Solar Photovoltaics

The cost of solar PV technologies has come down dramatically in recent years. It is now conceivable that they will play a pivotal role in creating a post-carbon economy in the decades to come.

Image Source:

Solar PV

By the Numbers


Of total world PV capacity located in Germany in 2011

3 million

Households installed with PV systems

12,160 acres

Of land needed for a 1,000 MW solar PV plant

94.57 MW

Total Canadian PV capacity in 2011

5 x

More solar PV power plants globally in 2011 than in 2007


Full time jobs in the Canadian solar PV industry

Last Updated: May 2012

Charlotte Helston

Solar photovoltaics (solar PV) is used to generate electricity in over 100 countries, and its recent surges in development have made it the world's fastest growing power-generation technology. Though solar PV currently accounts for only a small fraction of the world's total power-generating capacity, if its expansion persists, that is likely to change.

The technology converts sunlight directly into electricity with the use of solar panels made up of semiconductor material. On the household, business, and institutional level, roof and/or wall mounted installations, as well as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) have gained considerable popularity in converting buildings into net energy producers.

Roof Mounted PV System
Roof-mounted PV system.

Historically in Canada, PV systems have been used mostly in remote, off-grid locations to provide power for road signs, lodges, farming, and telecommunications. The past several years have seen a drastic increase in utility-grid systems of about 30% annually since 2008.

Solar PV power plants are also on the rise, both nationally and internationally. Canada, though not in the running for top PV installed capacity, does host the world's largest PV power plant in Sarnia, Ontario. The province's feed-in tariffs (FIT's) have motivated expansion from the household to the industrial level.

Globally, PV industry growth has coincided with the implementation of government incentives. Policies and programs aimed at facilitating PV project development are essential. In no way can BC expect to see the industry grow without similar program assistance.

  1. REN21 2011 . Renewables Global Status Report. Retrieved at:
  2. CanSIA,. 2011,. Overview of the Canadian Solar PV market activity. Retrieved at:

How Do Solar Photovoltaics Work?

Diagram of a Photovoltaic Array
Diagram of a Photovoltaic Array.

Photovoltaics (PV) uses the technology of photovoltaic cells to convert solar energy directly into electrical power. PV cells are like the building blocks of a photovoltaic system. Also known as solar cells, these electricity producing devices may be very small (the size of an eraser) or as large as several inches across. When many cells are connected together, they form modules, which can in turn be combined to form PV arrays.

Generally, the larger the area of the module or array, the more electricity will be produced. In this way, photovoltaics can be used on a wide range; small cells can be used to power watches and calculators, while on the larger end, masses of arrays are used in power plants to generate electricity.

The technology relies on the photovoltaic effect; photons of light knock electrons into a higher state of energy, which creates electricity. When light shines on a PV cell, the absorbed energy is transferred to electrons in the atoms of the PV cell, which is constructed of a semiconductor material, usually silicon alloys. Having been energized, the electrons break free from their normal positions in the atoms, and become part of the electrical flow, or current, in an electrical circuit.

A special feature of PV cells is a built-in electric field which provides the voltage required to drive the current through an external load, like a light bulb.

Photovoltaic cells produce direct current, which can be used where low energy is sufficient. Direct current can, and often is, converted to alternating current (AC) using inverters. Alternating current is compatible with electricity supplied from the grid, and can be used for anything— from powering blow-dryers to computers. A 2006 report commissioned by CanSIA placed solar PV in the 15-17% efficiency range.

A significant downside to PV systems is their inability to store electricity at a comparable efficiency to other energies. In remote, off-grid locations, batteries are sometimes used to store electricity. For most on-grid systems, excess energy is fed back into the local utility, in some cases neutralizing utility bills. The lack of sufficient storage technology means that during the night, as well as periods of reduced radiation, PV systems are largely ineffectual, and depend to a large degree on back-up systems. Solar thermal systems, on the other hand, can store great amounts of heat energy until it is needed.

Small Scale Use

When installed on rooftops and walls, photovoltaics can change buildings from energy suckers to energy producers. Generally, solar cells are installed on rooftops that would otherwise consist of empty space. A different approach that still uses the principle of PV systems, incorporates photovoltaic materials into roofing, siding, and windows. In these Building-integrated photovoltaic systems (BIPV), cost is decreased as the photovoltaic materials substitute conventional materials rather than adding on to them. Secondly BIPV installations are generally thought to be more aesthetically pleasing than roof-mounted PV structures. Both designs facilitate on-site energy production which eliminates transmission from an alternate source. Photovoltaic systems cannot account for a building's entire energy consumption. Depending on the building's energy requirements (and potentially they can be reduced) photovoltaics can cover more or less of the total energy consumption.

Buildings may receive on or off-grid electricity. In an on-grid set-up incorporating photovoltaics, owners can supplement energy needs with electricity provided by their local utility when their PV systems cannot generate enough energy. This back-up is particularly important at night, and during periods of cloudy or overcast weather. Being hooked up to the grid also means that any surplus electricity produced by the PV system will be exported from the building to the local utility. For off-grid locations, (typically remote areas where there are no power lines) PV system users have no means of tapping into back-up power. Off-grid photovoltaics sometimes power households, but generally are used in other applications, such as powering electric fences, water pumps, traffic warning signs, campgrounds, offshore drilling platforms, weather stations, and communications equipment such as emergency roadside phones. Storing electricity from PV cells can be accomplished with the use of batteries. Deep cycle batteries are ideal, though car batteries can be used at a decreased level of efficiency. Deep cycle batteries are either lead acid (which require routine additions of water) or captive electrolyte (which are maintenance free). There exists some concern over the disposal of such batteries when they are no longer effective.

Massive PV System integrated into the side of an office tower in Manchester, U.K
Massive PV System integrated into the side of an office tower in Manchester, U.K.

PV systems require proper — though not complex — wiring, safety switches and fuses, controllers to prevent batteries from becoming overcharged or grossly discharged, diodes to permit the current to flow in the right direction, and finally, grounding mechanisms to counter the risk of lightning strikes.

How Do Photovoltaics Work at the Power Plant Level?

Compared to solar thermal power plants, photovoltaic power plants are fairly straightforward. Multiple solar arrays are strung together onto a mounting system from which all individual solar cells collect energy and convert it directly into electricity. The electricity goes straight through the system's wiring and is injected into the electric grid. PV power plants are currently overshadowed by solar thermal plants, as the latter are far more efficient at producing large scale electricity, and can also store large quantities of energy, where PV power plants cannot. Technology is always changing, however, and it's possible that PV may become a larger energy contributor in the future.

