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Solar energy

What is solar energy?

Solar energy is energy from the sun in the form of radiated heat and light. The sun’s radiant energy can be used to provide lighting and heat for buildings, and to produce electricity.

Historically, solar energy has been harnessed through passive solar technologies, which harness the heat and light of the sun without electrical or mechanical equipment; for example, strategically locating buildings and planning building components such as windows, overhangs, and thermal masses, to take advantage of natural light and space heating. Solar energy can be harnessed only during the day and only if the sunlight is not blocked by clouds, buildings, or other obstacles.

Two active solar technologies that involve electrical or mechanical equipment are becoming increasingly common:

  1. solar thermal collectors or panels are used to heat water or ventilation air for use in buildings, and
  2. solar photovoltaic (PV) technology uses solar cells to convert sunlight directly into electricity.
  • Solar energy in Canada

    The potential for solar energy varies across Canada. The potential is lower in coastal areas, due to increased cloud coverage, and is higher in central regions. The solar potential varies even more around the globe.

    In general, many Canadian cities have a solar potential that is comparable internationally with that of many major cities. For instance, about half of Canada’s residential electricity requirements could be met by installing solar panels on the roofs of residential buildings.

    The past two decades have been marked by the significant growth of installed capacity for solar photovoltaic power, which in 2022 reached 6’452 megawatts. Canada generated around 4,323 gigawatt-hours of energy from solar power in 2022, which provided enough electricity to power over 470,000 typical Canadian homes.

    For solar thermal energy, Canada’s use has increased in recent years, although it remains relatively small in terms of market penetration. By the end of 2020, installed capacity for solar thermal power reached 920 megawatts thermal.

Solar PV capacity in Canada (2007-2022, in megawatts)

Text version

The bar chart displays annual installations of solar PV capacity in Canada since 2007, in megawatts. The curve shows the rapid increase in cumulative capacity installations from 26 megawatts in 2007 to 6,452 megawatts in 2022.

Solar energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) at NRCan

NRCan’s science and technology experts are advancing solar energy through various avenues.

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