If you drive around Caledon, you may notice places sporting arrays of solar panels pointed toward the heavens. Some are large, automatically adjusted installations which track the sun on its daily journey from east to west. Others, big and small, can be found on the roofs of homes and businesses, all pointed south to gather and convert the sun’s rays into increasingly expensive electricity.
We are at but the beginning of the solar revolution. The International Energy Agency, formed in the first of a series of oil crises 41 years ago, says less than one per cent of the world’s energy supply today comes from solar sources. By 2050, it says, by necessity, solar power may become the world’s largest single source of energy.
Two weeks ago, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference concluded: “The question is no longer if the world will transition to cleaner energy, but how long it will take.” Conference experts said billions of dollars “will need to be invested each year in order to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change, represented by a benchmark increase of more than two degrees Celsius.”
That, in part, explains why your hydro bill headed higher as of May 1. Among the reasons cited by Ontario’s Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli were “the pressures coming from our huge investment in clean energy to get rid of dirty coal.”
Enter the Independent Electrical System Operator, the Ontario Government agency responsible for “ensuring there is enough power to meet the province’s energy needs in real time while also planning and securing energy for the future.” It’s spending millions trying to find new ways of storing the excess, unpredictable power generated by solar panels and wind turbines so that the electrical system remains stable.
It’s the growing awareness of the extraordinary changes taking place in the electrical industry which has so alarmed the corporate conventional power generation giants in the United States and spurred the likes of Tesla, the upstart California electric car company, to unveil its new domestic storage battery, which can be installed in your garage even as a back-up in the event of power failures.
The former head of Home Depot in Canada, University of Cape Breton chancellor Annette Verschuren and chair of a corporation known as NRStor, said last week her company will bring the Tesla Powerwall to this country next year: “This energy storage system will provide Canadians with the opportunity to find demonstrable efficiencies in their daily energy usage as well as ensuring access to energy when it is really needed.”
Consider this: In the last year, over 280,000 electric vehicles were sold worldwide, five times the number sold just three years earlier. Within a decade, experts predict that with falling costs for storing solar and wind energy the price of an electrically powered car will rival those using conventional fuels. It’s one of the reasons the bloom has come off the attractiveness of so called bio-fuels, including ethanol.
All of this is just one more reminder that the world most of us have known for a lifetime is undergoing as much radical change as was fostered by the industrial and electrical revolutions of previous centuries.
All of this is unfolding at a speed previous generations would find astounding. It’s fascinating to be both a beneficiary and a spectator.