Household Solar Panels: Helpful Information

We are solar curious, but every time we try to determine if having a solar roof is a good option we are overwhelmed with the number of variables that go into the equation. The orientation of the roof, the number of hours of sunlight on the roof, the slope of the roof, any shading of the sun, the size of the roof, the newness of the shingles, the number of kWh we consume, the types of solar panels, the choices of companies providing the service, the length of time the panels will pay back, the insurance of the panels, the number of years we will live in our homes, the amount of rebate available to us, are some of the many things to consider. The usual end result is to forget about it. But we are pleased to announce, it does not have to be that complicated.

Three Pieces of Good News about Solar Panels

  1. What we did find out is you can get a lot of these questions easily answered by finding one reputable company, giving them your address and a photo of your electrical panel, and they have the ability to easily determine a lot of these factors for you, without needing to come to your house. There are stats and apps and images available to them about your house, (a bit big brother-ish) and we are told it is simple for the solar companies to produce a lot of information for you.

2. The second piece of good news is that even though one cannot store surplus energy from solar panels on summer days, one can receive a credit during the approximately 8 months that one is a net exporter and those can more than cover the additional administrative fees and service charges.

3. The third piece of good news is the Federal Government is offering $5000 towards solar panels as an energy efficient retrofit, and there are also city and provincial rebates available to most people that will offset the cost even more.

Canada Greener Homes Grant

Homeowners can receive up to $5,000 to make energy efficient retrofits to their homes for measures such as new windows, insulation, battery energy storage systems and installing solar panels. Solar power systems can receive a rebate of $1.00/W up to $5,000. Battery installations such as Tesla Powerwall can receive up to $1,000.

Edmonton Solar Rebate

The City of Edmonton recently announced a rebate for residential solar installations for $0.40/W up to $4,000. This rebate is in addition to the provincially-funded residential and commercial solar program.

Questions and Answers for Experts and Solar Panel Owners:

We also gave a list of questions to Ben at SKY FIRE solar company and the same questions to two owners of homes with solar panels and here is what they had to share. Thank you to Ben, Kevin and Pat for taking the time to offer your knowledge and experience with us.

1. What kind of solar panels did you use?

Ben from Sky Fire:  Solar modules are a commodity and their production and availability are subject to market forces (ie, supply/demand). Over the years SkyFire Energy has installed the following brands of modules: REC, Canadian Solar, LG, Hanwha, Longi, Silfab, and Trina, to name a few. SkyFire Energy is currently installing modules with both 60 and 72 cell arrangement, Mono Perc crystalline structure and half cell technology. The majority of the modules come with the industry standard 12 year product warranty and 25 year performance warranty. The amount of solar modules per household is limited by the annual electrical usage for the property.

Kevin: I had 2 separate projects.  The first one was in 2016 with 14 x 256 W panels 

Pat:   Trina Solar  12x 365 W panels

2. What company did you use and how did you choose the solar panels you have?

Kevin:   I used “SkyFire” because I had seen their name on a few projects.  I requested quotes from 2 other companies and the prices were relatively similar.  SkyFire was very responsive to my questions and in my opinion the most professional.

Pat: “Generate Energy” helped with our decision and we chose their company to install our panels.

3. What percent of your household electricity cost do your solar panels cover?

Ben at SKY FIRE: The Microgeneration regulation allows for a solar PV system to cover part or all of a property’s annual electrical usage. The utility takes the last 12 months of electrical usage as the baseline. Meeting that value is referred to as Netzero electric. SkyFire Energy will always strive to design a Netzero system which is subject to roof space limitations and budget constraints.

Kevin:  Solar panels cover all of the electricity consumption while the sun is shining.  I am a net exporter.  The problem is that when the sun is NOT shining I have to purchase power from my provider.  Also, there are several administration charges that are a part of everyone’s electricity costs (solar or no solar) which must be paid as long as you are connected to a utility company so the full cost of electricity is never covered.  I do receive a credit during the approximately 8 months that I am a net exporter and those more than cover the additional fees and service charges.

