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Going from Passive to Active: How Saskatchewan’s Solar Industry is Growing Up

Solar and wind energy at Cowessess First Nation near Regina.
Solar and wind energy at Cowessess First Nation near Regina.

While the solar energy industry in Saskatchewan is in many ways just getting started, recent developments suggest that the industry is shifting well beyond “passive” energy-efficient solar uses to harness utility-scale production. So-called “passive” applications, such as glass windows, energy-efficient building design, and greenhouses, have been used for many years and continue to evolve at a rapid rate.

According to the Government of Saskatchewan, the province has 165 greenhouse operations with an estimated production area of approximately 35 acres, employing over 1,500 people.1

Increased consumer interest in locally produced food, and the recent legalization of cannabis products, has fuelled growth in harvesting solar energy to grow businesses and the products the companies are based on. Linked to this is the continued concern for energy efficiency, which has led to a great deal of innovation in building design, materials, and construction based on passive solar energy. Much of this innovation is founded on Saskatchewan Research Council’s research from the 1970s when Harold Orr and his team designed a solar house “appropriate for Saskatchewan.”2

“The three most important principles for a passive house are super insulation, airtightness, and good windows towards the south,” says Michael Nemeth, an engineer and energy consultant who worked on Saskatchewan’s first certified passive house. “With that, you’ll achieve a very energy-efficient building.”3

Of course, saving energy is only one side of the solar industry equation in Saskatchewan. Production is also important. Solar production adds robustness to ageing, increasingly stretched energy grids by adding energy from multiple sources while decreasing demand from others. From the highly distributed small-scale output on houses, commercial buildings, farms, and community-owned buildings, like schools, to large, centralized utility-scale solar farms powering thousands of homes across the province, solar production functions at various scales.

SaskPower, a crown corporation and primary distributor of power in the province, has a “goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 40 percent.”4 With coal playing a significant portion of SaskPower’s 2005 energy mix, that kind of shift is substantial.

Evan Wilson, senior director, Western Canada at the Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) suggests solar production at utility and local scales will help SaskPower achieve this goal.

“I think that we’re definitely going to see a variety of different renewable technologies with solar deployed both at the utility-scale and at the residential and commercial scale,” says Wilson.

Solar generation material and storage costs have dropped as much as 90 percent, according to Wilson. This reduction in input costs, coupled with rising traditional energy costs due to carbon pricing and ageing infrastructure and facilities, makes solar production more viable. “SaskPower has a goal to add 60 megawatts of solar to the grid by 2021,” says Wilson. “A lot of it is going to end up coming from the utility-scale.”

Ontario-based Saturn Power has teamed up with local partner miEnergy on the SaskPower Highfield Solar Project in the RM of Coulee, one of Saskatchewan’s first utility-scale solar projects.

“Saskatchewan has the highest solar irradiance in all of Canada,” says Eileen Turano, Project Developer at Saturn Power, the managing firm of the Highfield Solar Project. “So it makes [Saskatchewan] a great place for solar development.”

The 10-megawatt Highfield project will power up to 2,500 homes when it comes online later this year.5

Another 10-megawatt SaskPower project, won by Quebec’s Kruger Energy and local partner, WestSource, is Foxtail Grove. This project “will provide enough electricity to supply over 2,600 households in the Regina area.”6

Turano says decreasing supply costs “shared across the board” alongside competition between independent manufacturers, like Saturn Power and Kruger, reduce prices for the ratepayer and utility. Technological advances are also helping increase the industry’s viability.

“We’re using bifacial solar panels, which means that we’re not only absorbing the sun from the top of the panel,” says Turano. “We’re also getting the rays that are hitting the ground and bouncing back up. And so we’re able to capture more of the power without having to add more panels.”

First Nations are also benefitting from solar. First Nations Power Authority signed an agreement with SaskPower to develop and generate 20 megawatts of solar power.7 The initial 10-megawatt project, Pesâkâstêw Solar, is a partnership between George Gordon First Nation and Star Blanket Cree Nation.

But selling to SaskPower is only one way First Nations aim to benefit from solar production.

An installation planned by Muskoday First Nation hopes to generate over 200 megawatt-hours of renewable energy annually, reducing the community’s dependence on the grid by over 40 percent. Installations on five community buildings on Cowessess First Nation will also produce over 460 megawatt-hours of renewable energy annually, reducing, on average, 60 percent of the annual electricity consumption from the grid.

All this suggests, Saskatchewan’s solar industry is well-positioned to play a significant role in the province’s energy mix, helping drive economic growth in the province now and into the future.

“It’s exciting to be a part of something like the first-ever utility-scale solar project,” says Turano. “It’s great to be a part of history.”

1Greenhouses, Government of Saskatchewan, https://www.saskatchewan.ca/business/agriculture-natural-resources-and-industry/agribusiness-farmers-and-ranchers/crops-and-irrigation/horticultural-crops/greenhouses
2,3The first certified passive house in Saskatchewan, Pembina Institute, https://www.pembina.org/blog/first-certified-passive-house-saskatchewan
4Current Projects, SaskPower, https://www.saskpower.com/projects
5SaskPower Ready to Add 402 MW of Emissions-free Power in 2021, SaskPower, https://www.saskpower.com/about-us/our-company/blog/year-in-review-saskpower-ready-to-add-402-mw-of-emissions-free-power-in-2021
6Kruger Energy Saskatchewan Solar L.P. Retained by SaskPower to Build a Solar Energy Project, Kruger Energy, https://www.kruger.com/news/kruger-energy-saskatchewan-solar-l-p-retained-saskpower-build-solar-energy-project/
7Awasis Solar Power Project, SaskPower, https://www.saskpower.com/Our-Power-Future/Infrastructure-Projects/Construction-Projects/Current-Projects/Awasis-Solar-Power-Project
8Landfill Gas Generation Energy Project, SES Solar Co-operative, https://sessolarcoop.wildapricot.org/Landfill