So what’s all this about homeowners reselling solar power to the province of Ontario?
What exactly is the new fee feeding program?
A feed-in tariff program is one way for governments to start the third industrial revolution that is migrating from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
It usually consists of providing long-term contracts to industry and the population by purchasing energy generated by solar, wind, biogas or water from them. Contract prices will be calculated based on the investment made and a good return on investment, enough to encourage movement.
In our centralized grid-based power system, we will move from large power plants to a distributed power system. For small systems under 10Kw this is not a problem, but for larger systems some local economic testing should be done to make sure it is worth it in a particular area for power companies to invest in changing cables and transformers to accept the new power.
How long has this program been running?
The new FIT program started last October. It has two parts, the FIT and the microFIT for systems of less than 10Kw. The FIT program has been very successful to date with 2900Mw in contracts awarded so far.
Under the microFIT program, the initial goal is about 100,000 people. So far some 16,000 applications have been received; most of these for agricultural soil mounting systems. Only around 3,500 rooftop contracts have been awarded so far.
How does this benefit homeowners in Ontario?
There are two main benefits: directly to the owner and then entirely to Ontario.
1. First, to encourage homeowners to participate in the program, the return on investment has been set at approximately 8%. This means you can sign a 20-year contract with the Ontario Power Authority and create a small electricity generating business. The 8% ROI is calculated based on the costs of purchasing and installing a renewable energy system such as solar panels. This is new to the Province and you can expect prices to change as costs for renewable energy systems come down, however the ROI of 8% should stay the same.
2. The big picture is that it drives a renewable energy industry, creating jobs and reducing our carbon footprint. We move to distributed power production from a centralized system, so we eliminate the need to build expensive new power plants, we can shut down coal plants and reduce the import of expensive and dirty power during our summer load peaks, therefore, decreasing air pollution. and saving money.
How does it really work?
You should view it as a small business that generates power. It connects to the grid and feeds your neighborhood. Solar panels are installed on the roof, connected to a disconnect switch and then via a production meter to the grid. You will still have your consumption meter for your regular use of the time of day. You will receive an invoice for consumption and a check from your LDC for production.
We know how bureaucratic the province can be – how complicated is the registration process?
The microFIT process for systems under 10kWh is very simple. For a homeowner, the application is done online. After about 6 weeks, a reply arrives with a conditional offer. The homeowner arranges for the solar panels to be installed, inspections and permits have to be done of course, then the local power company hooks up a production meter and you’re producing! You receive a contract offer from the OPA that you must accept within 45 days. Then you wait for the first check. Some systems allow you to monitor your solar panels online so you can see your output by the hour, day, week, etc.
What are the best systems?
There are really 6 things that the owner should keep in mind:
1. National content. First, it is absolutely imperative that property owners understand that there is a 60% domestic content requirement, assuring Ontarians that their tax dollars stay in Ontario. Offshore panels are currently allowed this year, but this will end on December 31, 2010.
2. Quality system. I urge all homeowners to make sure you buy quality Canadian-made systems that are built to last.
3. Professional analysis. I also recommend that you have a professional solar analyst perform an evaluation of your potential solar installation to provide you with a realistic estimate of performance and detail any difficulties with the installation that may result in additional expenses. All this must be taken into account when calculating the return on investment.
4. Avoid unrealistic returns on investment. Avoid any provider that gives you crazy ROIs; I have seen 25% quote; this is totally unreal.
5. Research the products. Solar panels come in monocrystalline and polycrystalline formats. The mono is pure silicon and is more expensive, but also a bit more efficient. Polyethylene panel is less expensive, has a shorter carbon offset life, and is generally larger in size. Carbon offset or carbon neutral living means the amount of renewable electricity you produce that offsets the amount of carbon that went into making the panel, typically 4 years. Solar panels can be mounted on sloped or flat roofs, ground and pole mount track systems.
6. System design. There are also a couple of different system designs: microinverters where the panel produces 240 AC similar to the grid, and string inverters which are high voltage (and very dangerous) DC. The string inverter design is much like Christmas lights, when you pull one out they all go out. The microinverter design is superior because shading affects only one panel, rather than all. They also emit a data signal for web monitoring.
How expensive is it and what is the return on investment?
ROI is typically 8% and systems are typically 100% funded. The system pays for itself in 7-9 years. The homeowners average 3Kw system will bring in about $3000 per year depending on the site and shade. A 3Kw system will cost around $25,000 installed for a system made in Ontario.
How much space does it take up?
Typically, you’ll install it on a sloped, south-facing ceiling; however, SE and SW also work very well. You’ll want to install as many panels as possible, as adding later to the contract will require a renegotiation of your contract.
If you’re a grower with a lot of space, I’d consider a track system. They are more expensive but also more efficient since they follow the sun.
Do you need a particular roof or structure?
Your roof must be solid. A good analyst will check your roof from the attic. If you have multiple shingles, he may recommend replacing them to avoid having to uninstall and reinstall panels later. Keep in mind that the panels will make your shingles last longer.
If your roof doesn’t look solid I would recommend having it checked by an engineer, you may need to install better support such as blocking between the rafters.
Can it be installed on the ground?
Absolutely, ground mount systems similar to flat roof systems can point directly south. Typically these are ballasted systems, which means that concrete blocks hold a mounting system and the panels are installed at the ideal angle. Tracker pole mount systems are also available in various sizes up to 10 Kw or around 50 panels.
What kind of maintenance does this system need?
Typical maintenance would be a yearly check: cleaning the panels, making sure the wiring is ok, tightening the bolts, etc. Other than that, with no moving parts, the system is virtually maintenance free.
Are the parts freely available?
This depends on where you bought them. If you’ve settled on Ontario-made products, which is required next year anyway, then parts won’t be an issue.
With the amount of technology and innovation being introduced each year, how long will it be before this system becomes obsolete?
I ran a Solar Laboratory, one of only 5 in the world. Trust me, you have to rely on technology that has been tried and tested and in use around the world for the past 30 years. The space program is still installing silicon solar cells on spacecraft because they are reliable and robust.
New technologies, such as thin-film solar cells, are still at a very early stage. Accelerated life tests show that thin film technology does not like the sun, it deteriorates quickly when exposed to the sun.
And what happens when the sun doesn’t shine?
Well, even on a cloudy day you will produce some electricity. When the system is designed, the degradation is calculated in. This accounts for cloudy days, air pollution, inverter efficiency, bird droppings, dirt and dust, snow, etc. Be sure to take degradation into account when looking at your final potential production numbers.
How many homes has The Energy Store equipped with solar panels? Do you have an anecdote or success story?
This is very new since last October. With our partners, we have installed over 100 systems to date, but this is just the beginning. We now have over 30 analysts across Ontario and expect to sell 500-1,000 systems next year. Considering there are 100,000 homes expected to install a system, we expect to expand fairly quickly. An anecdote would be that wherever we install a system, we get 5 or 6 homeowners from the same street asking about the system and when they can get one!
Are Ontarians and Torontonians more open to environmental solutions that may cost a little more in the short term?
We are all part of the planet; little by little we are realizing the need to abandon fossil fuels and change our society to one that is associated with our biosphere. I think everyone is now more aware than ever and open to investing in solutions that will improve our planet.
Where can homeowners go for more information?
You can go to our website where there is a lot of information. You can also Google microFIT and check the OPA website. Wikipedia offers a very interesting history of the FIT program.