You may think that solar power makes no sense in a province that experiences such long winters, so you may be surprised to learn that Alberta is actually a perfect candidate for solar energy. Currently, Germany is the global leader in solar implementation, demonstrating what success would look like as they strive towards a 100% renewable future. Although Germany may not have Alberta’s wintry reputation, in fact Alberta enjoys more sunny days per year than Germany, making our province an ideal candidate for this technology.
How is Solar Power Generated?
Electricity can be produced by solar power through a process known as a solar photovoltaic system (although a solar thermal system can also produce heat). A solar photovoltaic (PV) system uses solar panels, usually installed on the roof or free-standing at a solar farm, to convert sunlight into direct current power which is then converted into electricity to be used around your home or sent to the electricity grid.
Individual solar panels help to lower reliance on the utility grid and in turn, reliance on the fossil fuels currently used to power that grid. Additionally, increased solar use, both in residential and commercial settings, will ideally mean that even those who do not have personal solar panels will be accessing electricity from a carbon free grid.
For most individual households, even with solar panel installation, your home will still be connected to the utility grid to ensure that you have power even when your solar panel system isn’t producing enough energy, such as at night.
For a good site with more information on solar panels check out Solar Alberta here.
Examples of Solar Use in Alberta
Canada’s first large-scale solar community can be found in Drake Landing, near Okotoks in Southern Alberta. It is a community of 52 homes that use something called “borehole thermal energy storage” which employs solar energy to heat the homes year-round. This particular type of technology allows the community to store solar energy generated in the summer which can then be used as energy for the community on particularly cold and dark winter days. This has yet to be replicated outside of Drake Landing but it is being widely studied and could be a great success story for future projects.
Click here to see some pictures of the homes and to read more about the project details.
 Sophie Pelland et al, “The Development of Photovoltaic Resources Maps for Canada” (Paper develivered at the 31st Annual Conference of the Solar Energy Society of Canada, 20-24 August 2006), [unpublished] online: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/canmetenergy/files/pubs/2006-046_OP-J_411-SOLRES_PV+map.pdf; Canadian Energy Regulator, “Market Snapshot: Which cities have the highest solar potential in Canada?” (13 February 2020) Government of Canada online: https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/nrg/ntgrtd/mrkt/snpsht/2018/06-03ctsslrptntl-eng.html; Andrew Curry, “Can you have too much solar energy?” (29 March 2013) Slate online: https://slate.com/technology/2013/03/solar-power-in-germany-how-a-cloudy-country-became-the-world-leader-in-solar-energy.html; Julie Krivitsky, “Solar Rights and Renewable Energy in Alberta” (July 2010) CIRL Occasional Paper #1 at 10-11.
 California Energy Commission, “A Guide to Photovoltaic (PV) System Design and Installation” (June 2001).
 Solar Energy Society of Alberta, “Solar Basics” (5 September 2015) online: https://solaralberta.ca/faqs.
 Bruce Sibbitt et al, “Groundbreaking Solar – Case Study Drake Landing Solar Community” (Summer 2015) High Performing Buildings online: http://www.hpbmagazine.org/attachments/article/12213/15Su-Drake-Landing-Solar-Community-Alberta-Canada.pdf.
 Bruce Sibbitt et al, “Groundbreaking Solar – Case Study Drake Landing Solar Community”; Bruce Sibbitt et al, “The performance of a high solar fraction seasonal storage district heating system – five years of operation” 30 (2012) Energy Procedia online: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187661021201613X.
Join our new Alberta Environmental Laws 101 Facebook group to ask questions, participate in discussions and keep up to date on environmental news. Please share this widely so that the high school teachers and students in your circles hear about this great new resource for supplemental online learning. Alberta Environmental Laws 101 Facebook Group