As for my electricity provider, I use Alberta Cooperative Energy (ACE).  They were recommended by the installers and they have been fantastic to work with.  They took care of all of the necessary applications and have special rates for microgenerators.  They pay a very high rate for any electricity exported but also charge that same rate when you require electricity whenever the sun is not shining.  They have an option to switch back to a standard rate once you are consuming more than you are exporting.  This is usually mid-November to mid-February.  More on that below.  ACE also has rates on natural gas so they can manage both utilities.

Pat:  A good portion of our electricity costs are covered from solar panels from March to October.  Winter months and cloudy days affect the sunlight we get from them.

4. Are you able to bank any energy you do not need to use later or is surplus kept by the energy company?

Ben at SKY FIRE: A grid-tied delivers energy to the home directly from the solar modules if/when solar energy is available (ie, self-consumption). The inverter will switch back to grid power (ie, import electricity) in case there is insufficient solar energy being produced. As a micro-generator, you will automatically receive a micro-generation credit on your monthly bill for excess energy supplied to the grid. The accumulation of these credits will be used against that month’s bill.

Kevin:  I do not have a storage system.  I looked into a Tesla PowerWall but the cost was significant not only for the battery system but also for the automated switching and partition system to be able to use the stored power.  A power storage system would be invaluable of course in an off-the-grid situation.

Pat: We do not have a unit/bank to store the extra energy we make.  They are still quite costly to purchase.  Surplus energy goes to ACE and we in turn get extra money off our monthly utility bills.

 5. Are solar panels getting more affordable?

Ben at SKY FIRE: Yes they are. We have seen about a 40% reduction in module price in the last six years. There has been a recent increase in module price though due to shipping costs and inflation. The cheapest time to get solar is today. 

Kevin:  In my case they were less expensive in 2020 than 2016 and I was able to take advantage of a $1700 City of Edmonton Grant.

2016 -3.71 KW installation at a cost of $15,000. The estimated output is 4500 kWh/year.

2020 – 4.36 KW installation at a cost of $11,500.00 (price included the $1700. grant).  The estimated output is 4250 kWh/year.

The difference in the estimated outputs on the 2 systems is based on the modelling done by SkyFire to determine shading effects from trees or in my case, a dormer on the roof.

Pat: When we bought our solar panels in 2019, the Alberta Government at the time helped with their rebate program.  We live in Sherwood Park and although Edmonton have a rebate program, Sherwood Park does not.

6. How many years will it take for your solar panels to pay for themselves?

Ben at SKY FIRE: The system payback is not a straightforward calculation as there are a number of factors beyond our control that affect that value. Currently, system paybacks range around 7 years but with multiple rebate programs available, that number can be closer to 5 years. Generally speaking, the lower the energy rate, the higher the payback. Similarly, the higher the energy rate, the lower the payback. SkyFire Energy takes a more conservative approach and will only provide a 1st year return given the number of unknowns. 

Kevin:  The calculated annual rate of return when I purchased them was 1.8%.  I guess that was better than a GIC at the low interest rates we have seen but I did not purchase them to achieve a return on investment.  I wanted to reduce my energy consumption and return energy to the grid.  With the large rise we have seen in energy prices I am getting a better return now and I am still achieving my main goal to put my roof to work.

Pat: I believe it will be 8-10 years before our panels will be paid off.

 7. Do you need a new roof before installing panels?

Ben at SKY FIRE: If the roof shingles have less than 5 years of life remaining, SkyFire Energy advises customers to re-shingle their roof prior to getting a solar PV array installed. This will save homeowners thousands of dollars down the road. 

Kevin: I had a new roof for both projects but only because one project was new construction and in the case of the other one it needed a new roof.  

Pat: They can be installed on the roof.  No need to re-shingle.  We asked about re-shingling our roof, as we had our roof done in 2013.  We were told Generate will come in, lift the panels so the Roofers can re-shingle, then Generate will hook the panels up again.

