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Oh Canada – Where Are your Solar and Wind Renewable Resources

Richard Brooks

My wife and I just completed a trip through the Canadian Rockies, from Vancouver to Calgary, provided by Rocky Mountaineer. The scenery is spectacular and I would highly recommend it to people who prefer mountain and forest settings.  Spectacular images occurred throughout the journey.

One item in particular caught my attention during a helicopter excursion, the Horseshoe hydro dam, which was in full operation on the very active Bow River, as we traveled overhead (see the picture attached to this article for our view of the facility). But this triggered even more questions, for example, why didn’t I see a single solar panel or wind turbine during the entire trip from Vancouver to Calgary. Kamloops in particular is located in a desert area, with lots of sunshine and I don’t think the wind ever stopped blowing as we traveled though the Rocky Mountains. These would seem to be prime locations for both Solar and Wind renewable installations. So, I’m a little perplexed by the lack of renewable resources in these locations. In Western Massachusetts, where I live, you can spot a solar panel in every other neighborhood and solar farms are frequently spotted along the Mass Pike, along with wind turbines, in the Berkshires. Would anyone on EC be willing to share their insights as to why there seems to be such a lack of renewable generation (solar and wind) in southern British Columbia and Alberta?

Thanks in advance.

Richard Brooks's picture

Thank Richard for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 9, 2019 4:15 pm GMT

Richard, BC has a solar capacity factor of 11% - so for any money residents invest in a solar array, they can expect to get only 11% of its rated capacity in return. The CF of Massachusetts isn't great either - 13% - but due to higher latitudes in Canada, residents receive even less sunlight during waking hours when it's needed most.

Provinces farther east have more of both sun and wind. For solar, businesses are allowed to depreciate the cost of their solar power system at an accelerated capital cost allowance rate of 50%, but that's about it for federal incentives - nothing like the generous (some would say too generous) 30% federal tax credit for the entire cost of their home or business array in the U.S.

Electricity in Canada is, in general, much cheaper than stateside due to abundant hydro resources. So in a cost/benefit analysis, or a cost/feelgood analysis, solar doesn't offer much bang for the Canadian buck.

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Jun 10, 2019 2:22 pm GMT

Thanks for your insights Bob. So it would seem that the lesser government incentives combined with their geographical and climate conditions may be dampening motivations to invest in Solar, but what about wind - it never seemed to stop on our trip?

Mike Johnson's picture
Mike Johnson on Jun 10, 2019 2:39 pm GMT

Hi Bob (and Richard).

There's lots of info about Candian solar power and its financial viability here.

In southern Alberta and the southern interior of BC, capacity factors for residential solar are actually 15 to 17%, so reasonably good (see Figure 2 of the report).

Also, good solar-generation potential is located across the south of the country and isn't just located in the eastern half of the country (see Figure 2 again). Notable exceptions to this are Canada's foggy west and east coasts.

But you're right about cheap electricity: it doesn't make a lot of sense to install solar in Alberta and the BC, because electricity you can buy from a utility is so cheap. Time-of day electricity pricing makes solar more competetive, but neither BC nor Alberta applies this yet, and costs to install solar have to fall further for it to make sense. 

Places where residential solar starts making sense in Canada? It's in the provincies with the most expensive electricity: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Ontario (and Ontario imposes time-of-use pricing as well, which gives solar an additional edge).

In other words, in Canada, solar doesn't necessarily make sense where the sun shines the most, but where the cost of buying electricity is high.


Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Jun 10, 2019 5:26 pm GMT


Thanks for providing an authoritative response and empirical analysis to my questions. Now I understand why there was no observable solar/wind during my journey through your most beautiful coutry.

I live in an area served by a Municipal Energy Department and the same is true in my town, the cost is so cheap to buy electricity that it's simply not economical to invest in Solar. Even the folks at Sunrun told me they don't market to people in Westfield, because the electricity costs are so low that nobody will sign-on, even with the $1,200 VISAcard sign-on incentive.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 10, 2019 8:55 am GMT

Sounds like a dream trip, Dick-- I'm jealous. I also have to smile at your ability to look out for and identify energy-related questions and concerns while on vacation-related excursions. 

I share your disappointment in the lack of panels you saw on this trip. While Canda doesn't have any solar irradiance akin to the American west, the below map shows that there are many areas in Alberta at least that have comparable sun coverage as in the Massachusetts area, so that should not be a deterrent

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Jun 10, 2019 2:30 pm GMT

Hi Matt, just finding the fun in all that I find interesting! It is a spectacular trip - highly recommended.

Thanks for supplying this map, which would seem to show pockets of good solar generating capability in Western Canada. I saw this same potential in Kamloops, a desert location with a climate similar to Las Vegas, in my experience.  Bob offered a reasonable explanation for the lack of Solar, i.e. less government incentives for example. But I'm still wondering why I saw no wind turbines - I swear the wind never stopped during our entire trip through the mountains. Could it be lack of incentives, or perhaps lack of transmission coverage? There must be a reason, with this much wind but no wind turbines.

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