Transatlantic dialogue putting Guelph, Canada, on the solar map

Delegates and officials from the Canadian city of Guelph visited Germany this week as part of the Transatlantic Urban Climate Dialogue (TUCD) between the two countries. The two-day workshop was organized by the Freie Universität Berlin in conjunction with the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, with Guelph’s Mayor, Karen Farbridge, and the city’s Chamber of Commerce president, Lloyd Longfield, in Berlin to gain further insight into Germany’s world-leading renewable energy sector.

A key part of the discussions revolved around solar PV and the opportunities that European knowledge and expertise in the sector could bring to Canada. As the Canadian province of Ontario edges ever closer to its end-of-year target of phasing out all coal-fired power plants, discussions around clean and alternative energy sources have become more fevered in recent months.

Since revamping its FIT program in 2013, Ontario has devolved greater decision-making powers to its municipalities – a move no doubt influenced by the shining sustainable example set by Guelph.

As Ontario cities go, Guelph may not be the first name to roll off the tongue, but thanks to its sustained renewable energy efforts the city has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Having introduced in 2006 a target to reduce energy consumption per capita by 50% by 2020, city residents have already managed to cut their carbon footprint by 25%.

In terms of solar PV, the city has been one step ahead of provincial and national policy: a position that has meant Guelph has been able to influence and shape new areas of municipal involvement in renewable energy strategy, according to Guelph mayor, Karen Farbridge.

Attracted by Guelph’s forward-thinking approach to renewable energy policies, China’s Canadian Solar decided to locate its North American HQ in the city. The company’s presence in Guelph is a reversal of a global trend – a multinational moving jobs and manufacturing away from China and into Canada.

For Guelph, Mayor Farbridge wishes to build upon that success and make the city the true gateway to the North American market for green companies. To do so, she told pv magazine, transatlantic dialogue with Germany is key.

"Solar power plays a big part in Guelph’s push to be at the forefront of Ontario’s transition to a low carbon energy system," she said. "In 2007, we introduced a target to install 5.5 MW of solar power in the city by 2020. But having introduced a FIT based on Germany’s model, we actually achieved that target in 2013 – seven years ahead of schedule."

Buoyed by its success, Guelph has been eager to press ahead with further transitions to renewable energy. Its latest plan is to introduce a 100 km, city-wide thermal energy network, with a completion date set for 2041. In order to achieve this, Guelph and Ontario has looked to Germany for inspiration.

"The TUCD has been all about learning best practice," said the mayor. "You can always read about Germany’s approach to renewable energy, but it is much better to see and hear about the strategies and techniques first-hand, to talk to people and find out the issues and solutions. That practical insight is invaluable."

The team of delegates will return to Guelph this week with a finer understanding of Germany’s renewable energy outlook, a strong set of networks and solid relationships.

When they arrive, the new HQ for Würth Canada – a high-tech engineering firm with a growing solar division – will be almost complete, right in the heart of Guelph. Würth’s presence brings 150 jobs to the city, on top of the 400 permanent positions created by Canadian Solar. Such tangible evidence of the value that solar brings to a community is invaluable to Mayor Farbridge: "It shows that our focus on community energy is working, and helps strengthen our eco development strategy." A strategy that has its roots in Germany and a possible future in the higher echelons of Canada’s national energy policy.