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Busting solar power myths

Shining a light on misconceptions about solar power

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It’s tempting to look at the electric bill and start thinking about producing your own renewable energy. In addition to eventually saving money, many homeowners say doing their part to help the earth is another big driver of going solar.

Ed Reevey, owner of Clear Power Solutions in Saint John, N.B., says Atlantic Canada is geographically positioned to benefit solar power users.

“What I tell everyone is that Germany is absolutely covered in solar panels, but we actually see more sunlight from day-to-day here,” Reevey says. “If you were to look at the North American solar grid, you’d see [Atlantic Canada] receives approximately 2.5–3 hours of sunlight per day, which is better than most of Southern Ontario.”

When it comes to the costs and benefits of solar power, Reevey acknowledges there is a lot of misinformation out there.

The price to install a solar system has dropped substantially since solar came into vogue. Ten years ago, the approximate pay-back period, the time the system’s installation cost would outweigh its savings, was 40 years. But older solar systems only included  a 25-year warranty, which could mean big repair bills.

Today’s pay-back period is about 15 years, while the system’s lifespan could be as long as 35 years. “If you look at it that way, you could be generating power for free for up to 20 years,” says Reevey. “That’s no small feat.”

Part of what lowered the cost of entry to solar was a program that was recently cancelled by the Ontario provincial government. It paid homeowners $1 per solar photovoltaic-generated watt. The incentive barely lasted a year, but it brought several large manufacturers to the province in a bid to claim some of this new business.

“That’s really when we saw a significant decrease in the price for solar panels. In all honesty, I can’t see it dropping a whole lot more at this time,” Reevey says.

In 2016, following a three-year pilot program, Halifax launched its Solar City program. Residents could finance a solar photovoltaic, solar hot air, or solar hot water system, or all three systems, avoiding the significant, upfront costs of solar system installations.

The homeowner repays the financing, which can run upwards of $20,000, over a period of 10 years at a fixed interest rate of 4.75%. The program doesn’t require a credit check, but property owners must be in good financial standing with the municipality.

“The city of Halifax absolutely understands the costs of installing a solar system are prohibitive for a lot of people,” says Kevin Boutilier, Solar City program officer. “Not to mention understanding the systems and where to start can be an overwhelming thing to look at, as well. The program is intended to provide unbiased advice to homeowners.”

That advice could be worth its weight in gold.

Contrary to the notion that every house could and should feature an array of solar panels on its roof, Reevey says there are things to consider before buying.

“A lot of people believe they can just pack their roof with solar panels and get to a point where they will be net zero,” Reevey says. “In reality, homeowners are most often limited by budget and available roof space.”

Another critical aspect of solar panel installation is the direction of the house peaks. The roof pitch must be angled for optimal sunlight exposure, and unhindered by trees, hills, mountains, or other physical barriers that may prevent the panels from reaching their full potential.

“As much as a homeowner may want to move forward with the installation of a solar project, there are just some instances where limitations are going to prevent the system from reaching its full potential,” Reevey says.

Another important consideration is making sure your home is already as energy efficient as possible. That means looking at lighting, insulation, windows and doors. Reevey says, “Solar should be viewed as the last step in making a house as efficient as possible.”

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