Do we get enough sunlight in Canada for solar?
Yes, of course we do. If you were to compare Canada to the world leader in the solar industry, Germany, you will see that nearly our entire country has a significant ‘PV potential’ advantage. As you can see in the image below, most of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are Canada's “hotspots” for installing solar.
How does the temperature affect how well my panels perform?
Contrary to popular belief, hotter temperatures actually DECREASE solar panel performance. Although it may not be very much (approximately 0.41%/degree C), it's still a factor we take into account while sizing your system. So during our winter months, when there are less daylight hours and freezing cold temperatures, the panels will actually be performing more efficiently. Try not to confuse this with production values, however. During early to late summer is still your optimal time for production.
What is solar photovoltaics (PV)?
Solar Photovoltaic Technology Basics
Solar cells, also called photovoltaic (PV) cells, convert sunlight directly into electricity. PV gets its name from the process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage), which is called the PV effect. The PV effect was discovered in 1954, when scientists at Bell Telephone discovered that silicon (an element found in sand) created an electric charge when exposed to sunlight. Soon solar cells were being used to power space satellites and smaller items like calculators and watches.
Courtesy of NREL
Click here to learn more
How does solar PV work?
Here is a quick 1-minute video of how the PV cells produce electricity.
Photovoltaic (PV) cells are made up of at least 2 semi-conductor layers. One layer containing a positive charge, the other a negative charge. See the image below.
Sunlight consists of microscopic particles of solar energy called photons. As a PV cell is exposed to this sunlight, many of the photons are reflected, pass right through, or are absorbed by the solar cell.
When enough photons are absorbed by the negative layer of the PV cell, electrons are freed from the negative semiconductor material. Due to the manufacturing process of the positive layer, these freed electrons naturally migrate to the positive layer creating a voltage differential, similar to a household battery.
When the 2 layers are connected to an external load, the electrons flow through the circuit creating electricity. Each individual solar energy cell produces only 1-5 watts. To increase power output, cells are combined in a weather-tight package called a solar module (solar panel). These modules (from one to several thousand) are then wired together in series and/or parallel to create the desired voltage and amperage output required by the given project. This group of modules is called an ‘array’.
Due to the natural abundance of silicon, the semi-conductor material that PV cells are primarily made of, and the practically unlimited resource in the sun, solar power cells are very environmentally friendly. They burn no fuel and have absolutely no moving parts which makes them virtually maintenance free, clean, and silent.
How does a grid-tied system work?
1. Solar panels are installed either on your roof or on a ground mount system.
2. The panels collect sunlight and turn it into DC electricity.
3. The DC electricity is then converted into your typical AC electricity found in your house.
4. The inverter then runs to your main electrical panel which distributes power throughout the house.
5. Any power that isn’t used by the house is fed into the main electrical grid and kept track of via a bi-directional meter. This meter is provided free of charge and also tracks how much power you use when the array isn’t producing (i.e. at night).
6. The meter is read once a month to record how much you have used from the grid and how much has been exported. These savings and credits are shown on your monthly power bill.
How does an off-grid system work?
1. Solar panels are installed either on your roof or on a ground mount system.
2. The panels collect sunlight and turn it into DC electricity.
3. The DC electricity then goes through a charge controller and into the battery bank.
4. The battery bank is connected to an off-grid inverter.
5. The off-grid inverter then runs to your main electrical panel which distributes power throughout the house.
6. A back up generator is optional but highly recommended for charging the batteries in the event of prolonged cloudy days or times when your using more power than normal.
What about my roof?
First, all our roof mounted systems come with approval from an engineer, stating the roof will support the additional load. Our installers are highly skilled and also work in construction. Penetrations made from the array installation are sealed, and the array itself protects the roof beneath it from hail, wind, and uv damage. However because of the installation process, shingles should be in good shape, to prevent breaking, any curling will need to be corrected.
