Making a case for renewable energy
The human race consumes 400 quadrillion Btu’s of energy a year. The need to produce this energy by means other than fossil fuel is patently obvious. The question is; which renewable resource will give us the most bang for our buck?
Biofuel has long been touted as a possible alternative to fossil fuels. The idea of growing energy appeals to the struggling agricultural sector. All manner of crops have shown themselves viable; chief among these are corn and soya. An added benefit of biofuel production is that plants absorb CO₂, thereby reducing greenhouse gases by absorbing carbon into the soil. Biofuel also produces animal feed as a by-product which in turn saves fuel.
There are several draw-backs to biofuels. It takes energy to make energy as tractors, transportation, processing and agricultural equipment require fuel and produce greenhouse gases. Rapidly increasing world populations mean that agricultural land is spoken for. New land will have to be cleared in forests and wilderness areas. Let’s look at two of the most prolific biodiesel crops; jaropha and sugar cane. They produce 6 000 barrels of fuel per square mile annually which amounts to 55 million Btu’s of energy per square mile annually. This would mean that we have to use 10.8 million square miles of arable land to grow enough biofuel to meet the world’s energy needs. Our current 5.5 million square miles of arable land falls woefully short.
The alternate is to create new farmlands to grow biofuel; a process that, according to a recent study by The Nature Conservancy, causes the production of more CO₂ than it saves. The energy expended in clearing forests or grasslands is great. Plants store carbon in soil and roots and the destruction of forests and grasslands leads organic soils to decompose and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere: “Our study found that the carbon lost by converting forests, grasslands and peatlands outweighs the carbons saved by using the resulting biofuels….” said Joe Fargione, a scientist for The Nature Conservancy.
A solar array of 143, 872 square miles in size would be sufficient to provide all the energy for human consumption. This is only a quarter of one percent of the surface of the earth. Solar power systems do not have adverse effects on the land or soil. New technologies see the price of PV cells decrease every year to the point where solar energy recently became cheaper than nuclear energy in some US states. Floating solar panels, solar paint and organic solar materials all offer increasingly attractive options. Companies in Europe have begun to act on the idea of a solar powered future with a 400 billion Euro proposal to build solar arrays in North Africa and the Middle East. These arrays would provide 15% of Europe’s energy by 2050. The UAE has drafted plans for massive floating solar arrays off the coast to take care of its growing need for energy; prototypes are already in testing phases. Solar energy is the clear winner in the race for renewable energy.
Towns in Massachusetts have found a use for capped landfill sites; large solar power systems that will net the town up to $70 Million over the next 25 years.
Central Inverters vs Micro Inverters
As the industry clambers to make solar power systems more affordable, they must endeavour to create a simpler, more integrated package. To this end, technology has been moving away from traditional, central inverters to the more economical and safer micro inverters.
Traditional solar power systems consist of PV panels (which produce direct current — DC) and an inverter (which converts the DC current to alternating current — AC), before heading to your power sockets, or the public grid. Total energy production in solar power systems connected to central inverters is impeded by energy lost through the wires in which it travels from the panels into the home. Micro inverters connected to each PV panel in a solar power system convert DC to AC at the source. DC energy loses a lot of its potential over distances when compared to AC current. Therefore, inverting the sun’s DC energy directly into AC at the source, allows us to harness more and lose less.
Faced with the drawbacks of central inverters, Enphase Energy created the M190 micro inverter in 2009. These have been the most popular commercially viable micro inverters to date. So popular are these little micro miracles that 300 000 units have already been sold — an impressive 13% of the 10kW solar power system’s market. This market niche belongs to the home and business owner and, in Ontario, is a booming business as the government offers generous compensation to bolster its microFIT program.
Not only does the micro inverter overcome many of the problems traditionally associated with central inverters, it contains imbedded computing and monitoring technology which allows users to monitor and maintain every aspect of the system, thereby maximising production and increasing reliability. Modern micro inverters have a CPU which uses the AC power lines to send information from the panels, via the internet, to the manufacturer’s website where users are able to check the performance of their systems. This has resulted in a 5% to 25% increase in energy harvest and a 13% to 15% balance-of-system saving. These savings more than compensate for the 20¢ extra per watt it costs to integrate a micro inverter into a small solar power system.
Taking micro inverter technology to even greater heights is Solarbridge Technologies who have created the Pantheon micro inverter. These inverters are integrated into the panel itself, thereby reducing installation costs. Like all micro inverter systems, a lack of DC cabling makes it safer and reduces fire risks while carrying a 25 year warranty.
