Many Canadian businesses have been hit hard in the last few years by everything from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine and climate change.
But for some, climate change has been a boon, in part because of government grants meant to increase energy efficiency as Canada aims for net-zero emissions by 2050.
It’s all part of a global shift to greener energy options. Solar energy now provides the most renewable energy jobs in the world — 4.3-million jobs by the end of 2021 — according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in collaboration with the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO).
There were 700,000 new renewable energy jobs created worldwide in the past year, bringing the total jobs in this sector to nearly 13 million, according to the IRENA report.
And a rush to find greener ways to beat the heat waves and cold snaps that result from extreme weather caused by climate change is driving unprecedented demand for solar and electric options, according to those who sell and install solar panels, heating and cooling systems and fuel efficient upgrades like heat pumps.
Consumers opt for heat pumps
A heat pump is an electric device that uses many of the same components as a fridge or air conditioner — like a compressor, a condenser, an expansion valve or an evaporator — and can be used to both heat and cool a home.
On Monday, Canada announced details of the Oil to Heat Pump Affordability (OHPA) Grant, designed to help low- to median-income households switch from oil to heat pumps.
The grant will offer up to $5,000 — depending on household income — to cover costs including the purchase and installation of heat pumps and the safe removal of oil tanks.
But even before that announcement, heat pump installers say business was already booming.
Toronto-based Ricardo Ramberansingh runs heatpumps.ca, ductless.ca and the Boiler Shoppe.
He says he sells hundreds of heat pumps in Ontario as customers are “ripping out gas furnaces” over concerns about climate change, fuel costs and the environment.
Business, says Ramberansingh, has been spectacular.
“We actually made a conscious decision to go this way. We were consciously aware of the effects of climate change, and we’re doing everything we can.”
For competitive reasons, Ramberansingh won’t say exactly how many heat pumps he’s installed, but he says sales are up 300 per cent in the past few years.
“I think the world has seen the dramatic effects of climate change. It’s a reality that we’re living with.”
Shift to solar
Kaleb Rodgers of Rikur Energy Inc. in Burnaby, B.C., says solar sales really soared once the pandemic hit. The company went from installing about 30 systems per year to about 75.
Each system costs between $15,000 to $30,000, but Rodgers says the Canada Greener Homes initiative, launched in May 2021, helps people offset the “hefty price tag up front.”
Rodgers notes that a lot of people are very proud of their systems and says customers have told him that they feel they’re contributing not just to the environment, but to the general population because solar power means they are “pushing clean energy back into our hydro grid.”
B.C. Hydro allows customers to use any surplus energy their solar systems produce to offset future energy bills, so that is also an incentive.
To help Canada hit its zero emissions target by 2050, federal and provincial grants — including the Greener Homes and OHPA grants and rebates offered by B.C. Hydro — are in place to help people retrofit their homes.
Greener Homes grants drive interest
The Greener Homes initiative from Natural Resources Canada offers grants of up to $5,000 and interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for energy-conscious home retrofits.
According to the government, as of September, the program has received more than 196,000 grant applications, with over 38,000 coming the first week the program was launched in 2021. The program has issued $69 million in grants to almost 19,000 homeowners
As of Nov. 14 the program had issued 3,202 grants for solar panels, 8,572 grants for heat pumps and 11,123 grants for window and door upgrades.
The program has helped kick start changes, according to Chris Palliser, a spokesperson for The Shift Energy Group in B.C.
He says Canada is about five years behind the U.S. when it comes to adopting solar energy, but says the country is following the same pathway to energy efficiency.
“The United States is kind of our crystal ball, if you will. Now, in California, every new build is required to have solar,” said Palliser.
The Shift Energy Group started designing and building solar energy storage systems in Western Canada, but is now expanding to the East Coast.
Palliser says the cost of solar panels has decreased dramatically over the past decade and that it’s now cheaper to produce power using solar arrays than it is to pay hydro costs. How much cheaper depends on the province.
He says the falling price of solar panels isn’t the only reason business is booming.
“Climate change is playing a huge role,” Palliser said. “It’s the heat domes, the atmospheric rivers that are happening in our face. I think people are taking note and thinking something has to be done.”
He said that high energy costs and changes in weather have coalesced for a variety of groups, including frugal investors, climate activists, energy independence seekers and tech trend setters.
Since 2020, Palliser says The Shift Energy Group’s rate of solar system installation has increased sixfold and that they have hired 35 new employees in the last six months.
“Demand is there. Everyone’s looking at solar,” he said.