In the article BC Hydro Rate Increases – BC Families Stretched to the Breaking Point media! News Magazine looked in part at the increasing costs of electricity and how many families were struggling to cope with their mounting bills; with costs expected to increase as much as 35 per cent putting British Columbia on par with their already expensive provincial counterparts, now may be the time for homeowners to look towards installing solar panels.
In light of the upcoming hydro rate increases, the possibility of utilizing solar power is something my wife and I are currently contemplating. After a long search we found a great view lot in Vancouver’s Fraser Valley and we are putting all of our wants and wishes down for the design of our dream home. We agree that going green is a goal – especially where it improves resale value or will save us money now or into the future. To that end, we are looking at having solar panels installed for solar hot water (thermal) and solar photovoltaic (electrical) usage, though we found ourselves with some lingering questions like would the price make sense and would it work in Vancouver’s often gloomy weather? What’s involved in the installation and what about maintenance? What kind of savings could we expect?
To learn more about residential solar installations I sent some questions to Emily Kendy, the Business Development Manager for Terratek Energy Solutions Inc., and this is what she had to say:
Are solar panels and kits affordable for the average family? What kind of costs and maintenance are associated?
With solar domestic hot water you will need one collector (rooftop panel) per every three people in the household. Rough costs for one collector start at about $6,800 – $7,000 all installed; two panels start around the $8,800 range. Solar hot water collectors are roughly 4′ x 8′.
The cost of solar PV depends on how much energy you want to offset and if you want battery back-up. If you want battery back-up the cost increases, but usually we don’t provide battery back-ups to urban sites – mostly rural – as it provides the ability to generate electricity when the power goes out.
To determine the size of the system required, you need to determine how much energy you want to offset. To do this, you would simply add up the kilowatt hours on your utility bills to get the average kWhs generated a year. As one kilowatt of solar electric offsets 1050 kWhs a year in the lower mainland, 1100 on Vancouver Island and around 1200 in the Okanagan, you can determine what size system you’ll need. For example, a three kilowatt installation (which is the average installation we do) for a residential home that generates 10,000 kWhs a year, costs between $11,000-$14000 all installed. This size system will produce 3150 kWhs, or offset around 30% of the household electricity needs. Any excess electricity generated can then be fed back to the grid through the BC Net Metering Program, and you’ll receive credit to your account. Each solar module (panel) is comprised of 250 watts, with four modules making up one kilowatt. Modules are roughly 3.5′ x 5.5′ each.
Solar hot water systems will last 25 plus years. Glycol swapping once every two to three years will be necessary and, depending on the manufacturer, the pump may need to be changed over the life of the system. These services can be provided by a contractor. Homeowner responsibility is minimal as the controller operates the system.
Solar photovoltaic modules have a 25 year limited warranty. Inverter warranties range from 10-25 years, and in most cases extended warranties are also available. Modules will degrade over time, and typically output can be expected to diminish no more than 1% per year. Homeowner responsibility is minimal. At most the modules may require a wash, on a cloudy day so that the water does not shock the collectors, during heavy pollen or dusty seasons. This is up to the discretion of the homeowner, if the collectors look like they could use a clean. Usually this won’t be required more than once a year, if that.
With BC Hydro costs about to increase – how comparable are the costs between the two short-term and long?
Right now, solar is 10 to 15 per cent higher than hydro’s top-tier rate of 10.5 cents per kWh. A small residential solar grid-tie system can be installed at 12.5 cents a kWh, however, with the reality of even a small hydro increase this gap narrows to put solar closer or on par to utility rates.
With a renewable energy system you are locking into a fixed rate for 30+ years, or the life span of the system. This means that while you’re essentially paying for your electricity upfront, instead of every month, you will never pay less for electricity in BC than you do today. And as electricity rates are already approved to increase 35% over the next three years when those rates increase, the payback on solar electric systems shrinks.
It’s important to look at non-monetary factors to understand the real value and return on investment with solar and other renewable energy systems. Such as freedom from energy price volatility, zero emissions, increased value and peace of mind. Solar will help protect against rising energy costs with its reliance on free renewable energy. Also consider that an owner can recoup the capital investment of a solar hot water system at resale by emphasizing reduced energy costs and sustainability as a selling feature.
Is solar technology increasing and is it helping to bring down costs?
While the cost of solar hot water hasn’t changed much over the last five years (not everyone uses a lot of hot water but everyone uses electricity), the price of solar PV has decreased significantly over this time, from $12 a watt, to $4.
What’s needed for the average home owner to go solar?
It’s important to have south-facing roof space with minimal shading, and room next to your hot water tank for a solar storage tank (for solar hot water). Solar PV is more flexible in terms of mounts for modules. If roof space isn’t viable, there are other options including ground or pole mounts.
What about the weather? What role does it play?
A common misconception is that BC is not feasible for solar technologies because of the weather. Our province actually gets quite a lot of sunshine, with most people in BC enjoying an average of 2,000 hours of sunshine per year, according to the Environment Canada Climate Weather Office. In Vancouver the average sunshine hours per year is 1928. If you consider this in terms of 10 hours of daylight per day, it equates to almost five and a half months of sunshine, which is plenty for solar heating to be effective. While we may not receive as much sunshine as California, we do have more than one of the leading countries in solar hot water installations. Germany receives only 1625 sunshine hours a year in Berlin, with the highest sunshine hours of 1740, received in Southern Germany’s Freiburg, based on currentresults.com.
But systems don’t just need sun, solar collectors and modules can absorb ambient light on cloudy days to produce hot water and electricity.
Is the BC Provincial or Federal government offering any rebates or incentives?
Right now no – unless you live in Colwood, where there are incentives for residents through their Solar Colwood program. (Check with your municipal and provincial government for programs in your area. Let us know what you find.)
Can BC home users sell excess power?
Yes, with Solar PV, you can sell back to the grid through the Net Metering Program. (Check with your provincial government for programs in your province.)
To learn more about Terratek, solar panels and related information please visit their website at www.terratek.ca
Let us know your experience with solar panels for home or business use by leaving a comment below or by using the contact link above.