Community Solar in BC – A Short Primer

By |2022-03-17T15:23:34-07:00March 10th, 2017|Categories: Articles|

By Kjell Liem (Saltspring Island) and Tom Mommsen (Galiano Island)

BC communities are starting to embrace solar energy and a solar revolution seems imminent: Solar energy is a local solution to our energy needs, keeps valuable energy dollars in the community, is environmentally friendly, control rests with the locals and it creates much needed local employment at a time when many traditional areas of the economy are struggling. In the last decade, different types of community solar projects have evolved all over the world, with BC lagging behind. However, enthusiasm and knowledge about solar energy are growing rapidly and as we show below, BC communities are now taking major strides to catch up. These efforts have one thing in common: Initiative comes from the bottom up, i.e. from citizens, communities, regional districts, municipalities and local small utilities. These are the essential driving forces and demonstrate true leadership to address climate change, without reliance on or limited help from provincial or federal governments. At the time of writing, all Western provinces have some sort of direct support for solar. Alas, BC is dragging its heels and the only crumb is a PST exemption for solar equipment from former premier Gordon Campbell’s time, instead of embracing and supporting the new economic reality, job creation, and low carbon economic development mandate (and commitments to the Paris Agreement).

The case for solar electricity

In recent years, electricity production from photovoltaic (PV) panels has become highly cost-effective and its cost will only decrease in the future, irrespective of what producers of competing fossil fuel technologies claim. Luckily, input for solar will remain free of charge for another few billion years or so, guaranteed. During 2016, the cost of unsubsidized1 utility-scale PV electricity fell to between 3.2 and 4 cents (CAD) per kilo-Watt-hour (kWh) in places like southern California, northern Chile and Abu Dhabi. Singling out Abu Dhabi, we admit that the Persian Gulf region (3462 h/y) receives 50% more annual sunshine than, say, Dawson Creek, BC (2213 h/y) and we can’t really expect similar pricing for BC. However, PV modules perform better at lower temperatures and hence if corrected for temperature, a PV array in Abu Dhabi only produces 30% more solar electricity than one in Dawson Creek. Plus, cleaning of the PV arrays after sandstorms built into the cost for Abu Dhabi, does not really apply to Dawson Creek, further compensating for the lower sunshine hours […]