  1. NASA, 2002, Knier, G., How do photovoltaics work?
  2. CanSIA,. 2011,. Overview of the Canadian Solar PV market activity. Retrieved at:
  3. Glennon, R., Reeves, A.M., 2010, Solar Energy's Cloudy Future, Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Vol. 1, p. 91

Geography of Photovoltaics

Where Can Small-Scale Photovoltaics Be Used?

In varying degrees of efficiency — pretty much anywhere. As with solar thermal's geographical dispositions, PV systems rely on the amount of solar radiation received to determine how successful they are at producing energy. Portions of energy can be covered by photovoltaics in any region of the earth. Though with modules operating at about 15% efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity, systems will reward their users much more in sunny climates. This means that locations at low latitudes, largely within the tropics, are well suited to using PV systems.

Where Can Photovoltaic Power Plants Be Developed?

Photovoltaic power plants can be developed anywhere in the world, with the major requirement being an enormous amount of land. The land mass required for utility-scale solar power installations is enormous, and plants are usually located far from urban areas, requiring upgraded or replacement of existing transmission lines. Approximately 12,160 acres of land are needed to support a 1,000 MW photovoltaic plant.

A suggested solution to the massive land requirements, is to site solar plants on marginal agricultural land. Such action would replace economically low-value activities with higher value ones. The Solana Generating Station in the U.S. is a good example: The proposed plant, which is currently undergoing construction, will reallocate over seven square kilometres of land that had formerly been used to grow alfalfa. The solar plant is expected to consume 75% less water than was required to grow the alfalfa. The Solana Generating System is a solar thermal plant, a type of solar plant that uses considerably more water than a photovoltaic plant does (though it operates at a significantly higher economical efficiency). The obvious question: If solar plants are replacing agricultural lands, what will happen to farms? The reaction of farmers to a proposed 30,000 acre solar plant in California has been positive. The plant will use fallowed agricultural land, a reallocation that will reduce water demand and ensure superior water distribution among the active farms in the region.

First nations' lands constitute a somewhat controversial possibility for siting solar plants. In the United States, Congressman Raul Grijalva estimated in a 2007 hearing, that "the solar power potential of tribal lands was roughly 4.5 times the annual electricity needs of the United States". In 2005, an implemented Energy Policy Act granted federal agencies the authority to "institute preferential purchase agreements for any 'energy product' or 'energy by-product' produced by business entities that are majority-owned by an Indian tribe". The act was, according to Theresa Rosier, "intended to provide support to tribal governments in the development of energy resources on Indian lands... to provide incentives for partnership with tribes that want to develop their resources [and to] authorize individual Indians and tribal governments to enter into energy development leases or business agreements without Federal review..." It is possible that with the many permitting issues stalling solar developments in the United States, projects proposed for tribal lands could provide a smoother avenue for development.

A Solar PV power plant built outside of Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada Desert.
Another view of the solar PV power plant built outside of Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada Desert.

Similar interest in tribal land for the purpose of solar plants exists in Canada as well. The suggestion, in some areas, has been met with optimism. Chief Gordon Plains of the T'Sou-ke Nation on Vancouver Island said: "It's good to be a part of using the gifts that the creator gave us in helping us to take care of Mother Earth. It is now appropriate that first nations take the lead in demonstrating how to live without fossil fuels once again."

Historically, resources from Native lands have often been exploited unfairly and irresponsibly. It seems that native leaders are prepared to embrace energy projects so long as the development and ensuing operation is carried out with the well-being of the environment and local communities in mind, ensuring that the benefits are shared between all parties.

  1. Glennon, R., Reeves, A.M., 2010, Solar Energy's Cloudy Future, Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Vol. 1, p. 91
  2. Glennon, R., Reeves, A.M., 2010, Solar Energy's Cloudy Future, Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Vol. 1, p. 91
  3. Glennon, R., Reeves, A.M., 2010, Solar Energy's Cloudy Future, Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Vol. 1, p. 91
  4. Glennon, R., Reeves, A.M., 2010, Solar Energy's Cloudy Future, Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Vol. 1, p. 91
  5. Glennon, R., Reeves, A.M., 2010, Solar Energy's Cloudy Future, Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Vol. 1, p. 91
  6. Glennon, R., Reeves, A.M., 2010, Solar Energy's Cloudy Future, Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Vol. 1, p. 91

Economics of Photovoltaics

What are the costs of installing PV solar panels in buildings?

With a recent surge in demand, the costs for installing PV systems has reduced. Module prices have declined from $11.09 in 1999, to $3.31 in 2009, demonstrating an annual decrease of 10% over the 10 year period. The main costs are concerned with installation, both parts and labour, and replacement of inverters. Costs range depending on the size of the system. The installed price per kW for grid-connected installations is between $6,000 and 8,000. Off-grid systems with storage ring up a higher price, around $16,000 per kW. Once installed, maintenance and replacement of parts is minimal. Modules typically last for 20-30 years (almost double the life-expectancy of other generating systems such as wind, nuclear, or natural gas turbines), and the life-expectancy is only improving.

A study from the Department of Energy at Berkeley's National Laboratory, says that the average cost of PV systems has declined significantly from 1998 to 2007. The study analyzed 37,000 grid-connected PV systems, and found that installed costs had declined form $10.50 per watt to $7.60 per watt. It is expected that this trend will continue.

What are the Costs of Developing a PV Power Plant?

The German Lieberose Photovoltaic Park in Germany
The German Lieberose Photovoltaic Park in Germany.

Despite advancements in technology, producing electricity from solar PV is still not cost-comparable with fossil fuels such as coal and gas. Costs vary according to size of the plant, its location, initial cost of the land, and also depend on government programs to offset some of the investment.

Companies are hesitant to publicize their investments, but an estimate for the installation of a 10 MW system is between $70 million and $80 million. If that estimate holds true, the development of Sarnia's 80 MW would have cost around $600 million. The government of Ontario, who partially funded the project through feed-in tariffs, did reveal that over $400 million had been invested in Sarnia's phase two expansion, which added 60 MW to the former 20 MW.

How Many Jobs Do Photovoltaics Support?

The PV industry in Canada supports 2,700 full-time jobs in manufacturing, distributing, installing and consulting. This represents a 30% increase from 2008. Increased investment in Canadian universities to enlarge the level of research and development activities in the field of materials and solar cells was seen in 2009.

The Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant in Ontario created 800 construction jobs. Indirect job opportunities also arose for design and engineering companies, service providers, suppliers and sub-contractors.

