September 11, 2018 7:20 pm
Updated: September 11, 2018 7:26 pm

More visible panels could be key to solar energy sell: Alberta researcher

WATCH ABOVE: What would convince you to move to solar power? A University of Alberta environmental sociologist says it'll likely that more than money to motivate you, despite the government's multi-million dollar rebate program. Jennifer Crosby sits down with John Parkins to talk more about the topic.

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For some time now, Canadians have been encouraged to retrofit their homes in order to reduce their carbon footprint. In Alberta, homeowners have been incentivized to install solar panels on their homes through solar rebates.

In the first year of Energy Efficiency Alberta’s residential and commercial solar rebate program, 512 projects (485 residences and 27 commercial and non-profit entities), totalling 4.8 megawatts of installed capacity, have already been installed, according to a spokesperson for Alberta Environment.

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But an environmental sociologist with the University of Alberta recently published an analysis of a survey looking at the “determinants of technology adoption intention” and believes making solar panels more visible in the public sphere could have a significant impact on the acceleration of switching to renewable energy.

“We asked the people in this survey, ‘Over the next three years, how likely are you to put solar panels on the roof of your house?’ John Parkins told Global News on Tuesday. “We found that a lot of people were quite interested in putting solar panels on the roof of their house but the study really focused on the factors that would lead people to do that or [make them] more likely to do that.

“Two things we found in particular: one is that if people see solar around them — so if they see other homes or other businesses or neighbours or buildings — that would lead them to be more likely to put solar up in their own homes. The other thing… [is] people being engaged in conversations around energy issues. So [if] people have an opportunity to participate in discussions around energy issues, energy transition, then they are more likely to put solar on their own homes as well.”

READ MORE: Solar energy investors expected to snub Ontario, look to Alberta in wake of Ford decisions

Parkins and his fellow researchers analyzed the results of a survey of 2,065 Canadians on the matter to come up with their conclusions and recommendations, which were published in the academic journal Energy Policy.

“Some of the implications of our research suggest that governments, both provincial and municipal governments, can really emphasize the visibility of solar on their own infrastructure, on their own buildings,” Parkins said.

“So we recommend that the City of Edmonton put rooftop solar on community buildings and government buildings where people can see them in their own neighbourhoods.

“We also recommend that churches, for instance, can do this because they’re high-profile buildings in the community. Some churches have done this, for instance, St. Paul’s United Church in Belgravia has a big solar array on their rooftop and this can really incentivize people in that neighbourhood to do the same on their homes.”

READ MORE: Council committee looks at green grid for Edmonton’s energy needs

Energy Efficiency Alberta has been the driving force behind the Alberta NDP government’s Climate Leadership Plan, which encourages citizens to rely less on non-renewable resources. According to Energy Efficiency Alberta’s website, the environmental attributes gained from getting more people to move to solar energy are quantified as tonnes of “carbon dioxide equivalents.” Energy Efficiency Alberta then keeps the attributes (from the residential and commercial solar rebate program) “as a contribution to meeting our province’s commitment of emissions reductions outlined in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change,” according to its website. (NOTE: The Alberta government recently withdrew from the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change because of what it says is the federal government’s failure to move the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project along.)

READ MORE: Notley pulling Alberta out of federal climate plan after latest Trans Mountain pipeline setback

Matt Dykstra, a spokesperson for Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, says “Alberta currently offers more solar programs than anywhere else in Canada.”

“By the end of 2018, the amount of solar electricity generation in Alberta will have surpassed 50,000 kilowatts — enough to meet the average annual electricity needs of almost 100,000 Albertan households,” he said in an email to Global News on Tuesday. “As the cost of solar electricity continues to rapidly decline, and as more of Alberta’s households, businesses and communities look to go solar, the contribution of solar energy to the province’s annual energy needs is expected to increase significantly.”

READ MORE: Albertans saw big energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions in 2017: government

But Parkins isn’t convinced increasing electricity costs alone will be enough to bring more Albertans to see solar panels in a whole new light.

“Rebates are important and they will incentivize some people to adopt solar but we can see… it’s really a small percentage of the total electricity production in Alberta and there is some growth there but it’s not very fast,” he said.

“One of the big factors that’s really limiting people’s interest and enthusiasm for solar is the very low cost of electricity currently… people don’t really pay a lot for their electricity compared to other parts of the world and so there’s not a big incentive for people to put the money in, put the time in to put solar on their rooftops.”

READ MORE: Alberta offering up to 30% off solar panel installation with $36M program

Watch below: In June 2017, Fletcher Kent filed this report about Alberta’s solar program that offers up to $10,000 in rebates.

For information on Energy Efficiency Alberta’s incentive rates for its residential and commercial solar program, click here.

–With files from Global News’ Jennifer Crosby

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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