Concentrated Solar Power, a First For Canada and “Gas City”

Natural Gas Processing Plants

By James Noble

April 09, 2015

Medicine Hat, Alberta, known as “Gas City” for its natural gas reserves, will soon open Canada’s first and the world’s most northerly solar power plant (CSP).

The $10-million solar project is part of a larger municipal renewable energy push and comes on the heels of another recently completed green energy project—wind turbines constructed within the city limits.

While the focus on renewable energy is a change of direction for Medicine Hat, a city that has a century-long history in natural gas, the city has committed itself to achieving the goal of relying on renewable energy for 25 percent of its electricity by 2025.

The new solar thermal plant is expected to generate 1-megawatt (MW) of renewable energy per day, enough electricity to power around 150 homes.

Concentrated solar thermal technology is different from solar photovoltaics (PV). Solar thermal electric energy generation concentrates the light of the sun to create heat and that heat is used to run an engine, which turns a generator to make electricity. Photovoltaic or PV energy conversion, on the other hand, directly converts the sun’s light into electricity.

PV installations are by and large the more prevalent of the two solar technologies, however choosing one technology over the other is far from simple. Indeed, a growing number of hybrid plants  that combine aspects of both CSPs with photovoltaic panels have recently launched.

These hybrid systems combine two or more energy conversion mechanisms that can provide a higher level of energy security and reliability through the integrated mix of complementary generation methods.

Apart from the financial and environmental benefits that solar technology can provide, it is also a good generator of jobs, both in the construction and operational phases. As a general rule of thumb, 10 to 15 jobs are created for each MW of capacity during construction, reducing to one to two jobs per MW during the operational phase.

As renewable energy technologies decline in price and increase in prevalence, municipalities like Medicine Hat are becoming leaders in the Canadian clean energy landscape.  The City of Vancouver recently announced its own intention to go 100 percent renewable, suggesting that amidst a patchwork of provincial and federal policies, municipalities are playing an important role in supporting clean technology in Canada.