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.

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