By MELANIE VOLLICK
The debate that energy as a commodity is running out is intensifying, and it is time to take a look at the Earth and realize the need to educate Canadians on the topic of sustainable energy.
Canada is lagging behind the developed world and needs a re-examination of non-renewable resources.
A global transition to renewable energy is already in progress, and the economic and environmental potential for Canada is enormous with the conversion to solar.
A massive switch is the logical answer, but do what you can!
The diverse challenge with the switch to generating power from the sun is difficult due to a lack of vision and systemic resistance to change. It is up to the governments to put policies and programs in place that encourage investments and transform markets towards energy efficient products and practises.
The lack of information, inadequate regulatory structures and unstable incentive programs contribute to an unhealthy market, and Canadians need to lean towards a solar future because what has served us well in the past will not work in the future.
This transformation should lead to economic stability that will help to reduce our independence on foreign oils and fossil fuels.
Solar power has grown dramatically over the past 20 years, and the technology is advancing quickly, but the growth is not enough.
We are now at a critical crossroad of our global energy scenario, and the demand for photovoltaic systems is increasing.
Solar can actually have excellent returns in specific markets such as solar pool heating and remote PV satellite monitoring systems and good returns elsewhere. With a life expectancy exceeding 40 years, solar power incurs few operating costs, is easy to install, and is pollution-free.
The greater fear is likely to emerge from environmental concerns, especially the rising concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide acting as a greenhouse gas. We are on our way to climatic catastrophe and with the highest greenhouse gas emissions from energy activities, Canada needs to realize that renewable is doable.
Since the industrial revolution, global energy consumption has increased to improve our living standards. With an increase in energy usage, Canadians need to plan a future for generations to come.
The potential to make significant gains over the next decade by converting to solar power is immeasurable. Canadians are 16 years behind Germany for incorporating renewable energy into our homes. There is plenty of sun in Canada and in the populated areas the yearly average sun actually exceeds Germany and Japan, which are the leaders in solar energy use.
Germany has 30 per cent less solar energy landing on it than Ontario. The United States, Spain, Germany, Italy, France and even India and China have already invested in low-impact renewable energy because of its multiple environmental, social and economic benefits.
Our government needs to demonstrate a similar commitment to the development of renewable energy.
Further efforts are required in Canada and internationally to remove barriers that may limit investments in renewable energy.
Without major changes in the way we are to meet our future energy needs, there is little hope of reducing the impact of energy production and use to reasonable levels. Surveys show that solar is the preferred energy source of Canadians and that we are willing to pay more for our energy if it comes from the sun.
A failure to act critically and without delay will have long-term penalties for Canada’s economic competiveness and position in the community of nations. Increased awareness of renewable energy opportunities and government policies supportive of renewable energy development are helping to speed this transition to a sustainable energy future.
Supportive policies and innovative financing solutions from countries around the world provide examples and opportunities for Canada to pursue.
Many pundits foresee a solar future for utilities due to the scarcity of resources. The prices of today’s technology base are insufficient to provide clean and plentiful energy for nine billion people, and today’s population densities far exceed what could be maintained by natural means. In Canada, which has one of the highest energy consumptions in the world, investment needs to take place now.
High prices for gasoline and home heating oil are here to stay. Current estimates are showing that natural uranium for nuclear power will last only 50 years, oil no more than 100, gas, 150, and coal, 200. These estimates should be daunting enough for Canadians to want to plan for the future.
Will our civilization come to a halt after the 23rd century when fossil and nuclear fuels become entirely exhausted?
The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year, and solar energy is virtually unlimited in source. At present, the total or full lifecycle of solar energy makes it competitive now.
A private citizen installing a one-kilowatt system is today buying 100 per cent of the electricity from that system at 32 cents per kWh over the first 35 years. The challenge is to develop the right incentives for such a transition to occur.
Large-scale solar energy entering the market some time during this century would make it possible to replace fossil or nuclear energy, and if a reduction in cost could be accomplished, solar energy would indeed represent a viable alternative.
A bright future with solar energy ensures a limitless supply of energy in Canada. If successful, solar energy alone could provide the energy required for a fully industrialized society.
Furthermore, solar creates jobs and supplies reliable power not affected by international events and natural catastrophes while improving the environment.
Environmental concerns and supplies are important factors that make timelines crucial. The end of the fossil-fuel era is a certainty now with concentrated supplies of oil and gas in a small region of the world; solar as a clean, powerful, proven energy source is the most practical.
We cannot wait until non-renewable sources have been depleted before we start to promote alternate energy sources. Canada needs to catch up and see beyond the fossil fuel era to ensure a mature and competitive renewable energy industry when the inevitable transition to renewable power comes later this century.
For more information on local environmental and sustainability issues contact the Environment Network at 705-446- 0551 or visit www.environmentnetwork.org.