Yesterday I was on a roof installing solar panels as part of a 5-day solar design and installation course with GridWorks Energy Group in Edmonton.
It was truly amazing to see each solar panel going up, carefully fastening it down, and knowing that when it was all done, the house I was on would be powered by sun.
The solutions to the climate crisis are all around us. We just have to go outside on a nice day to feel them.
Thomas Edison realized the power of the sun and the wind back in 1931. "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that," is what Edison said to Henry Ford. It's too bad we didn't listen to him back then.
The beautiful thing is that places all around the world are finally getting the message.
In May, 74 per cent of Germany's power needs were generated from the sun. That fact alone shows just what's possible. The 250,000 people Germany employs in its solar PV sector also shows the employment benefits that come from a solar investment. Germany is not alone.
Bangladesh is installing nearly two new rooftop PV systems every minute, making it the most rapidly growing market for PV in the world. India's newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an incredible plan to use solar to supply electricity to over 400 million Indians who currently don't have it.
In the US, the vast majority of new electricity is coming from renewables. California and Texas already set solar power records this year. As the price of solar continues to drop, coal fired power plants are being closed. 166 coal-fired electricity-generating plants have closed or announced they are closing in the past four and a half year. An additional 183 proposed new coal plants have been canceled since 2005.
The story in Canada is a bit of a mixed bag. Ontario has emerged as a real solar champion. Ontario's feed-in tariff has spurred solar investment and propelled the province to be one of North America's leaders.
Alberta is a different story. Despite the province having the most solar potential out of any province in Canada, investment in solar is still piecemeal. There are little to no government supports for solar and yet huge government subsidies are given to the provinces most polluting industries like the tar sands.
Randall, the instructor of the five-day course I've been taking, put it best, "If I want to start my own oil and gas company the government incentives are almost endless, but if I want to start my own solar company I'm pretty much on my own," said Benson. "It's truly astonishing we are the sunniest province in the country, we have the most solar potential yet we are the furthest behind."
It's a perplexing situation. The benefits solar could bring to Canada's most polluting province are huge. From job growth to decreasing climate pollution, from reducing energy bills for home and business owners to diversifying the provinces one-pony economy, the benefits of solar are almost as endless as the power it produces.
The only thing holding Alberta's solar boom back are shortsightedness and powerful lobbyists intent on keeping the government's blinders on.
Hopefully, as criticism of Alberta's climate polluting ways mounts, as pipelines are blocked, as movements for climate justice grow and other jurisdictions continue to move ahead, the Alberta government will finally get the message.
This weekend, I helped install the future. I saw the benefits of solar first hand and I'm comforted that while the government waits and loses opportunities, entrepreneurs like Randall do not.
The future is sunny my friend it's time our governments got that message as well.