Solar Power in Ontario

Solar Power in OntarioLongtime readers of this blog will remember Blackberry Ry. Ryan was a staunch defender of all things Blackberry and was even nice enough to lend me a Blackberry Playbook.

Ryan's no longer with Blackberry and is now working with the sun. I'll let him explain further in this guest blog entry he wrote.

I am solar (And so can you!) – Solar power in Ontario

I’m Ryan - that guy who used to work for BlackBerry. I work in the solar industry now.

Mike asked me to write up a guest post – with Saturday being the winter solstice (the shortest day in the year) it's probably a bad day to talk about solar... but it’s always a good day to talk about clean green energy.

There are a lot of questions about solar and a few myths… I just wanted to share my newly minted solar installation as well as answer some common questions.

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So these are solar panels. They convert radiation from the sun into DC power…the same type of power that starts your car or powers your cell phone.

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These are inverters. They take the DC power and turn it into AC power – the same type of power that comes out your wall sockets. This power is then sent into the electricity grid.

One of the most common questions I get about the system is – Do you have a hydro bill anymore? Yes, I still have a standard hydro bill. My installation went in under the Ontario Power Authority’s microFIT program… FIT meaning Feed-In-Tariff. Under this program, my home is essentially a very small power plant. I produce and sell electricity to my Local Electric Company at a fixed rate for 20 years. I have 2 electric meters on the side of my house – one for the solar generation and one for the power my home uses.

There are 2 other ways to put solar on your home – net metering and off-grid.

Off grid as some would know is where you are disconnected completely from the utility and use a system of batteries, solar panels, various controllers and even a propane generator for those cloudy days.

Net metering is where your electric meter would run forwards and backwards – forwards when the sun is down and backwards when the sun is up. This is the system where you offset or eliminate your hydro bill.

The controversy in solar started with the introduction of the Green Energy Act and the original rate that was set.

The original rate for the microFIT program was 80.2c/kWh – which at the time was about 10 times higher than you and I were paying for power. At that time a solar installation cost about $60,000 to $80,000. The rate was reflective of the cost of a solar installation plus giving a decent return on the buyer’s investment. This has changed and so have the rates. Now a solar installation will cost about $30,000 for the same size installation – less than ½ price of the original installation. Accordingly, the feed-in-tariff rate has dropped. New contracts received a rate of 39.6c/kWh – about 3 times what we all pay. Larger projects (anything which is greater than 10kW) receive an even lower rate.

So now that we're past the controversy (I can't wait to see the comments!)… let’s talk about the benefits of putting solar on your roof – for you and for Ontario.

Obviously, it’s a good feeling producing green energy. Making some money is nice as well – we have customers that have used solar as an RRSP plan or RESP plan! There are so many benefits outside of this.

Solar is a peaking power – that means when energy usage is highest, Solar is outputting at its highest.

This helps level off the price of electricity during the day – especially in the summer(and if you want to confirm that, just ask the IESO). Another benefit of solar power is how it benefits the electricity grid. In areas which are far away from a big generation plant – like Bruce Power or Niagara Falls – solar power can postpone upgrades to the transmission lines which saves money that us taxpayers would otherwise have to spend.

Solar power is one of the cleanest energies we have – this is something we can all agree on. When a solar plant explodes or experiences a catastrophe, you just have a bunch of glass, silicon, plastic, metals and wire to clean up. When you have catastrophes at some of the other energy producers you have long term real consequences to face. I’m not saying that solar should be the exclusive energy producer anywhere in the world – this is not practical. I just want to pass some knowledge to the great people who read this blog.

I look forward to your comments!


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Comments (34 - click here to join in!)

Corey

Ok, first question, and the most obvious (sorry,, but I'm not that bright. I heard your insulting comment about me on H's show, Boon, you twerp). If I've done my figuring right, I'd have to generate 75,757 kW/h of electricity to recoup my initial $30k. How long will that take?

December 18, 2013 @ 4:56 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

@Corey

I also said "Merry Christmas, Corey".

December 18, 2013 @ 4:58 PM

Speysidephil

Yep, that's the question Corey, just what is the payback/return on this investment.
Geothermal heat has a five year payback, what about solar?

