How an Increase in Solar Energy May Affect Your Electricity Supply
The world is going to end on 21 December 2012. That’s according to Nostradamus, New Age theorists, people who channel aliens, the History Channel and the Mayans. The causes vary; some say the Mayan Long Count Calendar ends on 21 December and that this spells an apocalyptic wiping of the slate. Scientists claim we are in for a tsunami of super volcanoes, earthquakes, solar storms and magnetic pole reversal. Add this together and you have the makings of a Hollywood movie (whose ominous by-line reads “We were warned.”) The only scientific proof, however, of imminent apocalypse is the prediction of the solar flare storm of 2012.
Mausami Dikpaki of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research claims we are headed for the most intense ‘solar maximum’ (the sun’s 11 year cycle) since 1958. The resultant solar flares will have the energy of 100 billion atomic bombs. The flares produce a surge in electrons in the outer layers of the atmosphere. There are many consequences: the destruction of satellites and interference of radio waves may lead to a breakdown in communication. Solar storms may produce currents on earth which have the possibility of overloading national grids. In 1989, surges in currents from solar flares left 6 million people without electricity in Quebec. Predictions of the impact of solar flares range from a couple of hours of cell phone and electrical disruption to complete overload of electrical systems, the collapse of communication systems and a loss of all equipment containing computer chips including vehicles. The time frame to recover from such an occurrence ranges around the 10 year mark.
These predictions have led many to invest in alternate energy sources such a solar. In Ontario the microFIT program, which was created to increase investment in solar power systems, has met with unprecedented success. Local solar installers are struggling to keep up with the increase in demand for solar power systems. While some take these predictions seriously, most feel that the theories of an apocalypse in 2012 will come to as much fruition as those of Y2K. Although they agree that 2012 will see a marked increase in solar activity, there is no agreement in the scientific community on what the consequences will be.
Are you looking to make hay while the sun shines? With government rebates and microFIT incentives, solar panel systems will make Sun Money for you. If you are worried that the process of installing a solar panel system is too complex or too expensive, think again. Here’s how to install a solar panel system in 4 easy steps.
Step 1: Is your Home Suitable for a Solar Panel System?
The best way to ascertain the suitability of your home for a solar panel system is to conduct a solar audit. With a little research you can do this yourself, but most solar installers will provide the service free of charge. A solar audit will ensure that:
- Your roof is in good condition and is not in need of re-shingling or repair.
- That you have enough space for a solar panel system.
- That a portion of your roof is south facing and that this portion is free from shading by trees and other buildings.
Step 2: Information is Key
- Research your financial options. Many financial institutes will provide financing for such an endeavour. Some neighbourhoods will collaborate with a solar panel system installer to get better prices on group deals.
- Ask neighbours who have solar panel systems about their experiences.
- Get quotes from local solar installers.
- If you live in Ontario, you are eligible for the microFIT program which provides fantastic incentives for solar panel systems. To register for the microFIT program, visit the MymicroFIT web site. Make an online application and receive a conditional offer within 90 days.
Step 3: Don’t stall, install!
Obtain the necessary approvals:
- From your local utility company;
- A building permit from the local municipality and
- An Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) inspection. Most installers will include this.
Your local solar panel system installer will assist you with obtaining permits. Now you are ready for your solar panel system to be installed.
Step 4: Start earning Sun Money.
Once your system is installed you must contact your local distribution company (LDC) and they will send someone to conduct a verification audit to ensure that you have met local system standards. Your LDC will then hook your solar panel system up to the grid and notify the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) that you have met the requirements. The OPA will send you your 20 year contract.
Now you are ready to put Sun Money into your pocket!
When Regan removed the solar panels that Carter had installed on the White House roof, he sent a clear message – that solar had not come of age. If you are making a substantial investment in your home or business, you need to consider your options carefully and, while you are considering, we thought we might enlighten you by dispelling some urban legends about solar power systems so that you can make the right decision. This week at SolarLine we are busting myths and taking names. Be prepared to be educated…
Myth #1—Solar is too expensive
WRONG! It does take some initial investment, but most homeowners make back their initial investment within the first five years and can then look forward to a 15% or more return on their investment annually. If you live in Ontario, you can take advantage of the microFIT program currently on offer from the government and make a profit from your solar panels.
Solar installations have seen a dramatic decrease in costs over the last decade. This is thanks to a greater demand and more efficient technology. There are several firms who operate locally, making installation less costly. If you don’t have the capital, you can always get financing from your bank or through your solar installer.
Some people think that it is better to wait for the technology to advance and for solar to become cheaper. You can say that about every technology, but waiting will mean that you miss out on current government incentives. Look at the chart for a better idea of the return you will receive on your initial investment.
Myth #2—More power is used to manufacture and transport solar panels than the panel will produce in its lifetime
NOPE! A National Renewable Energy Laboratory report shows that the cost of producing a panel will be recovered in 1 – 4 years and, since most solar panels last for 30 years, they will make far more energy than they used. The idea that panels will one day clog landfills is also unlikely as 90% of material used to manufacture them is recyclable. A PV system that meets the needs of an average household prevents 1 ton of sulphur dioxide and about 12 000 lbs of nitrogen from polluting our atmosphere. Most pollutants produced during the manufacture of solar panels are recycled resulting in pollution that is minimal at best.
