Solar Thermal

As the costs of solar thermal technologies continue to drop, there is enormous potential for them to generate utility scale electricity on a grand scale in the world's hot places.

Image Source: Fraunhofer ISE

Solar Thermal

By the Numbers

544,000 M2

Of operating solar collectors in Canada (around 100 football fields)

14,000,000 M2

Of operating solar thermal collectors in China in 2011 (around 21,111 football fields)

$16.6 million

Canadian solar collector sales in 2008

60,297 tonnes

Of CO2 offset by solar collectors in Canada

$800 and $4,000

Approximate price of a solar water heater and space heater in 2011

$0.13 - 0.17

Cost per kWh of solar thermal generated electricity in the US in 2011

Last Updated: May 2012

Charlotte Helston

The energy from the sun pouring down on the earth is unimaginably large, inexhaustible, and free. Each year, the sun irradiates the earth with the same amount of energy contained within 19,000 billion tons of oil (toe). Just 9 billion toe would support the world's present energy needs. In other words, the sun gives us enough energy in just 20 minutes to power the world for one year. However, our exploitation of solar radiation is limited by clouds, seasonal daylight changes and the inevitable fall of darkness every night. Still, solar thermal provides a practically carbon-free, renewable alternative to the power created from fossil fuels.

Technology has developed the use of solar energy for more than just sunbathing; direct channeling of the sun's radiation through solar collectors can be used for heating and cooling systems, and even for power generation. Solar thermal heating applications are the most commonly used form of solar energy in Canada. Domestic sales of thermal collectors accounted for an estimated avoidance of 60,297 tons of CO2 emissions in 2009. Studies show that more solar heating systems are being installed across Canada and B.C. in homes, businesses and public buildings, perhaps as a result of recent government incentives. British Columbia's optional Solar Hot Water Regulation requires suitable homes to be constructed with the future potential to have solar hot water systems installed, and Vancouver's Solar Homes Pilot and Green Homes Program will make the city's building code for low-rise residential construction the most comprehensive green building code in North America. In Canada, solar energy on the household, business, and institutional level seems to be the most attainable method of harnessing the renewable energy, as well as the type most readily embraced by governments and citizens.

The idea of solar thermal power plants are appealing to supporters of renewable energies, yet the realities of their land and water demands often discourage development. Solar power operations use large and expensive equipment, as well as vast expanses of land and often enormous amounts of water for cooling the systems, making the use of solar energy both economically and environmentally questionable in some cases.

Clearly, Canada does not feature the same climatic conditions that, say, Israel, the world's leader in solar thermal energy does. Can solar power plants still offer Canada a means to cut back on the use of nonrenewable? A range of solar thermal technology means there are more opportunities to draw upon its uses. For instance, solar thermal power plants may not be economically or environmentally appropriate in Canada, however, solar hot water and solar space heating in homes, businesses and institutions presents a proven way to tackle our emissions problem.

  1. Pembina Institute. Energy Source: Solar Energy. Renewable Energy. Retrieved August 2011 at:
  2. Canmet. Natural Resources Canada. 2010. Survey of Active Solar Thermal Collectors, Industry and Markets in Canada (2009). Science Applications International Corporation. Renewable Energy and Climate Change Program
  3. Salvador, A. 2005. Energy: A historical perspective and 21st century forecast. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Tulsa, Oklahoma. pp 109-111.

How Solar Thermal Works

Solar thermal systems collect solar radiation for use in heating air and/ or water for domestic, commercial, or industrial purposes. Sometimes, they are used to produce steam, which then drives turbines to generate electricity.

The principle of solar thermal energy can be used from the household level to the industrial level. What every solar thermal system has in common, is a solar collector.

Collectors can be broken down by temperature, and by concentration.

By Temperature:

  • Low Temperature Collectors: These collectors produce low-grade heat (less than 110 degrees F) through the use of metallic or non-metallic absorbers. Suitable applications include: swimming pool heating, greenhouses, and low-grade water and space heating.
  • Medium Temperature Collectors: These collectors produce medium-grade heat (greater than 110 degrees F, usually 140 degrees-180 degrees F) through the use of either glazed flat-plate collectors using air or liquid as the heat transfer instrument, or concentrator collectors. This type of solar thermal is mainly used in domestic hot water heating.
  • High Temperature Collectors: These collectors are parabolic dish or trough collectors built to operate at temperatures of 180 degrees F or more. This type is primarily used by utilities and independent power producers to generate electricity for the grid.
Parabolic Troughs
An array of parabolic troughs at the National Solar Energy Centre in Israel.

By concentration:

  • Non-concentrating/stationary: In non-concentrators, the collector area is the same as the absorber area. Flat-plate collectors, the most used type, are often used in heating buildings. Evacuated Tube Collectors are also used.
  • Concentrating : In concentrators, the area intercepting the solar radiation is larger than the absorber area. This is done with the use of concave reflecting surfaces that capture the sun's radiation and focus it into a smaller absorbing area. Concentrating collectors are typically high-temperature systems, and are the ones used by Solar Thermal Power Plants.

Within the category of concentrating collectors there are three main types:

Parabolic Trough Collector
Parabolic Trough Collector.
  • Parabolic Trough Collector: Parabolic troughs gain their name from the parabolic (bowl-shaped) reflectors used to focus solar radiation onto receiver pipes located at the focus of the parabola. The collectors "track" the sun on a single axis (ie. N-S or E-W) tilting across the sky. This ensures continuous absorption throughout the day. Because of their parabolic shape, troughs can focus the sun 30 to 100 times its regular intensity, resulting in operating temperatures of over 750 °F (400 °C). A solar field consists of multiple rows of trough collectors positioned on a north-south, horizontal axis. A series of pipes transfer heated water to a central location where it is used to generate high-pressure, superheated steam. The steam is then used to turn a conventional steam turbine, which then creates electricity. Fluid is recirculated through the system to gather heat again and again.
  • Parabolic Dish Reflector: This system comprises of a large parabolic dish (similar to a satellite dish) made of reflective material. These dishes track the sun, so that every second, the solar radiation is concentrated at the focal point of the dish. Due to this feature, a solar dish's concentration ratio is far higher than a solar trough's, with a working fluid temperature of up to 500 degrees F. Power generating machines may be hooked up to the dish itself, or else energy may be collected from a number of individual installations, and converted to electricity at a central location using steam generated turbines.
  • Heliostat Field Collector : Heliostat power towers employ the use of thousands of tracking mirrors (heliostats) to collect the sun's thermal energy. In the centre of the "heliostat field" is a tower with a receiver at the very top. The mirrors target their reflected radiation onto the receiver, where it is transferred to working fluid, stored, and used later to generate power (heat —> steam —> turbines > electricity). These power plants can create temperatures of up to 2000°C.