A new service we now offer is a bio-oil protectant spray, to coat your shingles and extend their life span. This spray prevents erosion of the shingle, and defers the cost of roof replacement.
Are solar panels strong enough to withstand hail?
Solar modules are more than strong enough to stand up to our climate, even hail. In order to be CSA approved, they need to pass a series of tests. One of these tests is a hail impact test where the module must withstand 1” hail at 55 mph (88 km/h). You can see in the video above just how strong solar panels really are. That’s not to say they're indestructible of course. If the panels are facing north (which they shouldn’t be in the first place), or laying flat, they very well could be damaged from hail. It would still need to be a very bad storm however.
There was one storm a few years ago in southern Alberta where there was a case of hail damaged solar panels. A few things to point out in this particular case:
1. Virtually everything from vehicle windows, vehicle bodies, roofs, eaves, and many other things were damaged in this storm.
2. The panels were not installed correctly. They were mounted laying flat by an inexperienced installer. Had they have been installed facing south, the hail would likely have deflected off the panels rather than smashing them at 90 degrees.
3. The size of the hail in this particular case was the size of tennis balls.
In a case as severe as this one, insurance would step in and cover the replacement cost. Likely the only thing needing replacement would be the modules themselves. The inverters and racking and other components would be unaffected. So, worst case scenario, you get new panels for free! Just don’t forget to call your insurance once you have solar installed and make sure that it's covered. Many insurance companies have a clause that includes this type of product at no extra charge, some may add $10-40 per year.
Can solar panels work in snow?
YES, solar panels definitely work in snowy climates–homeowners in snowy Germany, for example, are leading the world in terms of putting solar panels on their roofs.
What happens when snow gets on the panels? They can still work under a light snowfall, but after snow completely blocks out sunshine, they’ll stop generating power. This can happen after more than a couple of inches of snowfall. Don’t worry it gets better, keep reading.
How can snow be removed from solar panels?
It’s often possible just to wait for the snow to melt, which can happen quickly depending on the weather conditions. Black panels help the snow melt faster. Because solar panels have a slippery surface and sit at an angle, it can be easy for snow to slide off (please note that this can sometimes happen unexpectedly, so you may need to be careful when walking underneath if your panels are close to the eaves). We recommend letting the snow melt off from the sunlight and heat generation from the panels. Of course if your off-grid this isn’t the case. Since your relying on every watt of production, cleaning the panels off is a must as you don’t have the grid for backup power.
There are several other ways that can be utilized to keep snow off panels. Ground-mounted panels can be tilted to a steeper degree in the winter to help snow slide off more easily; the steeper angle is also better for winter time as it's closer to 90 degrees to the sun. In heavy snowfall, some people choose to use a roof rake to sweep the snow off.
How can snow help?
Like other electronics, solar panels actually work more efficiently in cold weather, so winter isn’t automatically a bad thing. On a clear day after it’s snowed, your solar panel output can actually be greater than what it's rated at because the sun is reflected off the bright white ground. When snow comes off panels, it helps clean them, which gives an additional boost to their productivity. Even if there are days when your panels are covered with snow and not pumping out power, it’s also important to remember that your total energy generation is calculated on a yearly average, so day-to-day variations or lower generation over winter months will be made up in the other months of the year. This is all taken into consideration when we size your system.
How much power do my devices use in stand-by mode?
More than you might think. A recent study was done on the world wide consumption of electronics left in stand-by mode and this is what they found:
Billions of linked-in electronic devices on “standby” worldwide are wasting enough electricity to power 80 per cent of Canada’s needs, says a new report. And the power wasted by appliances on standby is set to soar higher, says the International Energy Agency. It points the finger at the increasing demand for devices that can be connected to networks so they’re accessible from anywhere and appliances that are always ready to click into action without a warm-up. Consider, for example, the little cable box on your TV (The U.S. alone has 160 million of these devices): “Despite being in ‘standby mode,’ all of these boxes drew their full fill of electricity all the time, regardless of whether or not anyone was watching TV or recording a broadcast,” says the report. Another issue: Many household appliances are being hooked into communication networks, so that consumers can use their smartphones to turn on the coffee maker before they get home. The downside: That means the devices must always be in standby mode, never really turned off. And standby, the report says, is a misleading term: Many devices use almost as much power on standby as they do when they’re actively functioning.
