Ex Marks the Spot for Biggest Ontario Solar Power Project

Carmanah Technologies to build pilot program - firm aims to help Ex become energy self-sufficient

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Exhibition Place has reached an agreement with Carmanah Technologies Inc. to build and operate a 100-kilowatt solar electricity system atop the roof of the historic Horse Palace.

The $1 million pilot project, once completed next spring, will rank as the largest solar photovoltaic installation in Ontario, and possibly Canada, according to Richard Morris, manager of the energy efficiency office at Exhibition Place.

He said the pilot project's goal is to determine how well the solar technology works, and whether dust kicked up from the Gardiner Expressway will pose a problem to the system.

If all goes well, Exhibition Place will go ahead in 2007 with a second phase to expand the solar PV system to one megawatt or more.

"What we'll end up doing is just covering that entire roof to the extent we can," said Morris.

The project is a sign that Carmanah Technologies Inc. has become a leader in the burgeoning Canadian solar market, where an increasing number of companies have emerged to take advantage of booming demand in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Carmanah leads a pack that includes Spheral Solar Power, a division of ATS Automation Tooling Systems Inc. of Cambridge, and start-up ventures such as Ottawa-based Cyrium Technologies Inc. and Day4 Energy Inc. of Vancouver.

"The next three years will be really defining for us," said Art Aylesworth, chief executive officer of Carmanah, who describes 2006 as a pivotal year for the company.

"Eyes that are on us now are more and more sophisticated. We're getting some pretty hardnosed institutional investors looking at us."

Carmanah's core business has traditionally been solar-powered LED lighting systems for marine, transportation and aviation uses. For example, municipalities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago and London have bought the company's solar-powered light systems for bus shelters as an alternative to digging up sidewalks to install electrical cabling.

But in the summer, Carmanah expanded into the broader solar market through the acquisition of Soltek Powersource Ltd., a supplier and manufacturer of much larger solar PV systems. It was this acquisition that allowed Carmanah to bid on, and eventually win, the Horse Palace project at Exhibition Place.

Aylesworth said he hopes to apply the energy management expertise from Carmanah's LED-lighting business to the design of larger solar PV systems that connect with the larger power grid.

"We're ready to break out to a significantly higher level," he said. "The opportunities aren't the question; it's whether we can execute on everything."

In the first nine months of 2005 the company had nearly $900,000 in profit on revenues of $23.6 million, an increase of 93 per cent compared with the previous year.

A shining star on the TSX Venture Exchange, Carmanah is in the process of trying to list on the Toronto Stock Exchange, where it will get more exposure to institutional investors.

The solar PV market is experiencing unprecedented worldwide growth, thanks to a combination of rising fossil-fuel prices, increased interest in renewables and supportive government policies in the United States, Europe and Asia that provide subsidies for purchases.

More growth is expected in Ontario next year after the energy ministry introduces a European-style feed-in tariff that will allow small operators of solar PV and wind systems to sell power back to the grid at a premium.

The Horse Palace project is being partly funded by grants from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and the Green Municipal Fund, and complements other projects such as the onsite wind turbine that generates clean hydrogen.

Exhibition Place's goal is to become energy self-sufficient by 2010.

"My hope is that it becomes a tourist attraction for this reason," Morris said.