December 6, 2010 / 7:42 PM / in 7 years

Canada's solar sector outlines strong growth, seeks support

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada’s small but fast-growing solar industry aims to expand at 35 percent a year over the next 15 years, creating 35,000 jobs and displacing millions of tons of greenhouse gasses.

The Canadian Solar Industries Association said it expects to be able to achieve “grid parity,” the point where generation costs become competitive with other power sources, in the next decade as industry costs drop.

Its targets are closely tied to initial policy and financial support from the federal government, which has given “really nothing” in the way of funding for the industry, CanSIA president Elizabeth McDonald said.

On top of the industry’s wish list is for Ottawa to put together a national renewable energy strategy to replace the provincial patchwork that has grown up across the country.

“We really see that as critical to moving forward,” McDonald said in an interview after the industry released a blueprint for the sector that converts sunlight into electricity and heat.

Canada’s solar industry, still tiny at less than 0.1 percent of the country’s overall electricity generating capacity, has received a boost in the past year from rich renewable energy incentives in the province of Ontario.

Last year, Canada’s most populous province put in place a European-style feed-in tariff, which is largely responsible for the spike in PV installations in the country from 95 megawatts of generating capacity at end-2009 to an expected 200 MW at the end of the first quarter next year.

Ontario is home to the world’s largest photovoltaic site, the 80 MW Sarnia facility owned by pipeline operator Enbridge. Such feats are not being seen in other provinces, some of which are slow to unveil green energy plans.

CanSIA also wants Canada’s federal and provincial governments to commit to using renewable energies to meet a certain percentage of their energy needs.

“It would make a big difference and allow people to see how it works,” McDonald said, pointing out that the United States started such a federal program under George Bush.

Government tax credits, investment in research and development, and funds to help develop public awareness about the solar industry are also needed to compete against a heavily-subsidized fossil fuel industry, she said.

CanSIA is targeting the installation of 12,000 MW of solar generating capacity by 2025. That is 60 times more than what is in place now but way behind Germany, the world’s biggest solar market, which has an installed capacity of around 10,000 MW.

The industry projects the costs of solar PV projects in Canada to drop by more than 50 percent by 2025, helping to hasten a move to grid parity.

Editing by Anshuman Daga

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