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Solar cooperatives enable more people to harness the power of the sun


Male engineer on tablet in front of solar panels

William Ingenthron is a solar power enthusiast, but living in an apartment in Regina means he can't install panels on his own home. Instead, he joined forces with other city residents and investors to install 115 solar panels on the roof of Conexus Credit Union's North Albert branch. This initiative, named the Wascana Solar Co-operative, generates renewable energy and income while reducing emissions from Saskatchewan's predominantly fossil fuel-powered grid.

 

Wascana Solar Cooperative is part of a growing movement of solar co-operatives across Canada. According to a 2022 census by the University of Victoria and the University of Saskatchewan, these co-ops are empowering people to invest in and benefit from local clean energy. Proponents believe these co-operatives are democratizing energy, fostering local investment in solar projects, and making clean energy more accessible as Canada aims for net-zero emissions by 2050.

 

So, what exactly is a solar co-operative? It's a member-owned corporation that generates or invests in renewable energy. In Canada, most focus on solar energy. They raise funds by selling shares to community members and use the revenue from the solar energy generated to repay investors and provide returns. Some co-ops, like Wascana, also offer services like bulk purchasing of solar systems and consulting for members interested in installing their own solar setups. They engage in public education to promote solar adoption in their regions.

 

Community solar projects benefit multiple people, not just individual homeowners. These larger installations can be more efficient and help communities control energy costs, drive local investment, and involve those who might otherwise be unable to participate in solar energy due to cost or unsuitable locations.

 

Chris Caners of Ontario-based Solar Share highlights that community-scale projects are more cost-effective than individual residential installations. They strengthen the grid, reduce energy loss over long distances, and garner local support for renewable energy projects.

 

Martin Boucher, a researcher from the University of Saskatchewan, noted that solar co-ops drive innovation within the energy system. For example, Saskatoon’s SES Solar Co-op powers electric vehicle chargers for the Saskatoon Carshare Co-operative using solar energy, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

 

Solar co-ops are also effective at raising funds. Solar Share, founded in 2010, has raised over $80 million from 2,200 members for 51 projects, generating substantial returns and supporting Ontario's renewable energy goals.

 

Though Canada’s support for co-ops lags behind Europe’s, the success of initiatives like Solar Share shows the potential for community-driven renewable energy. With policy support, solar co-operatives could play a significant role in Canada’s clean energy future.


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