Canadian homes and businesses must start generating their own power with solar panels and battery storage—essentially moving part of their power generation off the grid—to help the country hit a 2050 net-zero target, suggests an authority on energy efficiency solutions.
“What we need is a new model: homeowners and businesses need to be incentivized to generate their own electricity,” writes David O’Reilly, vice-president, home and commercial solutions, at Schneider Electric Canada, in an op-ed for The Globe and Mail. “When homes and buildings are turned into producers of electricity, instead of simply consumers, they become “prosumers”—things that are both consumers and producers.”
That’s the best way for Canadians to help ease electricity demand, which is expected to double by mid-century due to electric vehicle uptake, a decarbonizing economy, and a growing population, O’Reilly says.
“Given where we are, Canada is simply not equipped to generate sufficient capacity in that time frame,” he warns. But if Canadians could gain access to a suite of technologies that already exist, every home and business could generate power. Smart buildings, solar panels, battery storage, and inverter technology will “substantially reduce demand from households and businesses and potentially move entire communities off positions where they exert pressure on the grid.”
Switching to this prosumer model “requires coordination between federal and provincial building codes, as well as the various regulators,” making it imperative that Ottawa assume an immediate leadership role, O’Reilly adds. “Canada cannot afford to let regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles stand in the way of meaningful progress in a time of crisis.”
And this is a time of crisis, he stresses, contending that nuclear-generated electricity is the only other path for sufficient emissions-free electricity. That would mean nine power plants equivalent to the Bruce nuclear station in Ontario at a cost of C$171 billion by 2035, and 28 plants at a cost of $532 billion by 2050.
“This is clearly not in the realm of possibilities.”
The prosumer model, on the other hand, is entirely possible, as a growing number of jurisdictions in Europe and the United States have realized.
Britain and Germany each have roughly 1.5 million homes that are producing their own electricity, O’Reilly says. In Italy, more than three million homes do it. And “communities in California have built entire new developments that are on their own microgrids.” (He might have mentioned that Australia, as well, has gone all-in on rooftop solar.)
Those examples are “entirely possible to replicate this in Canada,” he adds. “All that is needed is the political will.”
The first step would be to mandate that all homes built from 2025 onward be equipped with a minimum generating potential of 7.5 kilowatt-hours a day, plus battery storage.
With that in place, “the 275,000 new homes built in Canada each year would produce two gigawatt-hours of clean electricity each day,” with storage compounding the savings.
“By 2050 we could have 6.9 million homes adding an extra 62 gigawatt-hours just through new builds alone, saving billions in costs and operating expenses,” O’Reilly says.
And slashing the sector’s carbon emissions will further boost Canada’s net-zero push, given the large share of the country’s emissions that buildings produce.