  1. McMonagle, Rob. 2006. The enviornmental attributes of solar PV in the Canadian context
  2. DOE / Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (2009, March 3). Cost Of Installed Solar Photovoltaic Systems Drops Significantly Over The Last Decade. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 29, 2011, from­ /releases/2009/02/090219152130.htm
  3. Hamilton, Tyler. 2007. Ontario goes solar. The Star. Retrieved at:
  4. Chidley, Dave., 2010. Clean Energy Association of BC, 2011 Clean Energy fact Sheet, retrieved here:
  5. CanSia. Environment Canada. Retrieved from:
  6. Chidley, Dave., 2010. Clean Energy Association of BC, 2011 Clean Energy fact Sheet, retrieved here:
A photovoltaic power station at Okhotnykovo in the Ukraine, the fourth largest solar PV plant in the world.
A photovoltaic power station at Okhotnykovo in the Ukraine, the fourth largest solar PV plant in the world.

Environmental Considerations of Photovoltaics

How do Solar PV Systems Affect the Environment?

Solar PV systems avoid the contentious water issues associated with solar thermal power plants. With PV systems, there is no necessity for cooling; the only water consumption is for periodically rinsing the panels of dust and debris.

The land requirements for solar PV power plants, on the other hand, are staggering. While a coal plant typically demands between 640-1,280 acres to produce 1,000 MW of power, a PV plant can require 12,160 acres to generate the same amount. Though wind power uses the most (an estimated 46,000 acres) much of it remains jointly usable for agricultural purposes, including crop plantations and grazing for livestock. Such comanagement has not been easy to implement for solar PV farms.

Pollution issues with PV seem to bookend the actual operating time of the energy source. Manufacture and decommissioning account for the main environmental impacts.


Though solar PV systems emit no green house gases (GHGs) during operation, their production does. PV modules are generally manufactured in countries that use high GHG emitting electricity generation. Studies put PV's GHG production at anywhere between 13-731g CO2/kWh, versus wind that sits at 7-124 g CO2/kWh. An improvement to this high percentage of GHG emissions could occur if modules were manufactured in parts of Canada where the GHG released during electricity production is fairly low. Quebec and BC are noted as good candidates for PV manufacture, as they both have relatively low carbon emissions from their electricity sectors and good supplies of raw silicon (a main material in solar panels) as well as aluminum fabrication capacity, primarily in Quebec. Once Ontario has phased out coal, it too would make an excellent low-carbon provider of clean solar PV modules. Reports estimate that GHG emissions could be reduced almost to nil. It is important to note that in general, nonrenewable emit the bulk of their GHG's during the generation stage, whereas with a renewable like solar PV, the majority of emissions occurs at the manufacturing stage. Thus, over time, solar PV would emit only periodically, when modules needed to be replaced (every 20-30 years), while a coal plant would emit constantly.

A solar photovoltaic trash compactor. These are now commonplace in Victoria and Vancouver.
A solar photovoltaic trash compactor. These are now commonplace in Victoria and Vancouver.


Once serviced, PV power plants have a very small carbon footprint. The Sarnia PV plant, for example, saves over 39,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, according to owner Enbridge.

The results of a 2006 CanMET study state that 46% of Canada's residential electricity consumption could be provided by BIPV systems. An estimated 73,000 MW of BIPV systems could be installed on Canadian buildings, and avoid about 23 megatonnes of greenhouse gases.


The long life of PV modules, and the fact that they are only recently taking off, means that little research has gone into PV panel disposal or recycling possibilities. It is anticipated that many materials can be recycled, including the aluminum frames, though there is concern regarding heavy metal leaching that could exceed environmental limits.

  1. Glennon, R., Reeves, A.M., 2010, Solar Energy's Cloudy Future, Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Vol. 1, p. 91
  2. McMonagle, Rob. 2006. The enviornmental attributes of solar PV in the Canadian context
  3. Enbridge, 2009, Enbridge and First Solar Agree on 60 MW Renewable Energy Expansion at Sarnia, retrieved at:
  4. Canmet Energy, 2011, PV Electricity & Solar Resources Assessments, Retrieved at:
  5. McMonagle, Rob. 2006. The enviornmental attributes of solar PV in the Canadian context
Russian-built solar panels on the International Space Station. Space agencies played a huge role in the initial development of PV technology and continue to rely heavily upon the photovoltaics.
Russian-built solar panels on the International Space Station. Space agencies played a huge role in the initial development of PV technology and continue to rely heavily upon photovoltaics.

Politics of Photovoltaics

As mentioned above, Ontario has set the example as far as government incentives go. FIT's (feed-in tariffs) have stimulated investment in various renewable energies, including solar photovoltaics. The program is separated into two branches: microFIT for systems under 10 kW in size (household or businesses) and FIT, for larger, utility scale projects.

Enbridge, current holder of the Sarnia power plant, sells the power output of the facility to the Ontario Power Authority, as per a 20-year agreement under Ontario's Renewable Energy Program.

If BC wants to advance its use of PV systems, government incentives will be essential. As with most renewable energies, start-up costs are substantial, and without government assistance, progress in the PV field will remain slow. The long-term payoffs for PV systems, both economically and environmentally, are significant.

Pros and Cons

Advantages of Photovoltaics

PV installations can operate for many years with little or no maintenance, so after the initial set up cost, operating costs are extremely low compared to conventional power technologies.

As time passes renewable energies will inevitably get cheaper while fossil fuels will get more expensive. Since 2008 the price of PV modules per MW has fallen by 60%, putting solar power in a position to be competitive with the prices of retail electricity in a number of sunny countries.

In grid-tied PV systems the electricity produced can reduce or eliminate the use of grid electricity during peak hours of operation (during the day). This advantage requires a time-of-use meter, which may not be available to some users. Grid-tied PV systems also reduce the amount of transmission losses that occur as a result of transmission of electricity over long distances.

Compared to fossil fuels and nuclear energy very little research money has gone into the development of PV technology so there is considerable room for improvement. Efficiencies are rising while production costs are rapidly falling, meaning PV is becoming an increasingly viable electricity source.

Shortcomings of Photovoltaics

One of the main disadvantages of PV is that it is more expensive than fossil fuel energy, mainly due to the cost of manufacturing PV equipment and the low conversion efficiencies of PV arrays. In the future costs of PV equipment will decrease and arrays will become more efficient making PVs more cost effective.

A system visualized by the U.S. Government for combining solar and wind power, and batteries, in order to provide constant power to a grid.
A system visualized by the U.S. Government for combining solar and wind power, and batteries, in order to provide constant power to a grid.

Another disadvantage of PVs is that solar power relies on an intermittent energy source. This could lead to energy shortages if too much of a region's power comes from PV. This is a problem shared with wind power, and is known as the intermittency problem. As more wind and solar technologies are employed, and utilities become more experienced at integrating them into the power systems, the problem of intermittency appears less central than once appeared. Read the EnergyBC article explaining strategies for dealing with intermittency here.

