Energy Innovation Brief
Issue 32 | July 26, 2023
In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. If you have an idea for a story, email us at:
Canada’s bright solar (panel) future
We’ve had a great start to summer at the Canada West Foundation and we hope you have too. It’s warm outside and the sun is shining—what better time to talk about solar panels? Specifically: advances in solar panel technology right here in Canada. That’s right, not solar farms or solar energy generation but the panels themselves.
Solar panels have benefitted from both rapid evolution of technology and falling costs. But solar panels also come with challenges. They are usually made of glass, which leads to durability problems. Both the production of solar panels and the raw materials required to make them have been linked to negative environmental impacts and in some cases human rights violations. And recycling programs are largely non-existent, meaning most panels end their lives in a landfill.
Fortunately, Canadians are innovators and from the startup to the well-established, we have organizations working on solutions to all of these problems. In this issue of the Energy Innovation Brief, we dive into advances in Canadian panel manufacturing, sustainable supply chains and new recycling and disposal initiatives. The future for solar in Canada is bright!
01| Canadian solar panel manufacturing
02| Solar panel recycling
03| Improvements in solar panel supply chains
Canadian solar panel manufacturing
An estimated 80% of solar panel production is concentrated in China and it could grow to 95% in the coming years. Although China dominates global production, there are companies producing solar panels right here in Canada. And many of them are innovative panel designs that will allow solar to be used in a much wider variety of applications.
- Vancouver-based Solar Earth has set out to solve the durability problem with what they call the “world’s toughest solar.” The company has developed hardened solar panels that can withstand up to five-tonne loads. Since its inception in 2015, Solar Earth’s panels have been integrated into sidewalks, parking lots and e-bike racks throughout Canada, the U.S., South Africa and China.
- Solaires is a start-up operating out of Victoria that has developed a product it calls Solar Ink. The ink makes use of perovskite technology—an alternative to silicon-based solar cells—and can be applied to a variety of ridged and flexible surfaces to create lightweight high-efficiency solar cells. The company believes its perovskite technology can be produced at a lower cost than traditional solar cells and with fewer emissions and environmental impacts.
- Lightleaf Solar is developing solar panels specifically designed for mobile applications—including boat-mounted, vehicle-mounted and RV-mounted units. The Saskatoon company’s unique design uses a carbon fibre structure and a polycarbonate front sheet that results in both a lighter weight panel (25% the weight of glass panels) and superior durability. So much so that some camper manufacturers have begun using the panels as rock shields for RV windows.
In addition to these innovative startups, Canada is also home to several companies that provide utility-scale solutions on the global market.
- Canadian Solar operates out of Guelph, Ontario with solar panel production facilities in Canada, China, Brazil, Thailand and Vietnam. Since the company was founded in 2001, it has distributed more than 90 GW of solar modules throughout the world.
- Saint-Augustin Canada Electric Inc. (STACE) operates out of Saint-Augustin, Quebec where it manufactures utility-scale solar panels as well as other electrical equipment.
- Amp Energy was established in 2009 as a solar developer in Toronto. Since then, it has expanded to supply solar, wind, battery storage and grid edge technology for projects around the world. To date Amp has been contracted to supply over seven GW of its products globally.
Solar panel recycling
As more solar panels reach end of life over the coming decades, the big question becomes what to do with them. Recycling panels to recover the valuable input materials is the clear winner in terms of sustainability. However, most panels today are landfilled due to the complicated recycling process and high costs involved; it currently costs between $20-$30 to recycle a panel compared to $1-$2 at the landfill. Thankfully, several Canadian organizations are working to get ahead of the problem.
- Solar X has become the first solar company in Canada to offer a program to address the end-of-life treatment of solar panels. The company offers a recycling program that recovers the glass, copper and aluminum from panels and a reuse program that matches used but still functioning panels with non-profits, charities and partners in developing countries.
- A pilot project launched by the Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA) is working to refurbish used solar panels that are no longer fit for utility-scale generation. Solar panels are not currently included in the Alberta electronics recycling program, but ARMA believes the pilot can give a second life to discarded panels so they can be used on farms and in residential applications.
Improvements in solar panel supply chains
While using energy from the sun seems like a smart environmental choice, all too often it is built on a supply chain that causes environmental damage, impacts human rights or creates dangerous working conditions. Ethical renewable energy requires having a transparent line of sight on how solar panels are made and how their materials are sourced.
- Canadian Premium Sand Inc. (CPS), based out of Manitoba, is less than two years away from becoming North America’s only supplier of patterned solar glass (glass that is imprinted with a prism pattern to improve light transmission and increase solar panel efficiency). And importantly, the company is responsible for the full value chain of their product, from extracting the sand to manufacturing the glass. The company originally sold the high-quality sand from its Wanipigow quarry for use in oil and gas fracking activities. However, with a rapidly expanding solar industry in North America, CPS switched their focus to glass production. This change paid off quickly with MOU’s signed with three North American panel manufacturers. Producing patterned glass in Manitoba will offer manufacturers a local and low-carbon alternative to imported products (due to Manitoba’s nearly 100% renewable power grid).
- In response to concerns around sustainable production of solar products and the identification of forced labour in certain solar supply chains, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) developed a Solar Supply Chain Traceability Protocol in 2021. The protocol is intended to increase transparency by identifying the source of inputs and tracing them through the supply chain from raw material through to finished product. The Protocol is likely to benefit Canadian solar panel manufacturers, given Canada’s strong regulatory focus on environmental and social responsibility.
The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Brendan Cooke and Marla Orenstein. This month’s edition features contributions by Brendan Cooke. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .