January, 9 2023 Published by Golden Horseshoe Chapter - By Bill Clarke
Solar Power - is it worth it?
From the Volume 14, Winter 2023 issue of the CCI GHC Condo News Magazine
The summer of 2022 was a scorcher, with thousands of people dying all over the world. But if you had solar power would life be easier for you. Condominiums are now being built to accommodate solar power. (Bronte West Condominums in Milton and Terra Condos in Guelph, (Both under construction) and Beech House Condos in the Upper Beaches. As a Condominium Board, you are always looking at ways to save money and all research indicates that solar power is the way to go. But at what cost? This article is going to look at the pros and cons of Solar energy plus look at a number of questions that were asked of a local solar energy supplier.
What is Solar Power for the Home?
Homeowners who install solar power systems can receive numerous benefits: lower electric bills, lower carbon footprints, and potentially higher home values. But these benefits typically come with significant installation and maintenance costs and the magnitude of the gains can vary from one house to another.
The Pros and Cons
1) Cost - The upfront cost will vary from house to house, by company, province and whether there is a payback grant system in place. Each homeowner will have to decide if the number of years payback is too long to make switching a viable option.
2) Solar energy is an intermittent energy source - There are three reasons why solar energy is considered an intermittent energy source: the sun doesn’t shine at night so no power is generated; clouds, snow and foliage can cover the panels and battery storage. Although improving quickly, storage may not be a problem in the near future.
3) Aesthics - This is very subjective. Many people say that the panels are ugly and take away the look of their roofs. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder or your bank account.
4) Solar panels have some environmental impact - Some solar panels contain harmful pollutants like sulfur hexafluoride, which is more potent than carbon dioxide. (But the impact of solar panels is minimal compared to the amount of damage associated with the mining and burning of fossil fuels.)
5) Solar panels require space - Depending on how many panels are needed and where they have to be located, space could be a problem. Roofs are good but aesthics could be a problem.
6) Efficiency Ratings - According to a study by the Qualitative Reasoning Group of Northwestern University, solar panels installed on roofs of houses only convert 14% of available solar energy into power. According to the laws of thermodynamics, solar panels can never achieve 100% efficiency… Efficient affordable battery storage can improve solar power in the future.
7) You can’t take solar with you - To take the panels with you when you move could and can be very expensive. But if you do move, you are likely to see the value of your panels reflected in a higher sale price. However, if there is a solar lease or a power of purchase agreement, the new home owner will have to take this over, and that could be a hassle.
1) Carbon Reduction - Solar panels produce 5-10X less carbon emissions per unit of energy to coal or natural gas. We as a society have to combat climate change and mitigate the effects. Installing solar panels is just one way we can be better in this area.
2) Economics - If you are building a new home, the costs can be built right into your mortgage and is an easy option and installed during the construction stage for a highly cost-effective solution.
OR, if you are building a new home and don’t want to install the panels right away, you can make it solar ready by simply running an empty conduit from the electrical room (panel) to the attic.
OR, if you want to do it now, the cost can run between $3500 to $16,000 or more depending on what you want.
BUT, all these costs can be offset by doing some research on grants and/ or tax incentives depending on where you live. Alberta has at least 4 programs that can help the homeowner.
While NWT, Saskatchewan, BC also have programs, Ontario has a Feed-In-Tarriff (F.I.T.).
The two things to consider about putting in a solar energy system is pay-back. These systems can last up to 35 years and if you pay it off in 15 years, that’s ten years of free energy. Secondly, if your system over-produces solar energy, you can store it and sell it back to the local electrical company. (Again, do your research.)
3) Jobs - Out of all the energy systems in service, hydro, wind, solidbiomass, biogas, geothermal, and concentrated solar power, solar energy employs the greatest number of people. For example, in the U.S., the coal industry currently employs 160,119 people while the solar industry currently employs 373,807 people. (Based on 2017 stats).
4) Aesthic - Although listed earlier as a disadvantage, with new technology continuing to advance, it is only fair to state that that things will improve in this area also.
5) Energy Sovereignty - This is a hidden pro. Owning your own energy so that you are not relying on a third-party entity and providing for yourself a clean sustainable source of energy can be a very empowering feeling.
