Go solar! How does solar power work?

Posted by Steve Harmer on Monday, March 21st, 2016 at 9:56am.

Kamloops Solar Home

If you’re eager to lower your carbon footprint and also save on energy bills, equipping your home for solar power is a great option.

There are several things to consider in the quest to go green:

How does solar power work?

Solar power is generated by thin silicon panels, divided into photovoltaic cells, which act as semiconductors. When sunlight hits the cells, it excites the electrons and produces a direct electrical current.  To generate power for your home, the panels are either installed on your rooftop or angle mounted on your property. Most urban users favour a rooftop set-up so they won’t have to sacrifice valuable backyard real estate, but it’s not unusual to see a freestanding panel in rural areas where properties are generally larger.

Will solar work for your home?

Most solar power companies offer a free home assessment to determine if you’re a viable candidate. You need to have a south-slanting roof to properly capitalize on the sun’s energy. A slightly east- or west-facing roof can work, but there has to be a certain level of southern exposure. A roof angled at 30-degrees is the sweet spot for solar power—the perfect middle ground for the sun’s position in both winter and summer. If you have a flat roof, you can still take advantage of solar power but it will require a more complicated mounting system to set the panels on an angle.

Kamloops salar home installationThe assessor will take measurements of your roof to ensure it’s large enough to accommodate a solar power system. To give you an idea of how your home measures up: Each panel is approximately 3 feet by 6 feet and the average house has 20 to 50 panels installed.

The majority of solar users are still hooked into the power grid. Their panels generate most of their energy, but the electricity produced by their local hydro company supplements it, so when the sun goes down, they’re not left cooking over flames and reading by candlelight.

If you live or cottage in a remote location and plan to rely on solar for all or most of your power, converting is a little more complicated. The system has to be wired to feed into battery banks that will store a surplus of energy, which adds another cost and setup fee.


How is solar installed?

Solar power companies generally install the panels they sell. They employ licensed electrical contractors who are specially trained in rooftop safety. The process takes about five days: one day to rack and mount the system, three days to do the wiring and one day to connect to the grid. (But this can vary according to company.)

If you’re thinking of solar power and will need to repair your roof within the next five years or so, you’re better off pulling the trigger before you have the panels installed. Every time you fix your roof you’ll incur the cost of labour ($500 to $1000) to remove the solar panels and re-attach them.

Although we do live in the age of DIY, and it’s possible to buy solar panels direct from the manufacturer, it’s not wise to attempt an installation yourself. There are too many technical factors to consider, though you could watch the experts in action in case you ever need to make adjustments or re-attach your panels after a roof repair. Mark Pinsent from InPhase Power, a Toronto-based company, says his clients sometimes shadow him on an install to learn the ropes. There is usually a 3-year warranty on labour and 25 years on the panels themselves.

Is your kamloops home solar readyAlthough the installation itself doesn’t take a lot of time, there is lengthy waiting process before you can get started on a solar power system. You need to get building permits, have an electrical inspection and apply to the power company for permission to use their system. The paperwork can take up to 9 months to push through. The good news is that most solar companies will handle all the legwork.  You may be in for a long wait, but at least you won’t be pulling your hair out dealing with red tape!

How much does solar power cost?

Finally, we come to the million-dollar question—or in this case, the $35,000 dollar question. The cost of installing solar power on a mid-sized home is between $30,000 to $40,000 dollars, which covers about 30 panels. If you’re connecting off the grid, expect a higher price tag to cover the cost of extra wiring and materials.

Those 30 panels will produce about 8350 kW hours of energy a year or 22 kW hours a day. It doesn’t quite cover the average household consumption of 30 kW per day, but it will certainly make a big dent in what you use. With a decent-sized solar power system, users can knock thousands of dollars a year off their energy bills. Over a 25-year period, the system can more than pay for itself in energy savings.

How can I offset my costs?

There are lots of different programs available for solar power users across Canada, offered by provincial and municipal governments, along with hydro companies. The most common incentive is the net metering program, which tracks energy usage and offers incentives to solar power users who produce more energy than they consume. Some power companies offer credits on future energy bills and others actually cut users a cheque for producing more energy than they need. Contact your local hydro company to find out if net metering is available in your area.

Residents of Ontario can take advantage of a government sponsored Feed-In-Tariff program that pays customers 54 cents for every kW hour they produce. Because of this program, solar power has become a popular investment strategy, with users making at least a 4 percent return over 20 years.

Going green is a great cause, but with solar energy offering huge savings and a potential profit, consumers are increasingly swayed by the financial benefits.

Read this article from CBC about the issues with panels during a fire

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