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Solar World: Canada looks to solar thermal

By LEAH KRAUSS, UPI Energy Correspondent   |   June 28, 2007 at 2:21 PM   |   Comments

Last week Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty unveiled an alternative-energy initiative that includes a target of 100,000 installed solar systems across the province and setting up a task force of industry experts and market specialists on how to achieve the target.

The McGuinty initiative also includes "extending the retail sales tax rebate on qualifying solar, wind, micro hydro-electric and geothermal equipment to Jan. 1, 2010" and "partnering with Ontario organizations to establish a one-stop shop where consumers can get information on how to go solar," a statement said.

Though Canada will never top a list of sunny vacation destinations, the land of ice hockey still has enough solar resources -- sunshine, to those outside the solar industry -- to make solar energy worthwhile. Germany, the world's leader in solar energy production, is at about the same latitude as Canada's northern regions.

At the moment, Canada's solar water-heating systems produce 1.1 petajoules of energy per year, according to the Canadian government's Office of Energy Research and Development.

"Solar thermal (water heating) has always presented a better business case than solar (photovoltaics), but it was never taken seriously. Suddenly, this simple technology for converting sunlight into hot water has been given new life through public policy," energy correspondent Tyler Hamilton wrote in the Toronto Star newspaper this week.

"Getting electricity through solar panels is a different story economically. It's still relatively costly, but a combination of incentives, low-interest loans and creative programs are dramatically reducing the barriers that have limited widespread adoption of solar PV systems," he said.

Other countries have had great success with solar water heating. In Israel, the panels have been mandatory for new homes since 1980. This translates today into more than 85 percent of all homes in the country.

Thanks to the water heaters, every Israeli household saves about $180 per year in electricity costs, Eddie Bet-Hazavdi, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructures' coordinator of legislation standards and supervision, told United Press International.

A conservative estimate for the total electricity costs saved in the country over the past 27 years is $10 billion, he said -- and that is only factoring in showers, and not dishwashers or washing machines.

The language of the initiative from Ontario focuses more on benefits to the environment than benefits to the wallet. The office of the premier called the $141 million project an "investment (that) will help Ontario homeowners fight climate change, conserve energy and adopt green technologies."

However, McGuinty said the energy form offered opportunities for savings: "Ontarians know that fighting climate change presents a huge opportunity to save money and energy, right at home," he said.

And saving money is a strong motivator for installing the expensive systems. Hamilton noted in the Star that last year Ontario began to pay a feed-in tariff to its small solar customers. "As a result (of the feed-in tariffs), hundreds of homeowners throughout Toronto banded together to make bulk purchases of solar photovoltaic systems as a way to lower their costs."

At that time, Toronto's Mondial Energy announced it had "commissioned the most powerful private solar-thermal energy system in the City of Toronto. Funded privately, and installed on the roof of Neighborhood Link Homes' building ... the solar array comprises 60 solar thermal panels with system design and installation by Taylor Munro Energy Systems of Vancouver."

"Solar heating is both technically proven, and cost effective in Canada," Joe Thwaites, the president of Taylor Munro Energy Systems, said in a statement.

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(e-mail: energy@upi.com)

© 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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