Solar Thermal Power Plants — high temperature collectors

Solar thermal power plants use the sun's radiation to heat fluids and produce steam. The steam is converted into mechanical energy in a turbine, and into electricity by a conventional generator attached to the turbine. Liquid storage tanks called Thermal energy storage (TES) systems allow plants to bank hours of potential electricity. This comes in handy when the sun goes down, or when clouds come out, and is a big advantage over solar photovoltaic systems.

Most types of power plants, from coal-fired to nuclear, generate power with steam driven turbines. The difference being that solar thermal power generation produces steam using the heat collected from sunlight, rather than from the combustion of fossil fuels.

Ben Gurion Solar Disk
A solar dish at the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Centre in Israel.

The three main types of solar thermal power systems are:

  • Parabolic Trough
  • Solar Dish
  • Solar Power Tower

Solar Space Heating — with low temperature collectors

How does solar thermal heat the air in buildings?

Solar space heating employs solar air panels to collect heat. These panels are either glazed or unglazed. Glazed collectors recirculate building air through a solar air panel where it is heated, then redirected into the building. Glazed collectors are used predominantly in homes.

Unglazed collectors are seen at the larger scale commercial and industrial level. These larger systems use whole walls, or parts of walls, as the solar collectors. Heat is absorbed into "transpired solar panels", incorporated into the exterior of the wall, where it is stored until fed into the building's ventilation system. The main difference between glazed and unglazed, is that the former heats recirculated air, while the latter heats ambient (outside) air.

Solar Water Heating — with medium temperature collectors

How does solar thermal heat the water used for everyday living?

Heating water with solar energy requires a sun-facing collector on a wall or rooftop. Solar radiation heats working fluid that is either pumped (active system) or directed by natural convection (passive system) through it. Heat is stored in a hot water storage tank that can be used when the sun has gone down, or when it is obstructed by clouds. Most systems have a back-up energy source that is activated when the water level in the tank drops below a certain point.

  1. US Energy Information Admin:

Geography of Solar Thermal

Where can solar thermal on the household, business, or institutional scale be used?

Solar collectors on the household, business, or institutional level can be used with varying degrees of success anywhere in the world. The more sunlight, the more effective the solar system will be at heating up air in rooms, or water for showers, pools, washing machines, etc. In these applications, collectors take up otherwise empty space on the rooftops of buildings. Ideally, collectors are unobstructed by overhanging branches, and kept clean to maximize heat absorbance.

Where are solar thermal power plants ideally built?

The most productive areas for solar thermal power plants are deserts. These cloudless regions are constantly bombarded with powerful radiation. The 's largest solar power plant, a grouping of systems called the SEGS, is located in the Mojave Desert, in the United States.

Solar power plants require a substantial amount of clear space. You wouldn't place your home's solar collector in the garden, you'd place it on the roof. Likewise, solar thermal companies opt for open areas over crowded ones. The openness of deserts lends itself nicely to the specifications of a solar power plant. Known as "solar fields", solar power plants cover the ground—often desert areas—with collectors, or reflectors that reflect radiation onto a central collector. Controversy over solar plants' excessive land requirements is further discussed in the Environment section.

Solar Thermal Economics

Costs of solar space and water heating

Solar domestic water heaters cost approximately $US 1000-3500 and the investment can break even after four to seven years depending upon whether it has replaced electric or gas heaters.

Space heating systems can vary from inexpensive wall heaters ($800) to costly large central systems ($4000+).

A 2010 energy law in Geneva, Switzerland, requires that at a minimum, 30% of a building's hot water demand be covered by a solar hot water heating system.

Solar collectors can last anywhere from 15-40 years, leaving the system essentially void of cost while it operates.

Solar Power Plant Heliostat
Each mirror in this field of heliostats reflects sunlight onto the receiver on the central tower.

Costs of solar thermal power plants

Solar power plants avoid the high and unpredictable costs of fuel, leaving their only main monetary investment the capital cost of installation. Minor operational and maintenance costs must also be considered. Average costs for plants under construction are between $ 122 /MWh and $220 /MWh, depending on location. Estimated future costs, as technologies gain further efficiency, might be as low as $42 - 61 per MWh for trough plants and $34-53 per MWh for tower plants.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy list solar thermal power costs around 13 to 17 cents per kilowatt/hour. Compared to wind, another alternative energy source, which produces kilowatt hours at 8 cents each, solar may seem less desirable. However, that's 8 cents per kilowatt when the wind is blowing. With solar, even if radiation is at a low due to cloud cover, stored solar heat energy can be captured and kept until needed. With solar thermal power plants, the biggest factor is location. In some areas, like Israel, solar can provide the most effective and cost-efficient option around. Studies say new plants under construction could, upon completion, produce energy at costs comparable to natural gas.

Canada's Solar Thermal Industry

CanmetEnergy, a branch of Natural Resources Canada, reported Canada's 2009 total revenue for the solar thermal industry to be $21.3 million. This number displays an increase of 13% from 2008 statistics. Ontario is the country's leading province, accounting for 53% of total solar revenue.

Of 29 companies who responded to Canmet's 2009 survey, 25% recorded at least four full-time employees – a significant decrease from 2008's 40%. The total number of person-years of employment was reported as 157, or an average of over 5.6 employees per respondent (2008 reported 168). It should be noted that this survey was not designed to include results from those working at the retail sales and installer level, thus, true Canadian employment numbers are likely higher than this.

Since 2008, revenue from domestic sales increased from $13.1 to $16.6 million, while revenue from export sales decreased from $5.7 to $4.8 million. Most exports were made to the U.S., with minimal exports to Europe and Central and South America. Most solar heating applications were supplied for residential use rather than industrial.

  1. Sustainable Sources. Solar hot water, heating and cooling systems. 2011. Accessed May 28, 2012 at:
  2. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). 2009. Solar Water Heating. Retrieved at:
  3. IEA, Energy Technology and Perspectives 2008
  4. Fairley, P. 2008. Solar without the panels. Technology Review. Retrieved at:
  5. Glennon, Robert., Reeves, Andrew. 2010. Solar Energy's Cloudy Future. Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy. Vol 1:1. Retreieved at:
  6. Canmet. Natural Resources Canada. 2010. Survey of Active Solar Thermal Collectors, Industry and Markets in Canada (2009). Science Applications International Corporation. Renewable Energy and Climate Change Program.
  7. Canmet. Natural Resources Canada. 2010. Survey of Active Solar Thermal Collectors, Industry and Markets in Canada (2009). Science Applications International Corporation. Renewable Energy and Climate Change Program.