The Future of Photovoltaics

Rapid growth is expected for photovoltaics, partly due to the decreasing costs of installation of a PV system. Installed costs have decreased from an average of $10.50/watt in 1998 to $7.60/watt in 2007, a decrease of ~$0.30/year or 3.5%/year. Since then cost of solar PV panels (not including the cost of installation) has plummeted dramatically. As the Economist noted, "In the past four years their average cost has fallen by more than 75%. At less than $1 per watt of generating capacity, solar is now the cheapest power source in some sunny places... This is starting to look like a revolution."

Feed-in-tariffs (FIT) are another reason that growth can be expected in PV energy production. FITs require energy companies to buy renewable energy from private producers and set the price per unit of electricity that the company must pay. These laws accelerate the uptake of renewable energy in grid-tied areas by making a PV system a more sound investment. The growth of PVs is reliant on policies like this to reduce the cost and risk to the investor.

  1. Reuters, 2009, Renewable energy costs drop in '09, Retrieved at:
  2. U.S. Climate Change Technology Program, 2003, Transmission And Distribution Technologies, retrieved at: U.S. Climate Change Technology Program – Transmission and Distribution Technologies
  3. Solar Cells info, 2007, Study Sees Solar Cost-Competitive In Europe By 2015, Retrieved at:
  4. Herwig, L.O., 1974, Report on photovoltaics research and technology in the United States, Photovoltaic power generation; Proceedings of the International Conference, Hamburg, West Germany, September 25-27, 1974.
  5. CET, 2011, Advantages and disadvantages of photovoltaics, retrieved at:
  6. Kropp, R., 2009, Solar Expected to Maintain its Status as the World's Fastest-Growing Energy Technology, SRI world group, Retrieved here:
  7. Sunspots: Solar Tariffs. The Economist. May 29, 2012. Accessed May 30, 2012.
  8. Kropp, R., 2009, Solar Expected to Maintain its Status as the World's Fastest-Growing Energy Technology, SRI world group, Retrieved here:

Photovoltaics Around the World

Total global PV installations amount to nearly six times what they were in 2004. In 2010, Germany more than tripled the runners-up for top PV capacity, accounting for 47% of existing global solar PV capacity. Spain came in at second with 16%, Japan in third with 13%, and the US in fourth with 6%.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) 2010 Global Status Report recorded more than 3,200 large-scale photovoltaic power plants (also known as "utility scale") 200 kW and larger installed worldwide, with a combined capacity of 5.8 gigawatts. This was around a quarter of the global PV capacity. That's more than five times the 2007 capacity. A 2009 study noted that periods of rapid development paralleled years when favourable subsidies were available, particularly in Germany, Spain, South Korea and the US.

The remaining three quarters of global PV capacity came from the three million households and businesses that retrieved power from solar PV systems worldwide.

Despite the higher costs of opting to develop a photovoltaic plant over a solar thermal plant, the PV industry is growing. The advantages of a PV system over a solar thermal one, include the minimization of water consumption (its only really for washing the solar panels) and the direct conversion of sunlight to electricity eliminating bulky, and costly, equipment.

  1. REN21 2011 . Renewables Global Status Report. Retrieved at:
  2. Lenardic 2009
  3. REN21 2011 . Renewables Global Status Report. Retrieved at:

Photovoltaics in Canada

A map provided by CanMet showing the solar potential of Canada's various regions.
A map provided by CanMet showing the solar potential of Canada's various regions.

In 2009, Canada's total PV power installed capacity jumped from 32.72 MW in 2008 to 94.57 MW. The grid-connected market grew to account for 87% of the market, a development owed primarily to Ontario's new feed-in tariff. The top module manufacturing companies in Canada include Day4 and Centennial Solar.

Are There Any Solar Photovoltaic Power Plants in Canada?

Canada hosts the world's largest photovoltaic power plant in the world. Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant in Ontario puts out 80 MW — enough energy to power over 12,000 homes. In 2010, the new owner Enbridge upgraded the solar farm to 1.3 million solar modules covering an area of 943,000 square meters, or about 600 soccer fields. Several other projects are in various stages of development in the province, some hoping to challenge Sarnia as the world's largest PV plant. Ontario's adoption of solar PV technology is reflected in the province's implementation of the FIT (feed-in tariff) program in 2009 which alleviates costs for industrial and household scale renewable energy projects.

Ontario's feed-in tariff program is a comprehensive guaranteed pricing structure for renewable electricity production. It includes rules, prices and contracts for anyone interested in developing a renewable energy project. The Feed-in tariff program is separated into two branches: microFIT for systems under 10 kW in size (household or businesses) and FIT, for larger utility scale projects. None of Canada's other provinces have announced plans for PV solar plants. It is possible that after Ontario's success, other provincial governments may implement similar incentive programs to boost development.

  1. CanSIA, 2011, What is Solar Photovoltaics (PV)?. Retrieved at:
  2. Chidley, Dave., 2010. Clean Energy Association of BC, 2011 Clean Energy fact Sheet, retrieved here:
  3. Ontario Power Authority website, 2011, retrieved here:

Solar Photovoltaics in B.C.

Do BC's Residents Have Rooftop Solar Panels?

Historically, solar thermal systems have dominated over PV systems, on the household and institutional level. However, as technology improves performance and lowers costs, PV systems become more common.

Journalist Colleen Kimmet interviewed Kevin Pegg, president of Alternative Energy, a Victoria based renewable energy supplier. Pegg explained (read article here) that a shift has occurred in his PV system clientele. With once solely off-grid clients, he now has an increased amount of urban residents looking for systems as well. Solar hot water and solar space heating systems still outnumber PV systems, though it is anticipated that both will grow in coming years, complimenting each other across the province in a variety of applications.

Does BC Have Any Solar PV Power Projects?

BC doesn't yet compare to Ontario in terms of exploitation of the sun, though the industry is growing. Just west of Victoria, the T'Souke First Nation community employs three photovoltaic systems. The systems emit a combined total of 75 kW, tiny when put beside Sarnia's 80 MW, but significantly greater than any other project in BC.

The implementation of government incentives could accelerate the expansion of PV technology in BC. At present, the provincial government does provide some rebates for renewable systems, though they are most common for solar hot water, with little mention of PV electricity systems.

  1. Kimmet, C., 2008, Can BC Make Solar Bloom? Retrieved here:
  2. From Clean Energy fact Sheet:


To ensure continuity of material, all of the external web pages referenced here were cached in May 2012.

Readers are recommended to explore the current links for any changes.

"Advantages and disadvantages of photovoltaics," Centre for EcoTechnology (CET). 2011. Accessed May 31, 2012.

Chidley, Dave., "Clean Energy fact Sheet." Clean Energy BC. Last modified 2010. Accessed May 31, 2012.