8. Are there solar panels that act as roofing and panels all in one?

Kevin: There are a few options out there but when I looked into it in 2015 only Dow had them available and only in their test market in the NE states.   There are several articles on the web for more information.

9. What information can you get about your solar energy creation?

Ben at SKY FIRE: Every system SkyFire Energy installs comes with free access to a monitoring portal. The portal will show the energy production over the liftetime of the system. There are consumption meters available that will monitor the self-consumption portion of the solar energy produced. System payback can be calculated using the self-consumption and microgeneration credit data.

Kevin: My installer set me up with a monitoring app from Energy Monitoring and Analysis Systems which works very well in tracking both installations with real time production as well as daily, monthly and yearly production data.

I also recently purchased the Eagle-200 system from Rainforest Automation and applied to Epcor to have it wirelessly connect with my meter to monitor both production and consumption.   Both this and the above app are important to be able to monitor the time period when you need to switch from a microgenerator rate to a lower rate for the middle of winter.

10. How well do panels work in winter in Edmonton?

Ben at SKY FIRE: Module efficiency is a function of ambient temperature so the solar modules will produce slightly more in the winter/spring. That being said, given our geographic location, systems will underperform in the winter months due to the low sun angle (and sunpeak hours). The vast majority of the energy harvest occurs between March and October.

Kevin: Short days are our biggest disadvantage but the summers make up for it.  As long as it is sunny, and they are not snow covered, then we are producing electricity.  I generally am not a net exporter for part of November and February and all of December and January.   Snow will slide off the panels or quickly melt even on the coldest of days as long as the sun is shining.  It is also important to consider the possibility of snow sliding when designing the system or attempting to park under the panels.

Pat: Sunny days are best for solar production.  In winter and after a heavy snow fall, we will get on the roof to remove the snow.

11. How do you choose the solar panels you use at Sky Fire?
Ben at SKY FIRE: When procuring modules, SkyFire accounts for performance, reliability, cost, and warranty. SkyFire Energy is a certified installer and all system components must meet the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) requirements for electrical safety or an equivalent certification that meets applicable Canadian standards. 

Pros and Cons of Solar Panels on your Home

Video: Solar Power System for Home: Ultimate Beginners Guide

We found this good YouTube video simplifying how solar panels are built, how they work, how many an average home needs, and what determines the prices of solar panels in Canada. It was very enjoyable to watch so here is the link:

We hope you have learned more about solar panels. We have.

Veg Gardening, Red Flower Ideas and Old Growth Forests on the Bruce Trail

Veg Gardening – Season 3

At Friends4Trees4Life, we aim for a positive outlook and positive action on the climate crisis, in whatever ways are most meaningful and impactful, as determined by each individual.

Admittedly, some days are harder than others to keep a positive mindset as we enter day 883 and grow impatient to put this (seemingly neverending) COVID-19 pandemic behind us. That said, vegetable gardening season is back to our shared delight as newbie pandemic gardeners. Gardening is one of the few new positive experiences that we credit directly to the pandemic – were it not for the lockdowns prompting a search and openness to exploring new, safe activities to pursue – we both might have continued to miss out on the simple pleasures and joys of growing our own food that we now eagerly look forward to experiencing each year. So, here we are about to embark on the adventures of Veg Gardening Season 3!

We highlight a few tips from what we have learned in Seasons 1 and 2, through the generosity of more seasoned gardeners as well as our own trial and error, in hopes they might spark the joy of harvesting with some of our Readers who have yet to put trowel to earth.

The rewards of early harvests are highly satisfying and motivating we have found. This statement on seed packets is true and wondrous – “Plant as soon as the ground is workable.”  And, on the advice of Audrey, Catherine has now developed a taste for “quick win” radishes, keenly awaiting her first early harvest within the next few weeks!! This season, Audrey has also passed along these recipes for the “radiant radish”—helpful for a bumper crop – including one for zero waste radish leaf pesto – enjoy 😊!  

