooled. This initiative demonstrates clearly how solar, beyond simply adding more renewable energy to the power mix of developed countries, has the potential to directly improve the well-being of millions of individuals around the world living on a few dollars or less per month.

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Tyler Hamilton

A number of impoverished villages in Brazil’s Amazonia region will soon receive a life-changing Christmas present from Canada.

As you read this a shipping container full of 560 solar panels is en route to Brazil aboard the cargo ship MSC Santhya. The panels, worth nearly $1 million (when shipping and delivery costs are factored in), were donated by Canadian Solar Solutions Inc. and manufactured out of the company’s new facility in Guelph.

Once these made-in-Ontario panels arrive in Brazil, they will be transported to a handful of villages and, come spring 2012, installed atop schools, hospitals, and water-pumping stations. The power they produce will be used directly, or stored in golf-cart batteries so the energy from the sun can be used at night.

It’s all part of a program started in 2001 by Brazilian social entrepreneur Fabio Rosa, who, along with help from Canadian investigative journalist Paul McKay, are on a mission to bring clean water, light, refrigeration, basic communications and, ultimately, better health and education to some of the poorest people on the planet.

McKay was a reporter at the Ottawa Citizen when he travelled to Brazil in 2004 to do a series of stories. It was there that he met Rosa and learned about how something as simple as a solar panel could have such a profound impact on the lives of so many.

Solar may have a growing role to play in cleaning up Ontario’s electricity system, creating green jobs, and helping homeowner reduce their environmental footprint – and their guilt.

But in these remote Brazilian communities with no connection to a power grid, solar technology can both enrich and save lives. Medicine, vaccines and food can be kept cool 24 hours a day. Light can come from CFL bulbs and LEDs instead of kerosene lamps that emit toxic fumes indoors. Sun-powered pumps can supply a constant flow of clean water.

The problem is villagers typically make as little as $2 a day. “There are 20 million people in Brazil without access to electricity and they can’t afford the panels themselves,” explains McKay, who in “retirement” is now a green energy advocate running his own foundation that acts as a kind of North American ambassador to Rosa’s efforts.

“Most utilities there have been privatized and are not interested in going after tiny customers in remote places.”

Rosa is offering these villagers an alternative, but to be clear, he isn’t giving the technology away. What he has developed is a low-cost leasing model that makes the systems and the energy they produce accessible to the poor.

Typically, he will install a solar panel, a battery, a charge controller, a few lights, and a water pump in each home and then charge less than $15 a month for what, in essence, is the service this equipment provides.

Keep in mind that these individuals would already be paying $15 a month on candles, batteries, and kerosene that would no longer be required, so there is no additional financial burden. What they get in return, however, is a far better quality of life and work.

Something as simple as the ability to pump water automatically for a cash crop operation can also generate new income for villagers.

The panels supplied by Canadian Solar will go a step further. Instead of being used to support individual households, they will support entire villages by bringing power to schools, hospitals, central pumping stations and even Internet and cellphone stations.

Milfred Hammerbacher, president and chief executive of Canadian Solar Solutions, which is a subsidiary of Canadian Solar Inc., says the decision to get involved came in 2010 after McKay brought Rosa to the company’s factory for a presentation.

The company fell in love with the idea, recalls Hammerbacher.

“It was a great opportunity for us to help out,” he says. “On a personal level, it’s really why I got into the solar business in the first place. There are so many cases where a few solar panels can make such a huge difference in people’s lives.”

Next spring, the company will be sending down a team of employees to help install the systems.

McKay says the donation of so many panels is significant and takes Rosa’s program to a new level. It has taken years to install 300 systems, as Rosa could only raise enough money to purchase five to 10 panels at a time. He also has to raise funds for all the batteries, pumps and lights that go with each system.

He hopes that by having Canadian Solar show such good will, other suppliers and non-governmental organizations will step up to the plate. In that regard, McKay’s and Rosa’s next priority is to get a similarly large donation of batteries to go with the panels.

