Canada “has only begun to scratch the surface of its vast and untapped wind and solar energy resources,” and provinces will need to pick up the pace if the country hopes to meet its climate and energy targets, the Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) concludes this week in its annual industry data release.
Installed renewable energy capacity across the country increased 11.2%, to 21.9 gigawatts of wind, solar, and energy storage, CanREA reports. But Alberta, which imposed a midsummer moratorium on new renewable energy projects over a megawatt, accounted for 92% of the 2023 total, and only Saskatchewan, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories added any new capacity to the national tally.
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The new capacity last year included more than 1.7 GW of utility-scale wind, nearly 360 MW of utility-scale solar, 86 MW of onsite solar, and 140 MW/190 MWh of energy storage, the trade association calculates.
The Alberta moratorium did not slow down approved projects in 2023, and it will only have a “limited impact” this year, CanREA says. “Make no mistake, however, the pause and the investor uncertainty it creates will have impacts that will be felt in 2025 and beyond,” the release warns. “While Alberta has led the country in renewables growth for several years, its progress in the near future will depend on a stable and supportive investment and policy climate, to compete with other provinces that are now looking to scale up significantly in renewables.”
While all the future procurements announced across Canada would bring installed capacity to 58 GW of renewables and storage by 2035, that total “is less than what is needed to support national and international targets for the energy transition,” CanREA writes, after last fall’s COP28 climate summit committed countries to triple global renewable energy capacity by the end of this decade.
CanREA’s 2050 net-zero plan calls for 5 GW of new renewable energy capacity per year, far more than Canada added last year. To hit the target, “we basically need more procurements” from provincial Crown corporations and electricity system operators, President and CEO Vittoria Bellissimo said in an interview.
“It’s a call to those entities to do things faster,” she said. “It’s a real competition globally for all the things we need to deliver clean electricity sources,” but “those governments and Crown corporations would do well to have more renewable energy and storage on their systems.”
CanREA issued its release just a day after BloombergNEF reported that global renewable energy investment grew 17% last year, to US$1.8 trillion, plus another trillion dollars for supply chain development and financing. But that total still fell far short of what will be needed to get the world economy on a net-zero pathway.
“The opportunity is large and spending is accelerating, but we need to do so much more,” said BNEF Deputy CEO Albert Cheung.
Bellissimo said Alberta is currently the only Canadian province with an electricity market that allows private electricity sales, and has 3,300 MW in power purchase agreements (PPAs) as a result. But Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Quebec are all considering different forms of PPAs, and that’s a shift that renewable energy developers will welcome.
“It’s a really big win for the industry to not have just one buyer,” Bellissimo told The Energy Mix. When a Crown corporation or a provincial system operator is the only customer, “everyone waits on that procurement,” she explained. With the possibility of private contracts added to the mix, “it spreads out the demand for services all along the supply chain. It enables customers to get power when they want power, and enables suppliers to sell on their own timeline, so it’s not all condensed. Everyone’s not going to market to do the same things at the same time,” which makes it easier to build up renewable energy capacity.
She added that long-awaited federal tax credits for renewable energy investment are expected in the next couple of months, and they’ll be retroactive to the March, 2023 federal budget. “It hasn’t been fast enough, but it will happen, and it’s absolutely vital to the industry,” she said. The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act “really changed the game,” and, “if Canada is going to compete, we’re going to need the investment tax credits.”