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Ontario solar industry wants red tape cut for rooftop projects

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Since the Ontario government cancelled more than 738 solar rooftop projects earlier this year, the solar industry has been urging the government to create a new free-market regulatory regime in the province.

All but the largest projects are on hold until the red tape that surrounds connecting to the grid in Ontario can be trimmed or eliminated, according to John Gorman, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association.

Concerned about the cost of Ontario electricity, the Doug Ford government cancelled 759 solar and wind projects in June and ended the Green Energy Act — which was paying higher rates for renewable energy that was fed into the provincial grid — in December.

The previous Liberal government’s feed-in tariff for renewable electricity offered contracts at a fixed price above market rates in an effort to encourage the building of renewable systems — starting at 80 cents per KW/h for the first to sign such contracts in 2009, with the amount offered gradually reduced to about 22 cents.

That’s still higher than the rate actually paid by Ontario residents, which ranges from seven to 18 cents per KW/h. 

But Gorman argues solar has the potential to be the cheapest power on offer, if the process of connecting to the grid can be streamlined.

Other provinces

The solar industry remains very active in markets like Alberta, where there is a simple regime for net metering — or selling off extra power that is not being used.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have all made progress in strengthening and streamlining net metering, Gorman said. Ontario has yet to catch up.

“We’re moving to a free market where everyone has the right to connect,” he says. “It can either be simple or very difficult.”

Currently Ontario has about 60 municipal and regional utilities. Each has a different process and contract to connect a solar system to the grid — contracts of up to 80 pages that can take months to implement.

The solar industry is out to change that.

“There is a real urgency to do this. The government wants to help farmers and homeowners save on electricity. This is a way of building capacity that does not draw on the tax base,” Gorman said.

Who’s losing out?

That’s because the capital cost of building solar systems falls to the private sector or homeowner — not Ontario Hydro, which already has high debt charges from its nuclear system.

The owner of the solar system either gets a rebate on their electrical bill, or is reimbursed by their local utility, for feeding power into the grid.

The construction workers and technicians who put solar panels on roofs moved on to other work and weren’t greatly hurt by the cancellation of so many contracts this June, Gorman said. 

But the First Nations, non-profits, municipal buildings, schools and homeowners who had planned to add rooftop solar were left without the opportunity to cut their electricity costs.

Fidel Reijerse, president of Resco Energy in Toronto, says these kinds of electricity users could benefit from a simplified net metering program in Ontario.

“Only the large projects are able to handle the bureaucratic burden and are able to move forward,” he said.

“A large swath of customers have been discouraged by regulation — everyone from the small business to the homeowner wanting solar on the roof.”

Fidel Reijerse of Resco Energy says only large rooftop projects on industrial and commercial buildings are going ahead, because of the cost and delays involved in connecting to the grid. (Resco Energy)

Reijerse says the Ontario government seems receptive to the idea of simplifying rules and regulations around solar — the Ford government campaigned this year on cutting red tape.

He said the industry has been lobbying several Ontario ministries, but primarily the premier’s office.

“In the solar industry, we don’t require money, just a change of regulations,” he said.

Writing off capital costs

One recent step forward is that Ontario has aligned with the federal tax regime that allows writeoff of the capital costs of a solar system in a single year.

“That is a help, but only for a certain segment of the market,” Reijerse said. “You have to be a profitable Canadian company with a building where you use energy. Non-profits can’t take advantage or pension funds.”

So a 500 KW  system on a flat roof of an industrial building might find it is profitable to go forward.

But it doesn’t help the homeowner who wants rooftop solar.

Gorman said Ontario discourages third-party ownership — where a third party pays the capital costs of solar installation, in return for a portion of the proceeds.

“The homeowner is limited by their ability to borrow and they pay higher borrowing costs,” he said.

He said such systems have the potential to cut electricity costs for low-income homeowners.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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