The potential is there to grow Rosa’s program throughout Latin America and into the poorest regions of Africa and Asia. Indeed, that’s their plan.

It’s an idea that Hammerbacher finds appealing. “This is something we’d like to do on a long-term basis,” he says. “There are many other organizations like Rosa’s around the world that we’d like to support if we can.

“I hope a lot of other solar companies follow.”

NOTE: If you represent a company that would like to help fund or contribute solar panels, batteries, LED lights, water pumps and/or power electronics to Rosa’s initiative, please contact Paul McKay at paul@paulmckay.com

How to create (and destroy) a solar PV export industry, Ontario-style

Been away on vacation and largely unplugged, so apologies for the content dead zone for the past week. Just to get things started again, here is my Clean Break column from last week’s Toronto Star. It takes a look at both the real potential of creating a solar PV export market in Ontario and the many reasons it will now be an uphill struggle. See below:

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Tyler Hamilton

Here’s a question I get asked all the time: Can solar modules made in Ontario compete in a global marketplace?

Many have their doubts, and those doubts are grounded in reality. The solar photovoltaic modules coming off Ontario assembly lines today are probably not going to find many customers in Europe or the United States.

The key word being “today.”

But give it two or three years. That’s the answer I get from manufacturers that have set up shop in this province, lured by a generous renewable energy purchase program that pays top dollar for electricity produced from solar panels.

We can get our costs down, they say — just give us the breathing room to do it.

That was the whole point of the province’s feed-in tariff (FIT) program. It was designed to provide above-market incentives for the first few years, after which rates would fall, owing to declining technology costs and manufacturing efficiencies that come from volume production.

Knowing the party won’t last, many Ontario manufacturers would ostensibly work to drive down their costs to where they could sell product in the United States and Europe at a globally competitive price-point.

All of that, however, was based on some assumptions. First, most manufacturers assumed a certain demand. Second, they assumed the Ontario grid could accommodate that demand. And third, they expected the program would survive long enough to follow through on their business plans.

The demand part happened. Ontario’s FIT program has resulted in contract offers for more than 1,300 megawatts of solar, exceeding most market forecasts. For example, Spanish solar-module manufacturer Siliken established a plant in Windsor based on the expectation that there would be a need for 400 megawatts of solar panels annually in Ontario.

But things fall apart after that. The program has been in effect for nearly two years, and so far only 10 megawatts worth of large projects have been built and injecting electrons into the grid, according to the latest figures from the Ontario Power Authority.

This may be a bit confusing. The province boasts the largest solar PV facility in the world in Sarnia, rated at 80 megawatts. How could we have built only 10 megawatts?

It turns out most of the solar development in Ontario over the past two years is the result of an earlier initiative, one that didn’t have domestic content rules. In other words, no manufacturers had to lay roots in Ontario to tap into market demand. That’s why panels for the Sarnia project came from U.S.-based First Solar and were made in Michigan.

The newer FIT program does require some domestic content, which is why we now have 18 solar manufacturers in Ontario. To their frustration, they see big demand for their product but their customers can’t get approval to connect their projects to the grid. No connection means no purchase order.

Manufacturers, for good reason, blame Hydro One for dragging its feet. In the meantime, assembly lines have been shut down and employees have been laid off until projects start flowing. Not the kind of environment in which product costs can be reduced and efficiencies gained.

“We came here thinking we could use the local market to support us while we brought our factories up and wrung efficiencies out of systems, getting us closer to competing against our brothers and sisters in China,” says Milfred Hammerbacher, president of Canadian Solar Solutions, whose parent company operates primarily out of China.

“We thought it would be achievable. But we needed two years to get to that level, and right now we’re just not getting that cushion. In a start-up operation where you have two or three of your lines not being used, there’s no way you can come close to being competitive (globally).”

Canadian Solar is committed to getting through this rough patch, as is Siliken. Many, however, are thinking seriously about packing up their bags and moving back home to their corporate parents.

