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.
Selling Solar Power Into The Ontario Grid—A Case Study
Ontario MicroFIT installs can be a dream come true or a nightmare on wheels. Picking the right contractor is the most essential ingredient in the recipe for installing solar panels properly. Navigating the application and approval process alone can be time consuming and frustrating. Find a contractor that will help you to submit your application to the OPA, collect all the relevant paperwork and obtain conditional approval. SolarLine Power will be with you every step of the way. From the initial application process to final inspection, they will bring their extensive experience in the microFIT solar panel installation game to bare.
Once a conditional approval has been obtained from the OPA, you need to design your ideal solar panel installation. Many homeowners are horrified to find that their solar panels are not correctly oriented, are shaded by other panels or surrounding buildings and trees, or make their roof look unattractive. SolarLine Power knows how to install solar panels properly. They will monitor your home’s exposure to the sun to find the solar panel orientation that produces the optimum number of sun hours a day. SolarLine Power custom designs systems to match individual roofs, ensures that the panels have a Canadian Safety Standards approval and are manufactured from 60% local content. Many homeowners purchase cheaper panels, only to discover that the panels do not meet the 60% domestic content requirement and will have to be replaced in order to pass the final inspection. Said Christine of 350 or Bust; “Hire professional installers, unless you have a LOT more time than money. If you are planning to be part of the Ontario microFIT program, make sure that you meet the domestic content requirements as outlined on the OPA microFIT website. In 2011, the program requires that 60% of your materials and installation be considered Ontario-based.”
When Kirk Fergusson decided to avail himself of the financial benefits and clean energy that microFIT offers, he trusted SolarLine Power to install his solar panels properly. The team at SolarLine Power handled his application and helped him to obtain conditional approval and approval for his building plans. Kirk’s house has a signature dark green roof. Its corner-lot orientation makes the roof very visible and, in order to maintain its aesthetic appeal, SolarLine Power opted for a modern black panel that blended with the dark green shingles.
The steep roof angle and window peak offered further challenges, but the SolarLine Power team shifted some vents and designed a system that maximized roof exposure while maintaining the home’s gorgeous exterior. They even aligned the edges of the panels with the edges of the roof.
The completed system consists of a Solar Edge 5kWh single phase centralized inverter, Solar Edge power box optimizers, Heliene 245 Watt solar modules (these are the black panels) and a Schuco Solar EZ roof mounting system. This left Kirk with 24 panels which cover 450 ft² and weigh about 1, 150 lbs. The daily output of about 19 kWh (this is averaged over the year) adds up to 6, 784 kWh annually.
Now Kirk Fergusson can look forward to putting fistfuls of SunMoney into his pocket every month. He can expect a monthly saving of $453 on utilities which adds up to $5, 441 annually. Over a 5-year period, the SolarLine Power system will save a massive $27,205. As solar panels have a 20-life expectancy, Kirk can expect to save $114, 256 over the next 20 years.
SolarLine Power has a qualified electrician on staff to provide the final inspection once the system is installed. This can be an unexpected expense if your solar panel installer does not have an in-house electrician. SolarLine Power will also guide you through the final inspections and grid hook-up process.
The microFIT program and a properly installed solar panel system can provide welcome relief from rising utilities bills, earn the property owner SunMoney each month and provide the occupants with clean, renewable energy they can be proud of.
“The guys from Solarline were great. They helped us navigate the microFIT and building application and approval process, designed a good-looking and efficient solar panel system and took extra care to ensure the system was installed properly.”
– Kirk Fergusson
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.
Ikea Canada claims it will operate the largest rooftop solar power system network in Ontario under the feed-in-tariff (FIT) program. Their three stores combined, Vaughn, North York, and Etobicoke will have 3,790 solar panels. WOW! That’s a lot of Swedish meatballs.
No need to feel guilty about destroying Santa’s natural habitat with your resplendent Christmas light extravaganza. This year, you can reduce the melting of polar ice and get yourself off the naughty list by solarising your Christmas lights.
Search online or at some hardware stores for a 60 watt solar panel kit and a renewable energy battery. This will cost between $500 and $650 depending on the quality of the panel. Set up the panel on your roof or in your garden where it will receive the most sunlight. Connect the panel to the charge controller, which regulates output. Connect the charge controller to the battery which should be placed in a sheltered area, like your garage or pool house. Plug your Christmas lights directly into the inverter. Wait for the batteries to be completely charged before flipping the switch. Incandescent lights use up to 30% more energy, so switch to LED and save. You can also purchase solar lights, but installing your own panel will mean that you can solarise your outside lighting all year round and recover the initial costs in no time at all.