These amazing leaps in technology help to make our solar power systems more affordable, more reliable and more productive. Solar energy is fast becoming an irresistible choice which makes economical and ethical sense.
A Frank Look at the Ontario microFIT Program
MicroFIT is a program developed by the Ontario government as an incentive to home and business owners to install solar power systems. The program offers the property owner a 20 year contract to sell energy produced by their microFIT system to the grid. Solar power systems don’t come cheap and must be installed by a qualified solar installer. Is MicroFIT worth it? In a word, YES! Allow me to expand….
What’s The Deal?
The Ontario government has modelled its microFIT system on those of countries like Germany. Germany introduced their microFIT system in the early nineties and it has enjoyed unparalleled success. The program proved to be so rewarding that over two million German households, businesses, churches, schools and other organizations have invested in solar power systems. The Ontario microFIT program encourages property owners to install small solar powered systems of 10kW or less. The property remains connected to the grid, and the solar power system produces energy that is sold to the local energy provider. Ontario hydro rates fluctuate between 5.1 cents/kWh in off-peak hours to 9.9 cents/kWh during peak hours. The property owner will continue to pay these rates, while the local energy supplier, under the microFIT program, pays a jaw-dropping 80.2 cents/kWh.
Show Me the SunMoney
So what does that mean in terms of hard cold cash? With a 15% return on your investment, homeowners can look at making back their investment in 4 years.
Years to payback: 4 Years
1 Month: $1000
1 Year: $11 998
10 Years: $131 977
15 Years: $191 967
20 Years: $251 956
25 Years: $311 946
30 Years: $371 936
35 Years: $431 925
Environmental Benefits over 25 years
CO² Offset: 509 762 Lbs
SO² Offset: 2 019.6 Lbs
N₂O Offset: 785.4 Lbs
Which is equivalent to:
Planting: 5 Acres of Trees
Not Driving: 637 202 Miles
Sun Money Is Real
Solarline installed a 5kW microFIT solar system on the Fergusson’s home in October 2011. Since that time they have produced over 9.9 MWh of electricity which they have sold back to the grid for almost $8,000.00. Every month for 20 years, they will receive a cheque from their hydro company. They’ve had no maintenance to worry about, their system just keeps making money for them every month. As Mr. Fergusson says “It’s like having a tenant in our home that takes up no space, never complains, and always pays their rent on time.”
It’s time to get your share of the Sun Money. Solarline has helped dozens of customers earn money from installing solar panels on their properties. You can help Ontario build a green energy strategy, and earn money while doing it. Get a free microFIT solar system quote now.
Business owners have it even better
Environmentally responsible businesses are able to advertise their microFIT solar panel system to shoppers who prefer to frequent establishments that support their environmental principles. Not only will it draw customers, but the system will make SunMoney for the business after 4-5 years. Businesses with flat roofs have an added advantage as the solar panels can be ballasted, which means that the roof is not damaged or altered. The microFIT scheme is further augmented by Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance which enables the business owner to write off their initial setup costs within five years.
- Yr.1 (25%) $16, 935.70
Yr. 2 (50%) $25, 403.55
Yr. 3 (50%) $12, 701.78
Yr. 4 (50%) $6, 350.89
Yr. 5 (50%) $3, 175.44
End of yr. 5 $64, 567.36
For more information, visit: Directory of Energy Efficiency and Alternative Energy Programs in Canada
Doing the Right Thing
Solar panel production produces almost no emissions, the panels are 90% recyclable and have warranties of 20-30 years. They are made of sturdy materials which can withstand the elements and require very little maintenance once installed. They add value to your property and contribute significantly to LEED points. Installing a microFIT solar power system also helps to create ‘green collar’ jobs; an estimated 50 000 jobs will be created by the microFIT program’s insistence on 60% local content and 100% local labor. Jim Creeggan is one of Ontario’s most famous microFIT owners. Said the ‘Barenaked Ladies’ bassist: “Now that the MicroFIT program is up and running, it makes solar a realistic option for more households.”
The microFIT program has proven to be so successful, approx. 3,700 connections thus far, that there are delays in processing. Allow at least three months to receive your conditional offer from the government. Inspections need to be conducted by the Electrical Safety Authority before your solar power system is connected to the grid – make sure that these are included in your quote price.
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.