"Cost Of Installed Solar Photovoltaic Systems Drops Significantly Over The Last Decade." DOE / Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. ScienceDaily (March 3, 2009). Accessed May 29, 2011.

"Enbridge and First Solar Agree on 60 MW Renewable Energy Expansion at Sarnia," Marketwire, 2009.

Glennon, Robert and Andrew Reeves. "Solar Energy's Cloudy Future." Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy. Vol 1:1 (2010) 91. Accessed May 31, 2012.

Hamilton, Tyler. Ontario goes solar. The Star (Published April 26, 2007). Accessed May 31, 2012.

Herwig, L.O. ‘Report on photovoltaics research and technology in the United States.’ Photovoltaic power generation; Proceedings of the International Conference, Hamburg, West Germany, September 25-27, 1974.

Kimmet, C., "Can BC Make Solar Bloom?" The Tyee. July 15, 2008. Accessed May 31, 2012.

Knier, G., 'How do photovoltaics work?' NASA, 2002. Accessed May 30, 2012.

Kropp, R., Solar Expected to Maintain its Status as the World's Fastest-Growing Energy Technology, SRI world group. 2009. Accessed May 30, 2012.

Lenardic. ‘PV Resources.’ (2009). Accessed May 2011.

McMonagle, Rob. 2006. "The enviornmental attributes of solar PV in the Canadian context." CanSIA (July 2006). Accessed May 31, 2012.

‘What is the Feed-in Tariff Program?’ Ontario Power Authority. Last modified 2010. Accessed May 31, 2012.

"Overview of the Canadian Solar PV market activity." CANSia. Last modified 2011. Accessed May 31, 2012.

"PV Electricity & Solar Resources Assessments," Canmet Energy (2011). Accessed May 12, 2011.

"Renewable energy costs drop in '09," Reuters, November 23, 2009. Accessed May 31, 2012.

"Renewables Global Status Report." Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21)— 2011 report. Accessed May 31, 2012.

"Study Sees Solar Cost-Competitive In Europe By 2015," Solar Cells info. Posted Oct 16, 2007. Accessed May 31, 2012.

"Transmission And Distribution Technologies," U.S. Climate Change Technology Program. (November 2003). Accessed May 31, 2012.

"What is Solar Photovoltaics (PV)?" Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA). Last modified 2011. Accessed May 31, 2012.

