This six-panelled solar flower was commissioned by Telus and, late last year, installed adjacent to its Hillhurst Exchange building, where it powers the internal lighting. Cute, right? But it’s also a symbol of the increasing solarization of Calgary. It’s been a long time coming.
Daniel Armstrong saw his first roof panel as a kid growing up in Nova Scotia. “Our neighbours put one on their camp out in the sticks where we had no electricity,” he says. “My dad was a science teacher so he explained it to me—I just thought it was the coolest thing, that they could generate their own energy.” Thirty years later, Armstrong’s passion for renewable energy hasn’t waned and, three years ago, he shifted his siding business into a full-time solar-installation operation. This week alone, he’ll power up homes in Auburn Bay and Springbank and over the course of the summer he and his crew will install systems in churches, schools and homes around the province.
For all sorts of convoluted reasons we’re not up to unpacking here, Canada is way behind, globally speaking, when it comes to capturing solar power. Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, China and the U.S. harness the sun to a degree that Canada hasn’t yet come close to. To boot, Alberta, despite being the sunniest place in the country, is a laggard nationally. If you ask Armstrong, however, he’ll tell you that’s about to change—and fast.
Business is booming for his company, Longday Solar, and, he says, for other local specialists. “We’re the new hub for solar,” he says. “Calgary has the most sun after Medicine Hat, and people are starting to realize that if you want it, now’s the time.”
Indeed, there are currently several provincial incentives on offer (
), including for residences, commercial properties and Indigenous communities. Homeowners, for instance, can now receive up to 30 per cent off solar-panel installation costs, to a maximum of $10,000.
So what? Well, simply put, a solarized house means that whatever energy you consume during the day while the panels are producing energy, is all yours. What you don’t use goes to the grid and gets credited to your account. (Note that when the panels are not generating electricity and you need to access the grid, a charge for distribution and transmission applies; as Armstrong puts it, “ideally, you want to do laundry while the sun shines.”) A solar system for the average house in Calgary is a $20,000 investment, but for the next couple of years, anyway, the province will kick in 30 per cent. “That means a lot of people can pay it off within 10 years, and have 20 years of free electricity—just when rates are expected to be really high,” says Armstrong, adding that, in a way, “it’s like getting free money from the government.”
Turns out there
still something new under the sun.