Solar Power can be price competitive

Turnkey solar power systems are now available to Ontario homeowners at prices which, amortized over 25 or 30 years, can deliver electricity as cheaply as your local Hydro company!

There are of course provisos, principal of which is the efficiency of the site. When generous government incentives were available, solar was installed on many sub-optimal sites, facing east and west, even north.

To be as cheap as local distribution company, your solar roof needs to be south facing with a slope of 20-40 degrees so the annual production is the maximum (about 1200 kWh per kW per year).

To be cost effective, my preferred installer has focused on standardizing systems and reducing costs to the homeowner ever since the Ontario Government in 2018 removed all incentives for renewable technologies in the province.

Through me, you can sign an installation agreement directly with the installer who is an electrical contractor and will be responsible for the entire job.

A site assessment is mandatory: there first is a remote assessment, then after receiving a refundable deposit, the installer will visit the site in person to assess roof condition and electrical service panel in addition to the factors mentioned below.

The ideal roof for solar faces near south, has a slope of 20-40 degrees, and is unobstructed, not shaded, and large enough for at least 20 solar panels.

Asphalt shingles are the most common type of roofing and should be almost new to avoid the later expense of removing the solar panels in order to re-shingle.

To be cost effective, need to allow my installer to choose the equipment. Much work has gone into selecting components that are available in Ontario at negotiated prices. Insisting on the latest and greatest product you saw on the internet will in most cases add to the cost of the system. If you have strong preferences I suggest first getting the standard quote then upgrades can be considered.

There are 3 principal components to a rooftop solar power system: the inverter, the solar panels (also called modules) and the racking (also called mounting system).

At the present time, my preferred installer is using SMA inverters. Canadian Solar panels and Kinetic Solar racking. All tier 1 equipment.

My next post will provide examples with actual costs and return on investment for 5, 7.5 and 10 kW systems.

Battery Back Up

You should look at other options for back up power

In a previous post I promised to write about Battery Back Up.  I will do so now. In future monthly postings, I will choose topics and do some research to bring in interesting ideas. In these initial posting  I am using my mental database as my only resource as I am trying to “prime” the blog.

Other Options

You should look at other ways to obtain emergency power. Many homeowners choose gas generators  as the right size gas generator can run the entire house. Running your whole house as usual on batteries is an enormous task because batteries drain quickly when large loads are connected to them. When we design a system, we must ask numerous questions of the homeowner.  We must find out what are the essential loads to be backed up. Our electrician must install a pony panel and to run the necessary wires so that when the grid goes down, power from the storage battery flows only to the selected loads.

Select Loads to be backed up

Typically, homeowners choose furnace motor, fridge, some lights, an outlet for plugging in a computer and any essential medical appliances.

How Many Hours must battery last?

Decide how many hours the selected loads must be powered. With that information and loads, we can estimate how many kWh of storage to provide.

Sun  shining on the panels will add to autonomy once the batteries are charged but in our climate most outages occur during the winter when sun hours are few or panels covered with snow and ice.

None of this is cheap – adding a pony panel and batteries can double the cost of a net metered system.

 

Shading of the Solar Array

Include a shade analysis when doing a site assessment.

Shadows reduce solar production

Passing shadows  reduce the productivity of a solar array. Shadows are cast by trees, buildings, passing clouds, falling leaves….but we love trees!

If there are shading concerns, we include in the site assessment an analysis using a “Sun Eye” or similar device. Its report will accurately forecast the monthly energy shortfall.

Nowadays most central inverters have 2 inputs so at worst half of the array would be affected until the shadow passes.

We recommend micro inverters or Optimizers to minimize loss when shading is an issue.

Both maximise the efficiency of individual panels by their MPPT technology. (Maximum Power Point Technology).

Optimizers are small devices attached to every solar panel in the array and have the effect of bi-passing the affected panel or panels so that the remainder of the array is not affected by the shadow. 

In some cases just a few optimizers can be placed on modules directly affected by shading.

Optimizers are usually  more cost effective than microinverters.

Central Inverters at ground level teamed with optimizers on the roof reduce the need for workmen to climb on the roof, saving wear on shingles.

Micro- inverters and optimizers both perform the additional function of maximizing production of the individual solar panel by their MPPT algorithms and can add 5% productivity to any array even without shading. They both  provide web based monitoring of individual panels and useful reports.

Its addictive to view either on line display to see how the show on your rooftop is displaying and to compare production between months or years.

We have had good results using Solar Edge Central Inverters with Optmizers. Here’s a link to their website:

www.solaredge.com/us/

The original microinverter is Enphase. Here’s that link: www.https://enphase.com/en-us/residential-solutions

Either solution brings more on line fun than plain vanilla reports from central inverters can provide as the homeowner can view on line how each solar panel is functioning.

 

Net Metered Solar Connection

The term “net metered” refers to the way your solar power system is connected to the electrical grid.
Cables from the solar array are connected to the electrical service panel in your home. That way, the solar electricity is first offered to the home and if the home doesn’t need the power it flows through the bi-directional meter to the electrical grid.
Bi-directional electrical meters measure flows of electricity to and from the grid and your Hydro company reconciles these flows monthly. Credits are carried forward for 12 months when they are reset to zero. You pay monthly bill based on your usage minus credits for electricity generated by your solar array. Obviously, it doesn’t pay to produce more than you use over a 12 month period as the excess is gifted to your utility.
Because the “smart” meter is replaced by a bi-directional meter in Ontario, your billing is based on tiered rates instead of time of use rates. One great advantage is that you no longer need to worry about “peak” rates-running a  dishwasher or washing machine at noon on a workday costs no more that week-ends or nighttime. And because the electricity you generate will reduce your overall consumption, most of your billings will be at tier 1 rates which are lower than tier 2. Ideally, the only charges would be minimums to remain connected to the grid.

Energy Storage

Energy Storage is a hot topic nowadays. In Europe and some USA States, where homeowners are charged time-of-use rates, it makes sense to invest in a battery to store solar electricity for  use at times when the rate charged per kilowatt hour is highest.

In Ontario, once the grid connection is changed to net-metered, the smart meter is removed and the customer is charged a flat rate so the rate charged  is no longer affected by time of use.

Ontario customers at this point in time do not need a battery for energy storage as a net-metered connection allows consumers to use the grid as their battery.

Back-Up power is an entirely different issue. I will discuss battery back-up in my next post.

My new solar blog

I plan to provide useful information for those people who are considering installing rooftop solar  panels on their homes, cottages, barns, sheds and the like. Of course there is more to a solar power system than just solar panels. A proper system balances the power coming from the panels with the capabilities of the power  inverter which has to be appropriate for the job.

Other considerations are the appearance-many plans are aborted because one of the partners dislikes the look of solar panels.
Shading by trees and buildings reduce power production but correct choice of equipment can minimize losses.

Interest in power storage in batteries is growing due to press frenzy about the Tesla Powerwall. There are articles almost every day on advancements made or anticipated.
Same goes for solar panel technology where incremental improvements are being made to silicone based modules, while promising new technologies like perovskite are catching up rapidly.

Then we have new technologies which are interesting but often not yet commercially available. And prices keep falling.

So..there is no end to the list of possible topics.