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Solar in the spotlight

Jason Wright has been selling solar for 25 years. And he thinks the industry has reached a tipping point.

Livestock watering systems that utilize the sun’s energy have been the bread and butter of Wright’s CAP Solar Pumps Ltd.

But the Olds business is receiving more and more inquiries about solar power for residential and commercial buildings.

“Everybody’s very interested in it,” said Wright, adding that much of this interest is being stimulated by opportunities to connect into Alberta’s electrical network.

“We’re just getting rolling here with the grid-tie stuff.”

New provincial regulations now enable Albertans to receive credit for power they generate from renewable or alternative sources and send into the electrical grid.

This opportunity has been a long time coming for Wright, who was among a group of pioneers in the province who engaged in “net-metering” before the practice was allowed by the government.

“They called us guerrillas, basically,” he said.

In Wright’s case, he had equipped CAP Solar Pumps’ building with solar- and wind-powered generation systems near the beginning of this decade.

He later sought to push his surplus electricity onto the grid.

“I actually had the energy minister, it was Murray Smith at the time, visit me,” recalled Wright.

“I told him what I was doing. I considered myself a demonstration system, but in reality I was breaking the law by connecting this system, even though it met all the codes and I had all the inspectors give it the OK.”

Originally operating as Canadian Ag-technology Partners, Wright’s company had established itself as a leader in solar water pumping technology. It manufactures pumps and winter watering troughs, selling these and a variety of related products through a network of dealers across Western Canada.

Solar water pumps are popular because livestock producers must often pump from wells or open water in areas where electricity isn’t available.

Similarly, said Wright, many people rely on solar power for remote buildings like cottages.

Now, owners of buildings with access to electrical lines are also turning to the sun. They’re being motivated not only by the new regulations, but by the declining cost of solar modules, said Wright.

For many, however, it’s not a simple matter of cost versus savings.

“Economically, if you were to do the numbers it’s quite a long period for payback,” he said.

Instead, Alberta’s deregulated and unpredictable energy market is the reason many are taking the solar plunge.

“They know that energy is certainly not going to go down or stay down. It’s probably more likely to go up, and I think it’s the unpredictability of it that really gets people motivated.”

Owners of properties that are subject to frequent power disruptions are also good candidates for solar grid-tie systems, he said. With battery backups, they can count on power when the sun isn’t shining and conventional lines fail.

Wright is optimistic demand for residential and commercial solar systems will continue to grow, and allow his company to diversify. CAP Solar Pumps’ recent projects have included a 7.7-kilowatt system at Olds College that’s tied into the electrical grid, and a one-kilowatt system at the Olds Aquatic Centre.

Although CAP Solar Pumps also sells micro wind generators, Wright doesn’t think that alternative energy source has the potential of solar.

“Wind generation has its place, for sure. But solar panels are a no-brainer. There’s no maintenance required on solar panels for 30 years.”

Currently, much of CAP Solar Pumps’ work in this relatively new field is consultive.

“A lot of people come in here and they don’t know what they want,” said Wright, adding that everybody also has different needs.

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