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So What is All This About Homeowners Re-Selling Solar Energy Back to the Province of Ontario?
What exactly is the new feed-in tariff program?
A feed-in tariff program is one way for governments to initiate the third industrial revolution that is migrating from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
It usually consists of offering long-term contracts to industry and the population buying energy generated by solar, wind, biogas or water generation. Contract prices will be calculated based on the investment made and a good return on investment, sufficient to favor the movement.
In our grid-based centralized electricity system, we will move from large power plants to a distributed energy system. For small systems under 10Kw this is not a problem, but for larger systems some local economic testing should be done to ensure that it is worthwhile in a given area for the power companies to invest in changing the cables and the transformers to accept the new power.
How long has this program been running?
The new FIT program started last October. There are two parts, the FIT and the microFIT for systems of less than 10Kw. The FIT program has been very successful so far and 2,900 Mw in contracts have been awarded to date.
Within the framework of the microFIT program, the initial objective is around 100,000 homes. About 16,000 applications have been received so far; most of these for agricultural assembly systems. Only about 3,500 roofing contracts have been awarded so far.
How does this benefit homeowners in Ontario?
There are two main benefits: directly to the owner and then collectively to Ontario.
1. Well, first of all, to encourage owners to participate in the program, the return on investment is set at 8%. This means you can sign a 20-year contract with the Ontario Power Authority and start a small business that generates electricity. 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 the costs of renewable energy systems come down in price, but the 8% ROI should remain 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 energy production from a centralized system, so by negating the need to build expensive new power plants, we can shut down coal plants and reduce the import of expensive and dirty energy during our peak loads in the summer, therefore, reducing air pollution. and saving money.
How does it really work?
You have to see it as a small business that generates energy. It connects to the grid and powers your neighborhood. The solar panels are installed on the roof, connected to a disconnect switch and then through a production meter to the grid. You will still have your consumption meter for the usual time of day. You will receive a consumption bill and a check from your LDC for production.
We know how bureaucratic the province can be – how complicated is the process to register?
The microFIT process for systems under 10 kWh is very simple. For an owner, the application is made online. After about 6 weeks a reply comes back with a conditional offer. The homeowner takes care of installing solar panels, inspections and permits must be done, of course, then the local power company hooks up a production meter and you’re producing! You will receive a contract offer from the OPA which 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 production hourly, daily, weekly, etc.
What are the best systems?
There are 6 things that the owner should consider:
1. Domestic content. First, it is absolutely imperative that landlords understand that there is a 60% domestic content requirement, assuring Ontarians that their tax dollars are staying in Ontario. Offshore panels are currently allowed this year, but this will end on 31 December 2010.
2. Quality system. I urge all homeowners to make sure they buy quality Canadian systems that are built to last.
3. Professional analysis. I also recommend that you have a professional solar analyst perform an assessment of your potential solar installation to give you a realistic estimate of performance and detail any difficulties with the installation that may result in additional expense. All this must be taken into account when calculating the return on investment.
4. Avoid unrealistic ROIs. Avoid any vendor that offers you crazy ROIs (I’ve seen 25% quoted), that’s totally unrealistic.
5. Do product research. Solar panels come in monocrystalline and polycrystalline formats. Mono is purer silicon and more expensive, but it’s also slightly more efficient. Polyester panel is less expensive, has a shorter lifespan and is usually larger. Carbon offset or carbon neutral life means the amount of renewable electricity you produce that offsets the amount of carbon that was produced to make the panel, usually 4 years. Solar panels can be mounted on flat or sloped roofs, ground-mount tracking systems, and poles.
6. System design. There are also a couple of different system designs: micro-inverters where the panel produces 240AC similar to grid and string inverters, which are high voltage (and very dangerous) DC. The design of the string inverter is very similar to Christmas lights, when you take one out, they all go out. The microinverter design is superior because shading only affects one panel, instead of all. In addition, they emit a data signal for web monitoring.
How expensive is it and what is the return on investment?
The return on investment is usually 8% and the systems are usually 100% funded. The system pays for itself in 7-9 years. The average homeowners 3Kw system will generate about $3,000 a year depending on site and shade. A 3Kw system will cost about $25,000 installed for a system made in Ontario.
How much space does it take up?
It will usually be installed on a south-facing pitched roof, but SE and SW work great too. You want to install as many panels as possible, as adding to the contract later will require a renegotiation of your contract.
If you are a farmer with a lot of space, I would consider a tracking system. They are more expensive but they are 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 the panels later. Keep in mind that panels will make your shingles last longer.
If your roof doesn’t look right I would recommend having an engineer look at it, you may need to install some better support such as blocks between the rafters.
Can it be installed on the floor?
Absolutely, ground mounting systems similar to flat roof systems can be pointed directly south, they are usually ballast type systems, meaning that concrete blocks hold a mounting system and the panels are installed at the ideal angle. Tracking pole mounting systems are also available in various sizes up to 10Kw or around 50 panels.
What kind of maintenance does this system need?
Typical maintenance would be a once-a-year check: clean panels, make sure wiring is good, tighten screws, etc. Other than that, with no moving parts, the system is virtually maintenance free.
Are the parts available for free?
That depends on where you bought them. If you’ve decided on made-in-Ontario products, which is mandatory next year anyway, parts won’t be an issue.
With the amount of technology and innovation coming every year, how long before this system is obsolete?
I ran a solar laboratory, one of only 5 in the world. Trust me, you should trust technology that has been tested and used around the world for the past 30 years. The space program is still installing silicon solar cells on spacecraft because it is reliable and robust.
New technologies, such as thin-film solar cells, are still at a very early stage. Accelerated life tests show that the thin film technology does not like the sun, deteriorating at a rapid rate 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 designing the system, the degradation is calculated. This takes into account cloudy days, air pollution, inverter efficiency, bird poop, dirt and dust, snow, etc. Make sure degradation is taken into account when looking at your final potential production numbers.
How many homes has The Energy Store equipped with solar panels? Do you have any anecdotes or success stories?
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 in Ontario and expect to sell 500-1000 systems next year. Considering there are 100,000 homes expected to have a system installed, we expect them to expand quite quickly. An anecdote would be that wherever we install a system we get 5 or 6 owners 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 becoming aware of 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 is open to investing in solutions that improve our planet.
Where can owners go for more information?
You can go to our website where there is a lot of information. You can also Google microFIT and check out the OPA website. Wikipedia provides a very interesting history of the FIT program.
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