December 18, 2013 @ 5:29 PM

Rick C in Oakville

Is there an option to store to batteries, and utilise these for your personal consumption during the night? Or is it always direct feed only?

December 18, 2013 @ 6:45 PM

Ryan P

Awesome question...and a complex one.

If you have a south facing roof with a pitch of 20-25 degrees that has enough area to hold a full 10kW of panels, you can expect a payback of about 6 years - the system will produce about 12,500 kWh per year.

My system with having multiple roof faces was a more costly install. I have a payback of just over seven years.

Average payback on any microFIT is 7 years plus or minus a year. Its true that the payback on geothermal is much shorter but a good quality solar system will last 25 years with very basic maintenance and monitoring.

December 18, 2013 @ 8:07 PM

Ryan P

@ Rick

There is not that option if you want to be under the microFIT program. Many of my customers intend to add batteries to their systems once the 20 year contract is up - that or go to a net meter. The biggest question is what will electricity cost in 15-20 years? If grid power gets to be more expensive than installing and financing a solar system (a thing we call "Grid Parity"), some people may find a better pay back that way and could back out of their microFIT contracts. Grid parity has been achieved in some areas - the biggest being California. Grid power can reach as high as 42c/kWh!

December 18, 2013 @ 8:13 PM

twins from bolton

We get a LOT more snow during the winter than in Toronto.
2 houses in our neighborhood in Bolton, 3 or 4 years ago had solar panels installed.

Both houses now don't have them as snow has damaged panels & had to be replaced at a cost to the homeowner. They got the panels as a sales promotion to try to get more residents to change.

The panels are gone now. Makes sense but doesn't make sense.

December 18, 2013 @ 8:38 PM

Cambo

One of the factors I see here as a problem- the roof.

Eventually, in that time span the roof shingles are going to need to be replaced- Some cases more than once. Seeing as you can't change SOME of the shingles, do the solar arrays need to be removed in order for the roofers to work??

December 19, 2013 @ 7:49 AM

Ryan P

@ twins from bolton

I'm in Kitchener - the stratford side of the city. We get hit pretty good with the white stuff.

All quality solar installations will have an engineering study done to make sure the roof can support solar panels + snow/wind load. All quality solar panels are tested to make sure they withstand a snow load and are warranted for this - my panels were made in Sault Ste Marie and I would hope that they would know a thing or two about snow loading.

@ Cambo

You are correct - you will likely have to replace the shingles during the 20 year span. When I need to do this, I'll have to remove my arrays.

We usually recommend our customers have brand new roofs before installing...I didn't do this. I'm just a rebel like that :P

Having solar on the roof does extend the life of the shingles. The panels prevent UV from hitting the shingles, which is a major reason for them wearing out, as well as help block snow from sitting directly on them.

December 19, 2013 @ 1:18 PM

Cambo

@Ryan

However, that only works for the areas where the shingles are covered by the arrays. The rest will rot as usual.

For the average Mike, does the installation company come back to remove them for the roofers for free, or do we need to pay for them to be removed?

December 19, 2013 @ 4:11 PM

Ryan P

@ Cambo

Yes, the rest will wear as per usual, but those roof faces also don't wear as fast - they don't face the sun.

The average Mike will have to pay to have them removed but this isn't as hard a task as installing the system. You are just removing the panels, rails, wiring and any other on roof components back to the inverter. I plan on doing this with a buddy when the time arrives.

December 20, 2013 @ 8:30 AM

m m

What about insurance? Do you have to insure the panels, and is your home insurance premium affected?

December 20, 2013 @ 1:29 PM

MrFascination

In A Perfect World Maybe...

Too Many Grabbing hands... An install shouldn't cost more
than $15k but like most things that are promoted as the
"right thing to do" companies gouge.

Like the hybrid cars.. A nice idea, until you need to
replace the battery and every penny you saved in fuel
goes towards replacing the battery.

Nice panels, until a hail storm comes along... Insurance?
Sure another reason for the thieves at the insurance companies
to up your rates.

December 23, 2013 @ 11:33 PM

Ryan P

@m m
You do have to insure the panels. My rate went up by $60 per year but the worst I have heard is $300 per year.

@MrFascination
I'm not sure where you are going with your comments...you are very off base. Did you misspell your name? $15,000 for a turn-key microFIT sounds like something a MrFantasy would say.