When no treaty was signed between the government, and no war was fought over the land, first nations groups in Canada are entitled to the land on which they have historically lived and still inhabit.
In solar thermal energy collectors, the Absorber Area refers to the area absorbing the radiation
A technique where acidic solutions are pumped into a well, melting away debris about the bottom of the well and allowing the gas to flow more freely.
An electrical current that reverses its direction at regularly recurring intervals. Abbreviated to AC.
A series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. Used for industrial and/or domestic purposes to manage waste and/or release energy.
A device used for measuring wind speed.
The average speed (and direction) of the wind over the course of a year.
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC): A 21-nation group of Pacific-Rim nations that seeks to promote free trade, raise living standards, education levels and sustainable economic policies. Canada is a member.
The artificially increased discharge of water during the operation of hydroelectric turbines during periods of peak demand.
Small particles released into the atmosphere as part of the flue gases from a coal plant. Fly ash is dangerous for human health but most power plants use electrostatic precipitators to capture it before release.
The waters off the Atlantic provinces that has been producing oil and gas since the 1990s, and continues to have considerable untapped oil and gas potential. The region has similar geology to the oil-rich North Sea.
'The ionizing radiation which we are all inescapably exposed to every day. It comes from radon gas in the ground, the sun, distant supernovas, and even elements inside our own bodies. The average exposure is around 361 mrem per year for a person in Washington state (it varies by region).
Base-load power is that provided continuously, virtually year-round to satisfy a regions minimum electricity needs. Hydro and nuclear power are well-suited for base-load grid needs.
A renewable fuel in which soy or canola oil is refined through a special process and blended with standard diesel oil. Biodiesel does not contain ethanol, but research is underway to develop diesel blends with ethanol.
Renewable energy made available from materials derived from biological sources.
Natural gas, or methane, that is created by microbes consuming organic matter. Usually found near the Earths surface and is usually immediately released into the atmosphere.
Biological material from living, or recently living organisms such as trees, grasses, and agricultural crops. As an energy source, biomass can either be used directly, or converted into other energy products such as biofuel.
A facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power, and chemicals from biomass. The biorefinery concept is analogous to petroleum refineries, which produce multiple fuels and products from petroleum.
Bitumen is "petroleum that exists in the semi-solid or solid phase in natural deposits. Bitumen is a thick, sticky form of crude oil, so heavy and viscous (thick) that it will not flow unless heated or diluted with lighter hydrocarbons. At room temperature, it is much like cold molasses."
Bottom Ash: Bottom ash are small particles that result from coal combustion, but unlike fly ash they are too heavy to be released into the atmosphere and must be stored.
Canadian Environmental Protection Act: Passed in 1999, CEPA is "An Act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development."
Cap and Trade: A system where the government sets a limit on how much of a pollutant may be emitted. It then sells the rights to emit that pollutant to companies, known as carbon credits, and allows them to trade the credits with other companies. The EU has implemented a cap and trade program for carbon dioxide.
Carbon Footprint: A calculation based on the set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product, or person.
Carbon Sink: A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores carbon-containing chemical compounds for an indefinite period.
Carbon Monoxide: A deadly gas produced from the tailpipe of cars that burn gasoline.
Capacity Factor: The ratio of the actual output of a power plant over a period of time and its potential to output if it had operated at full nameplate capacity the entire time.
Cellulose: An organic compound consisting of several hundred to over ten thousand linked glucose units. Cellulose comprises the structural component of the cell wall in plants, many green algae. It is the most common organic compound on Earth comprising about 33% of plant matter.
Cellulosic Biomass: Fuel produced from wood, grasses, or the non-edible parts of plants that is mainly comprised of cellulose.
Cellulosic Feedstock: The inedible cellulose which comprises most plants and trees. Yields are much higher as any part of the plant can be used and because they do not compete with food, therefore, cellulosic feedstock is an ideal candidate for large scale sustainable biofuel production.
Cetane Rating: Also known as cetane number (CN), this is a measurement of the combustion quality of diesel fuel during compression ignition. It is a significant expression of diesel fuel quality.
Clean Power Call: A request sent out by B.C. Hydro to private power utilities for new electricity-generating projects totalling 5,000 GWh/year. B.C. Hydro will help fund the successful projects and then buy power from them once completed.
How efficiently a turbine converts the energy in wind into electricity. Just divide the electrical power output by the wind energy input.
Using the energy left over from one primary energy conversion to fuel another. The most prominent example of this are natural gas co-generation plants which first feed fuel into a gas turbine. The residual heat from that reaction then heats water to spin a steam turbine.
Collector Area: In solar thermal energy collectors, the Collector Area refers to the area that intercepts the solar radiation.
A mixture of hydrocarbons present in natural gas. When gas is lowered below the hydrocarbon dew point, a condensate, that is, a liquid, forms. These can be used for combustion just like oil and gas. These are also known as natural gas liquids.
Generation of electricity using fossil fuels.
Gas reserves that form beneath porous layers of sandstone. Until recently this has been the only kind of gas commercially extracted.
When bituminous coal is baked at high temperatures it fuses together ash and carbon, creating coke. Coke can then be used to reduce the oxygen content of iron, strengthening it and creating steel.
A force generated by to the earths rotation which deflects a body of fluid or gas moving relative to the earths surface to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere. It is at its maximum at the poles and zero at the equator.
Decentralized Electricity Generation: Decentralizated electricity generation is a concept used to describe a large number of dispersed energy generators, often closely integrated with the people that use the electricity. Wind turbines and solar panels are good examples: they can be put within communities, be owned by members of the community and generate electricity for it. Alternatively centralized energy generation, far more common in North America, is where a small number of large plants owned by utility companies (hydro-electric, nuclear or fossil fuel) generate large quantities of electricity.
The portion of the oil business that involves refining the crude oil, bringing it to market and selling it. Gasoline service stations are the most lucrative part of downstream operations.
Effluents: Gases or liquids released by a human-made structure, in this case flue gases from a coal-fired power plant.
Electrolyte: Usually a solution of acids, bases, or salts, electrolytes are substances with free ions which make them effective electrical conductors.
Electrolysis: A simple technique for splitting water atoms to obtain hydrogen, driven by an electrical current.
Requirements that set specific limits to the amount of pollutants that can be released into the environment by automobiles and other powered vehicles, as well as emissions generated by industry, power plants, and small equipment.
Transforming one form of energy into another. Most energy conversions that run our economy are conversions from a primary source to electricity (wind or nuclear) or movement (oil).
Energy Currency: Energy that is usable for practical purposes. These include electricity and petroleum which power appliances and vehicles.
A measurement of the amount of energy stored in a given volume.
Energy Return On Investment (EROI): This is the ratio of usable energy obtained over the amount of energy required to get it. The oil sands has a low EROI because instead of being sucked out of the ground in liquid form the oil must be painstakingly mined and heavily refined, a process that requires large quantities of energy itself.
An energy source is the means by which energy is generated. The energy profiles each deal with a different source of energy, and most are simply means to attain the energy currency we all use: electricity.
Enhanced Geothermal System: A new technology, EGS does not require natural convective geothermal resources, but instead can draw power from the ground through extremely dry and impermeable rock.
The provincial Environmental Assessment Office is a politically neutral agency tasked with reviewing major construction projects in B.C. Their purview includes assessing the environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects over the lifecycle of projects.
A blend of ethanol and diesel fuel. plus other additives, designed to reduce air pollution from heavy equipment, city buses and other vehicles that operate on diesel engines.
A policy device that encourages investment in renewable energies, usually by guaranteeing power producers that their energy will be bought.
In food processing, fermentation is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. In simple terms, fermentation is the chemical conversion of sugars to ethanol.
A finite, or non-renewable resource, is one where a limited amount exists. Once the existing stocks of that resource are exhausted there will be no more, at least in any reasonable human time scale. Only so much fossil fuels and uranium exist on earth, making these finite, non-renewableresources. The wind, sun and tides are renewable resources since it is impossible to run out of them.