It doesn’t help that Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak wants to cancel the program if elected, pulling the rug from under a promising industry that’s already off balance. Thousands of jobs are at risk, as well as an export sector that — despite the spears we keep throwing at it — still has the potential to thrive if we’d let it.

“We set up in Windsor with the intention to serve the northeast of the U.S.,” says Paco Caudet, Siliken’s general manager in Canada. He just sold his flat in Spain. “I plan to stay here.”

It’s a courageous attitude. Still, why do we make it so easy for them to come, then turn around and make it so difficult for them to stay?

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies. Contact him at tyler@cleanbreak.ca

A solar PV jobs fair in Guelph, Ontario… times have changed!

Five years ago the thought of any company holding a solar PV jobs fair, let alone in a community such as Guelph, Ontario, would have been absurd. But since the introduction of the province’s feed-in-tariff program for renewables, combined with local content requirements, we’re seeing a flurry of activity as manufacturers and suppliers get ready for what’s expected to be a busy year.

Just the microFIT alone — i.e. rooftop solar PV less than 10 kilowatts — has seen more than 25,000 applications approved, while larger projects that have been given the go-ahead under the FIT are expected to add more than 1,000 megawatts of solar PV to the grid over the coming two or three years. On Friday, solar PV manufacturer Canadian Solar will be holding a jobs fair in Guelph, the location of its new module manufacturing facility. The company is looking to hire process technicians, general operators, logistic staffs, engineers and others, a true sign of the type of job creation emerging from the FIT program and, behind it, Ontario’s Green Energy and Green Economy Act.

“We have a long-term commitment to this important market, and have previously announced our selection of Guelph, Ontario as the site of a 200 megawatt solar PV module plant,” said Shawn Qu, president and CEO of Canadian Solar. “This facility will be Canadian Solar’s first feed-in-tariff domestic content compliant solar manufacturing plant in Ontario, and is expected to require approximately 500 people to run at full capacity.”

The jobs fair, again, will be held Friday, February 11 at Canadian Solar’s new facility at 545 Speedvale Avenue West in Guelph (see Google Map here) between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The folks who get hired — these are the faces of the future workforce in Ontario. They need to be known. Job numbers need to be personalized. The FIT/microFIT program has its problems, but evidence of job creation is the one thing that will justify and sustain Ontario’s direction. Ratepayers and taxpayers want to see evidence beyond politicians touting numbers that can’t be verified. It’s time to bring faces to numbers, and give people a true sense of what these jobs mean for those entering the workforce and those with families to support who are trying to get back into the workforce. It’s not just manufacturing, either. It’s about the installers, the electricians, the tradepeople and others finding work in the solar PV area. It’s also about the many faces who are participating in the microFIT — farmers, community co-ops, schools, homeowners, aboriginal communities. This isn’t just about foreign companies coming in to the province to feast on generous subsidies. This is about average Ontarians choosing to participate in the future of a cleaner electricity system. This is the message that needs to be heard.

NOTE: To anyone who gets a new job in this sector, let me know. I’d like to hear your story and how green energy in Ontario helped you find steady employment.

Siemens, Canadian Solar to bring 800 green jobs to Ontario

Canadian Solar announced today that it plans to establish the country’s first solar module manufacturing facility in Guelph, Ontario, just an hour or so northwest of Toronto. The new facility will be capable of making 200 megawatts of solar modules a year and will create 500 new jobs for the region. The announcement wasn’t a surprise. Canadian Solar told me shortly after Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program was launched that it planned to establish manufacturing here to comply with the province’s local content rules. But the commitment, now official, brings good news to a government trying to justify the high prices ratepayers will end up paying for solar, wind and other clean energy sources under the feed-in-tariff program.