Environmental Impact of Solar Thermal

Heating accounts for 70% of residential and commercial energy use in Canada. Predominant fuels contributing to that 70% include natural gas (used by 47% of Canadian households in 2007) and electricity (used by 37%). Bypassing our current predominant use of carbon-emitting resources by harnessing the power of the sun could shift the non-renewable and polluting energy content for heating needs in Canada. Equipment for solar systems is made from locally available, recyclable material such as glass, plastic, copper, aluminum, wood and steel.

Climate Change

A 2009 Canmet report found that 60,297 tonnes of CO2 had been offset as the result of solar thermal collector sales in Canada. Their findings demonstrated a 21% increase from 2008. This signifies a clear impact of the solar thermal industry's growth on limiting greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, and highlights its potential to make much more of a contribution.

Canmet also includes an estimate of the total green house gases avoided over the operating life of systems installed in 2009. These findings demonstrated a value of 269,305 tons of CO2 avoided over the lifetime of these systems (using a 20 year expected life for all water systems, and 30 for commercial air systems). And that's just for Canada. It's estimated that the solar collectors exported from Canada in 2009 will be responsible for avoiding a further 85,000 tons of CO2 during their operating lifetimes.

Solar thermal power plants utilize vast amounts of land, and often, massive quantities of water — two factors that tarnish an otherwise environmentally progressive alternative energy.

Land Use

The Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) in California's Mojave Desert, for instance, uses a sprawling 1,600 acres in order to put out their combined 354 MW. Some believe this amount of land could, and should, be used for housing subdivisions. Instead of a foundation for SEGS, the 1,600 acres could provide space for an estimated 6,400 homes.

To put things in perspective against another energy producer:

To produce 1,000 megawatts of power, a coal plant requires 640–1,280 acres of land, as does a nuclear plant; a natural gas combined-cycle plant requires at least 640 acres; but a concentrating solar thermal plant would require approximately 6,000 acres.

To produce 1,000 megawatts of power, a coal plant requires 640–1,280 acres of land, as does a nuclear plant; a natural gas combined-cycle plant requires at least 640 acres; but a concentrating solar thermal plant would require approximately 6,000 acres.

Solar thermal power plant development finds itself caught in the tug of war between increased demands upon scarce land resources and shrinking energy supplies. Whether or not the landscape is dotted with solar energy generators will ultimately depend on a combination of pro-active government policies and which companies, i.e. housing or energy, win the property bids. One thing is for certain; larger populations mean more energy consumption, and the only way we're going to be able to support it sustainably, is with renewable energies like solar.

Water Use

Most concentrating collectors rely on water cooling, with the exception of dish systems which use air cooled engines. The most productive locations for solar power plants tend to be in hot desert areas where water supplies are limited — an unfortunate circumstance when most solar power plants require about 800 gallons of water per MWh generation. A plant in the Nevada desert is facing setbacks for approval of its system as it would use 20% of the available water in the region.

Mounting water shortages have put pressure on power plants to switch to air cooling, which could eliminate upwards of 90% of water used. Shifting to this more environmentally rounded cooling method would impose cost increases of 2-10% on generating electricity, a move most companies are hesitant to make.

The use of hybrid wet/dry coolers offers a middle ground: about 80% of water is saved, and companies suffer only a moderate profit cut.

Drawbacks of Solar Power

Both solar thermal and photovoltaics are dependent on — surprise! — sunlight. Climate conditions including cloud or fog, and seasonal changes in daylight have a large effect on the amount of solar energy absorbed on the earth's surface.

Solar disc, design proposed by NASA.

A possible scheme to surpass such challenges is to place large arrays of solar cells in satellites 30,000- 35,000 km above the earth. These solar system, solar cells would convert high radiation into electricity, which would then be fed to a microwave generation system for transmission to earth. The transmissions would be collected by receiving antenna systems and converted to alternating or direct current electricity.

An equally futuristic proposal is to position large arrays of PV cells on the moon to transmit the solar power to earth via microwave beams.

Neither idea has yet received any serious consideration.

  1. Canmet. Natural Resources Canada. 2010. Survey of Active Solar Thermal Collectors, Industry and Markets in Canada (2009). Science Applications International Corporation. Renewable Energy and Climate Change Program.
  2. Canmet. Natural Resources Canada. 2010. Survey of Active Solar Thermal Collectors, Industry and Markets in Canada (2009). Science Applications International Corporation. Renewable Energy and Climate Change Program.
  3. Canmet. Natural Resources Canada. 2010b. Solar Thermal. Renewables. Retrieved at:
  4. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). 2009. Solar Water Heating. Retrieved at:
  5. Glennon, Robert., Reeves, Andrew. 2010. SOlar Energy's Cloudy Future. Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy. Vol 1:1. Retreieved at:
  6. US Department of Energy. 2007. Concentrating solar power commercial application study: Reducing water consumption of concentrating solar power electricity generation. Report to Concgress. Retrieved at:
  7. US Department of Energy. 2007. Concentrating solar power commercial application study: Reducing water consumption of concentrating solar power electricity generation. Report to Concgress. Retrieved at:
  8. Salvador 2005

Politics of Solar Thermal

Solar Heating

Lately, the province of BC has taken the first steps in following the lead set out by countries like Switzerland, Spain, Israel and Germany, who have implemented Solar Hot Water Regulations. Certain regulations in these countries require that new buildings, as well as those undergoing major refurbishment, utilize a percentage of solar thermal heating in place of conventional sources.

Solar Water Heater
A solar hot water system on a rooftop in Jerusalem.

British Columbia, in partnership with SolarBC, developed a Solar Hot Water Regulation bylaw requiring all new single family homes, where suitable, to be constructed with the future potential to install solar hot water systems. Local governments were invited to "opt-in" to the regulation. A list of communities who have already opted-in can be found here.

The City of Vancouver has implemented a Solar Homes Pilot and Green Homes Program that together will make the Vancouver building code for low-rise residential construction the most comprehensive green building code in North America. The Green Homes Program requires that every new house feature a minimum of two 50mm pipes that run from the home's water tank to the attic, a component that will permit the future installation of roof-mounted solar energy equipment.

Solar Hot Water Regulations

Many communities wide are imposing solar hot water regulations, and demonstrating a global solar movement. Some examples are described below.

