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Energy and Resources U.S. firm buys Toronto solar installer in push for residential business

Workers install solar rooftop panels in this handout photo.

Handout/Pure Energies Group Inc.

One of the biggest independent electricity producers in the United States has taken a foothold in Canada, with the purchase of Toronto-based residential rooftop solar installer Pure Energies Group Inc.

NRG Energy Inc., based in New Jersey, is buying Pure Energies for an undisclosed price, adding it to other residential solar businesses it has been assembling in recent years.

NRG, which had revenue of more than $11-billion (U.S.) last year, owns a wide range of power generation plants, including coal, natural gas and nuclear powered plants, as well as large scale wind and solar farms. But the expansion of home solar is a key area of growth.

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NRG communications director David Knox said the company wants to reduce its "carbon profile," and one of the ways to do that is to increase low-carbon generation, such as solar projects, including residential rooftop systems.

The attraction of Pure Energies, said Kelcy Pegler, who leads NRG's home solar business, is that the Canadian company has developed a very cost-efficient means of signing up new customers for rooftop solar systems.

NRG's existing home solar business tends to focus on older customers who want to sit down face-to-face with a sales person and work out the details, Mr. Pegler said, while Pure Energies uses Internet-based tools that appeal to younger clients. Pure Energies currently has customers in both Canada and the United States, with offices in Toronto and San Francisco.

More and more people want to put solar cells on their own rooftops, he said, because it is becoming more cost efficient as panel prices fall and the price of electricity rises. New means of financing solar panel installation is also making them more attractive.

In about 10 U.S. states the cost of solar power is now at "grid parity" with other forms of electricity generation, and about 20 states will be at that level within two years, Mr. Pegler said.

In Ontario, the number of residential solar installations has grown dramatically in recent years because of Ontario's "feed-in tariff" regulations, under which the province pays sharply higher rates for rooftop solar than other forms of electricity generation. However, connection and permitting issues have made the process complex and cumbersome for some installers and homeowners.

The International Energy Agency said this week that solar energy could be the most important source of electricity by 2050, thanks to the declining cost of photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic systems could generate 16 per cent of global power by then. Thermal solar – where the sun's rays are concentrated to heat water and generate electricity – could generate another 11 per cent. However, the cost of up-front capital to build these systems must decline for this to happen, the IEA said. Currently, solar supplies about one half of 1 per cent of the world's electricity.

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