“Currently, the estimate for global electricity wasted in this way by network-enabled devices is 400 terawatt hours per year,” says the report. That’s a lot: Canada used about 518 terawatt hours a year of electricity in 2013, according to the Canadian Electricity Association. (One terawatt hour is one billion kilowatt hours.) The waste will get worse, says the IEA. In 2013, the world had about 14 billion “network-enabled devices,” but the number is set to grow: “The uptake of network-enabled devices, which being in ‘network standby’ mode are ‘always on,’ is projected to expand exponentially, possibly reaching 50 billion by 2020, rising towards 100 billion by 2030 and 500 billion over the following decades,” it says. “As the range of network-enabled devices expands, individuals and societies benefit from faster access to multiple types of data and services; however, being ‘connected’ is causing associated global electricity demand to grow at an alarming rate.”
Some of the wasted power is from unneeded add-ons, says the report. For example, almost all microwave ovens have clocks: “Heating food requires 100 times more power than running the clock. But a microwave is typically ‘on’ as an oven only one per cent of the time; over its lifetime, far more energy is used to run the clock display than to cook food.” A second cause of energy waste was the move to connect so many devices, such as appliances and lighting systems, to communication networks. Being connected means the equipment can never truly shut down.
The report says there are ways to curb the energy waste. The IEA has said government should set standards requiring appliances to draw no more than one watt of power while in standby mode. That’s the standard required in Canada for appliances to qualify for Energy Star rating. Canada also introduced minimum standards for audio, video and TV systems in 2012. The need now is to extend energy conservation standards to all network-connected devices, says the report. That will take co-operation among manufacturers, software developers, governments and standards organizations. Consumers need to play their part, too, the report stresses.
They’ve so far shown little interest in the issue, at home or at work. “In an office context, surveys have found that computers are on average left unattended and switched on 28 per cent of the time, corresponding to an average wasted energy of 110 kilowatt hours per year, per computer.” Consumers pay for the power, it says. And energy companies have to generate enough power to meet the new demand.
Globally in 2013, network-enabled devices consumed about 616 terawatt hours of electricity, according to the agency. The report says that better policies and technology could substantially reduce the waste, which is set to almost double by 2025 if nothing is done.
Courtesy: John Spears, Business Reporter, Toronto Star Newspaper Ltd.
What are some ways to save money by using the sun?
One of the best ways to save money is also one of the greenest decisions we can make: that decision is the decision to save more energy. We waste a tremendous amount of energy in the North America. Recent studies have found that we waste 61% to 84% of our energy, and that we use 4 times more energy than the UK despite having less than half the population. Look closely at the comparison below. Canada has remained relatively similar from 1990 to 2015, while the USA had actually DECREASED their consumption. This is mainly due to their excellent dedication to the amount of solar that has been installed throughout their country.
Energy is a huge portion of most people’s expenses. Cutting back just a bit on our energy usage could save money (tons of money) for all sorts of better things.
So, with all that on the table, what are the most effective ways to save money using the sun? I think all of the solar-related ways to save money (by saving energy) listed below are excellent solutions for the average Canadian, but you can decide for yourself by evaluating the option as it applies to your own home or business.
Ways To Save Money With Solar Energy
The number 1 way to save money by using the sun is of course by putting solar PV on your roof. This could save you tens of thousands of dollars. Hundreds of thousands for a large commercial system. This should really be one of the first ways to save money that you should look into, especially considering that you can go solar for $0 or close to $0 down in many cases by leasing a system rather than spending the full amount upfront.