(Ricardo Cuisine –

In Toronto, Catherine began direct seed planting on May 19th. Within just one week she is joyfully witnessing new life emerge as her “crops” of radishes, beets, mixed lettuces, spinach and leeks begin to sprout up. Container pot pole beans and Yukon gold potatoes (a first) are also showing signs of life. Most satisfying and energizing as seen in the 3 photos above! So fun to start each day with “daily inspection” to see what else has emerged.

If your balcony, deck or yard space and budget permit, Catherine cannot say enough about her positive growing experience and the pleasures of planting seeds in a Veg Pod (or equivalent). The extra protection and warmth afforded to your seedlings translates into about a one-month head start on growing season in her experience. Gardening while standing up is a simple yet powerfully motivating pleasure in itself, especially if you have any back or joint issues to contend with. (To learn more about Veg Pod raised garden beds (not an endorsement) –

In Veg Gardening Season 3, Catherine is very proud to have germinated tomato plants from seeds for the second year. The new adventure this season, is that she found some cherry tomato and grape tomato seeds in a drawer, dating back to a wonderful 2013 trip to Paris! They evoked memories of tasting the most delicious tomatoes EVER at a local Paris farmers’ market. So, she was inspired to see if these 9-year old seeds might germinate. Miraculously they did!! This is where veg gardening can get a bit zen. How is it that tomato seeds (or any plant seed for that matter) store the ‘instructions’ for being a tomato plant, are able to lie dormant for nine years, and then “know to activate” and begin to grow when encountering the right conditions to promote life? Ah the humbling, inspiring mysteries of life.

Early seedlings – radishes, beets, lettuce, leeks. Photo by Catherine

Having successfully germinated her tomato plants from seed, step one, Catherine has applied what she learned from Season 2, putting her pots outside to acclimatize and “harden up” for a few days and nights, before planting them into their container pots and a few directly in the garden bed. Two lucky tomato plants are “allowed” into the coveted sunny east-facing front garden – interlopers in an otherwise shrub, cascading Japanese maple, rock and flower pollinator garden.

This coming week she will turn thoughts to planting in the two raised beds in the back garden.  Season 3 sees a doubling of growing possibilities, as the veg garden enterprise expands from one to now two raised beds. This will also be the first season that she puts into practice what she learned and started last year about crop rotation.

The idea is to divide your garden space into four planting beds (or sections), grouping like vegetables, based on their use of nutrients, in one bed. Intentionally, planting in a way that promotes soil health, and thus, hopefully, healthy plant growth and crop yields. Each year, each group moves to the next space. Every four years, the groups are back in their original spots.

The basic outline and plant grouping that Catherine is following is*:

Bed #1 (Leaf): uses nitrogen – lettuces and herbs

Bed #2 (Fruit): uses phosphorous – tomatoes, butternut squash

Bed #3 (Root): uses potassium – carrots, beets and leeks

Bed #4 (Legume): uses nitrogen – peas, potatoes and beans.

*Following the plant groupings identified on page 114 in “Tauton’s Complete Guide to Growing Vegetables and Herbs: Publishers of Fine Gardens and Kitchen Gardener: edited by Ruth Lively (2011: Newton, CT).

Red Flowers for Year of the Garden 2022

In our last blog we profiled 2022 as the Year of the Garden, with the colour red as the official colour. We promised to offer some ideas for red flowers and plants. Thanks to helpful tips found in the Leaside Garden Society June Newsletter, we offer these suggestions for planting RED:

Red Hanging Begonia

Fat Domino Mountain Fleece

Hollyhock – Brilliant Miniature

Fire King Crocosmia

Red Calla Lillies

Cherry Brandy Rudbeckia

Red Dahlia

Also, of note for Readers in the Toronto vicinity looking for an outdoor gardening experience, the annual Leaside Garden Society’s Garden Tour 2022 returns happily as an in-person event on June 18th (10:30 to 4:30 p.m., various locations), featuring eleven beautiful home gardens in the neighbourhood. If interested, see this article in the Leaside Life for more information on how to buy tickets –

Tree Trips

We welcome the return of gardening season, and soon, summer holiday season. The great Canadian outdoors beckons! For travellers to, and within Ontario, consider outdoor holiday plans that include hiking on the Bruce Trail.

