Canada’s first concentrated solar thermal plant
Medicine Hat is called the gas city, and for good reason. It sits on sizable natural gas reserves, which meant the city never suffered at budget time. In 2007, the city started down a path that should serve as a model to those lucky places that are endowed with fossil fuels.
The city’s one-megawatt concentrated solar thermal plant is the first of its kind in Canada. Row after row of large concave metal mirrors glow in the sun on the hill above the Trans-Canada Highway.
By focusing the sun’s rays onto a point, you can generate incredible amounts of heat. This project creates temperatures of 340 degrees Celsius. That heat is used to make steam, which spins a turbine and generates electricity.
"We had to reinvest, we had to diversify because all of our eggs were in that one basket"
It’s the farthest north a concentrated solar thermal project has ever been built, yet it makes sense in Medicine Hat. This is one of the sunniest cities in Canada, receiving more direct sunlight annually than Miami.
Concentrated solar thermal was the original renewable energy pacesetter. Massive projects were built in Spain, California and other sunny, arid places in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But solar photovoltaic modules, the familiar solar panels, have surpassed concentrated solar thermal. There are four gigawatts of installed concentrated solar thermal projects in the world but more than 300 gigawatts of installed solar PV.
The Medicine Hat project cost $9 million, with the funding split evenly between the city, the Province of Alberta and the Alberta Climate Change Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC), the Province’s carbon technology mitigation fund. This installation works in concert with the city utility’s neighboring 204-megawatt natural gas fired power plant.
“We knew at the time we had to give back in some way. We had to reinvest, we had to diversify because all of our eggs were in that one basket, which was natural gas,” says Medicine Hat mayor Ted Clugston.