Ontario PV market growing, but political issues exist

According to ClearSky Advisors, a total of 454 MW of PV capacity is expected to be installed in 2011, while 2012 should see around 696 MW. The forecast scenarios for the period 2011 to 2015 are displayed in the figure to the left.

For 2011, the 454 MW figure is expected to comprise 36 MW worth of utility scale installations; 135 MW of commercial rooftop systems and 60 MW worth of residential systems; a further 224 MW worth of projects are predicted under the old the Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program (RESOP).

In its Ontario PV Market Forecast 2011-2015, the ClearSky analysts explain: "With approximately 2,450 MW of existing solar contracts, Ontario’s PV market will experience strong growth from 2011-2012. Beyond 2013, the market will shrink significantly in response to ratepayer concerns, transmission constraints, and the limited size of Ontario’s electricity market."

Political hurdles

In an interview with pv magazine, Jon Worren, ClearSky co-founder, additionally believes that there are a number of political hurdles to overcome. These include: changes and delays in the FIT program; a scheduled review of the current FIT program, which is to take place later this year; and a provincial election on October 6.

He states: "[The FIT] has its advantages in that it is a comprehensive legislation that deals with a lot of the issues that developers face. You also have a contracting situation, which is much more predictable as well, so I do think it has advantages over [other programs]. But the success of the program still depends on the government that manages the FIT program in the end, and I think Ontario has experienced its own problems in that regard."

He continues: "Independent of political strife, the Ontario Government historically has not enjoyed the best of reputations in terms of managing its energy markets, and (…) some of the other political parties in Ontario have made it clear that they are not supportive of the FIT program. So, there’s a fear among some stakeholders that if there’s a change of government that the program will be cancelled or at least drastically reduced in scope."

Manufacturing landscapes

Consequently, Worren says that many manufacturers are taking a low risk approach to the market, either by working with third party contractors or setting up just one production line, for example. "People are definitely taking an approach that reduces their risk exposure in terms of both their investments in the province, the amount of people they’re hiring and how much they invest, until the election is over," he states.

He adds that this year, there are between 17 and 24 module manufacturers – expected to manufacture upwards of 450 MW – which are serving the Ontario market under its 60 percent domestic content requirement laws. Of that, 11 to 15 have their own facility, while between four and six are using a third party contract manufacturer to assemble modules for them. Meanwhile, a further two to three are simply using Ontario-based silicon (a PV cell or module containing silicon from Ontario is valid under the province’s domestic content law).

In terms of the Ontario inverter landscape, 2011 is expected to see between 13 and 17 inverter companies serving the market. Of those, seven to 11 have their own facility and six are using a third party manufacturer. In total, upwards of 1,300 MW worth of inverters can be produced.

The ClearSky forecast adds: "Domestic Content Requirements (DCR) restrict the amount of equipment that is available to developers in Ontario. Though there has been concern that development would be limited by supply shortages, it is now most likely that there will be sufficient supply to meet demand from 2011 to 2015."

Click here for a list of Ontario solar energy suppliers, as published by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, Ontario.

Market opportunities

While there are issues to iron out, there are still possibilities available in North America’s second biggest market. Worren comments: "Given that you have the domestic content requirements, it means that the opportunities are there for those who are actually participating in some way in the market. For those companies, 2011 is going to be a much more interesting year than 2010, whilst we’re going to see a roughly three times the size market. There is a huge growth opportunity, and a lot of people to be hired, etc."

He goes on to say that there are also good opportunities for foreign banks, which are looking to finance PV projects in Ontario. "This is an opportunity," concludes Worren, "simply because the Ontario banks are conservative and it doesn’t appear that they recognize the opportunities presented by the FIT Program."