1. What is solar energy?
Solar energy takes advantage of the sun’s rays to generate heat or electricity. It is a renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent manner over long periods of time. A solar thermal system produces heat, and a solar photovoltaic (PV) system is often used to produce electricity.
2. Why use solar energy?
A solar system can provide a return on a financial investment while reducing your environmental footprint. A solar system provides a welcome buffer from utility rate increases and shifting electricity prices. The Sun is a renewable resource and solar modules are very durable. They are capable of supplying reliable electricity for years after the initial financial investment has been recouped.
3. How does a residential solar PV system work?
A grid-tied solar PV system is designed to interface safely and reliably with the utility grid. Any excess solar production is exported to the grid during the day. At night or during periods of insufficient solar production, the utility grid will seamlessly meet your needs for electricity.
4. Is my home a good site for solar?
An ideal site for solar:
Faces true south or close to true south.
Has 100% solar access year round. No shading from trees or buildings to the south.
Allows a solar array to tilt up to an angle equal to your latitude.
Meets several other conditions which may or may not be crucial, such as proximity to a grid connection point, access for installation and maintenance, proximity to sources of dust and soot, roof loading concerns, wiring distances, conformance with local regulations and others are some conditions which may not be crucial. Many sites are not 100% ideal and yet a solar system can still be a worthwhile investment.
5. Can I put in a grid-tied solar system larger than my usage?
Alberta’s Mirco-generation Act was designed to allow installations up to the size of the owner’s annual consumption. In other words, net solar production at the end of a year should not exceed usage. It is common for solar systems to produce more than consumption in the summer months and then less than their consumption during the winter months. Any excess exported to the utility grid will be recorded as a credit.
6. How much space do I need for a system?
In bright sunlight, a square foot of a conventional photovoltaic module will yield 12 watts of power. That’s a helpful rule of thumb for calculating a rough estimate of how much area you might need.
7. How long will my system last?
Typically, the solar modules will last 30 to 40 or more years when installed properly and checked periodically. The only other major part of a grid-tied system is the inverter which will typically last 10-15 years before replacement.
8. With a solar PV system will I have power if the electricity grid goes down?
No, if the utility grid goes down your solar system will also shut down until the grid is once again available. This is to comply with safety regulations. If power back-up is a concern you should consider a special synchronous inverter with an appropriately sized battery bank.
9. Is the price of going solar going to drop more?
The price of solar modules has been driven down to the point that there are a significant number of module manufacturers that have gone out of business as the low price of modules is not sustainable. Regarding module pricing we may be bottoming out for a while. The long term prognosis is that, because of economies of scale, prices will continue to drop but probably at a slower rate than we have seen in the last few years. The balance of system costs, such as marketing, system design, labour, permitting, often referred to as “soft costs” will likely trend downward as governments continue to encourage solar development and installers increase installation efficiency. Solar system soft costs in the well-developed German solar market are about one half the size of the soft-costs of North American installations.
10. Is Alberta a good place for solar energy?
Alberta has an abundance of solar energy that is free and waiting to be used. Germany has been of the forefront of global solar development. The map below shows that Alberta has a significantly greater solar resource than Germany
11. How many solar systems are there in Alberta?
The number of Alberta solar systems is growing rapidly. The last several years have seen annual growth rates of 100%. The Solar Society of Alberta provides an updated “odometer” of the number of grid-tied systems and their annual environmental impact at http://www.solaralberta.ca.
12. Do I have to clean my solar modules?
Modules can require a small amount of maintenance. They can get covered in dirt, dust, bird droppings or snow. Usually, rain will do most of the cleaning for you. Rare occasions where regular cleaning is required may happen in the proximity of certain trees, spraying operations or soot. Completely covering even one cell of a solar module can potentially effect the performance of the entire array until the cell is un-shaded. It is worthwhile to visually inspect your solar array and periodically check its performance.
13. What are the effects of snow on panels?
A layer of snow can reduce your solar array output to zero. Although clearing accumulated snow can help you squeeze a few more kiloWatt-hours (kWh) from your solar PV system, the months with snow are also the lowest production months. The decision to manually clear snow will vary from system to system and owner to owner. Clearing the snow by getting on the roof can be a risky business and is usually not recommended.
Please check out the NAIT/City of Edmonton Reference Array System on the SESA website for more detail and data on the effect of snow.
14. What about hail damage?
Solar panels are made with a tempered glass that gets tested and rated for 1" hail at 88kph. The fact that most modules are set at an angle reduces the likelihood of a direct perpendicular hit.
15. What does a system cost?
Solar PV systems have drastically dropped in price over the last 20 years. Solar PV systems today can be installed for as low as $2.50 an installed Watt. With a system warranty of 25 years, buying a solar system today is comparable to locking in at today's electricity prices for the next 25 years.
16. Can I sell energy back to the grid?
Yes, as of January 1, 2009, Alberta established that the energy retailer must buy back exported power at a rate equivalent to the customer’s retail rate. If you buy for 8 cents per kilowatt hour you will be credited at 8 cents per kilowatt hour. This is called Net Billing and requires a Solar PV Utility Interactive system to feed back to the grid. There are ongoing discussions in Alberta about improving the price paid for solar electricity.
17. If I produce excess electricity, will my utilities send me a cheque?
The utilities will give you a credit on your bill. Some retails will pay you extra for your solar produced. These companies include: Spark Your Power & Landmark Solar.
18. Are there government incentives available?
Alberta is the only province or state in North America with no specific incentive programs for solar energy. Ontario and Saskatchewan are the Canadian provinces with the most programs and grants available. Alberta has seen some small short-term pilot projects that are now complete. There are also a few local municipal solar programs.
There is a Federal 50% accelerated Capital Cost Allowance in Canada. Solar PV equipment used for a business is included in this incentive and further information can be found at http://oee.nrcan. gc.ca/corporate/1513.
19. Do I need special insurance requirements?
Standard homeowner’s insurance policies usually suffice to meet electric utility requirements. Electric utilities usually require that homeowners who take advantage of net metering sign an interconnection agreement.
20. What is the expected return on investment for a residential or commercial solar system?
Due to the high number of site-specific factors that play a role in determining the ROI of each individual project the ROI will vary from house to house. Depending on the project and other factors it is possible to eliminate your energy bill entirely which would create an estimated ROI of 10 years depending on your power consumption. Contact your sale representative to determine the ROI specific for your house based on your electricity consumption.