November 2, 2006  -  

Thank you very much, Rob `Rob McMonagle, CanSIA’s Executive Director`. It’s great to be here. I’m actually a big fan of some of the things you’re doing and we’ll get into a few of those projects. But I would like to extend my greetings to you all, as this is your 2006 annual solar conference. I also want to commend the Canadian Solar Industries Association for bringing all of you together. I think it’s really important that you get together and you share your ideas, success stories and your challenges in order that you can all succeed.

Our government has been working closely with your industry on the next steps and we look forward to working with you on meeting Canada’s energy demands. You have heard the Prime Minister speak in the past about Canada emerging as an energy superpower. We really, really are determined to emerge as a clean-energy superpower. There are many exciting opportunities and I believe solar will play a significant role.

One thing I will say about your industry is that you’ve never lost your vision or your commitment. Your hard work, your innovation and your dedication over the years in advancing the technology is going to reap rewards in the future. But there’s still a long, long ways to go.

There are a number of factors that are working in favour of solar and there are a lot of other exciting things happening in renewable energy. It’s something that I am very enthusiastic about. For instance, wind is taking off in quite a large way.

I was out on the west coast of British Columbia a month or so ago at Race Rocks where they are lowering one of the first tidal turbines, another form of renewable energy. Another thing that I visited, and really has sparked my interest (I love technology) – I know they’re in the room: Carmanah Technologies. We had a great tour of their plant. I was so impressed, Don Martin from the National Post came out to visit me in Victoria and said “talk to me about some of the green energy, what are some of the opportunities that are happening out there.” And I suggested we go visit Carmanah. We walked through and we had an opportunity to really engage with some of the employees on the floor. We walked through their plant and saw some of the exciting things they’re doing with solar.

And Don was really, really impressed. I found it fascinating, and I’d like to keep talking about it, but probably it’s old news to everybody here in the room because you’re the experts. You know things like the ocean markers. You know this, and these are just great, great things to be doing now.

I was also fascinated with a flashing technology on the crosswalk warning system. Someone can program it for the whole year so the lights only come on at the right hours of the right day. For example, on school days when the kids were crossing. I’ve learned that the Kandahar airport in Afghanistan was lit up with solar technology also developed right here in Canada. These are just a few examples.

But the opportunities in front of us, I think, show us that we are just beginning to scratch the surface. In my previous life, I’m a lawyer, I don’t tell everybody that, but I’ll just share a little story with you. When I was first married to my wife Alexis in 1992, I was a carpenter, and that’s my passion. That’s my love. Then I went on to become a lawyer and I’m now a politician, so she’s not allowing me any more career changes!

But why I tell you this story is because I have a passion for building, and I absolutely envision in the very near future, that we’ll be building homes in this country that are going to be zero-users of energy. I can see it in 2015 or 2020. It’s not that far off, it’s definitely in my adult lifetime, in my working life.

It’s not far off. And I think we’re going to get there with the use of solar. I know right now that I’ve talked to people who have installed solar systems in their homes. You know 10, 15, sometimes as high as $20,000 because they’re keen, they want to see this work. They use two-way metering where the power is put back onto the grid when they’re not using it.

You can combine that with solar-heated water. I’m just starting to learn about this and have been reading up on solar hot-water heating. I actually saw it for the first time. The heat exchanger is very economical, and you can combine that with ground-source heat pumps. Using energy-efficient technologies, I think we’ll get to a point where you’re building new homes with a solar-heating system. I can see an integrated solar system in your home, or in every new home – just like you’re putting in a telephone line or your kitchen appliances, but you’re putting in a heating system, a cooling system. This will be just another part of life, it will become the norm. And that’s where we’ve got to get to.

So, I think there are some very, very important aspects to what you’re doing. Obviously solar is a very clean form of energy and it has a direct impact on people’s health. Clean air is something that we’re very much concerned with. And delivering clean energy will absolutely have a direct correlation to the environment, to the clean air and to people’s health. So again that’s something that we think is very, very important.

We’ve recently introduced our Clean Air Act, we think this legislation is groundbreaking. I know that not everybody agrees with it. But this will be the first time that the federal government has actually legislated both greenhouse gases and air pollutants for every single sector in the country, whether it be the oil and gas, the auto sector, the forestry sector – every single sector is going to be regulated.

Why is this important? We’re working with these sectors to come up with realistic targets, achievable targets, tough targets that have to be enforced. And we’ll get there; we’ll win this battle with technology.

And you know there’s some exciting things on the technology front: CO2 sequestration and clean-coal technology. But you can’t discount solar either. You know you don’t hear a lot about it, but from what I’ve seen, read and from what I’m learning ,absolutely without question, solar will play a significant role in ensuring that we have a very clean environment. It will we get us to the point where we’re net-zero users of energy.

I’ve been asked why do I believe it will be accelerated at fast pace? Why do I think by 2020, we can actually achieve a building industry that will embrace this technology? As you know, I think it’s relatively inexpensive. I don’t think on the grand scheme of things, when you’re building a brand new home, that you think of a $15,000-solar system in the entire package. I think it makes sense to be looking at that now.

But the reason I think it’s coming this fast at us is that the consumer is going to demand it. You’re seeing it in every way and among all walks of life. People are demanding more efficient cars. They are, at an exponential rate, prepared to invest more to do something about the environment. Without question, they want to see real gains on pollution reduction, on greenhouse gas reduction and we’re going to do that by really getting serious about moving a lot faster with our renewable energy.

And the consumer is going to drive it. They’re driving us, they’re pushing it now. When we meet with the big-five auto sector, they’re in a race with each other as to who can get there the quickest on delivering hybrid cars and different models that the consumer can pick from. The consumer is prepared to pay more, to pay a premium for these cars because they care about the environment.

I think this is really exciting stuff. I know there are some exciting projects happening now. I’m familiar with the Drake Landing solar community in Okotoks, Alberta. I’ve got a brother that lives there and he’s talked to me about it. This is a pretty large-scale seasonal-storage community. I haven’t been out to visit it, but I’m looking forward to that. We’ve kept pretty close to Ottawa with a minority government.

I went on the Web last night, and I thought it was very cool that you could see exactly in real-time how much solar energy is being pulled in at Exhibition Place in Toronto. How much reduction in greenhouse gases that it’s actually having an impact. It shows the equivalent in cars we’re taking off the road. That was pretty neat stuff, and this engages the consumer and shows solar power is consumer-friendly, readily available and so they can understand it. That was a fascinating project and I believe and we’re going to see a lot more of them.

I understand that only in this last year, your industry has grown by 40 percent in one year alone internationally. So I’ll leave you with this thought. I believe you’re just scratching the surface. Our government wants to be there to support you. I’d love to make an announcement but you and I both know I can’t do that today. But I will just say that you know solar will play a significant role. I absolutely believe, and our government believes, it has a strong role to play and we look forward to working with your industry in the years to come. We’re just at the very beginning and it’s going to get a lot more exciting, very fast.

Thank you very much for inviting me to your conference and I wish you a very successful event. Have a great time here in Ottawa and I’m sure we’ll see you again. I promise you it will not take 20 years. Thank you very much.