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Energy Savings, Environmental Concerns Drive Canadian Boom in Rooftop Solar

Demand for rooftop solar installations is surging across Canada, CBC News reports, driven by a combination of low costs and concern about carbon footprints. 

“We’re definitely on the cusp of an era of mass adoption,” Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) director Nicholas Gall told CBC. 

“Commercial and residential solar generation has grown from just a few megawatts—enough to power a few hundred homes—a decade ago, to more than one gigawatt in 2020, supplying enough electricity for the equivalent of more than 100,000 homes,” CBC writes, citing CanREA data.

The growth has been so sudden that labour shortages are proving a bottleneck. With 200 installations booked for this year alone, Colyn Strong of Shift Energy Group in Vancouver said he is struggling to find enough people to do the work. “We can’t hire enough employees right now… to keep up with demand.”

Linda Seiffert, president of Burnaby-based bakery and food distributor Snow Cap Enterprises, told CBC her decision to install rooftop solar was driven in part by the desire to do the right thing for both people and planet. The system is “believed to be the single largest commercial [solar] installation in the province,” the national broadcaster says.

“We have a lot of diesel trucks and I thought… what can I do to lessen our footprint?” she said.

But she has a financial incentive as well, after calculating that the 1,000-panel project will shave C$5,000 off Snow Cap’s monthly hydro bill of $19,000.  

CBC pegs the upfront cost of a smaller, residential rooftop solar array at $17,500 to $21,000, with the Canada Greener Homes Grant “anecdotally” attracting interest with the offer of a $5,000 saving for systems that qualify after an energy audit. While a BC Hydro spokesperson suggested an electric vehicle or heat pump as a more cost-effective way to cut carbon, “close to 100,000 applications have come in so far” for solar, CBC says, citing Natural Resources Canada data.

Obstacles to rooftop solar installation include a “patchwork of permitting regulations” across the country: depending upon where a homeowner lives, they may have panels on their roof within days, or find themselves “mired for months in an approval process.” 

Sukhpaul Parmar, owner of Vancouver-based Ready Solar, told CBC that municipalities like Burnaby require a level of documentation—from blueprints to engineering reports—that can leave homeowners seeking to put up a few solar panels feeling like they’re building a house. And all that paperwork can swiftly eat up grant money.

Other cities are eager to fast-track rooftop solar, with Toronto granting installation permits in a week, Saskatoon mandating measures to “maximize solar potential by 2036,” and Halifax offering low-interest loans.