Growth in Alberta’s renewable energy sector should continue its upward trend, experts say, with one forecast anticipating a surge of projects that could have the province poised to be the Canadian leader in utility-scale wind and solar capacity as early as 2025.
Rystad Energy tracks utility-scale wind and solar assets with at least one MWac (megawatt alternating current) in capacity. It forecasts that 83 per cent of the combined utility-scale wind and solar capacity built in Canada over the next five years will be in Alberta. That wouldn’t include smaller renewable development such as residential rooftop solar.
With the forecast growth, Rystad analyst Felix Tan expects Alberta will have the largest combined total of utility-scale wind and solar capacity in the country by the middle of the decade, overtaking Ontario.
“Alberta is sort of playing catch up,” Tan said in an interview from New York.
“We have seen a lot of capacity build out over the past two, three, four years in places like Ontario, in B.C. and Quebec.”
According to the data that Rystad tracks, Alberta’s current renewable capacity includes 0.1 gigawatt (GW) of solar and 1.8 GW of wind. By 2025, it expects that to grow to 1.8 GW of solar and 6.5 GW of wind.
Rystad forecasts Ontario will have about 1.8 GW solar and 5.8 GW wind in 2025.
Tan said Alberta’s commitment to stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2030 “opens the door” for wind and solar to play a larger role.
He also said the province’s deregulated electricity market creates a favourable environment for solar and wind development.
The market allows corporate buyers to enter into contracts with wind and solar generators directly – something a growing number of companies are expected to seek as they look to green their operations.
‘It’s going to grow’
Blake Shaffer, an assistant professor in the department of economics and school of public policy at the University of Calgary, isn’t anticipating as much growth as Rystad projects, but he agrees with the forecast’s direction.
“We’re going to continue to add renewables in this province,” said Shaffer, whose work focuses on electricity markets, climate policy and energy transitions.
“Whether or not we surpass Ontario in that time frame, I can’t say definitively right now. But certainly it’s going to grow. And it’s simply a function that the cost of building renewables has just gotten so cheap.”
Like Tan, he also sees the benefit of Alberta’s competitive market structure for electricity.
Shaffer said Texas, a place with a long history in oil and gas, has become a growth centre for renewables in the United States. He believes Alberta will also become a growth leader in renewable energy.
“That’s not because of an intrinsic love for renewables,” he said.
“It’s simply that we have the best resource in terms of what we call capacity factor – so the frequency with which the wind blows here is high, which makes the unit cost low.”
He said Alberta’s solar resources are second only to Saskatchewan.
Some Alberta projects
A number of multimillion-dollar wind and solar projects are planned for Alberta in the next few years.
Edmonton International Airport and Alpin Sun announced this summer they are working on an agreement that will see the company develop Airport City Solar, a 254-hectare solar farm on the west side of the airport lands.
The massive Travers Solar project in Vulcan County is also in the works.
The $750-million project, led by Calgary’s Greengate Power, will consist of 1.5 million solar panels and generate about 800 million kWh (kilowatt hours) a year, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.
CEO Dan Balaban said if things go to plan, they hope to begin construction later this year.
“It’ll be by far the largest [solar project] in Canada,” he said. “And I think there’s certainly the potential for more mega renewable energy projects in this country and in this province as time goes on.”
Balaban said the discussion around energy shouldn’t be framed as oil and gas versus renewable energy.
“I think we should be developing our oil and gas resources and our renewable energy resources,” he said. “We have a phenomenal opportunity in this province if we can all work together.”