Solar PV panels aren’t the only way to save energy by using the sun. The below solar information from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) shows 7 more solar-related energy saving solutions. See the picture below for a quick reference.
Use Solar Light Tubes For Daylighting: Solar light tubes allow you to bring in a lot more light (cutting the need for artificial lighting) without the installation of big windows which leak heat in the winter and cool air from your electricity-needy air conditioner in the summer. RMI notes that the average financial payback on solar light tubes is 5 to 7 years. In itself, that’s awesome, but that doesn’t even account for the improved quality of life that comes with more daylight in your home or office.
Use Skylights: Skylights are very similar to solar light tubes, but as you can see in a basic way in the infographic, the design is a bit different. (RMI notes that the financial payback time is highly variable, so it doesn’t list a range).
Dry Your Clothes In The Sun: Here’s an old-school money-saving solution that a lot of people are moving back to. Electric dryers are energy hungry. Why suck money out of your wallet using them when you can simply let the sun dry your clothes? Of course, if you decide to jump in on this energy- and money-saving solution, the financial savings are immediate. And if you want to see how much money you’re saving, you can try comparing your electric bill to your electric bills from previous months and from the same month in previous years. You’ll find this is one of the most effective ways to save money (a huge chunk of it) by using the energy of the sun.
Use A Pool Cover/Blanket: If you’ve got a swimming pool, this seems like an obvious one. Get a pool blanket/cover that uses the heat from the sun to warm your pool. You could also purchase some minor components from us and we could show you how to make a pool heater using the back of a solar panel and some hose, and use the panel to power the pump. The financial payback time is under 1 year according to RMI.
Buy Solar Hot Water Panels For Your Pool: If you want a more high-tech and low-effort solution for heating your pool, solar hot water panels for the pool are a logical solution. RMI projects that average financial payback time on such solar panel systems is 1.5 to 4 years. That’s an excellent payback time. And remember that you’re then saving money for decades to come (the same as making money, essentially, except you don’t have to pay taxes on financial savings!). This is a very simple way to save money and energy by using the tremendous energy resource of the sun rather than inefficient and harmful electricity generation from fossil fuels or heating from natural gas.
Buy Solar Hot Water Panels For Your Home: Naturally, if solar hot water panels (aka solar thermal panels) can heat your pool, they can also heat the water you use in your home. In some places (e.g., Malta and Crete, Greece), these solar hot water panels are on practically every roof. As the infographic below shows, solar thermal panels make a great supplement to solar PV panels. RMI notes that solar hot water panels cut 50–80% off of hot water bills, on average, and have a financial payback time of 6–10 years.
Use Solar Landscape And Patio Lighting: I’m sure you’ve seen these in home & garden shops and on many people’s lawns. You probably even have some yourself. They are one of the most logical ways to save money and energy with little initial investment. Not only do they save you money and cut your energy-related emissions, but they are also easier to relocate as your lighting needs change. You can even move them to a new home if you make a move, which is quite common these days. RMI estimates an average financial payback time of 2 years for switching to solar landscape and patio lighting.
Here’s RMI’s full infographic, Going Solar: Options For Homeowners
A history of solar and its progression.
Most people are surprised to learn that photovoltaic technology actually dates back over 160 years. The basic science was first discovered in 1839 but the pace of advancement really accelerated in three major thrusts in the 20th century.
Albert Einstein Makes His Mark
It wasn't until Albert Einstein wrote his 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect: "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light".
The Commercial Solar Age Begins
Bell Laboratories, while working on silicon semiconductors, discovered silicon had photoelectric properties and quickly developed Si solar cells, achieving 6% efficiency and early satellites were the primary use for these first solar cells.
Progressive Governments Use Subsidies to Speed Adoption
To spur adoption, Germany and then Japan initiated considerable subsidy programs and now those markets exist largely without subsidies. In 2007, California leads the US with a similar 10-year program.