Per Drewes – a Photovoltaics Pioneer
A graduate in physics and then aerospace studies, Per Drewes worked for 25 years as a research scientist for Ontario Hydro, specializing in solar and wind energy. During that time he drafted new codes and standards relating to photovoltaics. He...
A graduate in physics and then aerospace studies, Per Drewes worked for 25 years as a research scientist for Ontario Hydro, specializing in solar and wind energy. During that time he drafted new codes and standards relating to photovoltaics. He also designed and installed prototype photovoltaic power supplies for downtown Toronto, Northern Ontario, as well as the Third World.
Today Drewes and his partner Rolf Paloheimo have their own company, Sol Source Partners. In Toronto they have designed integrated PV systems for clients such as Sunnybrook Hospital, Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre and the CN Tower.
Q. What kind of changes have
you seen in the solar industry?
A friend of mine, who has been in solar as long as I have, and I were looking back at the solar industry recently. We realized that in the 1980s the chairman of a solar association meeting might be a university professor, or some department head in the National Research Council. We were technical people who were interested in the technology itself. The driving force was “How can we improve it? How can we advance the technology?”
Today the industry is dominated by bankers and people trying to promote business opportunities. I suppose that is a sign of a mature industry. Unfortunately, there is a lack of technical knowledge. There is a belief that one simply points a photovoltaic module towards the sun and one can create electricity. While this is true and the conversion process is quite magical, there is a bit more to designing a safe and efficient photovoltaic power supply.
I also have to say that with the increasing number of installations, there has been an even larger increase in the number of rules and regulations. Many of these are unnecessary and not based on any technical understanding of photovoltaic technology.
Since the Ontario’s Feed-in-Tariff Program, many companies have sprung up or moved to Ontario. While there are some with a solid technical background, many have been formed by “instant experts” who are more familiar with setting up websites than photovoltaic technology. Also as shown recently, it is very dangerous to build a business that is dependent on government incentives. Government policies can change quickly and this will have a great impact on the market.
Q. What are the limitations to
integrating PV into buildings?
In Toronto there are a lot of trees creating shading – but don’t cut down the trees! There are also buildings shading buildings, and buildings oriented in less than optimum directions.
But even then, if you go down to Toronto Island and look back at the city, you will see all sorts of roofs, walls and balconies. They all have full southern exposure. There is potential for roof mounted arrays, façade arrays on the walls, and in the case of the balconies, photovoltaic modules could be incorporated right into the railing. We just need a bit of imagination.
Finally I should say that photovoltaics will not solve all our energy issues. There’s not one solution for everything. You have got to have an optimum mix.cce