Geneva: A 2010 energy law in Geneva, Switzerland, requires that at a minimum, 30% of a building's hot water demand be covered by a solar hot water heating system. The regulation applies to new buildings, as well as to extensions and roof renovations of existing ones.

Barcelona: Since 2000, Barcelona, Spain, has required solar hot water systems on all new public and private buildings. It is the first city in Europe to impose such legislation.

  1. Solar BC. 2008. Regulations and Government Policies. Why Solar? Retrieved at:
  2. Global Solar Thermal Energy Council- Reduced water consumption in concentrating solar power systems article:
  3. C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. 2010. Barcelona, Spain. Renewables. Retrieved at:

Solar Thermal Around the World

What countries use Solar Water Heating and Solar Space Heating?

Solar Air Heat
A solar air heat collector mounted on the side of a house.

Technical improvements have enhanced performance and life-expectancy of solar water heating systems and solar space heating systems, leading to a massive rise in use. Systems are especially favourable in countries that enjoy an abundance of solar radiation, including Israel, Australia, China and Japan. Newer and more advanced systems boast better-than-ever efficiency during sunless hours than ever before, opening up the potential to regions with low to moderate levels of radiation. Still, most systems cannot provide 100% of a home's heating, but they can compensate for a percentage of 40-80% for water heating, and slightly more for space heating.

Israel has worked hard to develop its solar thermal industry, and today is the leader in use of solar energy per capita. Solar hot water is used in over 90% of Israeli homes. Solar heating systems have also risen in popularity in China, where over 30 million households use solar to heat their water. Systems in these countries are far cheaper than those in Western countries (sometimes 80% cheaper). High installation costs are a major source of hesitancy in Canada.

Other countries like Spain and Australia provide incentives and impose regulations that accelerate the use of solar thermal heating systems. Read more about these countries in the Solar Hot Water Regulations section.

Where are the World's Solar Thermal Power Plants?

The world's largest solar power generating, the Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) captures the Mojave Desert's powerful radiation with concentrating solar thermal technologies. SEGS's energy output is 354 MW – about half your average coal-fired power plant, but enough to supply the demand of 500,000 people.

Aerial view of the Solar Energy Generating System.

Spain has erected numerous plants in the last decade alone. The country, with its abundant sun and minute rainfall, is a prime location for solar power development. The new La Florida plant bumped Spain's total output to 432MW, leaving the US (with 422MW) in second place. Spain has an average of 340 days of sunshine a year, and the promise of solar is expected to wean the country off its gas-fired and nuclear power stations, as well as its less reliable wind farms. But not all countries have the climate—or the supportive government policies—that Spain has. For some countries, getting projects from the proposal stage, to the power stage, is something of a challenge.

It seems the idea of solar thermal power plants is often more supported than their reality. At present, many companies in the U.S. have announced upcoming projects that will usurp the SEGS's 20-year hegemony as the largest solar power plant in the world. These enterprises, like the Solana plant in Arizona, and the Ivanpah Solar Electricity Generating System also in the Mojave Desert, are still in approval and development stages. Lengthy permitting procedures in the U.S. and elsewhere deter many interested companies from following through with projects. For example, in 2009, Ausra, a California-based solar start-up, cancelled plans for its Carrizo Energy Solar Farm due to a constantly stalling permitting process. "This process does not allow for the kind of swift and definitive decision making that the business community needs in a world where the time-value of money is critical and where many solar companies are thinly capitalized," wrote the authors of a 2010 report.

There has been discussion over the potential for countries like Spain to export their "surplus" solar energy through transmission lines to less radiant regions. No concrete plans or proposals have been made, and the logistics require further development.

  1. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). 2009. Solar Water Heating. Retrieved at:
  2. CHAMSOLAR. 2011. Solar Thermal- Principle & How it works. Retrieved at:
  3. SunLab. 1998. Solar trough systems. Retrieved at:
  4. Burgen, S. 2010. Spain overtakes US with 's biggest solar power station. Retrieved at:
  5. Glennon, Robert., Reeves, Andrew. 2010. SOlar Energy's Cloudy Future. Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy. Vol 1:1. Retreieved at:

Solar Thermal Use in Canada

Solar heating and solar hot water systems

The main applications of solar energy technologies in Canada have been for active solar thermal applications in space heating, water heating and drying crops and lumber. There are an estimated 544,000 m2 of solar collectors operating in Canada, compared to 114 million m2 in China. They are primarily unglazed plastic collectors for pool heating (71%) and unglazed perforated solar air collectors for commercial building air heating (26%), creating about 627,000 GJ of energy and offsetting 38,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. These systems presently comprise a small fraction of Canada's energy use, but some government studies suggest they could make up as much as five per cent of the country's energy needs by the year 2025.

Does Canada have any solar thermal power plants?

Canada has no solar thermal power plants, and due to the high development costs and lack of incentives, businesses are hesitant to propose projects. Canada does, however, possess the world's largest photovoltaic solar power plant in Ontario, proving the richness of Canada's solar resources.

  1. Canmet. Natural Resources Canada. 2010. Survey of Active Solar Thermal Collectors, Industry and Markets in Canada (2009). Science Applications International Corporation. Renewable Energy and Climate Change Program.
  2. Canmet. Natural Resources Canada. 2010b. Solar Thermal. Renewables. Retrieved at:

Solar Thermal in B.C.

Can Solar Thermal contribute to BC's energy supply?

Yes. It can, and slowly is beginning to. SolarBC (2010) reports at least 540 residential solar hot water systems in BC and that number is expected to continue rising.

Most British Columbians enjoy an average of 2,000 hours of sunshine per year, or almost six months of sunshine. Germany, one of the world's leading countries in solar hot water use, has only 1734 hours per year. BC's climate is just as suitable, if not more, as those that already support major solar thermal energy use. The difference lies in government policies. While countries like Germany have been active for years, Canada is only just starting to implement regulations that will accelerate the expansion of the solar thermal industry.

  1. Solar BC. 2008. Regulations and Government Policies. Why Solar? Retrieved at:


To ensure continuity of material, all of the external web pages referenced here were cached in May 2012.

Readers are recommended to explore the current links for any changes.

Burgen, S. "Spain overtakes US with World's biggest solar power station." The Guardian. 2010. Accessed July 13, 2012.

US Department of Energy. "Concentrating solar power commercial application study: Reducing water consumption of concentrating solar power electricity generation." Report to Congress. 2007. Accessed May 30, 2012.

International Energy Agency. 'Energy Technology and Perspectives.' 2008. Accessed May 30, 2012.

