Author Archives: Nicolas

Electricity Prices Go Up Regardless

Ontario will be having an election this October, and the Green Energy Act is being raised as an issue.  I’ve decided to write this post before I know what different candidates are saying, because I’m not trying to favour one side or the other so much as discuss a point of view.

To start, I’ve heard people criticize the Green Energy Act on the basis that it will increase people’s electricity bills. It will.  But what that objection implies is that somehow, electricity prices would stay the same otherwise.  This is false.  Electricity rates are going up, period.

Why?  For starters, coal, oil and natural gas are all getting more expensive to mine or extract, and consumption for all three is increasing rapidly in China, India and other high-growth economies.  Demand for electricity is increasing in general, and where populations are growing it’s increasing even faster. In Ontario, our generation and distribution infrastructure is old, inefficient and in need of significant and expensive upgrades.  This means that it is getting more and more expensive just to keep things going at current levels, ignoring the fact that we’re already at the very edge of rolling blackouts every summer.  Added to that, some sort of cost for carbon emissions is starting to look inevitable (regardless of your opinion on global warming, that’s just political reality right now), and our current infrastructure still relies too heavily on coal.  I could go on, but you get the point.

NASA Satellite Images of the 2003 blackout in the North Eastern US and Ontario

The 2003 Blackout - The most dramatic recent example of how fragile our power grid can be.

To emphasize: No matter what we do, the price of electricity is going to go up. So, if you’re going to pay more, what would you like to buy with those extra dollars? There are many options, but here are two:

Option # 1: Invest minimally, keep electricity costs low (for now)

Some people will argue that we should spend and invest as little as possible, and our goal should be to keep electricity rates as low as possible now.  This means we don’t focus on any of the serious upgrades we badly need, and we keep importing extremely expensive power when we can’t generate enough in the summer.  This scenario assumes we don’t have to shut down any of the nuclear power plants, and we keep all of our current coal plants running. Electricity costs will still go up, but in the next few years, the increases will probably be slower. Once the growing costs of nuclear power plant maintenance, carbon taxes, rising fossil fuel prices and the long term health costs to the people living downwind from coal fired stations start to add up, things can easily very expensive, very quickly. In the long term, we’ll pay much more, and we’ll get little more than the status quo to show for it.  (And remember, all of the GTA and an overwhelming majority of the people in Ontario live downwind from Nanticoke, literally the most polluting coal plant in the Western Hemisphere.)

Option #2: Invest in a long term energy plan, stabilize and possibly reduce prices over the long term

The other alternative is to invest.  Reasonable people can disagree on the best way to invest, or even if that is a better course of action, and the Green Energy Act is absolutely not the only model for investing in a better energy future for Ontario.

With the Green Energy Act, we are paying more for electricity than we would otherwise. The extra money is used for several things: extensive upgrades to Ontario’s electrical distribution and generation infrastructure, aggressive efficiency and power reduction targets, and direct stimulation of renewable energy development via feed-in tariffs. Feed-in tariffs are controversial. They have been a disaster for Spain and Italy, but have had astonishing results in Germany and Japan.  The Ontario Green Energy Act was built with a specific set of long term goals in mind: job creation; increasing our clean energy supply; steadily lowering the price of renewable energy in Ontario by growing the market; eliminating coal-fired power plants; and, broadly speaking, avoiding instability in supplies and electricity price shocks, thereby keeping long term electricity costs low.

I can’t say if the all of the goals set out in Green Energy Act will be reached, and I certainly can’t say if it’s the best way to reach these goals.  But the goals seem worth trying to reach, and so far things seem to be working well. Unlike Spain or Italy, the OPA and the province have shown they can react quickly to make changes as needed in a timely and reasonably transparent manner. The uncertainty over the future of the Act is preventing a few companies from moving here or investing too much in Ontario operations, but in general, we’re seeing a fast growing solar energy sector.

Personally, I’d want to see strong evidence that the act wasn’t working, or that the added cost to electricity was having a clear negative effect on the province before I could be convinced it should be repealed.  Even then, there would need to be an alternate plan for our energy future, with clear goals and a way to reach them. It’s my opinion, but I strongly believe that doing nothing and focusing on the short term price of electricity without considering the bigger picture will be a bad strategy in the long run.