Ontario content panels cost an average of $1.00 per watt - thats a solar installer cost. 10kW system = $10,000 just for the panels. Anodized aluminum, proper roof flashings, butyl sealant, wire, electrical components and the actual inverters add other costs. Each inverter is about $1300 so now we're at $12600 with just the panels and inverters and we haven't paid anyone to do anything yet or paid for the racking. I'm not sure where you find cheap and quality labour that would do all this work for $2400 bucks - and we haven't added in the costs of the racking, wiring, flashing, screws, cable ties and sealant, costs for permitting, costs to hydro to change the meters, electrical panels and circuit breakers.

I'm sure you could buy a bunch of very poor components and put them on your roof. I could take a propane torch and light my house on fire - if you were to install a system for $15,000, you may as well because thats the most likely outcome. Quality isn't cheap and labour isn't free. This is something that is expected to last 20 years not 20 days.

The panels (and any quality panel) uses tempered glass - it will take one hell of a hail stone to break the glass.

So anyway...lets sum this up.

If you'd like to spend 15k and tie up panels to your roof with left over shoe strings, I encourage you to do so. I really hope that it works out for you but I know it wont. If you have an interest in adding to the conversation in a meaningful manner, please do. I'd love to see you find somewhere to source all the components needed including labour and get it at a 50% discount to what everyone else pays. Saying it should cost 15k is one thing - prove it can be done and done with quality.

Merry Christmas MrFascination.

December 24, 2013 @ 10:34 AM

Cambo

I can see Mr. Facinations point. $30,000 is almost certainly prohibitively expensive for most people, for very little return on investment.

I can see a few reasons why solar won't take off in a residential setting any time soon.

One big one is obviously the cost. Second, is the resale value of the home. I'm not sure a solar array is going to add to your resale value. No one should be planning to stay in a house for 20 years, because you simply can't predict the future (lookin at you, Blackberry/RIM). The only people that would purchase the home, are those specifically wanting a solar array - not too many.

If I had $30,000- or at least willing to borrow $30,000- I would certainly not invest in a solar array because it is FAR too long to recoup the investment. I'd rather invest in things that return my investment quicker- real estate, RESP's, RRSP's, etc.

I think the future of solar is in large solar farms, not residential.

December 24, 2013 @ 1:29 PM

Larry

Out of curiosity... Did you find your panels held up well over the winter? Just wondering about having to clear off mass amounts of snow/ice in order to keep things running efficiently since it was a pretty nasty winter.

February 4, 2014 @ 6:23 PM

Jessie

Just a quick question... how much power can a solar panle generate when it is winter? Does it generate enough?

April 15, 2014 @ 11:47 AM

Dan

@Jessie Solar panels do generate electricity during the winter however not nearly as much as in summer. One site that I found useful is called "Solar Powered in Toronto" (just do a quick Google search and you'll find it). On it, they have historical charts of the production of their 3 kW solar panel array.

April 29, 2014 @ 10:39 PM

Dan

Like Larry, I'd be interested in hearing how the panel held up in the harsh winter we just finished having. We own a 2 story home that we're considering installing solar panels on and I wouldn't want to have to get up there and clear off snow.

I would expect that some snow would melt due to the panels warming up in the sun as well as some snow sliding off but what about a large amount of snow that would come down during a snow storm?

April 29, 2014 @ 10:46 PM

Jamie Cole

This is such a great post. With this kind of concern you need to have an expert's opinion before you have your own solar panel system. They will measure the amount of energy that contributes from the sun.

June 20, 2014 @ 12:45 AM

Travis

I live in Las Vegas and my solar panels generate enough power to run a number of appliances. I was just curious how my counter parts in colder climates coped when the sunlight hours are shorter and not as bright.

June 20, 2014 @ 9:03 AM

asima

I like this blog...I think that it would be fun to get into investing...... solar panels cost

June 21, 2014 @ 4:13 AM

Pat

Some people are very concerned about buying a home to close to major power lines. Would having power generated on your roof instill the same fears.

August 4, 2014 @ 6:34 PM

Caryl Anne

There was a ton of useful and helpful information mentioned within this post! Thanks for sharing such valuable information!