Fairley, P. "Solar without the panels." Technology Review.

Glennon, Robert., Reeves, Andrew. "Solar Energy's Cloudy Future." Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy. Vol 1:1. 2010. Accessed May 30, 2012.

Global Solar Thermal Energy Council. "Reduced water consumption in concentrating solar power systems." 2011. Accessed May 30, 2012.

Solar BC. "Regulations and Government Policies. Why Solar?" 2008. Accessed May 30, 2012.

C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. "Renewables." Barcelona, Spain. 2010. Accessed May 15, 2012.

Salvador, Amos. ‘Energy: A historical perspective and 21st century forecast.’ American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Tulsa, Oklahoma (2005).

US Energy Information Administration. "Solar Thermal Collector Manufacturing Activities: Overview." 2009. Accesed May 30, 2012.

CHAMSOLAR. "Solar Thermal - Principle & How it works." 2011. Accesed May 30, 2012.

Canmet. "Solar Thermal. Renewables." Natural Resources Canada. Accesed May 30, 2012.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "Solar trough systems." 1998. Accesed May 30, 2012.

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "Solar Water Heating.". 2009. Accesed May 30, 2012.

Science Applications International Corporation. "Survey of Active Solar Thermal Collectors, Industry and Markets in Canada." Renewable Energy and Climate Change Program. Canmet. Natural Resources Canada. 2010. Accessed May 30, 2012.

