High-tech pioneer promotes solar power

Solar power will get its day in the sun, according to Day4Energy chairman and CEO John MacDonald.

"Solar energy could enter the mainstream of electrical generation in 10 years," MacDonald told the Straight from the company's Burnaby office. "Wind, tidal, biomass are all possible alternatives, but we've got to start now."

MacDonald, cofounder and former CEO and chair of Richmond-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., enters a photovoltaic solar-powered technology market that currently has a 0.03 percent share of total world energy production. Factory space for the company's solar panels is under construction in South Burnaby and should be complete in June, he said.

"Energy is a fundamental resource," MacDonald explained. "Human beings have fought for resources for the longest time. This is a big one. The U.S., as we know, is heavily reliant on a politically unstable part of the world [for its oil supplies], so this is a very dangerous situation. But to me it's so damn obvious that we have to do something."

MacDonald said he believes it won't happen overnight but "will take a number of decades" for alternative, renewable energy to come on-stream, go through trouble?shooting, and then come down in price sufficiently for Canadians to take it on as a primary energy source ahead of oil, gas, and coal.

The BC Sustainable Energy Association has invited MacDonald as one of the guest speakers Friday (March 31) for the BC Solar Summit 2006 at the SFU Harbour Centre. The event-its aim is to promote solar water-heating and eventually install 100,000 solar roofs in B.C.-runs March 31 to April 3, with other events taking place in Victoria.

MacDonald said he "hadn't yet made up a script" for the talk, but he has been reading up on worldwide energy issues. "I've just finished the first chapter of a book by Richard Heinberg called The Party's Over [: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (New Society Publishers, 2003)]," he said.

California-based Heinberg, along with local environmental philosopher Julian Darley, bases his work on Hubbert Peak Theory (or peak-oil theory), named after American geophysicist Marion King Hubbert. Peak-oil theory concerns the long-term rate of conventional oil and other fossil fuels' extraction and depletion. Rob Baxter of the Vancouver Renewable Energy Co-operative also told the Straight he is "pleased to see a local manufacturer" pushing for more solar-energy use.

"It's great to see, and I know that he [John MacDonald] is totally serious about this," Baxter said. "He is convinced peak oil is going to happen and that this [increased solar energy] is the right way to go."

More information on the BC Solar Summit can be found at www.Solarbc.org/events/.