In Toronto, mass power outages like the 2003 blackout and the 2013 ice storm have exposed our reliance on energy to maintain our ways of life. Electricity drives the developed world, but not all have reliable access. Despite an abundant supply of energy in many parts of the globe, "energy poverty" can be found not just in developing nations but also close to home. In fact, nearly 800 million people (roughly 9.6% of the global population) live without any access to electricity, though untapped renewable energy sources are offering solutions to energy poverty as well as benefiting developed urban centres.

Despite a United Nations-led effort towards universal energy access by 2030, targets are not being met, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and changing priorities. With less than a decade to meet the UN's goals, creative solutions will be necessary to close the gap. One solution we've covered in previous months is building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) technology, which incorporates solar cells into exterior building materials like cladding, windows, balcony railing glass, roofs, and siding. This technological advancement—and an unprecedented drop in cost—is combining to make renewable energy much more accessible.

Solar railings, image courtesy of Mitrex

Canadian manufacturer Mitrex is one company with products that make use of every imaginable building surface for power generation, replicating almost any building finish with a solar energy-producing match. This has tremendous applications in urban centres, in many cases reliant on a mix of fossil fuels and power generated far from its end users. This is the case with Toronto drawing hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls and nuclear power from Pickering and Darlington.

Solar cladding, image courtesy of Mitrex

In addition to the company's lofty pursuit of creating green cities by converting buildings into renewable energy collection, Mitrex is working towards the elimination of energy poverty and inequity. With the cost of energy-producing materials now on par with the natural finishes they replicate, Mitrex is campaigning for the mass adoption of this low-cost BIPV technology, aiming to give affordable access to electricity for all and make energy poverty obsolete.

Solar cladding and railings, image courtesy of Mitrex

Applications in developed urban centres like Toronto are limitless, home to the third-most skyscrapers on the continent and many more on the way with the most active cranes in all of North America. Much more than just buildings, BIPV materials could be used on every urban surface imaginable, from highway noise barriers to sidewalks. 

Compounding the environmental and equity advantages offered by this technology, the economic benefits are just as promising for urban areas, having the potential to use surplus energy production for the grid as a revenue stream. Along with property owners, this could be especially beneficial for governments and municipalities that have suffered from the financial setbacks of COVID-19.

Recognizing this potential for expansion in a booming region and other nearby US markets, Mitrex opened a new factory in Toronto earlier this month. This over 100,000 ft² facility will allow Mitrex to locally manufacture solar cladding, windows, producing 25,000 ft² of solar integrated building materials per day. In addition to just producing BIPV, Mitrex offers property owners turnkey solutions for the manufacture and installation of solar energy-generating, and non-solar energy-generating portions of the building. For instance, a portion of an existing or new building could be upgraded for solar energy production very easily, with Mitrex producing and installing BIPV, and the rest of the structure's facade can be manufactured and installed by Mitrex with regular building materials. This allows for simple adoption of solar generation, reducing our reliance on the high-carbon grid.

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