When no treaty was signed between the government, and no war was fought over the land, first nations groups in Canada are entitled to the land on which they have historically lived and still inhabit.
In solar thermal energy collectors, the Absorber Area refers to the area absorbing the radiation
A technique where acidic solutions are pumped into a well, melting away debris about the bottom of the well and allowing the gas to flow more freely.
An electrical current that reverses its direction at regularly recurring intervals. Abbreviated to AC.
A series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. Used for industrial and/or domestic purposes to manage waste and/or release energy.
A device used for measuring wind speed.
The average speed (and direction) of the wind over the course of a year.
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC): A 21-nation group of Pacific-Rim nations that seeks to promote free trade, raise living standards, education levels and sustainable economic policies. Canada is a member.
The artificially increased discharge of water during the operation of hydroelectric turbines during periods of peak demand.
Small particles released into the atmosphere as part of the flue gases from a coal plant. Fly ash is dangerous for human health but most power plants use electrostatic precipitators to capture it before release.
The waters off the Atlantic provinces that has been producing oil and gas since the 1990s, and continues to have considerable untapped oil and gas potential. The region has similar geology to the oil-rich North Sea.
'The ionizing radiation which we are all inescapably exposed to every day. It comes from radon gas in the ground, the sun, distant supernovas, and even elements inside our own bodies. The average exposure is around 361 mrem per year for a person in Washington state (it varies by region).
Base-load power is that provided continuously, virtually year-round to satisfy a regions minimum electricity needs. Hydro and nuclear power are well-suited for base-load grid needs.
A renewable fuel in which soy or canola oil is refined through a special process and blended with standard diesel oil. Biodiesel does not contain ethanol, but research is underway to develop diesel blends with ethanol.
Renewable energy made available from materials derived from biological sources.
Natural gas, or methane, that is created by microbes consuming organic matter. Usually found near the Earths surface and is usually immediately released into the atmosphere.
Biological material from living, or recently living organisms such as trees, grasses, and agricultural crops. As an energy source, biomass can either be used directly, or converted into other energy products such as biofuel.
A facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power, and chemicals from biomass. The biorefinery concept is analogous to petroleum refineries, which produce multiple fuels and products from petroleum.
Bitumen is "petroleum that exists in the semi-solid or solid phase in natural deposits. Bitumen is a thick, sticky form of crude oil, so heavy and viscous (thick) that it will not flow unless heated or diluted with lighter hydrocarbons. At room temperature, it is much like cold molasses."
Bottom Ash: Bottom ash are small particles that result from coal combustion, but unlike fly ash they are too heavy to be released into the atmosphere and must be stored.
Canadian Environmental Protection Act: Passed in 1999, CEPA is "An Act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development."
Cap and Trade: A system where the government sets a limit on how much of a pollutant may be emitted. It then sells the rights to emit that pollutant to companies, known as carbon credits, and allows them to trade the credits with other companies. The EU has implemented a cap and trade program for carbon dioxide.
Carbon Footprint: A calculation based on the set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product, or person.
Carbon Sink: A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores carbon-containing chemical compounds for an indefinite period.
Carbon Monoxide: A deadly gas produced from the tailpipe of cars that burn gasoline.
Capacity Factor: The ratio of the actual output of a power plant over a period of time and its potential to output if it had operated at full nameplate capacity the entire time.
Cellulose: An organic compound consisting of several hundred to over ten thousand linked glucose units. Cellulose comprises the structural component of the cell wall in plants, many green algae. It is the most common organic compound on Earth comprising about 33% of plant matter.
Cellulosic Biomass: Fuel produced from wood, grasses, or the non-edible parts of plants that is mainly comprised of cellulose.
Cellulosic Feedstock: The inedible cellulose which comprises most plants and trees. Yields are much higher as any part of the plant can be used and because they do not compete with food, therefore, cellulosic feedstock is an ideal candidate for large scale sustainable biofuel production.
Cetane Rating: Also known as cetane number (CN), this is a measurement of the combustion quality of diesel fuel during compression ignition. It is a significant expression of diesel fuel quality.
Clean Power Call: A request sent out by B.C. Hydro to private power utilities for new electricity-generating projects totalling 5,000 GWh/year. B.C. Hydro will help fund the successful projects and then buy power from them once completed.
How efficiently a turbine converts the energy in wind into electricity. Just divide the electrical power output by the wind energy input.
Using the energy left over from one primary energy conversion to fuel another. The most prominent example of this are natural gas co-generation plants which first feed fuel into a gas turbine. The residual heat from that reaction then heats water to spin a steam turbine.
Collector Area: In solar thermal energy collectors, the Collector Area refers to the area that intercepts the solar radiation.
A mixture of hydrocarbons present in natural gas. When gas is lowered below the hydrocarbon dew point, a condensate, that is, a liquid, forms. These can be used for combustion just like oil and gas. These are also known as natural gas liquids.
Generation of electricity using fossil fuels.
Gas reserves that form beneath porous layers of sandstone. Until recently this has been the only kind of gas commercially extracted.
When bituminous coal is baked at high temperatures it fuses together ash and carbon, creating coke. Coke can then be used to reduce the oxygen content of iron, strengthening it and creating steel.
A force generated by to the earths rotation which deflects a body of fluid or gas moving relative to the earths surface to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere. It is at its maximum at the poles and zero at the equator.
Decentralized Electricity Generation: Decentralizated electricity generation is a concept used to describe a large number of dispersed energy generators, often closely integrated with the people that use the electricity. Wind turbines and solar panels are good examples: they can be put within communities, be owned by members of the community and generate electricity for it. Alternatively centralized energy generation, far more common in North America, is where a small number of large plants owned by utility companies (hydro-electric, nuclear or fossil fuel) generate large quantities of electricity.
The portion of the oil business that involves refining the crude oil, bringing it to market and selling it. Gasoline service stations are the most lucrative part of downstream operations.
Effluents: Gases or liquids released by a human-made structure, in this case flue gases from a coal-fired power plant.
Electrolyte: Usually a solution of acids, bases, or salts, electrolytes are substances with free ions which make them effective electrical conductors.
Electrolysis: A simple technique for splitting water atoms to obtain hydrogen, driven by an electrical current.
Requirements that set specific limits to the amount of pollutants that can be released into the environment by automobiles and other powered vehicles, as well as emissions generated by industry, power plants, and small equipment.
Transforming one form of energy into another. Most energy conversions that run our economy are conversions from a primary source to electricity (wind or nuclear) or movement (oil).
Energy Currency: Energy that is usable for practical purposes. These include electricity and petroleum which power appliances and vehicles.
A measurement of the amount of energy stored in a given volume.
Energy Return On Investment (EROI): This is the ratio of usable energy obtained over the amount of energy required to get it. The oil sands has a low EROI because instead of being sucked out of the ground in liquid form the oil must be painstakingly mined and heavily refined, a process that requires large quantities of energy itself.
An energy source is the means by which energy is generated. The energy profiles each deal with a different source of energy, and most are simply means to attain the energy currency we all use: electricity.
Enhanced Geothermal System: A new technology, EGS does not require natural convective geothermal resources, but instead can draw power from the ground through extremely dry and impermeable rock.
The provincial Environmental Assessment Office is a politically neutral agency tasked with reviewing major construction projects in B.C. Their purview includes assessing the environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects over the lifecycle of projects.
A blend of ethanol and diesel fuel. plus other additives, designed to reduce air pollution from heavy equipment, city buses and other vehicles that operate on diesel engines.
A policy device that encourages investment in renewable energies, usually by guaranteeing power producers that their energy will be bought.
In food processing, fermentation is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. In simple terms, fermentation is the chemical conversion of sugars to ethanol.
A finite, or non-renewable resource, is one where a limited amount exists. Once the existing stocks of that resource are exhausted there will be no more, at least in any reasonable human time scale. Only so much fossil fuels and uranium exist on earth, making these finite, non-renewableresources. The wind, sun and tides are renewable resources since it is impossible to run out of them.