According to the laws of thermodynamics, solar panels can never achieve 100% efficiency.
6) Property Value - There are many factors to consider when selling and evaluating your home. But the long-term warranty and secured economics of solar panels will certainly help. The intrinsic value of your initial capital investment can be calculated and added to your home’s value. However, as mentioned earlier, you probably cannot take the solar energy with you when you move (It will be expensive).
7) Decentralization - By decentralizing your power, or at least a portion of it, will reduce overall demand on the energy distribution infrastructure since energy does not to be distributed dozens or even hundreds of kilometers. By generating your own solar energy, you no longer need to import as much, and your transmission and distribution costs will be reduced as well as your energy charges.
As part of your research into solar power, you should put together a series of questions that need to be asked of any solar contractors. The following are questions I asked the VCT Group, a solar power provider:
1) Are there any special grants from the province for switching to solar power? Note: This company is in Ontario, other provinces will vary.
Currently, there are no grants available. The Federal Tax Provision for Clean Energy Equipment can be used to fully expense the solar system. A CCA rate of 100% is still available until 2024 but begins to diminish at the end of 2023.
2) How do you decide how much energy/solar panels you need? E.g., apartment buildings vs homes.
We look at industry estimates for energy use and a year’s worth of electricity billing to determine the amount of power (how many kilowatts it needs to produce) that is required by the facility. Using that information, we are able to match the system.
3) How is cost determined and payback?
Cost is determined on the market price of the equipment installed, installation and labour. The payback of the system is calculated by determining the cost savings realized through self-generating credits to be used against procuring power from the grid when the sun isn’t shining.
4) Where is excess energy stored and what about winter usage?
Excess Stored Energy - This system would be net-metered which means it is always connected to the electrical grid and can send power to and from the grid. Surplus power created by the system, that is not first used by the facility is sent to the grid to be used elsewhere and credit given to the facility. Essentially, rolling the meter backwards.
Winter usage - Although power is produced during the winter, it is diminished due to snow covering, cloudier weather and less sunnier days, but all that is included in the original modeling of the proposal. Even though the panels will get covered by snow, reducing the output, the panels do melt the snow, so power does continue to be generated.
5) What is the process to install solar panels?
Phase 1 - Preparation
- Gather energy bills from past year to several years to determine total building energy requirement.
- Create a proposal for management team, which includes a draft of a solar design, a quote for the system as well as financials pertaining to your system’s return on investment.
Phase 2 - Plans, Drawings and Design
- Engineers create a drawing to spec of the facility.
- Connection impact assessment with LDC (local energy distributor) is carried out to ensure that the grid has capacity.
- Once approved, enter official agreement with LDC (called a CCA - Connection Cost Agreement).
Phase 3 - Procurement and Logistics
- Company will procure necessary panels, racking system and inverters and ship to location.
- This process tends to be a 2-3 month wait.
Phase 4- Construction
- Building permits initiated.
- Crane is set-up and construction begins once all panels and material are on the roof.
- Electrical safety authority completes multiple checks throughout construction process.
- Skilled technicians carry out install.
- Once fully installed, a final check is done by LDC, electrical engineer and structural engineer.
Phase 5- Turn system on
- System is turned on
- Operations and maintenance, plus data analysis is ongoing to ensure system is running at peak efficiency
- Warranty on maintenance and labour come into effect ( length will depend on company chosen)
- Not only is solar power good for the environment, but you can earn money selling back excess power to the grid.
- While costs have come down over the years, installation and maintenance of solar panels can be quite expensive.
- Solar panels are best suited for facilities that receive ample sun exposure throughout the year.
- Solar power is not 100% efficient.
- Before committing to solar power, be sure to understand both the social and economic factors.
IN OTHERWARDS, DUE YOUR RESEARCH
I would like to thank the various publications and authors who I used in doing the research for this article: K. Ruby of Renewable Energy Ltd.; Solar Review- Andrew Sandy (Home Solar Journalist); Investopelic- The cost of Solar Panels: Is It Worth It?; Aerin Venema and Ian Spence of VCT Group; Tom Rhodes- 10 Biggest Disadvantages of Solar Energy.
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