There was more positive job news the day before, when Germany’s Siemens AG announced plans to build a wind-turbine blade factory in southern Ontario — the first in the province — as part of a deal to supply 600 megawatts worth of wind turbines to Samsung C&T, which under a deal with the province of Ontario has agreed to develop 2,500 megawatts of wind and solar projects (2,000 MW of it wind) by 2016. “The implementation of this agreement will create up to 300 ‘green collar’ jobs and up to an additional 600 construction and indirect service jobs over its term,” according to a press release announcing the deal. Like the Canadian Solar announcement, we knew it was coming (even though we didn’t know Siemens would be involved) but it’s nice to finally see some specifics related to job numbers and the kind of manufacturing that will take place.

Here’s the government’s press release, which — no surprise — touts both the Canadian Solar and Siemens announcements and claims that FIT contracts issued to date mean thousands of new jobs. “The 694 clean energy contracts already announced are expected to create approximately 20,000 direct and indirect green economy jobs over five years and about $9 billion in private sector investment,” it reads. Of course, once your start throwing in “indirect” jobs you can pretty much make up whatever numbers you want. Still, there’s a buzz in Ontario and despite some fumbles — such as the lowering of the price for small ground-mount solar systems, which has created a political shitstorm — we are seeing substantial investments (or commitments to invest) in the province. We’ll have a better sense of the true numbers after the first quarter of 2011, when many of these new facilities are expected to be operational and when stricter local content rules for solar go into effect — that is, when local content requirements for solar projects less than 10 kilowatts in size jumps from 40 to 60 per cent, and for larger solar projects from 50 to 60 per cent.

Last week, Austrian electronics company Fronius International announced it was establishing a solar inverter manufacturing site in Mississauga (just west of Toronto) that would produce 50 megawatts of inverters annually and, once operational by the end of the first quarter 2011, will employ about 100 people. “Ontario is one of the most important markets of the future for Fronius,” said Romuald Goure, managing director of Fronius Canada. Continue reading Siemens, Canadian Solar to bring 800 green jobs to Ontario

The rooftop rush is on as Ontario feed-in-tariff program gathers momentum

It’s like one of those pioneer land rushes that we’ve read about so much in history. Now that Ontario, through its new feed-in tariff program, is prepared to pay richly for the electricity that comes from commercial rootop PV systems, there’s a mad dash to lock up rooftop spaces around the province. Dozens of companies have flooded the market cold-calling property owners and asking them if they’d like to sign 20-year leases for access to their rooftops. Some offer to pay an annual rent based on a certain amount of dollars per square foot, while others are offering a percentage of annual electricity revenues that come from the government program. It’s a no-brainer for the property owner, so long as they make sure their rooftop can handle the weight of both the PV system and the winter snow loads typical in a Canadian climate. Property owners also need to be cautious about who they’re dealing with. Will the project be insured in case there’s damage to the roof? Leaks? And what if the roof needs repairs 10 years into the 20-year contract? Kind of hard to make the fix when there are solar panels layered over top.

For my recent article in the Toronto Star on this latest real-estate trend, click here. Greta Energy, Canadian Solar, CarbonFree Technology, Ozz Solar, Enfinity Canada, Rumble Energy and Helios Energy are among the companies now pushing this rooftop-lease approach.

Keep in mind that solar PV isn’t the only rooftop game in town. In fact, there are many in the solar-thermal business who are feeling the heat — so to speak — because of all the rooftop space being snatched up by the PV folks. It raises the question: What’s the best use for these rooftops, solar thermal or solar PV? Solar PV can work in any situation, but there may be some large rooftop spaces that are more ideal for solar thermal. For example, today the University of Toronto announced that its athletic centre has installed 100 solar thermal panels that will provide hot water for showers and laundry machines in the facility. That’s an ideal use for the roof, and it will reduce natural gas use during summer peak months by 25 per cent. Other ideal candidates for solar thermal include hospitals, schools, senior’s homes, and anywhere where there’s a high density of people who use a lot of hot water through the day and into the early evening. What would be interesting is the installation of dual thermal-PV systems, which companies like Conserval Engineering are working on.