EDMONTON – With the number of layoffs rising as the price of oil continues to take a beating in global commodity markets, many in the province are looking at the possibility of finding a job in the renewable energy sector.
That much was clear as a standing room only crowd of hundreds packed NAIT’s Shaw Theatre on Saturday for a conference on solar power.
“It’s ultimately the way of the future and people are starting to realize that and come out in droves,” said Leon Milner of the Solar Energy Society of Alberta.
Organizers said they were overwhelmed by the turnout and educators say it isn’t just trade shows seeking a spike in interest when it comes to non-traditional energy sources.
“We’re seeing a very significant increase in the number of people that are wanting to join the program,” said Jim Sandercock, who chairs the NAIT Alternative Energy Program.
Since launching in 2011, the program has grown significantly and according to Sandercock, the school expects to be fielding seven applications for each seat available come fall.
Government interest in diversifying its energy sources appears to be driving the enthusiasm for the renewable energy sector, according to those in the field.
“There’s been announcements by the provincial government about how they would like our electricity by 2030 to be 30 per cent renewables,” said Sandercock. “Between 2009 and now, in the United States, solar has dropped by 60 per cent in cost, wind about the same. So Alberta has this chance to jump in and diversify its economy without it being as expensive as it was for other countries.”
“If you wanted to buy electricity in the past, you got it from your generator and paid a little each month. With solar you’re buying 25 years of electricity all at once and then you’re locked in at a steady rate,” said Milner.
Some at Saturday’s conference said solar power isn’t necessarily going to replace oil and gas, but could grow into a key piece of Alberta’s energy portfolio.
“We’re talking about creating another parallel industry that’s also an energy industry that will help diversify and sort of stabilize some of the issues Alberta’s had with boom and bust cycles in the oil and gas industries,” said Sandercock.
The MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford agreed.
“A lot of the things that we’ve learned through being an energy generating province with our oil and gas history will be well-transferred into these other areas,” said Richard Feehan.
Files from Sarah Kraus