First Generation Renewable: Well established renewable technologies that emerged early on in the Industrial Revolution. These include hydropower, biomass combustion and early geothermal power.
Fission is a nuclear reaction where a heavy atom is hit by a neutron, causing it to split into lighter atoms, release more neutrons, and huge amounts of energy.
Flat-plate collectors are a type of non-concentrating solar energy collector, typically used when temperatures are below 200 degrees F. They are often used for heating buildings.
Flex-Fuel Vehicle: Also known as a dual-fuel vehicle, this is an alternative fuel vehicle with an internal combustion engine designed to run on more than one fuel, usually gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel.
Flue gases are the gases that are released into the atmosphere by a flue, or pipe, from the steam boiler.
Many biofuel feedstocks such as corn, sugarcane, and soybeans are also key sources of food for millions of people. Production of crops for bioenergy may displace other food-related crops, increasing the cost and decreasing the availability of food. The central question is one of ethics: Should we use our limited land resources to grow biofuels when the same land could be producing food for people?
Fracking: Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting high pressure fluids into deep, geologic formations, in order to fracture the rock and render it more permeable.
Fuel Crops: Crops grown specifically for their value as fuel to make biofuels or for their energy content.
Fumaroles: Openings in the Earths crust that emit steam and gases.
Gasohol: Otherwise known as fuel ethanol, gasohol has been distilled and dehydrated to create a high-octane, water free alcohol. All water must be removed because a water-alcohol mixture cannot dissolve in gasoline. Fuel ethanol is made unfit for drinking by adding a small amount of a noxious substance such as gasoline.
Geothermal Gradient: The rate at which temperature increases deeper into the earth, towards the earth's molten core.
Geothermal Task Force Team is a government program that aims to: develop policies, in collaboration with affected agencies, related to tenure issuance, examine the regulation of the use of geothermal resources not currently covered by legislation, build a royalty and resource rent model for geothermal resources, and develop a science based review of the known geothermal resources in the province.
Geyser: Springs characterized by intermittent discharge of water ejected turbulently and accompanied by steam.
Giromill Turbine: Uses lift forces generated by vertical aerofoils to convert wind energy into rotational mechanical energy. They are powered by two or three vertical aerofoils attached to a central mast by horizontal supports.
Glut: A situation where the market has been flooded with goods and there is more supply than there is demand causing the price of goods to drop.
Gravity Survey: A technique of measuring minute changes in the Earths gravity field. This allows geologists to map lighter and denser rocks underground.
Green Energy and Green Economy Act of 2009: Legislation by the province of B.C. to boost the investment in renewable energy projects and increase conservation, create green jobs and economic growth in Ontario. Part of Ontario's plan to become a leading green economy in North America.
Head: The term head refers to the change in elevation of the water.
Head Differential: The difference in pressure due to the difference in height of water level.
Heat Exchangers: These are used in High-Temperature and Low-Temperature applications to transfer heat from one medium to another. In Low-Temperature Geoexchange systems they are built into the heat pump.
Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine (HAWT): Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine. These are the most common types of wind turbines and look like aircraft propellers mounted atop towers.
Hydrocarbons: A compound of almost entirely hydrogen and carbon. This covers oil and natural gas. Coal, the third fossil fuel, contains so many impurities it is usually disqualified from this title.
Hydrostatic Head: The distance a volume of water has to fall in order to generate power.
Intermittent Energy Source: Any source of energy that is not continuously available due to a factor that is outside of direct control (ex. Wind speed or sunshine).
An internal combustion engine operates by burning its fuel inside the engine, rather than outside of it, as an external, or steam engine does. The most common internal combustion engine type is gasoline powered, followed by diesel, hydrogen, methane, and propane. Engines typically require adaptations (like adjusting the air/fuel ratio) to run on a different kind of fuel than they were designed for. Four-stroke internal combustion engines (each stroke marks a step in the combustion cycle) dominate the automotive and industrial realm today.
Kinetic Energy: The ability of water falling from a dam to do work, that is, to generate electricity. Water stored above a dam has potential energy which turns to kinetic energy once it begins to fall.
Levelized Cost of Electricity: The cost of generating electricity (capital, operation and maintenance costs). Measured in units of currency per unit of electricity (ex. kWh).
Magnetic Survey: A technique for measuring the intensity of magnetic fields from several stations.
Manhattan Project: The massive Anglo-American-Canadian scientific undertaking which produced the atomic bombs that helped end the Second World War. It marked the birth of the nuclear age and scientists were immediately aware of the potential to use use nuclear power for civilian use.
Market Penetration: The share of the total energy market a specific energy source has in relation to its competitors. So the market penetration of wind power would be measured by its share of the electricity market, while ethanol would be compared to other vehicle fuels, not to total primary energy use.
Matrix: In geology, this is the finer mass of tiny sediments in which larger sediments are embedded.
Methanol: Methanol is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many types of bacteria, and is ubiquitous in the environment. Methanol is toxic in humans if ingested or contacted on the skin. For its toxic properties and close boiling point with ethanol, that it is used as a denaturant for ethanol.
Miscanthus: A low maintenance perennial grass which is thought to be twice as productive as switch grass as it has a longer growing season, greater leaf area, and higher carbon storage per unit of leaf area.
MMBtu: A unit of measurement which means a million Btus (British thermal units). A Btu is roughly the amount of energy it takes to heat a half kilogram of water from 3.8 to 4.4 °C. MBtu is used for a thousand Btus.
Moderator: A moderator is used to slow down neutrons, which enables them to react with the atoms in the nuclear fuel. If enough atoms react then the reactor can sustain a nuclear chain reaction.
M Mount St. Helens is an active volcano located in Washington state. It is most famous for its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980 where fifty-seven people were killed, 250 homes, 47 bridges, 24 km of railways, and 298 km of highway were destroyed.
Mud-Pools: Pools of bubbling mud. Also known as "paint-pots" when the slurry of usually grey mud is streaked with red or pink spots from iron compounds.
Nacelle: The housing atop a wind turbine that holds the gearbox, generator, drive train and brakes, as well as the rotors.
Name-Plate Capacity: The intended full-load sustained output of a power plant. For example an average wind turbine's name-plate capacity is 2 Megawatts. The capacity factor is the actual output, so for that 2 MW wind turbine with an efficiency of around 30-35% (average) then it has a more realistic capacity of around 0.7 MW. Most power stations are listed in terms of their nameplate capacity.
National Energy Board: A regulatory agency established by the federal government in 1959 that is primarily tasked with regulating oil and gas pipelines that cross provincial and national borders.
National Energy Program: A set of policies enacted in 1980 that sought to make Canada energy independent. Petro-Canada was created and oil prices were kept artificially low to protect consumers. Shares of oil revenue were diverted to the federal government who used them mostly in the eastern provinces to offset a decline in manufacturing. The program was extremely unpopular in western Canada and was discontinued shortly thereafter.
Nuclear Renaissance: A term used by politicians and the media for the renewed interest in nuclear energy in the past decade. Many countries are now expanding their civilian nuclear programs.
Octane: The octane rating of a fuel is indicated on the pump – using numbers such as 87, 90, 91 etc. The higher the number, the greater the octane rating of the gasoline.
Oil in Place: The total hydrocarbon (oil and gas) content of a reservoir. Sometimes called STOOIP or Stock Tank Original Oil In Place.
Oil Patch: A term for the Canadian oil industry. This specifically means the upstream operations that find and extract oil and gas, mostly in Alberta but also B.C., the other prairie provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Oil Window: The range of temperature at which oil forms. Below a certain temperature and kerogen will never progress to the form of oil. Too high and natural gas is formed instead.
OECD: The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is a 34 country organization dedicated to advocating democracy and the market economy. Membership is largely limited to Western Europe, North America, Australia and Japan, what are often considered the world's developed nations. Sometimes referred to in the media as the "rich countries' club".
Passive Seismic Survey: A way to detect oil and gas by measuring the Earths natural low frequency movements.
Peak Power Demand: Power demand varies over minutes, hours, days and months. Peak power demand are the times when the most people are using the most power. To meet this demand extra sources of power must be switched on. Some forms of electricity generation, such as natural gas turbines, can be turned on quickly to meet peak power demand and are better suited for this purpose than others, such as nuclear, which are better as sources of baseload power.
