How Do Solar Panels Work?
The most common type of solar panels is comprised of a photovoltaic (PV) panel or ‘array’ which converts sunlight directly into electricity. At the atomic level, the material within a solar module absorbs photons and releases electrons. When the electrons are built up, a voltage is created. When a circuit is completed, current flows and electric power is yielded.
The energy flow from the solar panels is managed by an inverter, which converts direct current (DC) generated in the solar panel, to alternating current (AC).
This AC current can be consumed directly in the home, or sold to BC Hydro by exporting it to the grid. In some systems, excess generation may be stored in a battery or battery bank for use during off-peak production hours, or for emergency use.
What Are The Advantages of Solar Power?
- Environmental Advantages of Solar Energy
Solar energy helps you reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and makes you an active participant in the expanding green energy sector.
Solar energy also reduces your dependency on utility generated electricity.
- Energy Independence with Solar Power
Take control of your energy “transactions” (production and consumption). Offset some of your personal energy consumption with your own means of renewable energy generation.
- Reliability & Maintenance of a Solar Panel System
One key feature of a solar PV system is that there are no moving parts; the conversion of energy is done with solid-state devices. There are no turbines, valves, and no liquid or pressure levels to monitor. Resultantly, the system can be expected to run for 30+ years with virtually no maintenance. Some owners clean bird droppings, pollen, or dust from the panels – but in practice rain usually takes care of this task.
Power production output in Solar PV panels is typically guaranteed for 25 years. The product warranty on materials and workmanship is usually 10 years.
Inverter manufacturers offer warranties ranging from 10-25 years. Warranty extensions are available on most products, at an extra charge.
- Financial Advantages of Solar Power Systems
When you install a solar energy system, you essentially purchase 30+ years of electricity at a fixed rate. This rate is dependent on the purchase price of the complete system, divided by the estimated energy production over the lifespan of the system. Today, many systems can provide energy at a rate comparable to or lower than the current cost of energy with BC Hydro. This creates an opportunity for the owner to yield a rate of return competitive with many other forms of investment, with very low risk.
Since electric utility rates are not static but increasing, the value of the electricity increases every year. Historically BC Hydro rates have increased at a rate of 5% annually. Remember that increases to BC Hydro’s rates will also increase the cost of applicable taxes on your bill. This has a compounding effect on the actual published rate increase.
To assess the return on investment one must consider this escalating cost of utility power. Ask your contractor to include detailed financial analysis as part of your proposal.
Important financial considerations include Increased Value to Your Home, Average Annual Rate of Return (from utility savings), Projected Average Annual Cost of Solar Electricity vs. Utility Power, Years for Capital Cost Payback.
What Are The Types of Solar Energy Systems?
Solar PV energy systems can be installed and connected to buildings existing electrical services. Renewable energy production typically offsets the utility consumption in the home or business. Excess energy can be exported to the grid and sold at a set rate to BC Hydro. Click here to read more about on-grid solar.
A PV installation can also be configured as a stand-alone system to supply power where no utility service exists (off-grid). An off-grid system often incorporates batteries and possibly a back-up generator. These installations are set in place to supply power to an entire facility, a residence, or small stand-alone loads such as lighting, a good pump, or instrumentation. Click here to read more about off-grid solar.
- Hybrid or On-Grid with Energy Storage
A grid-tied system with energy storage incorporates storage capacity which can be drawn from in the event of a utility power outage. This type demands more capital investment but provides a secure system for your critical loads.
How Much Power Can A Solar Energy System Produce?
A common myth is that on the West Coast there is too little sunshine or too much rain and grey skies. Germany is the leading country for installed solar capacity, yet Canada has a more than 30% higher solar resource. Even Vancouver outshines Berlin by 15%. The British Columbia solar resource is not to be dismissed – the potential is very high.
Each kilowatt of installed solar PV in the southern coastal BC region can be expected to produce approximately 1100 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. (*based on a 4/12 roof pitch with good southern exposure). For example, a 3kW PV system will produce 3300kWh of electricity each and every year.
The typical BC home consumes 11,000kWh of power annually.
What Is An Appropriate Location To Mount A Solar Array?
A solar array can be mounted on a roof, on the top of a pole, or on the ground. The most popular location for mounting solar panels is on a rooftop, where existing infrastructure can be utilized. This minimizes cost and the footprint of the system and eliminates excavation and concrete foundations.
Though a south-facing slope provides the best production, there are mounting options for flat roof buildings. East/west oriented roofs are also possible sites as the reduction in yield can typically be offset by adding another panel or two to your system.
Solar panels may be mounted over metal or asphalt shingles. There are well-engineered solutions for all rooftops that assure that the integrity of your roof is maintained. If your roof is aged or in poor condition, you may need to consider re-roofing the surface to better match its remaining life expectancy with the new solar array. Sloped roofs do not typically require any structural modification or engineering assessment. Flat or low-slope roofs may require these activities to be performed before proceeding with the installation of a solar array.
When determining the best location for your installation, a competent solar vendor will provide detailed performance modelling. With the use of appropriate devices and/or analytical skills, the representative can identify obstructions such as structural or natural features that could affect system performance because of shading. If an appropriate mounting solution is not selected and installed properly the system will deteriorate, have reduced production, may suffer wind/seismic damage, cause roof leaks, or become electrically compromised. Solar system sizes are measured in kilowatts, kW (1000W). Each kW of PV panels requires about 6.6 square meters (70.8 square feet) of roof space. (1640mm (64.5”) x 4000 mm (158“).
What Is An Appropriate Location To Mount An Inverter?
The most appropriate location for an inverter is near the main electrical panel. If your main electrical panel is in the garage, this is a prime location to locate the inverter.