First Generation Renewable: Well established renewable technologies that emerged early on in the Industrial Revolution. These include hydropower, biomass combustion and early geothermal power.
Fission is a nuclear reaction where a heavy atom is hit by a neutron, causing it to split into lighter atoms, release more neutrons, and huge amounts of energy.
Flat-plate collectors are a type of non-concentrating solar energy collector, typically used when temperatures are below 200 degrees F. They are often used for heating buildings.
Flex-Fuel Vehicle: Also known as a dual-fuel vehicle, this is an alternative fuel vehicle with an internal combustion engine designed to run on more than one fuel, usually gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel.
Flue gases are the gases that are released into the atmosphere by a flue, or pipe, from the steam boiler.
Many biofuel feedstocks such as corn, sugarcane, and soybeans are also key sources of food for millions of people. Production of crops for bioenergy may displace other food-related crops, increasing the cost and decreasing the availability of food. The central question is one of ethics: Should we use our limited land resources to grow biofuels when the same land could be producing food for people?
Fracking: Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting high pressure fluids into deep, geologic formations, in order to fracture the rock and render it more permeable.
Fuel Crops: Crops grown specifically for their value as fuel to make biofuels or for their energy content.
Fumaroles: Openings in the Earths crust that emit steam and gases.
Gasohol: Otherwise known as fuel ethanol, gasohol has been distilled and dehydrated to create a high-octane, water free alcohol. All water must be removed because a water-alcohol mixture cannot dissolve in gasoline. Fuel ethanol is made unfit for drinking by adding a small amount of a noxious substance such as gasoline.
Geothermal Gradient: The rate at which temperature increases deeper into the earth, towards the earth's molten core.
Geothermal Task Force Team is a government program that aims to: develop policies, in collaboration with affected agencies, related to tenure issuance, examine the regulation of the use of geothermal resources not currently covered by legislation, build a royalty and resource rent model for geothermal resources, and develop a science based review of the known geothermal resources in the province.
Geyser: Springs characterized by intermittent discharge of water ejected turbulently and accompanied by steam.
Giromill Turbine: Uses lift forces generated by vertical aerofoils to convert wind energy into rotational mechanical energy. They are powered by two or three vertical aerofoils attached to a central mast by horizontal supports.
Glut: A situation where the market has been flooded with goods and there is more supply than there is demand causing the price of goods to drop.
Gravity Survey: A technique of measuring minute changes in the Earths gravity field. This allows geologists to map lighter and denser rocks underground.
Green Energy and Green Economy Act of 2009: Legislation by the province of B.C. to boost the investment in renewable energy projects and increase conservation, create green jobs and economic growth in Ontario. Part of Ontario's plan to become a leading green economy in North America.
Head: The term head refers to the change in elevation of the water.
Head Differential: The difference in pressure due to the difference in height of water level.
Heat Exchangers: These are used in High-Temperature and Low-Temperature applications to transfer heat from one medium to another. In Low-Temperature Geoexchange systems they are built into the heat pump.
Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine (HAWT): Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine. These are the most common types of wind turbines and look like aircraft propellers mounted atop towers.
Hydrocarbons: A compound of almost entirely hydrogen and carbon. This covers oil and natural gas. Coal, the third fossil fuel, contains so many impurities it is usually disqualified from this title.
Hydrostatic Head: The distance a volume of water has to fall in order to generate power.
Intermittent Energy Source: Any source of energy that is not continuously available due to a factor that is outside of direct control (ex. Wind speed or sunshine).
An internal combustion engine operates by burning its fuel inside the engine, rather than outside of it, as an external, or steam engine does. The most common internal combustion engine type is gasoline powered, followed by diesel, hydrogen, methane, and propane. Engines typically require adaptations (like adjusting the air/fuel ratio) to run on a different kind of fuel than they were designed for. Four-stroke internal combustion engines (each stroke marks a step in the combustion cycle) dominate the automotive and industrial realm today.
Kinetic Energy: The ability of water falling from a dam to do work, that is, to generate electricity. Water stored above a dam has potential energy which turns to kinetic energy once it begins to fall.
Levelized Cost of Electricity: The cost of generating electricity (capital, operation and maintenance costs). Measured in units of currency per unit of electricity (ex. kWh).
Magnetic Survey: A technique for measuring the intensity of magnetic fields from several stations.
Manhattan Project: The massive Anglo-American-Canadian scientific undertaking which produced the atomic bombs that helped end the Second World War. It marked the birth of the nuclear age and scientists were immediately aware of the potential to use use nuclear power for civilian use.
Market Penetration: The share of the total energy market a specific energy source has in relation to its competitors. So the market penetration of wind power would be measured by its share of the electricity market, while ethanol would be compared to other vehicle fuels, not to total primary energy use.
Matrix: In geology, this is the finer mass of tiny sediments in which larger sediments are embedded.
Methanol: Methanol is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many types of bacteria, and is ubiquitous in the environment. Methanol is toxic in humans if ingested or contacted on the skin. For its toxic properties and close boiling point with ethanol, that it is used as a denaturant for ethanol.
Miscanthus: A low maintenance perennial grass which is thought to be twice as productive as switch grass as it has a longer growing season, greater leaf area, and higher carbon storage per unit of leaf area.
MMBtu: A unit of measurement which means a million Btus (British thermal units). A Btu is roughly the amount of energy it takes to heat a half kilogram of water from 3.8 to 4.4 °C. MBtu is used for a thousand Btus.
Moderator: A moderator is used to slow down neutrons, which enables them to react with the atoms in the nuclear fuel. If enough atoms react then the reactor can sustain a nuclear chain reaction.
M Mount St. Helens is an active volcano located in Washington state. It is most famous for its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980 where fifty-seven people were killed, 250 homes, 47 bridges, 24 km of railways, and 298 km of highway were destroyed.
Mud-Pools: Pools of bubbling mud. Also known as "paint-pots" when the slurry of usually grey mud is streaked with red or pink spots from iron compounds.
Nacelle: The housing atop a wind turbine that holds the gearbox, generator, drive train and brakes, as well as the rotors.
Name-Plate Capacity: The intended full-load sustained output of a power plant. For example an average wind turbine's name-plate capacity is 2 Megawatts. The capacity factor is the actual output, so for that 2 MW wind turbine with an efficiency of around 30-35% (average) then it has a more realistic capacity of around 0.7 MW. Most power stations are listed in terms of their nameplate capacity.
National Energy Board: A regulatory agency established by the federal government in 1959 that is primarily tasked with regulating oil and gas pipelines that cross provincial and national borders.
National Energy Program: A set of policies enacted in 1980 that sought to make Canada energy independent. Petro-Canada was created and oil prices were kept artificially low to protect consumers. Shares of oil revenue were diverted to the federal government who used them mostly in the eastern provinces to offset a decline in manufacturing. The program was extremely unpopular in western Canada and was discontinued shortly thereafter.
Nuclear Renaissance: A term used by politicians and the media for the renewed interest in nuclear energy in the past decade. Many countries are now expanding their civilian nuclear programs.
Octane: The octane rating of a fuel is indicated on the pump – using numbers such as 87, 90, 91 etc. The higher the number, the greater the octane rating of the gasoline.
Oil in Place: The total hydrocarbon (oil and gas) content of a reservoir. Sometimes called STOOIP or Stock Tank Original Oil In Place.
Oil Patch: A term for the Canadian oil industry. This specifically means the upstream operations that find and extract oil and gas, mostly in Alberta but also B.C., the other prairie provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Oil Window: The range of temperature at which oil forms. Below a certain temperature and kerogen will never progress to the form of oil. Too high and natural gas is formed instead.
OECD: The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is a 34 country organization dedicated to advocating democracy and the market economy. Membership is largely limited to Western Europe, North America, Australia and Japan, what are often considered the world's developed nations. Sometimes referred to in the media as the "rich countries' club".
Passive Seismic Survey: A way to detect oil and gas by measuring the Earths natural low frequency movements.
Peak Power Demand: Power demand varies over minutes, hours, days and months. Peak power demand are the times when the most people are using the most power. To meet this demand extra sources of power must be switched on. Some forms of electricity generation, such as natural gas turbines, can be turned on quickly to meet peak power demand and are better suited for this purpose than others, such as nuclear, which are better as sources of baseload power.