Permeability: A measure of the ability of a porous rock to allow fluids to pass through it. High permeability in the surrounding rocks is needed for the formation of gas reserves.
Photovoltaic Cell: A non-mechanical device typically fabricated from silicon alloys that generates electricity from direct sunlight.
Pickens Plan: Investment of $1 trillion into wind power in the U.S.A., named for an American oil tycoon. The plan aims to reduce the amount of foreign oil imported to the U.S.A. while providing economic and environmental benefits.
Pondage: The main difference between small and large hydro projects is the existence of stored power in the form of water which is held back by dams at large hydro stations. Some small hydro projects have pondage, however, which are small ponds behind the weir of a dam which can store water for up to a week.
Potential Energy: The energy stored in a body or a system.
Porosity: Closely related to permeability, this is a measure of the amount of "voids," or empty space in a rock where gas or oil can pass through to collect in a reservoir.
Possible Reserves: Possible reserves are a class of unproven reserves that geologists use for oil that they are only 10% sure is present in the ground.
Purchasing Power Agreement: A contract between two parties, one who generates power for sale, and another who is looking to purchase it. B.C. Hydro buys power from companies that build their own power generating stations.
Primary Battery: A primary battery is one that is non-rechargable because the electrochemical reaction goes only one way. It gives out energy and cannot be reversed.
Primary Gas: The degeneration of decayed organic matter directly into gas through a process called "thermal cracking." This is opposed to secondary gas which is formed from decayed oil that has already formed.
Probable Reserves: Probable reserves are a class of unproven reserves that geologists use for oil or gas that they are at least 50% sure is actually present.
Proven Reserves: An amount of a resource any resource to be dug out of the ground (oil, coal, natural gas or uranium in energy terms) that geologists have a 90% or higher certainty can be extracted for a commercial gain with the technology available at the time."
Recompleted: The process, by which an old oil well is redrilled, fractured, or has some other technology applied to improve the amount of oil recovered.
Reforming: In oil refining, reforming is using heat to break down, or crack, hydrocarbon atoms and increase their octane level. This technique creates some left-over hydrogen which can be collected and used.
Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS): Law that requires electric utilities to produce some portion of their power from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal or biomass. RPSs are necessary to keep renewables competitive in an era of cheap natural gas electricity.
Rent-Seeking: The practice of using resources to compete for existing wealth rather than to create new wealth, often to the detriment of those who seek to reform societies or institutions. Economies that fail to diversify away from oil are often pre-dominated by a rent-seeking mind-set where people become more pre-occupied with securing the windfall resouce profits for themselves, usually oil, rather than seeking to develop new industries.
Reserves: The fraction of the oil in place that can be considered extractable. This depends not only on the geology, but the economics (is oil expensive enough to make extracting it profitable?) and technology.
Reserve Growth: When an oil or gas field is first discovered, reserve estimates tend to be low. The estimates of the size of the field are expected to grow over time and this is called reserves growth.
Ring of Fire: The Pacific Ring of Fire is a region of high volcanic and seismic activity that surrounds the majority of the Pacific Ocean. This region is essentially a horseshoe of geologic activity, characterized by volcanoes, earthquakes, deep sea trenches, and major fault zones.
Riparian: The term riparian refers to the wetland area surrounding rivers or streams. A riparian ecosystem refers to the biological community supported by an area around a river.
Savonius Turbine: Uses drag generated by the wind hitting the cup, like aerofoils, to create rotation.
Second Generation Wind Turbine: Technology that is only now beginning to enter the market as a result of research, development and demonstration. These are: solar, wind, tidal, advanced geothermal and modern bioenergy. Much hope has been placed upon these technologies but they still provide only a fraction of our energy.
Secondary Battery: Rechargable batteries are sometimes known as secondary batteries because their electro-chemical reactions can be reversed.
Secondary Gas: When oil is subjected to so much heat and pressure it degenerates into gas. The process through which this happens called "thermal cracking."
Secondary Recovery Schemes: When so much oil has been sucked out of an oil reservoir it will lose pressure and the oil will no longer flow out of the reservoir from natural pressure. When this happens secondary recovery schemes can be employed. This means that fluids or gases are pumped into the well to increase pressure and push the remaining oil up out of the well.
Shale: A type of sedimentary rock with low permeability, which was once thought to prevent any commercial extraction of the gas inside. Fracking allows gas developers to access it.
Sound Navigation and Ranging (SONAR): Initially devised as a technique for detecting submarines. An emitter sends off pulses of sound. The pulses bounce off objects and return to a receiver which interprets their size and distance.
Spot Market: A market where commodities are traded for immediate delivery. A future market on the other hand is one where delivery is expected later on. Because of the dependence of gas users on those who are at the other end of the gas pipeline, the natural gas market is mostly a futures market.
Steam Coal: Steam coal is coal used for power generation in thermal power plants. This is typically coal that ranges in quality from sub-bituminous to bituminous.
Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO): Vegetable oil fuel. Most diesel engine vehicles can run on it so long as the viscosity of the oil is lowered enough for complete combustion. Failure to do this can damage the engine. SVO is also known as pure plant oil or PPO.
Strategic Petroleum Reserve: An emergency store of oil maintained by some governments and corporations. The U.S. Department of Energy holds 727 million barrels of oil.
Subcritical Power Plant: A coal-fired power plant that operates at less than 550ËšC. Because the temperatures and pressures are than other plants, these plants operate at a low efficiency, around 33-35%. These plants are still the most common in the world and many are under construction
Supercritical Power Plant: Supercritical plants are coal powered power plants that can sustain temperatures of 550ËšC to 590ËšC and transfer up to 40% of the coals energy into power. This technology has only come into use in recent years. Most new coal-fired power plants built in the West are supercritical.
Switchgrass: One of the dominant native species of the North American prairies, tallgrass is being researched as a renewable bioenergy crop. It is a a native perennial warm season grass with the ability to produce moderate to high yields on marginal farmlands.
Thermal Power Plant: A thermal power plant is any that is powered by a steam turbine. The steam is created by heating water which in turn spins the turbine. Most coal and gas power stations operate in this way, as do all nuclear plants. Coal powered and gas plants are often just called thermal plants.
Total Carbon Cost: The amount of carbon dioxide emitted during an action or a process. One exmaple is building a natural gas plant. The total carbon cost would include everything from the carbon emitted to get the materials to build the plant, to the carbon emitted in the building of the plant, and the carbon emitted during the operation of the plant.
Unconventional Gas: Unconventional gas reserves come in many different geological formations, and include tight gas, shale gas, coalbed methane and methane hydrates. Extraction of these sources has only just begun and has hugely extended the lives of many gas fields and unlocking many new ones. The unlocking of unconventional gas reserves in the last five years has revolutionized the global energy system.
Ultracritical Power Plant: These are coal thermal power plants that operate above 590ËšC and can attain efficiencies above 40%. These plants are just coming into service.
Undiscovered Reserves: The amount of oil and gas estimated to exist in unexplored areas. Much of B.C. has not been thoroughly explored for fossil fuel potential and many of the estimates of B.C. fossil fuel resources rely on the concept of undiscovered resources
United States Geological Survey (USGS): The United States Geological Survey. The department responsible for estimating American fossil fuel reserves. They also conduct many studies that span the globe.
Unproven Reserves: Oil reserves in the ground that petroleum geologists are less certain are there, but have strong reason to believe is present. Unproven reserves can be broken down into probable reserves and possible reserves. These numbers are used within oil companies but not usually published.
The portion of the oil business that involves finding oil and extracting it.
Uranium is a heavy metal that is naturally radioactive. An isotope, U-235 can be enriched to support a nuclear chain reaction. Uranium is used in many nuclear power plants.
A 2,730 MW dam built in north-eastern British Columbia along the Peace River during the 1960s.
Any activity where humans bore down into the Earth to access reserves of oil or gas trapped in underground geological formations.
These are produced from wood residue (like sawdust) collected from sawmills and wood product manufacturers. Heat and pressure are used to transform wood residue into pellets without chemical additives, binders or glue. The pellets can be used in stoves and boilers.
A remote mountain in Western Nevada where the U.S. Department of Energy has planned on storing all of the country's spent nuclear fuel underground since the 1990s. The proposal met stiff opposition from local residents and in 2009 the project was cancelled.