I’m in day three of the solar design and installation course I’ve been taking through Gridworks Energy and Randall Benson.

The course has been amazing so far as I have been learning about the incredible potential that the sun holds. Most of the other people in the course see the potential the industry has and want to be on the ground floor in bringing it to Alberta despite the lack of government policies to ease the transition.

While most of the course is numbers and electrical codes, it’s also spiced with some incredible success stories.

One of the successes comes from Canada’s north and is perhaps the most northern solar installation in the world.

Banks Island is high above the Arctic Circle and sits in the Arctic Ocean. Being extremely isolated, the only way to get things in and out of the community is either by air or by barge that goes up two times a year (if the weather is good). Because things are remote, energy costs are high and can average over $1.39/kWh.

Roger Kuptana, who owns the PolarGrizz Lodge in Sachs Harbour on Banks Island, regularly had energy bills between $700 and $1100 a month. Given the huge chunk of cash that was being eaten up just in energy costs (not to mention the environmental costs of that energy – primarily diesel) Roger gave Randall a call.

After some careful planning to get everything needed on the one of the two barges that went to the community, Randall set up a 4.3 kW solar system and within a week flipped the switch.

The impact was immediate and when Roger received his energy bill he really couldn’t believe it and neither could Power Corp ­–Roger’s usual energy company. Roger’s bills were so low that the Power Corp sent out inspectors three times (at a fairly substantial cost) to check for a problem. They never found a problem. They just found a solar system humming along.

Roger saves on average $800 a month. His first energy bill went from $800 to $74.56.

Even with the substantial shipping costs to get the system to the Arctic Circle, the savings Roger is getting will pay for everything in less than 8-years. After that, it’s pure extra cash.

These are the returns that not only people in isolated communities are seeing, but people all over the world. As solar starts to be (and in some cases is) cheaper than coal or natural gas, those benefits are set only to increase. Those economic benefits are being realized even without the social and environmental costs of dirty energy being factored in, or the substantial subsidies dirty energy gets - the IMF pegged dirty energy subsidies at 34 billion a year in Canada.

It’s time that the Canadian and Albertan government got the message. The economics are there, the environmental and community benefits are massive, it’s time we had the political will to speed the transition. 

The future is sunny, my friend.