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!
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
So you’ve been thinking about generating your own power and taking your home or cottage off “the grid”? Or taking advantage of the government incentives and making some money with the Ontario microFIT program? Either way, there are a few things to consider before you add a solar power system to your home.
Here’s a short guide to what you’ll need to get those solar panels from being just a good idea to an installed power-generating (and moneymaking) part of your home.
First you need to understand what solar panels (photovoltaic or PV panels) are – and aren’t. They aren’t simply plug-in play. There’s no extension cable where you can plug them directly into your house to power your appliances. They require installation, just like your other electrical equipment, or house plumbing. As well, they need other components to do their job, because by themselves they can’t work in a home. To understand this better we need to understand how solar cells, the pattern on the panels which are typically blue and sometimes black, work.
Obviously, a solar cell works from the sunlight hitting it, which causes electricity to flow. However, that electricity differs from your household current in three major ways. Firstly, solar panels are low voltage, typically 35-55 volt, and so solar cells have to be joined together to get that voltage higher. As well, the voltage is irregular. Whereas your house voltage is constantly around 120 volts, a solar cell generates more in the strong sun, and less in the shade (and of course nothing at night). Thirdly, a solar cell’s power is DC, or Direct Current. That means all the power flows in one direction in the wire, witch is different from a home’s AC, or Alternating Current.
So much of solar power installs will not be just the solar panels, but devices to solve these three problems. For example, you’ll use a battery to provide power in off times; of course, if you are connected to an electric utility through the Ontario MicroFIT or FIT programs, referred as “on the grid”, then you may not need batteries, since you can put your excess power “out there” for others to use, and end up making some money. However, if you’re on your own (such as a cottage), then you’ll need deep cycle batteries to keep your lights going at night.
Another device you’ll need with your batteries is a battery charge regulator, also known as a charge controller, which makes sure the batteries are charged and discharged properly to avoid problems, such as shortened battery life (and of course, if you don’t use batteries, you won’t need this device).
Finally, the DC current, whether from the solar cells or from the storage batteries, needs to be converted to AC. If you’ve seen anything about electricity, you’ve seen what is called a sine wave, like the ripples in water when a pebble goes in. DC is like a quiet lake. So another device, the inverter, not only creates those waves, turning the DC into AC, but it can make those waves nice curved sine wave shapes, which is better for appliances using the power. It also makes sure the rate is 60 cycles a second, which we in North America expect from our power lines. Once that’s done, it’s good to go, whether into our home, or onto the grid.
So knowing the components, what else needs to be done? Specific installation will require specific things – for example, you’ll need the roof reinforced if you’re planning a lot of solar panels and your roof isn’t up to code. However, at about 50 pounds a panel, most normal roofs can handle the load. Different types of roofs will require different supports (a shingle roof versus a metal roof, for example). It’s also important to analyze your roof for the ideal place for the panels. If you have nearby trees or objects that might block the panels, consider another location or you might want to have a shade analysis, or move the obstruction. Aiming the cells properly can mean a big difference in power generation. For example, if you have a flat roof, you will have to use a solar panel rack that is designed to angle the panels in just the right position to better face the sun.
As well, you’ll also need a place for the support equipment your solar panels will need. A wall in the garage will likely do for the inverter, but not for the batteries if you use them. Depending on the battery type, you may require good ventilation, since some of them can give off hydrogen gas, which is dangerous in enclosed spaces. As well, batteries work poorly at too hot or too cold a temperature, so an unheated garage in Canadian winters is a definite no-no for them!
Eventually you’ll meet with a contractor or reputable solar installers and go over the details of your specific install. While each one will be different, the preliminary work you do beforehand will make their job easier – and could save you money. Additionally, by planning ahead of time, you’ll be aware of what you’ll need and what you won’t (like batteries if you are connected to a grid).
Solar energy is getting bigger, and it’s here to stay. It’s a great way to lower your energy costs, and it helps prevent further damage to our ecosystem. Adding solar panels to your home is not only ecologically sound, it’s also a boost to your resale value – and that’s yet one more reason to make the move to solar!