August 22, 2014 @ 4:45 PM

Violet

I recently (a few months ago) had solar panels installed on my roof as part of the microFIT program. When I contacted my insurance company (RBC) they increased the replacement value of our home by the cost of the panels+installation - but they then excluded the panels from being insured for any damage. They also excluded the roof underneath the panels in the event that a claim were made for damage done by/as a result of the panels.

I would LOVE to know what insurance company you're with - and whether your panels are actually insured for damage (for example, the mythical "hail damage" people like to dredge up) or other issues. ANY advice for getting the panels fully insured would be very much welcomed!

January 9, 2015 @ 1:08 PM

monoparadise

I insure my 6.25kw panels with Allstate insurance
the raise my premium by about $10 dollars a month
and that includes "hail storm" and has no limitations like
no shingles under the panels
the is FB Solar Society Canada
to exchange problems regarding solar panels,installation etc.

February 7, 2015 @ 9:04 PM

Ryan Tomlinson

@Pat, Yes and no. It is definitely in the same spectrum of concern but on 2 completely different levels. I myself would not want to live anywhere near a power line for the same underlying reasons. I do not have the same concern for panels. The biggest concern someone should have in respects to Electro magnetic Radiation is the inverter on the side of the home not the panels above them. This can easily by blocked with a layer of lead paint (actual lead not lead based primer). If children in the house are a concern you can also get a contractor to very afford-ably create a lead housing to encase the inverters or put a thin lead wall on the other side of the home. Lastly, unlike power lines. The solar system is only generating EMR during you guessed it, the day. Highest levels being 11am-3pm and non existent at night when your sleeping.

@violet, The best thing to do is shop around from the direct lenders (RBC, TD, aviva etc) Many of these companies are what I consider solar friendly. You should not have to pay more then $150 annually for GOOD solar coverage.

@monoparadise, Thank you for introducing me to Solar Society Canada. I am always looking for ways to help my customers get information and honest feed back from people in different areas and different walks of life.

One thing I would like to point out that I have seen a few people comment about in here is the speed on the Return of Investment. If you compare the return on a full 10kw system vs GIC's RRSP's RESP's, the numbers don't even compare. Yes they may be faster but no where in the same ball park on the numbers. All of my customers are getting a minimum of 10% ROI on their MicroFIT systems. On average a full 10kw MicroFIT would gross $85,000 over 20 years at the current rate of 38.4c/kwh. Installation costs vary by 1-2k per house but lets use an average of $35,000. That is a net return $50,000 over 20 years. $4000 per year. Show me anywhere in Canada that you get a double digit ROI by walking into a bank without taking at least a moderate risk?

Something very important that I feel many of you are overlooking or have a misunderstanding of. No one just drops $35,000 on a solar system even if they have that money lying around. It does not make sense to do this. Everyone speaks of their money or their investment. All of my customers and almost everyone I have spoken too uses the banks money for their project. They leverage the equity on their home and get a line of credit. Once again assuming you have a FULL 10kw system, you will be getting more per month then the loan payments are. If you are even semi financially literate and are investing for long term you know it makes perfect sense to use the money the system is making and put it all towards the loan until it is paid. At the end of 7-8 years you own a system that can provide you with free power at the end of the 20 years. Not to mention you will be receiving $4000 a year for doing absolutely nothing.

Finally, to address the moving concern. I understand exactly where anyone is coming from in this regard. 20 years is in fact a long time and a number of things can arise from this. Bottom line is this. If you are shopping around for a home and find 2 that you like in the same price range. One has panels and one does not. Are you more enticed to purchase the home that will help you pay off the mortgage faster or the one without? Again this is assuming the system is owned and not leased.

April 13, 2015 @ 6:49 PM

Phil

What are the tax implications of receiving the $4000 per year? Do you need to reduce the amount by HST? Do you need to treat this part of your house as a taxable investment after you sell and hence incur capital gains (or losses)? I'm concerned about the tax planning.