Permeability: A measure of the ability of a porous rock to allow fluids to pass through it. High permeability in the surrounding rocks is needed for the formation of gas reserves.
Photovoltaic Cell: A non-mechanical device typically fabricated from silicon alloys that generates electricity from direct sunlight.
Pickens Plan: Investment of $1 trillion into wind power in the U.S.A., named for an American oil tycoon. The plan aims to reduce the amount of foreign oil imported to the U.S.A. while providing economic and environmental benefits.
Pondage: The main difference between small and large hydro projects is the existence of stored power in the form of water which is held back by dams at large hydro stations. Some small hydro projects have pondage, however, which are small ponds behind the weir of a dam which can store water for up to a week.
Potential Energy: The energy stored in a body or a system.
Porosity: Closely related to permeability, this is a measure of the amount of "voids," or empty space in a rock where gas or oil can pass through to collect in a reservoir.
Possible Reserves: Possible reserves are a class of unproven reserves that geologists use for oil that they are only 10% sure is present in the ground.
Purchasing Power Agreement: A contract between two parties, one who generates power for sale, and another who is looking to purchase it. B.C. Hydro buys power from companies that build their own power generating stations.
Primary Battery: A primary battery is one that is non-rechargable because the electrochemical reaction goes only one way. It gives out energy and cannot be reversed.
Primary Gas: The degeneration of decayed organic matter directly into gas through a process called "thermal cracking." This is opposed to secondary gas which is formed from decayed oil that has already formed.
Probable Reserves: Probable reserves are a class of unproven reserves that geologists use for oil or gas that they are at least 50% sure is actually present.
Proven Reserves: An amount of a resource any resource to be dug out of the ground (oil, coal, natural gas or uranium in energy terms) that geologists have a 90% or higher certainty can be extracted for a commercial gain with the technology available at the time."
Recompleted: The process, by which an old oil well is redrilled, fractured, or has some other technology applied to improve the amount of oil recovered.
Reforming: In oil refining, reforming is using heat to break down, or crack, hydrocarbon atoms and increase their octane level. This technique creates some left-over hydrogen which can be collected and used.
Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS): Law that requires electric utilities to produce some portion of their power from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal or biomass. RPSs are necessary to keep renewables competitive in an era of cheap natural gas electricity.
Rent-Seeking: The practice of using resources to compete for existing wealth rather than to create new wealth, often to the detriment of those who seek to reform societies or institutions. Economies that fail to diversify away from oil are often pre-dominated by a rent-seeking mind-set where people become more pre-occupied with securing the windfall resouce profits for themselves, usually oil, rather than seeking to develop new industries.
Reserves: The fraction of the oil in place that can be considered extractable. This depends not only on the geology, but the economics (is oil expensive enough to make extracting it profitable?) and technology.
Reserve Growth: When an oil or gas field is first discovered, reserve estimates tend to be low. The estimates of the size of the field are expected to grow over time and this is called reserves growth.
Ring of Fire: The Pacific Ring of Fire is a region of high volcanic and seismic activity that surrounds the majority of the Pacific Ocean. This region is essentially a horseshoe of geologic activity, characterized by volcanoes, earthquakes, deep sea trenches, and major fault zones.
Riparian: The term riparian refers to the wetland area surrounding rivers or streams. A riparian ecosystem refers to the biological community supported by an area around a river.
Savonius Turbine: Uses drag generated by the wind hitting the cup, like aerofoils, to create rotation.
Second Generation Wind Turbine: Technology that is only now beginning to enter the market as a result of research, development and demonstration. These are: solar, wind, tidal, advanced geothermal and modern bioenergy. Much hope has been placed upon these technologies but they still provide only a fraction of our energy.
Secondary Battery: Rechargable batteries are sometimes known as secondary batteries because their electro-chemical reactions can be reversed.
Secondary Gas: When oil is subjected to so much heat and pressure it degenerates into gas. The process through which this happens called "thermal cracking."
Secondary Recovery Schemes: When so much oil has been sucked out of an oil reservoir it will lose pressure and the oil will no longer flow out of the reservoir from natural pressure. When this happens secondary recovery schemes can be employed. This means that fluids or gases are pumped into the well to increase pressure and push the remaining oil up out of the well.
Shale: A type of sedimentary rock with low permeability, which was once thought to prevent any commercial extraction of the gas inside. Fracking allows gas developers to access it.
Sound Navigation and Ranging (SONAR): Initially devised as a technique for detecting submarines. An emitter sends off pulses of sound. The pulses bounce off objects and return to a receiver which interprets their size and distance.
Spot Market: A market where commodities are traded for immediate delivery. A future market on the other hand is one where delivery is expected later on. Because of the dependence of gas users on those who are at the other end of the gas pipeline, the natural gas market is mostly a futures market.
Steam Coal: Steam coal is coal used for power generation in thermal power plants. This is typically coal that ranges in quality from sub-bituminous to bituminous.
Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO): Vegetable oil fuel. Most diesel engine vehicles can run on it so long as the viscosity of the oil is lowered enough for complete combustion. Failure to do this can damage the engine. SVO is also known as pure plant oil or PPO.
Strategic Petroleum Reserve: An emergency store of oil maintained by some governments and corporations. The U.S. Department of Energy holds 727 million barrels of oil.
Subcritical Power Plant: A coal-fired power plant that operates at less than 550ËšC. Because the temperatures and pressures are than other plants, these plants operate at a low efficiency, around 33-35%. These plants are still the most common in the world and many are under construction
Supercritical Power Plant: Supercritical plants are coal powered power plants that can sustain temperatures of 550ËšC to 590ËšC and transfer up to 40% of the coals energy into power. This technology has only come into use in recent years. Most new coal-fired power plants built in the West are supercritical.
Switchgrass: One of the dominant native species of the North American prairies, tallgrass is being researched as a renewable bioenergy crop. It is a a native perennial warm season grass with the ability to produce moderate to high yields on marginal farmlands.
Thermal Power Plant: A thermal power plant is any that is powered by a steam turbine. The steam is created by heating water which in turn spins the turbine. Most coal and gas power stations operate in this way, as do all nuclear plants. Coal powered and gas plants are often just called thermal plants.
Total Carbon Cost: The amount of carbon dioxide emitted during an action or a process. One exmaple is building a natural gas plant. The total carbon cost would include everything from the carbon emitted to get the materials to build the plant, to the carbon emitted in the building of the plant, and the carbon emitted during the operation of the plant.
Unconventional Gas: Unconventional gas reserves come in many different geological formations, and include tight gas, shale gas, coalbed methane and methane hydrates. Extraction of these sources has only just begun and has hugely extended the lives of many gas fields and unlocking many new ones. The unlocking of unconventional gas reserves in the last five years has revolutionized the global energy system.
Ultracritical Power Plant: These are coal thermal power plants that operate above 590ËšC and can attain efficiencies above 40%. These plants are just coming into service.
Undiscovered Reserves: The amount of oil and gas estimated to exist in unexplored areas. Much of B.C. has not been thoroughly explored for fossil fuel potential and many of the estimates of B.C. fossil fuel resources rely on the concept of undiscovered resources
United States Geological Survey (USGS): The United States Geological Survey. The department responsible for estimating American fossil fuel reserves. They also conduct many studies that span the globe.
Unproven Reserves: Oil reserves in the ground that petroleum geologists are less certain are there, but have strong reason to believe is present. Unproven reserves can be broken down into probable reserves and possible reserves. These numbers are used within oil companies but not usually published.
The portion of the oil business that involves finding oil and extracting it.
Uranium is a heavy metal that is naturally radioactive. An isotope, U-235 can be enriched to support a nuclear chain reaction. Uranium is used in many nuclear power plants.
A 2,730 MW dam built in north-eastern British Columbia along the Peace River during the 1960s.
Any activity where humans bore down into the Earth to access reserves of oil or gas trapped in underground geological formations.
These are produced from wood residue (like sawdust) collected from sawmills and wood product manufacturers. Heat and pressure are used to transform wood residue into pellets without chemical additives, binders or glue. The pellets can be used in stoves and boilers.
A remote mountain in Western Nevada where the U.S. Department of Energy has planned on storing all of the country's spent nuclear fuel underground since the 1990s. The proposal met stiff opposition from local residents and in 2009 the project was cancelled.