Bruce Trail Conservancy

The Conservancy and Trail began as an idea in 1960 and became a reality in 1967, with the official opening of the Bruce Trail’s northern most terminus at Tobermory.

The Bruce Trail is Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath. Stretching 900 km from Niagara to Tobermory in southern Ontario, it provides the only continuous public access to the magnificent Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere.”

The Conservancy’s Mission and Vision resonate with Lucia and Catherine and our Friends4Trees4Life blog.

Mission:  “Preserving a ribbon of wilderness, for everyone, forever.”

Vision: “The Bruce Trail secured within a permanently protected natural corridor along the Niagara Escarpment.”

The Bruce Trail Conservancy “is both a trail association and one of Ontario’s largest land trusts, committed to caring for the Bruce Trail and to preserving land along its route. Each of the nine Bruce Trail Clubs manages a section of the Bruce Trail and is responsible for maintaining, stewarding and promoting that section.” Nine Bruce Trail Clubs  –

Visit their website for more information about hiking trails with fun names such as “Loops and Lattes” in the Hamilton area, to learn about just “Who is Bruce?” and perhaps to consider becoming a member and/or volunteer with this worthy charitable organization. (

Ontario’s Old Growth Forests

There are opportunities along the Trail and at its northern terminus, Tobermory, to see some of Ontario’s and Canada’s oldest living trees – some along the Tobermory shoreline are over 1300 years old.

Here is a Bruce Trail fact sheet on Old Growth Forests and the Bruce Trail Heritage Tree – the tenacious, cliff-dwelling ancient White Cedar – for more information (

For more information on Ontario’s old growth forests, including the fact that apparently most Ontarians live (unknowingly) within an hour’s drive to an old growth forest, here is the link to a Good Reads review on a recent book by forest ecologist Michael Henry and Peter Quinby – (GoodReads –

“Tripping the Bruce”

Finally, for your learning, viewing and relaxing pleasure, here is a link to TVO’s Immersive video documentary, “Tripping the Bruce,” with a sail along the north shore of the Bruce Peninsula that includes sightings of some ancient cliff-dwelling white cedars among its stunning imagery and coastal scenery.

Here is a one-minute videoclip preview of the three-hour sailing trip documentary –

“The stunning new documentary invites viewers onboard a sailboat for a 34-kilometre voyage along clear turquoise waters, framed by soaring limestone cliffs. Along the way, viewers will encounter some of the oldest cedar trees in Canada, white pebble beaches, the famous Grotto, the picturesque harbour town of Tobermory and some of the best-preserved shipwrecks in the world. It’s an adventure for the eyes and the spirit.”

“ ‘TRIPPING the Bruce offers an eye-popping journey filled with captivating stories of Ontario’s history,’ says John Ferri, VP of Programming and Content at TVO. ‘For anyone who is hungry for travel during this unpredictable time, this documentary inspires the thrill of exploring incredible landscapes of the Bruce Peninsula.’ ”

“…I never knew this area of Ontario was quite so beautiful and historic. It was like being in the Caribbean but with Canadian cedar trees and huge limestone cliffs,” says Mitch Azaria, Executive Producer at Good Earth Productions. “To be able to take viewers underwater to explore shipwrecks in the same smooth fashion we travel on the water was challenging and so rewarding. These wrecks are breathtaking, the water is so clear, and the wrecks are so complete. It’s very haunting to visit these nearly 200-year-old relics.”

Stream TVO Original Tripping the Bruce anytime via TVO.orgYouTube and TVO streaming services. 

Happy Gardening and Happy Trails!