Frequently Asked Questions About Solar
Our teams’ experts get asked lot of questions about solar, from net-metering, to types of solar energy systems, to viable locations for system installations. Here are some of our most frequently asked questions to help guide you in all of your renewable energy needs. If you can’t find the information you are looking for, reach out and one of our team members would be happy to help you!
Net-metering allows grid-tied solar system owners to save, and in some circumstances make money off of the excess energy their system produces.
If the Solar PV system is generating more electricity than the home is consuming, AC 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 electricity they generate from their Solar PV system; offsetting their utility consumption and therefore lowering their BC Hydro bill. Due to BC Hydro’s net billing structure, Tier 2 rate level, the most expensive rate step, is offset before Tier 1 rate level billing.
The most common type of solar modules (panels) are comprised of a photovoltaic (PV) panel or ‘array’ which converts sunlight 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 flows from the solar panels through an inverter, which converts direct current (DC) generated within the solar panel, to alternating current (AC).
This AC current can then be consumed within the home, or sold to BC Hydro by exporting it to the grid. If a battery backup is integrated into the system, surplus generation can be used to help power the home and recharge the battery during a power outage.
Environmental Advantages of Solar PV Energy Systems
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
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 PV 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 for the client.
Financial Advantages of Solar PV Systems
When you chose to install a solar PV 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.
It is important to know what goes into the price you are quoted. Quite often, the contractor 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 and electrical drawings
- Electrical permit (and a building permit in some jurisdictions)
- BC Hydro Net-Metering application
- Equipment delivery and crew travel to site
- Installation of racking, inverters, wiring, and solar modules
- Testing and commissioning of PV energy system
- Set-up and commissioning of a monitoring system
- Site clean-up
- Documentation and financial summaries
- Post-installation training and technical support
- Warranty coverage
Hakai provides a written account of the costs and responsibilities covered in the quote. We include applicable 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!
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 grid-tied 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 Grid-tied 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.
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.
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“).
There are two types of solar PV energy inverters, string, and micro-inverters.
The most appropriate location for a string-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.
A range of solar grants, incentives, and rebates are periodically available throughout BC and Canada. They range in value, are often first-come first-serve and are capped at either a number of applicants or a dollar amount.
The Canada Greener Homes Federal grant program allows up to $5,000 for home retrofitting projects (including Solar PV systems) $650 for home energy assessments completed by an accredited energy advisor, and up to $40,000 per home in interest-free loans. Learn more on our grants page.
Renewable Energy Equipment is currently PST exempt under the BC tax code.
Grid-Tied PV systems also 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.
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 a new renewable energy source to their existing electrical utility connections. The Hakai administrative team assists clients with Net-Metering applications.
The process is efficient and user-friendly, making it simple for new applicants to join in. There are no fees applicable and the process is typically completed within a few 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 correct documentation and communication occurs.
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-tied solar energy design.
Solar panels are solid-state devices, meaning there are no moving parts. There are no turbines, valves, liquid, or pressure levels to monitor. Your solar energy system can be expected to operate for 30+ years with little or no maintenance requirements beyond periodic cleaning of the panels.
Some homeowners choose to brush or hose off their panels when there is accumulated debris, dust, bird droppings, etc, but in practice wind and rain take care of most of the heavy lifting here.
Solar panels are designed to withstand environmental elements such as rain, hail, heavy snow, and strong winds, and are installed with these factors in mind.
Light snow will not have a huge impact on the energy production of a solar PV system. While the solar panels will produce no power while covered in snow, their glass surfaces warm quickly, allowing a thin layer of snow to melt and slide off the panels. It is quite common to see solar panels shed any accumulated snow while neighboring asphalt and metal roof areas are still covered.
During periods of heavy snowfall, solar panels have the potential to shed accumulated slabs of snow all at once, similar to a metal roof. This can create a potential hazard if you have a steep roof, and the mounting location of the panels is near the edge of the roof, over a high-traffic area such as a driveway, front door, or patio.
Hakai offers to supply and install snow management components, similar to snow bars on metal roofs, throughout your solar array.
Grid-Tied Solar PV inverters are voltage enabled devices. This means that if there is no voltage supplied by the utility, the solar system will deactivate. This is possible in the case of a nearby power pole being struck or a weather event. 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.
Hakai Energy Solutions is an established full service electrical contractor in the province of BC, with the complete suite of resources to successfully deliver a project and support it in the long term. We have the physical assets, financial resources, specialized work equipment, highly trained staff, as well as the intellectual property required to ensure the efficient delivery of projects. Our overall technical expertise and installation proficiency have been the result of many years with dedicated full-time employees specializing in the renewable energy industry. Take a moment to read though some of our glowing client reviews or scroll through some past project case studies.
We’d love to connect and hear more about your project idea, contact us today.
Grid-tied solar energy systems generate value by producing energy that can either offset or completely cover your power bill. You have access to 100% of the energy your system produces, either to be used locally in the home, or by exporting surplus power back to the grid. Any surplus energy generated is credited for use against future consumption at a 1:1 rate under BC Hydro’s net-metering program.
A typical residential solar energy system in B.C. covers between 40% to 70% of a home’s annual power bill. Some homes are able to achieve net zero (100% coverage) with their solar array. The value of an exported kilowatt hour (kWh) of solar energy, is equal to the price charged per kWh by BC Hydro.
As BC Hydro energy prices continue to rise, historically at an average of 4% increase per year, the value of solar energy increases at the same rate. This represents a compounding interest, resulting in an exponential payback curve to the homeowner.
With an average annual rate of return of 10% over the system’s lifespan, solar systems typically pay themselves off in 10 years and generate 3 to 4 times their value within the system’s lifetime. This makes solar a stable, low-risk investment opportunity.
Research into the North American housing market shows that solar energy systems add approximately twice their installation cost to a home’s resale value. When combined with available grant and loan incentives, solar energy systems offer a reliable and lucrative value proposition for homeowners.