Relevant reading:

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) World Energy Outlook 2010 Fact Sheet

OPA’s Q4 2010 Progress Report on Electricity Supply


Nic’s Thoughts on Environmentalists vs. Solar Farm Developers

On Monday, Emma blogged about the Sierra Club’s lawsuit to block the development of a solar farm on the basis that it presented a threat to the native plant and animal species in the area.  I don’t want to comment on the specific case as I have no special knowledge there, but it does raise an interesting question:

Do renewable energy projects deserve special consideration when considering their environmental impact?  Specifically, should the general, long-term benefit of something like reducing GHG emissions be considered when examining the local environmental impact of the project?

It’s not an easy question, and I’m not sure there’s a one size fits all answer.  It’s tempting to be reductionist and argue that not doing this will lead to more GHG-spewing fossil fuel plants.  I’m not sure I buy that, cancelling one solar project will probably just lead to a different solar project somewhere else.  Assuming that solar needs special exemptions from environmental impact assessments is assuming that there isn’t lots of non-virgin land (farm land where the soil salinity is too high from years of irrigation, farms that are in water starved areas, former industrial sites etc.).  The choice isn’t solar with environmental impact assessment exemptions or no solar at all.  There is a big difference between “Do we build a solar farm?” and “Do we build this solar farm here?”

Experience tells us that, when we have an exception for something, it often becomes a loophole for something else.  If we say that we can build solar projects on virgin desert land, would that include solar thermal plants that heat water to improve the efficiency of a coal fired station?  What would the penalty be if you built that system and ran it on days where there were too many clouds for the solar part of the plant?  What other types of power plants could qualify for the “solar exemption”, and would that list tend to grow or shrink once the lobbyists got to work?

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the EPA cancelled the permit for a major coal mine in Virginia.  I’ve said before that if it were up to me, there would be no exceptions for anyone for these sorts of things.  Either your project passes muster, or it doesn’t.  I want more solar, but I want good environmental management generally.  I want a level playing field with GHG emitting power sources, but I want to level it by taking away their exceptions and incentives, not winning new ones for solar.

Innovation Part Deux – a rooftop solution & the market-ready Sun Simba optic

A couple weeks ago we wrote about our thoughts on innovation.  Since then two very exciting, innovation-related things have happened:

1. We’ve decided to develop a tracker that will enable Sun Simba solar modules to be installed on rooftops, something we get calls almost every day asking for, and for a number of other reasons made sense to develop.

If you’d like more details about the Sun Simba Rooftop, we’ve posted a proposal on ClimateSpark, a web-based competition run by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund that aims to link innovative, early stage climate solutions with venture capital. VCs, cleantech experts, and community leaders comment on and rate ideas, and based on their votes nine finalists go on to compete for $10,000 to kickstart their idea. Because all of our funding is tied to commercializing the Sun Simba Ground-Mount, we’re hoping our presence on this forum will accelerate the time-to-market of our rooftop solution.

We encourage you to log on and comment/ make suggestions on our proposal.

2. We’ve finalized the market-ready design of the Sun Simba, a hexagonal optic that saves on materials costs and will be 26 – 28% efficient.

The basic idea of a new, low-profile concentrator was fully embodied in John Paul’s initial 2007 prototype, but it’s neat to see how the idea has been refined over time. Once we have test sites up with Gen 3 optics later in the year, we’ll post some photos.

Three upcoming renewable energy events

3rd Solar Energy Investment & Finance Summit USA

In the next few weeks, I’ll be speaking at three events.  The first is the 3rd Solar Energy Investment & Finance Summit USA, on May 5th & 6th in San Francisco.  I’ll be speaking on the afternoon of Wednesday the 5th, discussing how we secured our funding.  I’ll also participate in some Working Group discussions, and I’m looking forward to these.  If you’re in San Francisco, but not attending the conference, I’ll be there from Monday, May 3rd to the afternoon of Thursday, May 6th.

