A question we encounter quite frequently in talking to home and business owners is: Does solar work for my roof? While solar systems work on most roofs the answer sometimes is not that simple. This is why I am going to shed some light on this issue to give you some tools for your own roof assessment.
1) Roof Pitch
The roof pitch is one of the factors that influences how much energy your solar modules will absorb. Keep in mind that we are trying to find a good balance between summer/winter. While some people are leaning towards your location’s Latitude as the optimum angle, there are others that deduct a number from your Latitude so the modules perform better in summer, when the bulk of the harvested energy is available. The reason why the optimum pitch is often below the Latitude for a location is the fact that a typical solar system in the northern hemisphere will harvest the majority of energy from April to October. Thus the modules need to be angled a bit less to hit the optimum for when the sun declination (the angle of the sun rays in relation to the equator) is quite high. Most industrial units have flat roofs and are ideal for a solar installation as the angle of the panels can be adjusted. At the end one should not put too much emphasis on this topic since most residential installations are roof-parallel. This means the pitch is given by the existing roof slope and can not be altered.
The best orientation of a solar module is facing towards True South. This is ideal as you can see in the diagram, the sun’s path changes from season to season. But with the cost of solar modules coming down, roofs that are facing towards the East or West, and even in some cases North-East/North-West exposures are still producing good return rates. Businesses with flat roofs are ideal as the solar power system can be positioned to suit the sun’s path irrespective of the buildings direction. How important this maximum efficiency of a solar system is, depends on the feed-in-tariff program and the overall system cost.
Shade on a solar module is not a good thing and must be avoided. Modules should only be mounted on roof spaces that are not affected by partial or full shading during the core hours (10am to 4pm) of a day. Even the shadow of a telephone wire can significantly reduce your energy production. It also needs to be noted that there is no inverter technology available that can generate energy from a shaded module, contrary to what micro-inverter supporters sometimes claim.
Solar modules can operate even at very cold temperatures. In fact the electric efficiency of a module increases the lower the temperature is. Most modules are rated for as low as -40 degrees C. Due to this effect you can expect very high power generation on crisp cold but clear days. Great for northern climates like ours in Ontario.
5) Dust and Dirt
Modules have a self cleaning effect when it rains. The tempered glass surface does not allow dirt and dust to stick to it once rain water runs over it. There may be exceptions when additional cleaning is required, i.e. farm operations or locations near major highways. Ensure that demineralized or rain water is used for the cleaning. Otherwise you may get calcium build up, negatively effecting the amount of light that gets through to the solar cell under the glass.
Solar powered vehicles to top your Christmas shopping list
Plagued by hungry polar bears and beset by a shrinking North Pole, Santa is more aware than most of the consequences of green house gas emissions. Christmas presents which utilize electronics, batteries and fuel will land you on Santa’s naughty list next year for sure. All the more reason to invest in a solar powered Ontario this year. We have brought you all kinds of goodies from solar backpacks to patio furniture, but this year we know that you have been really, really good, so let’s think a little bigger.
Ross Lovegrove, visionary designer, inventor and organic essentialist brings us the ‘car on a stick.’ Solar canopies collect solar power and charge the car during the day. Satellite GPS navigates the pod car for you, leaving you free to enjoy the city view through the wrap-around windows. When you park your car at the end of the day, a central pole elevates the car, leaving the road accessible to pedestrians. Your car is now utilized as a street lamp.
Bachelorette number two is the Venturi Fetish; the most advanced electric sports car in the world. A bold claim, no doubt, but since Venturi are the proud owners of the world fastest electric car, its one we can believe. As the world’s first solar-powered supercar… it’s simply gorgeous. With an output of over 300 HP, weight of 1, 225 kg, a top speed of 200 km/hr and 0 to 100 in less than 4 seconds, this 2 seat roadster is bound to make your toes curl.
If you are a family man, need more space than the two-seater roadster offers, or are a fan of the Grateful Dead, we have just the thing for you. VW has teamed up with Hydro Technologies to bring you the Chameleon. Solar panels on the roof-mounted surfboards provide additional power to this 100% electric vehicle. The interior of the minivan is decked out with the latest electronic and GPS technology with voice-activated controls. It also sports ‘exciting rear seat entertainment’, but that’s hardly a new innovation in the VW minivan. The 1964 31-window model was chosen as it is undeniably the most prized among the classic VW minivans.
For the modestly priced options, we turn now to the Solar Bug. Again, roof-mounted solar panels provide about a fourth of the Bug’s 200 mile capacity. At $15,000 a piece, the 900 pound two-seater is flying off the shelves (OK, out of the garage) faster than inventor and manufacturer Steve Titus can make them. Even Disneyland has ordered one! With a top speed of 55 km/h, you can zip around the city safe in the knowledge that you’re not contributing to the depletion of Santa’s homeland.