Myth# 3—Solar panels only work when the sun shines.
MISTAKE! Solar is not just a fair-weather friend; energy storage ensures that the lights stay on even when the sun isn’t shining. Advances in battery technology mean that power is guaranteed for much longer than you probably thought possible. Solar is reliable, and residents will not have to suffer through power cuts, especially in inclement weather. In fact, solar is so reliable that most highway signs, signals at railway crossings, lighthouses and navigational buoys are powered only by solar panels. Solar panels still produce energy on cloudy days – how much depends on cloud density. Most Ontario homeowners will still be connected to the grid. They supply the grid with their power at $0.80 kWh and pay a maximum of $0.09 kWh when using energy from it.
Myth #4—Solar doesn’t work in extreme temperatures
ERROR! Solar panels are actually better at producing power in cooler climes. Solar panels are very hardy and can withstand onslaughts from hail, wind, snow and sleet. Battery technology has improved remarkably and silicone batteries are able to withstand extreme temperatures from -50˚C to +70˚C. Germany is a great example of solar at work in colder climates – they have more than 2 million homes with solar panels! The cost of solar is also significantly less than costs associated with extending hydro poles to remote areas. A recent survey by the Solar Industries Association said 94% of people who owned solar water heaters considered them a wise investment.
The Mcguinty government of Ontario recently unveiled long-term energy plans which focus on the nuclear option and threaten to double household hydro bills over the next 20 years.
Ontarians rejoice at the move away from coal burning power plants (the environmentally unfriendly behemoths will be gone by 2014) to ‘green’ energy sources, but environmentalists will be disappointed to hear that renewable energy (wind, solar, bioenergy and hydro) will increase a mere 10% (from 3 to 13%) by 2030. The lion’s share of energy will be created by nuclear stations. The current refurbishment of two reactors at the Bruce A plant and the proposed building of two more will culminate in a total investment of $33 billion which is said to fulfill the province’s energy needs until 2035.
What does this mean for the environment and for our carbon footprint as a province? Supporters of the bill explain that renewable energy has not developed to the point where there is enough infrastructure to sustain the province’s energy needs. Also that the nuclear plants are environmentally friendly and produce few emissions.
Critics argue that the waste produced by nuclear plants is hazardous. They warn that the price tag for energy investments will result in sharp increases in electricity bills. They counter that if government subsidized renewable energy and spent as much money in this sector as it does with other power suppliers, renewable energy would indeed be able to cook a chicken in every pot and charge an electric car in every garage.
Nuclear accounts for 55.2% of the province’s energy. Bruce power station, the MacDaddy of power stations in North America and second in the world only to Japan’s Kashiwazakwi-Kariwa, is located on Lake Huron, Toronto. It produces 20% of the province’s electricity; a whopping 6 232 MW of power. The plant is powered by Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) generators – six of the original 8 are functional with the remaining two currently under refurbishment to the tune of an estimated $4.8 billion.
The Bruce has not always bathed itself in glory. In late November 2009, during refurbishments, 217 workers were exposed to radioactivity when they inhaled alpha contamination in amounts that were close to, or possibly exceeded, safety measures. The project is already 2 years behind schedule.
The plant again made headlines after a public outcry about the shipping of 16 decommissioned steam generators through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway to Sweden for recycling. This sets a president for the transportation of more nuclear waste through the same waterway in the future. The plant claimed the radiation posed no threat to the area and said it would continue to use the route for future nuclear waste disposal. The Nuclear Safety Commission heard final arguments on Monday and will have a month to decide if they will allow the generators to travel.
For those who support the nuclear option, the investments come as welcome news. Opponents have been frustrated by the lack of influence their opinion holds with the government. They claim that the government “makes a show” of listening to their proposals and complaints, but follows its own agenda. Many members of environmental groups and organizations have decided to take responsibility for their own carbon footprint and install renewable energy in their homes. They opt for solar power systems and take advantage of the microFIT program that the government has set up as an incentive for home owners to switch to alternate energy sources.
Part three of our series on Ontario microFIT
The first step is to submit an application to the microFIT program through the OPA website. The OPA will send you a ‘Conditional Offer’ within 90 days if your project meets microFIT eligibility requirements. Use the reference number provided when contacting your local solar installers. Once your solar power system is installed, the OPA will offer you a microFIT contract.
You must work closely with your local electricity distributor. They will discuss connection options with you and connect your system to the grid. The solar installer will help with building permits and ensure that you pass safety inspections by using a licensed electrician. Once connected to the grid, OPA will send you a contract and you can start making money and clean, renewable energy.
The great returns offered by the microFIT program have led to an enormous number of applications (over 16,000 to date) which will culminate in between 100 and 200 MW in 2010. This puts Ontario in second place (behind California) for photovoltaic installations in North America this year. Local solar installers have benefitted enormously from this increase, which creates jobs and stimulates growth. Be part of this progressive, beneficial and environmentally responsible future; apply for your microFIT contract today!
See part one of this series
See part two of this series