June 10, 2015 @ 9:03 PM

Jim

Good thinking Phil. The government treats the income the same as if you're running a business. The $4,000 a year is income as you right that off against the capital costs of setting up your business. So if it costs $30,000 to setup the solar panels then you declare an income of $4,000 and losses of $30,000 in year 1 and then have no tax payable. Year 2 you have an income of $4,000 and carry forward losses of $26,000 so again no income. Eventually you will have real income and then you will start paying taxes.
As the government looks at this as a business when you sell your house you will need to assign a portion of that sale price to the selling of your solar business. That price is going to depend on how much of your microFit contract is left. How mush you are generating etc. Basically how much $$'s is the installation generating so much should someone pay for it?
You can collect HST from whomever you are connected to (in my case Toronto Hydro) and then at the end of the year you do the HST thing. This has no bottom line effect on you as you just collect it and then send it on. If you collect the HST then at the end of year 1 you get the HST credits that you had to pay to get it installed back. On $30,000 the HST would be $3,900 and you would get this back. If you elected to not collect HST from the utility then instead of a capital cost of $30,000 your capital cost would be $33,900 and that is what you would be writing off your expenses against. In the long run it wouldn't make much difference but in the short run you get the $3,900 (HST) back much quicker.
There is more at the CRA site: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/bsnss/thrtpcs/nt-ft/q1-eng.html

September 27, 2015 @ 12:58 PM

Rey

Question: Why the third party had to pay us $3,000 without paying a cent to have installed solar panels in our roof?


September 29, 2015 @ 6:16 PM

Ken

Thanks Toronto Mike and Ryan for this blog. I have a comment, and a question.

First, my comment relates to the discussion of lead shielding. The focus of human health concerns associated with EMF (warranted or not -- and there is good reason to question the hype) has primarily arisen from the magnetic component of low frequency alternating current. And, while its true electric fields can be readily shielded, that's not so for magnetic fields, which are entirely unaffected by lead paint, mechanical barriers, etc. These magnetic field strengths are directly proportionate to current not voltage. For that reason homeowners worried about EMF health effects are well advised to give thought to where the concentration of current forms in the layout of the solar system design, namely where the meter and inverter and bundled wires are situated in context of where time is spent inside the home. That said, the good news is that the strength of these fields decline very rapidly with distance from source, so some minor forethought can make a significant difference in long term exposure.

Now to my question. I'm planning a new custom home in 2016 with rooftop surfaces positioned to give me about 75% of ideal solar output from a 10kW array. But, with microFIT rates now slashed by 23% in 2016 from 38.4 to 29.4 c/kWh, and with the varied risks identified in this blog, I'm really questioning now whether this is right for my new roof. Are there developing opportunities to source lower cost components, or installers out there becoming more competitive with pricing to help restore the shrinking payback picture?

November 11, 2015 @ 9:41 PM

Las Vegas Solar Power

Great article. Solar power is a considered as a new energy for us and it is a green power for the environment. We should encourage more people using it in the life.

December 30, 2015 @ 10:08 PM

dee

i'm in the process of buying an old large home & was thinking of solar panels but i'm really confussed now after reading some of the comments. i can't understand how this is paying off because i thought solar panels would get rid of those very large electricy bills but if it doesn't & you still have to pay them then how does the panels do you any good? the hydro does good because they get it from you cheap then sell it to some one else at a very higher cost. if you get only 1 to 2 thousand a year how does that help when your bills here in toronto can go $300.,400. every month or even highter.

March 26, 2016 @ 2:18 AM

Darrell

I had a 10 kw system installed In 2014. Went live May 16 of that year. Total cost for the roof mount was 38,000. 3800.00 of that was to upgrade the transformer from an 800 kva to a 25 kva. I picked the worst year for sunny days and only had a return of $3800.00. I'm at the 39.6 rate. Year 2 fiscal is coming up and I'm poised to have a far better return.
Last year we installed the net metering system. It was cheaper but again, I had to have thetransformer upgraded to a 50 kva. Hydro one wanted $4200.00 for that one. Fought with them for about 6 weeks. The 25 kva wasn't even a year old and they didn't think to give me a credit for it in the quote. Finally got the 50 reduced to $2100 if I remember correctly. So, total cost for a 10 kw ground system was $28000.00. Didn't get it up and running until August 6. Generated enough credits to not get a bill until february. Our bills were about $220/mo. On a full sunny day we are running our household needs and banking about 50 kwh. We live in the country with no natural gas so everything runs on electric.

April 14, 2016 @ 10:32 AM

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