Too lazy to shovel your drive this winter? No worries, what you need is an Antarctica. The Mission 3 Antarctica is, literally, unstoppable. Currently deployed at the Princess Elizabeth station in Antarctica, it is charged solely by wind and sun power. The Antarctica is able to carry a ton of passengers and equipment over a 150km distance. Able to withstand temperatures of -50°, it is ideally suited to the harsh Antarctic climate. With a top speed of 40 km/h over rugged terrain, this juggernaut will have you counting more penguins than all the other researchers combined.
Competition heats up to find the best innovation in solar powered homes
The Solar Decathlon is a biannual event where 20 teams from around the world construct energy efficient homes utilizing green building techniques at the West Potomac Park on the National Mall in Washington DC. The Solar Decathlon encourages innovation in the design of solar-powered homes. An initiative of the US Department of Energy, the Decathlon is intended to encourage excellence in the fields of design, affordability and energy efficiency. During the competition, schools that offer courses in green building technology pit their best solar home designs against each other for the sought after top prize. This year’s 19 homes (15 US and 4 international contestants) include sheep insulation, edible walls and iPad apps. The homes must produce as much energy as they consume and provide pleasantly liveable spaces a family of 6, all for under $300 000.
The purpose of the Decathlon is twofold; the first is to create awareness of (and educate the public about) solar energy, green building technology and the benefits of creating clean-energy homes. It also provides students with a unique educational experience, hands-on training and an opportunity to create innovative home designs. Many of the home plans are sold to developers after the Decathlon and the homes themselves are reconstructed on campus to serve as educational tools for upcoming students or sold. Habitat for Humanity bought the Parson’s Empowerhouse and donated it to a single mother.
The University of Maryland is one of the front runners in the race for 2011 Decathlon honours. Their Watershed home not only saves on energy with a solar array, it also saves water by collecting runoff rainwater. Watershed also focuses on landscaping; a green roof improves energy efficiency and a modular wetland filters grey water from the dishwasher, shower and laundry. The home features an ‘edible wall’ where veggies are grown for the true locavore, and a picturesque waterfall provides humidity control.
This year’s decathlon holds other surprising revelations. A new target construction aspect was added to this year’s competition where homes would receive extra points for capping construction costs at $250 000. This restriction was used to show how the cost of solar energy has made energy-efficient homes more affordable. As solar technologies improve, so does the cost of solar panel installations. Both the Empower house (Parson’s School of New Design and Steven’s Institute of Technology) and INhome (Purdue University) built their homes for less than $250, 000.
Currently in the top three is Ohio State University. Their enCORE home provides cutting edge technology with a flat-plate solar thermal collector that works with a water heater to improve energy efficiency. Their unique 86 m² abode focuses on living spaces for families and its clever design offers the same functionality as a much bigger home. A thin-film 8-kW system provides the home’s renewable energy.
The Canadian Team from the University of Calgary currently occupy 10th place (fear not, the final scores are not yet in). Inspired by the tipis of the Treaty 7 native peoples of Southern Alberta, the TRTL (Technological Residence, Traditional Living) looks to the sun as a source of light and energy. The home is designed according to a holistic philosophy where it is seen as part of the greater natural ecosystem. The house, which focuses on tradition and sustainability, is equipped with an 8.3 kW photovoltaic system able to withstand Alberta’s winter weather. It’s impressive 93% optimal efficiency ensures a constant energy supply.
With this commitment to design and development, the US government is clearing the path for innovation in renewable energy. As solar energy gains a foothold in the international energy trade, it is design and technology that will keep Canada and the US in the market and allow them to compete against that behemoth of energy production, China.
The solar industry has helped Ontario stay afloat during the financial slump. Private investment in the industry is expected to reach $12.9 billion by 2018. The success of this burgeoning industry is largely due to the province’s FIT and microFIT schemes. These schemes give incentives to home and business owners as well as farmers who set up solar arrays on their properties and sell the energy generated to the province at preferential rates.
A recent study showed that the solar industry had invested $2 billion in the province in 2011 alone, creating an estimated 8,200 jobs. A number which will increase to 11,400 in 2012 with 25 jobs created for every megawatt of energy installed by 2018, the solar industry is proving to be a real boon to the province.
Although many home and business owners are committed to switching to renewable sources of energy for the benefit to the environment, the FIT and microFIT incentives do make solar affordable to many who would not otherwise be able to install such a system. The ecoENERGY program provides rebates for the home owners who use solar technologies. These rebates are part of the government’s long-term energy plan which aims to reduce consumption by 14%.
The growing need for electricity will require the province to create new facilities and refurbish many of the old ones. By 2030, 70% of our electricity will be generated by new or refurbished nuclear facilities. The cost to the tax payer will be profound. Two nuclear reactors are already planned for the Darlington plant while 10 are being refurbished at Darling and Bruce power stations. The costs of these refurbishments will double hydro bills in the province by the time the project is complete.
