Solar’s near nil capacity value in Canada’s north

Alberta is issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for 135,000 MWh of “solar electricity”.  I think that’s a strange thing to buy, and pulled some Ontario data to explain why.

The amount is about 2.4 times the production from the 40 megawatt (MW) “Northland Power Solar Facilities” over the past 12 months, according to the hourly generator output and capability reporting of Ontario’s system operator. Those facilities are located in the area of Cochrane, Ontario. While very north from the perspective of most Ontarians, Cochrane is only slightly north of the 49th parallel which forms Alberta’s southern border.

I’ve pulled data for the Northland facilities and the Grand Renewable Energy Park near Cayuga Ontario, roughly 650 km south of Cochrane. July is usually the peak month for total solar generation, and January can be the least productive. I’ve compared by hour using capacity factor due to the different sizes of the facilities, and will also note Ontario systems can be overbuilt – for instance, Grand Renewable has about 140 megawatts (MW) of DC panel capacity behind a 100 MW (AC) connection point. For my measurement the contracted (connection point) capacity is used in calculating the capacity factor.

solar facility hourly


In the summer the difference in latitude makes little difference, but in January it’s significant. The hourly output of Northland’s panels rarely rises above 10% in January – averaging only 3.3% over January 2017. 650 km to the south Grand Renewable only achieved 7.6% that month, but that was 130% better than the Northland facilities.

In the summer month of July (2016) both facilities averaged 27.6%

Did I mention in January 2017 the Northland facilities had a 3.3% capacity factor?

In Ontario the government is feigning a wish to switch to technology agnostic procurement.

What would an Alberta Request for Proposal look like if it didn’t specify solar, but solar could win the bid?


Electricity needed. Anytime is fine.

No nights

Winters off

Needn’t match load and not integral to either system or specific consumer operations.

Energy return on energy invested may be quite low, perhaps even negative.

I suspect a more honest RFP from Alberta’s government would be along the lines of:

Green halo wanted

provide product popular with a majority of voters to facilitate the presentation of the ruling party as the greenest

ability of bidding entity to donate to ruling party and provide election campaign support will not impact decision (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, eh)


solar daily capacity factors.png




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