If the main panel is in a bedroom, main entrance, or living area, the inverter can be located elsewhere but will require an electrical cable or conduit to be run from the inverter to the panel. This cable run may be located on the interior or exterior of your home, depending on the circumstance. Ask your contractor in advance how they plan to manage the cable or conduits so you’re aware of the aesthetic implications to your living spaces.
Most Inverters can be located on the exterior of the home if desired, though a suitable location should consider the potential for theft, vandalism, insurability, and intensity level of weather exposure it will be subjected to.
Inverters are electrically safe and can be in living areas that include children. Like all electrical equipment, it’s important to keep the covers on and be aware of any safety markings. Some inverters can produce low-level fan noise during times of high energy production, typically limited to the hours of 10 am-2 pm. All electrical equipment including inverters requires 1 meter of clearance in front so that they may be accessed easily and safely for operation and service. Areas that should be avoided include bedrooms, bath and laundry rooms, and those that may experience high levels of dust. Micro-inverters are another option that is popular in residential applications. Micro-inverters are small devices that are mounted on the roof behind the solar panels. No other electronic devices are required within the home, making micro-inverters a good choice for small systems and those without a suitable place to mount a string inverter.
Are There Incentives Available for Solar Power Systems?
Renewable Energy Equipment is currently PST exempt under the BC tax code.
There are currently no government financial incentives for solar PV installations. In BC, this is not expected to change in the foreseeable future.
Grid-Tied PV systems enable you to receive direct value or credit for 100% of your solar production.
Check out the BC Hydro Net-Metering Program for more information.
What is the BC Hydro Net-Metering Program and How Does It Work?
Net-metering allows solar system owners to save, and even make money off of the excess energy their system produces.
If the PV system is generating more than the home is consuming, current will flow back to the utility grid. This exported electricity is credited towards future consumption at a 1:1 ratio, meaning all of the value of the export product is retained in the accounting process.
The homeowner consumes the power they generate from their PV system; therefore offsetting their utility consumption and lowering their Hydro bill. The most expensive rate step is offset first, as long as you typically run into the Tier 2 rate level in any respective month.
What Are My Obligations to BC Hydro?
All on-grid or grid-tied solar systems must be approved by BC Hydro. BC Hydro offers a ‘Net Metering Program’ that handles all requests from customers that want to connect their new renewable energy source to their existing utility connections. Hakai handles this application process for customers.
The process is very efficient and user-friendly, making it simple for new applicants to join in. There are no fees applicable and the process is typically completed in under two weeks. Once the system is completed and inspected, you must submit your electrical contractor’s Authorization & Declaration of Compliance or Certificate of Electrical Inspection from a Technical Safety BC Authority Officer. HAKAI Energy Solutions will assist you in the application process to ensure it goes smoothly.
You must have a smart meter to participate in the BC Hydro Net metering program, though you can receive a smart meter with the ‘radio off’ through a separate application process.
In the South Okanagan-Kootenay area, FortisBC operates the electrical utility. There are also five BC municipalities that have their own utilities and sell electricity directly to their customers, including New Westminster, Nelson, Grand Forks, Penticton and Summerland. Future Net Metering customers are advised to check with their utility before planning a grid-tie solar energy design.
What Happens In The Event Of A Power Cut?
Grid-Tie Solar PV inverters are voltage enabled devices. This means that if there is no utility supply voltage present, the solar system will deactivate. This protects utility employees who might be working on the powerlines. The resulting scenario is that the system owner also is left without power for the full duration of the utility outage. When power is restored, the inverter will automatically reconnect and will resume solar energy production. No actions are required and there is no risk to the equipment. Conversely, there are design options and equipment that safely allow the homeowner to access energy during a utility outage. This typically includes the addition of a battery system or back-up generator.
An additional advantage unique to Tesla Powerwall is the ability to control the export of excess energy from the solar array to the grid. This functionality is referred to as ‘self-consumption’, where the owner maintains control over the energy they generate by storing excess during the day and then consuming it during the evening on a daily, cyclical basis.
How Much Does Solar Cost?
It is important to know what goes into the price that you are quoted. Quite often the vendor providing the lowest cost will not provide the best quality products or most optimum installation.
Costs for a solar installation typically will include:
- Site survey
- System design
- Electrical permit (and a building permit in some jurisdictions)
- Net Metering application
- Equipment delivery and travel to site
- Installation of racking, inverters, wiring, and solar modules
- Testing and Commissioning
- Set-up and commissioning of a monitoring system
- Site Clean-Up
- Post-installation training and technical support
- Warranty Coverage
Hakai provides a written account of the costs and responsibilities covered in the quote. We can also include building/electrical permit fees, electrical drawings, net-metering applications, travel expenses, monitoring equipment, and warranty support in the quote.
Hakai provides free estimates based on the above. Contact us for more information!
Why Choose Hakai Energy Solutions?
Hakai recognizes our obligations to the public, the consumer, our employees, and the industry.
All our installations are completed by trained, experienced technicians with plenty of hands-on experience. See a full list of our qualifications here, or a list of completed projects here.
Hakai has great customer reviews and testimonials.
In all matters relating to the consultation, design, and installation of a new solar energy system, HAKAI Energy Solutions strives to deliver the best service and support to our clients. HAKAI Energy takes the long view on business relationships; we invest in employees to keep the knowledge base growing along with every new challenge. Over the years, we’ve been able to attract some of the most experienced red seal certified electricians and NABCEP Certified Solar Installers in the business. Call on our experience to help guide your investment decision to your ultimate satisfaction. Hakai’s team is highly-qualified and trained to provide quality solar/electrical installations. We have professional affiliations such as CanSIA, BC Sustainable Energy Association, Electrical Contractors Association of BC, and North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
Contact us today for more information, initial consultations are always free.