Solar support in Canada has always been an on again/ off again proposition. While there is a great amount of interest in solar, we know that most of the sales of PV and to a lesser extent solar thermal need some subsidy or “feed in tariff” to keep the business growing. There is no longer any help from the federal govt for solar hot water (and with it went the matching grant from Ontario) and the some small but very vocal groups in Ontario are influencing the Liberal govt to eventually reduce the MicroFIT payment rates downward from the original $.802/kwh to the current $.396/kwh. Other provinces are trying to workout ways to stimulate the industries growth with Nova Scotia being the most notable.
A note on how the changing of subsidies changes the business landscape could be seen at the last three or four Green Living shows in Toronto. Five years ago, the solar end of the show was made up primarily of solar water heating companies and a few years ago they were almost all gone, replaced with PV companies, most of whom were only a few months old. As the MicroFIT rates dropped (along with the cost to install), many of the the companies left because the profit margins were not high enough. Last year, there were only a few PV companies and a couple of solar thermal companies.
Here s a bit of historical blog and some ranting:
In the 70’s and 80’s, when we had our last big explosion in solar installations, the subsidies were impressive. When both Canada and the US had changes in governments in 80 and 84, those subsidies died and so too did all but a couple of manufacturers in Canada. At the time nearly all the manufacturers were Canadian and the technology was home grown as well. When we abandoned solar most government support either died or was severely cut.
Europe was somewhat different. The Germans, who had little natural resources to burn, decided that it was time to try to build an industry which now has over 100,000 people employed. Canada might have 3-4000 at this time. The techniques used in Europe mesh very well with the boilers used for heating every home. The technology is similar and the installers of boilers understand solar much better than our heating installers do (many have never soldered a pipe and only install forced air). We, as a country make choices which are much more individualistic than community oriented. This is why we can only see a short time into the future when it comes to support for technologies which don’t have very fast paybacks for the purchaser. It is also why we demand lower taxes and then complain when there is not enough money going into the educational or health care systems. We do not see very far ahead.
Since 2000 the government of Canada has decided that it will support one company, far above all others, and do so blindly. The official line is that, if you have an EcoEnergy assessment after some undisclosed time in 2010 any solar water heater installations wanting to get EcoEnergy funding must be CSA tested and approved. The heads of some of the divisions in NRCan were assured that there was a lot of option for consumers but this is not true. As of July 2009, there was one middle of the road system flat collector system available in Ontario (there is one in Alberta) and it is the one the NRCan supported so strongly. There is also one Nova Scotia based manufacturer of good quality. There is also 2-3 cheap vacuum tube systems, one of which just barely managed to get the certification and in my opinion, does not deserve it.
There will be some more systems getting certification in the coming months but if all the systems currently on the list for testing are approved, it will only number 14-15 and this is not enough. The difficulty in getting a CSA approval and the time needed to do it means that any manufacturer has to be willing to wait for 3-5 years just to get to a level playing field with the other companies. Other countries do not put as many restrictions on their own industry, but we do. With the exception of these few companies, this government would rather see offshore companies (good quality or bad) get a toe hold here than build our own industry. (update…without any subsidies, there has been almost no talk about solar thermal and the majority of installations going in are thanks to the last of the infrastructure grants from the stimulus package)
Boss Solar has a perfectly good, well made product with above average performance and good reliability and we strive to make as much of the product in North America as possible. This is a lot better than our most well known competitor who keeps having to change pumps on a regular basis and the company still gets the government favouritism. Anyway, I vent and that is what a blog is for……more to come.
Well, update to September 2011. No more federal help for solar thermal, and where have all the companies gone. The “johnnie come latelys” have either folded, gone into hibernation or switched to PV. Many of these have been promising 16% return on investments….not possible. 11% is quite reasonable for a good south facing pitched roof. The solar train rolls on and we all wait for the stablization and re-investment in solar thermal by the feds.