• A solar array at Arizona State University in Phoenix. (Photo: Schwnj/Creative Commons)

It could be the dawning of a new age for solar power in Ontario.

While the province currently gets less than one per cent of its energy from solar, it has phased out coal and is committed to using renewable sources of energy.

Last week, at the third annual Solar Ontario Conference, Jim Burpee, the president of the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA), spoke about Vision 2050, a roadmap for the future of electricity in Canada that CEA unveiled in March. He says CEA chose the year 2050 because the decisions Canadians make during the next 10 to 15 years about how to get electricity will have an impact until at least 2050.

When it comes to the future of Canada’s solar power, Burpee says efficiency is key. Given most solar panels on the market today are only about 17 per cent efficient, he says it would be a game changer to increase efficiency up to 40 or 50 per cent, rather than have increasingly cheap but less efficient solar panels.

But Karin Hinzer, an engineering professor at the University of Ottawa, says more efficient panels are already available. “You can buy up to 35 per cent efficient systems right now. They’re a little more expensive, but you already have a number of companies selling them.”

The world record for efficiency is 47 per cent, but Hinzer says it should be more than 50 per cent this year, and they should be able to reach at least 65 per cent.

Hinzer says China’s hunger for power is driving down prices of solar panels, while stimulating research into better systems.

“Solar wasn’t really on anyone’s roadmap three years ago,” she says. But it’s becoming hard to ignore. She says that by 2030, solar power could be as high as 10 per cent of Ontario’s electricity grid with very little change made to current infrastructure.