Fall 2011 will see a review of the FIT and microFIT systems with an adjustment to tariffs issued to electricity producers. With an election looming in October, some political figure are blaming escalating hydro bills on the microFIT and FIT tariffs, threatening the future of these incentives and, as a result, the solar industry in the province. A study by ClearSky Advisors Inc shows that the cost of the FIT programs to residents of the province is expected to rise to 70c for a typical household bill by 2018. This amount is negligible when compared to the forecast of bills doubling thanks to refurbishments during the same time. The cost of installation and maintenance of solar systems is borne by the home or business owner making it one of the cheapest sources of electricity for consumers.
Solar energy becomes cheaper as technology advances and demand grows. The Ontario Power Authority also enforces a 60% local content law which stimulates growth of the solar design and manufacture. A recent breakthrough by the University of Alberta team (based on research from the University of Toronto) has lead to the viability of spray on solar technologies. Without the market interest in these technologies, Canada will not be able to be a market leader in the field.
The study shows the tremendously positive influence that the solar industry has had on the Ontario economy. The FIT programs have contributed to the growth of the solar industry in the province. Although revisions and adjustments of FIT tariffs is the natural progression of such projects, the programs themselves are well worth the investment. If you would like to take control of where your energy comes from, contact your local MP and voice your opinion. You should also investigate installing a solar system of your own. Use energy you can be proud of.
Jim Creeggan of the Barenaked Ladies leads by example
It’s not every day that one meets a rock star with a pleasant disposition. In this regard, Jim Creeggan is a singular specimen. The mild mannered bassist of the Barenaked Ladies is not only nice, he also has a well developed social conscience. I recently met with Jim to talk about solar and his soon to be connected microFIT system. Although he is availing himself of the new microFIT incentive system that the Ontario government has instituted to help grow renewable energy in the province, he is no stranger to solar. A pioneer of renewable energy, Jim’s solar system is almost six years old and has sustained his home and family in Toronto through the years.
Jim comes from a long line of environmental activists and was inspired to seek more natural ways to live. He opted to install solar at a time when it was neither easy nor did it come with the incentives that today’s Ontario microFIT program offers. While Jim’s focus was on providing his own energy, most of today’s homeowners recognise that microFIT makes economic sense. Not that he is resentful of that — he wants to see the homes of his Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood covered in solar panels; an electric car in every garage and a free range chicken in every pot. “I don’t want people to think that solar panels are things that crazy rock stars put up, it should be available to every homeowner,” said Jim. Solar panels are no longer the vestige of the rich and famous. Thanks to the vast reductions in panel prices, solar is affordable for the masses.
The microFIT program has been criticised on the grounds that other grid users will have to pay for subsidies that yield large profits for homeowners. Although the initial incentives are high to garner support for the project, the government intends to curb the incentives as more homeowners sign up for microFIT. This is a development Jim approves of: “It’s important to give the home and business owner a reason to install solar and the government should help them to recoup that initial investment within three years, but then the returns should be sustainable. If everyone had a solar power system, we could really be proud of where our power was coming from.”
The myth of huge increases to hydro bills is unfounded; only about 1% of hydro revenue is set aside for microFIT use. Instead, the proposed solution to our future energy needs is the government’s $33 billion (up from an original estimate of $6 billion) nuclear plan which encompasses the refurbishment of four existing reactors at the Darlington and Bruce plants and the building of two new reactors at the Darlington plant. Critics claim hydro bills will double by the time this project is done — a far more pressing concern than the meagre costs of microFIT. Recent events in Japan and opposition to the transportation of radioactive materials through the St. Lawrence waterways also bring to bear concerns about the safety of nuclear energy.
Still not convinced? Then add to this the fact that solar power last year passed the great divide and currently costs less than nuclear power, per megawatt, to produce. Advances in solar panel technology led to drastic reductions in the cost of solar while nuclear costs have spiralled. The microFIT program results in profits for homeowners, provides clean, renewable energy and costs less than nuclear. The future of solar is so bright you will, indeed, need to wear shades.
However, opposition to the McGuinty government threatens to scuttle microFIT programs if they rise to power in the upcoming election. This is based on the notion that homeowners who take advantage of the microFIT system will have to be carried by the hydro payments of grid slaves. This is beyond short-sighted and does not account for the inflated costs of nuclear power. Nuclear power is no longer our most economically responsible decision. The microFIT program demands 60% local content for solar power systems which has resulted in an increase in green collar jobs and the establishment of several manufacturing plants and a plethora of installer, inspector and electrician positions. Most of these have a symbiotic relationship with microFIT and will not survive its demise. If you want to secure the future of microFIT and solar industries, visit stand-up-for solar and make your voice heard.