Should you put solar panels on your home in Ontario?
As energy costs continue to climb, and the concerns over environmental change continue to grow, more and more people are considering clean energy solutions. Solar power is at the top of the list. While wind and water have their merits, solar is by far the most accessible, and is becoming increasingly popular with homeowners. More and more people are adding solar panels to existing rooflines, and we at L. Patten and Sons highly recommend considering solar for any new builds in Ontario.
What has changed in solar in the last few years?
While most people are not prepared to go off the grid, it is now possible to use power generated by a rooftop or free-standing system to offset electricity taken from the grid. This process is called net metering. Unlike the feed-in tariff (FIT) programs of the past, which contracted the utility to buy the generated power at a set fee per kWh, net metering looks at the difference between the energy used vs. the energy generated each month. In the summer months, there will likely be more energy generated than consumed. In that case, the utility credits the homeowner with the excess. In winter, those credits can be used to cover the shortfall. Credits are good for 11 months, so the system operates on an annual net total.
There are quite a few advantages to this program, the largest being the 1:1 kWh exchange. Unlike the FIT program, where rates were set for a 20-year period, net metering allows for constantly changing hydro costs. While a FIT contract that pays $0.23/kWh makes sense now, it won’t seem like such a good deal when we have to pay $0.30/kWh or more.
The cost of installing the appropriate solar setup on a home is significant, but in many cases it is both a sound financial and environmental decision. Currently, the general payback period for an appropriately-sized residential solar system is 8-10 years, once all costs are factored in. So while the investment up front is substantial, the benefits should last well beyond the payback period.
Another key change is the development of solar shingles. While the jury is still out on their efficacy and reliability, if they are even close to what the manufacturers promise then they will surely be a popular option. While they will be very expensive, at least until demand climbs dramatically, they will be aesthetically far superior to the current solar panels and will be an excellent option for new custom homes. The important thing to remember when pricing solar shingles is that the price basically includes a decade or more of hydro costs, so be prepared to pay far more than for traditional roofing. Current solar shingle manufacturers claim that their pricing is comparable to traditional roofing, but they don't mention that it's comparable to traditional roofing PLUS all the hydro costs you'd pay for at least a decade. A safe guess is that solar shingles will cost about 4 times the price of asphalt shingles. In the end their comparison does have value, but it's misleading at the start without all of the details. Tesla says it will warranty their solar shingles until 'infinity', so long term solar shingles should have no trouble recovering their costs over time.
Residential battery systems are also improving rapidly, which means that storage of solar energy is also becoming more feasible. At this point the storage is suitable primarily for emergency use, but as with all things this too will change. We just don’t know how quickly.
5 Things to consider about going solar
- Does your property get enough sunlight?
If your home will have only early morning or late day sun, solar may not be the best option. The same can be said if you have a heavily treed area surrounding the house. The potential must exist for long periods of full sun exposure for the idea of solar to be worthwhile.
- If you are building new, are you willing to design the house to take full advantage of the sun?
The slope and orientation of your roof will play a very large part in the success of your solar installation. Any new home design should consider the functionality of a potential solar system, and efforts should be made to design the house to take full advantage of the available sun. In addition, the design should consider the weight load of the system, and the wiring needs. Planning ahead for an efficient system will cost no more at the beginning, but will save far more in the end.
- Are you willing to invest considerable money into setting up the system? While the use of solar should become cost-effective in the long run, the up-front expenses are significant. As a starting point, look at the cost of 10 years worth of hydro. Then add connection costs and administrative expenses, which vary dramatically depending on the surrounding electrical infrastructure. Connection costs can vary from $5,000 to $30,000, depending on the size of the system and the capability of the electrical network in your location. These costs will be in addition to the costs of installing your system, and are dictated by Hydro One.
- How long do you intend to stay in your home?
As mentioned above, the costs are all front-end loaded for solar, so if you plan to sell in less than 10 years you will not recoup your costs, and the next owner will reap all of the rewards.
- What other costs will still need to be paid for energy?
This one is a little trickier, because at this point we just don’t know. Hydro One currently charges every customer certain fixed charges each month, which must be paid even if not a single kWh is used. Currently, Hydro One charges about $50.00 in total fixed costs every month. Will Hydro increase these charges as more and more customers generate their own power? The utility will still be required to maintain the infrastructure, and they will undoubtedly be collecting those costs from us. So it is possible that even a net-zero home (one that generates as much energy in a year as it uses) will still have considerable fixed Hydro costs to pay.
Solar power will definitely continue to gain momentum in the coming years, as the Ontario government moves to make all new home builds net-zero by 2030. We recommend adding solar to an existing home as a worthwhile investment. Planning for solar in a new home should become a priority. We are already building net-zero ready homes, meaning we use the best insulation and building practices to maximize the energy efficiency of every new home we build. So if and when solar is added, the chances of meeting the homes energy requirements is greatly improved.
If you have more questions about solar and other clean energy alternatives, we recommend visiting www.solacity.com . They have a learning section that is both highly informative and a really good read. Our recommendation here is limited to the information section only, as we have no experience with the company itself.