The second conference is the 9th Ontario Power Summit, here in Toronto from May 6th to 7th (I’ll have to miss the first day as I’ll still be in San Francisco).  There, I’ll be focusing more on our technology than our company as a whole, although there will definitely be overlap between the two sessions.  Both of these conferences are fairly expensive to attend, but if you’re going to either, let me know.  After the events, I’ll post my presentation materials here, and a summary of the talks or video if they’re available.

The last one I’ll be speaking at is the 5th Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery conference, also in Toronto, held from May 17th to 18th.  I’ll be speaking on a panel on solar innovations – more details and the time of this panel to come.  Morgan Solar will also have a booth for both days of the conference.

Speaking tomorrow & blog meta

A few items:

1 – This blog has not been updated as often as I’d like, mainly because other priorities kept getting in the way. That said, the occasional short post from me, and slightly longer post from Emma should start appearing here.

2 – We may make this even more “unofficial” and fully break out the whole Morgan Solar part of this blog, make it something more solar, energy and entrepreneurial based, and less about our company.

3 – For those that are interested, I’ll be part of a panel discussion tomorrow at the MaRS Discovery District called Cleantech in Canada Breakfast Seminar – Solar Power: What’s on the horizon?.  I’m speaking alongside some of the real leaders for solar energy in Canada, and it’s looking like it will be interesting.

Morgan Solar offered $2.3 million in funding from SDTC

Morgan Solar has been offered an additional $2.3 million CAD from Sustainable Development Technology Canada, as part of their current round of funding announced today.

The SDTC offered $58 million to 16 companies for the development of various sustainable projects or projects with an environmental benefit.  Notably, Morgan Solar was the only solar company offered funding in this funding round.  These funds will be used to help us deploy test installations of our Sun Simba HCPV panels, as well as provide funding for the ongoing testing and verification of panel performance.

Check our the SDTC press release (French version here).  Obviously, this is something we’re fairly happy to announce.

Press Release: Morgan Solar exceeds funding target, raises $8.2 million

Morgan Solar exceeds funding target, raises $8.2 million

TORONTO, Jan. 6 – Morgan Solar Inc., a Toronto based solar energy start-up, have increased their first-round investment to USD $8.2 million from the USD $4.7 million announced in October 2009.

Strategic investors participating in Morgan Solar’s first round are Iberdrola, the world’s largest renewable energy provider, and Nypro Inc., a global leader in injection molding and contract manufacturing with operations in 16 countries.  Connecticut based venture capital fund Turnstone Capital Management LLC led the first round.  Additional funds were raised from two Canadian venture capital groups with significant experience in clean technology.

The funds will finance activities through to the commercial release of Morgan Solar’s unique Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) solar panel – the Sun Simba HCPV.

The Sun Simba HCPV is a low cost, high efficiency solar panel designed for utility scale solar farms and distributed generation.  “The most important goal for solar energy is to become competitive with other electrical generation technologies.  Our view is that this can only be achieved with low cost, scalable, high efficiency solar panels,” said Nicolas Morgan, VP Business Development & Marketing at Morgan Solar.  “The Sun Simba HCPV is our answer to this challenge.  We’re bringing to market a next generation solar panel.”

Early manufacturing for testing and certification has started at Morgan Solar’s facility in Toronto.  Initial commercial deliveries are expected by the end of the year, with global sales, manufacturing, and delivery capabilities ramping up in 2011.

About Morgan Solar Inc

Morgan Solar Inc was founded in 2007 to develop next generation solar power technologies that will make solar energy significantly less expensive. They have developed a number of concentrated photovoltaic technologies, of which the first to market will be the Sun Simba HCPV. This high efficiency, low cost concentrated photovoltaic solar panel uses a completely new type of optical concentration system – the Light-Guide Solar Optic (LSO). The LSO allows Morgan Solar to avoid the high cost and complexity inherent in current concentrating optics and panel structures based on mirrors and lenses, thus delivering a simple, low cost, efficient solar panel that is ideal for the utility scale and distributed generation solar power markets. Future versions will target other markets, including building-integrated solar applications.

For further information contact me by email or at (416) 203-1655.