Solar Panels Popping Up in Fairview

July 2023

One Fairview homeowner’s experience with Solar

If you look up at Fairview’s rooftops you may start to notice a growing trend: Solar panels are popping up on more and more homes. Have you ever considered getting solar on your home? If so read on.

We had a 4.88KW solar system installed on our home on Fielding Drive in January 2022. This system would normally have cost $11,500 to have installed, however, we only had to pay $6,500 after benefiting from National Resources Canada’s Greener Homes Program.  That program which covers eligible energy saving home improvements knocked our total price down by almost $4,900. In order to be eligible for an improvement like solar (or a heat pump, new attic insulation, new windows etc), you must first have a certified Energy Advisor come do an assessment on your home. They will test how airtight you house is, measure the insulation in your attic and go through your utility bills to come up with a list of the types of improvements you should consider in order to save on energy (and hopefully money too).

Note: Due to the incredible popularity of the Greener Homes program these energy advisors can be booked up for many months so if you are considering taking advantage of this program it is best to call around and get yourself in the queue for an appointment. Search “Greener Homes Grant” online to be taken to the NRCan website for more information about this grant, and a list of Energy Advisors in Calgary.

Now, more specifically to my system here is what I have found. My system is a grid tied solar system which means Enmax installed a special electrical meter on my house that allows me to draw power from the grid when I’m underproducing (like at night, or in the winter), and send power back to the grid when I’m overproducing (a sunny summer day). Of course production is expected to be much higher in the summer so one way to take advantage of this is to go with a “rate switching” plan with your electricity utility. This means for the months of April through to September, I am “paying” a much higher rate for my electricity than the average homeowner. But wait: since during all of those months I am guaranteed to produce more than I consume, all those kwH I send back to the grid get credited to my account at that “high” summer rate. Once October rolls around my solar production dips dramatically and so my utility switches me back to a normal rate like any other house is paying. Using this “Rate Switching” technique means my system should be paid off in a little over 6 years at current energy prices. Many people have asked me if I intend to go “off grid” now that I have solar. My answer is definitely not. I still heat my house with Natural Gas, and by tying in to the grid I can take advantage of being credited for the power I send back to the grid. After all: hot summer days are seeing more and more people running their A/C units which means the grid will take all the power I can produce!

The company that installed my system predicted that I would generate 5,300kwh per year. For 2022 I generated 4,743kwh so about 90% of predicted.

A couple other quick points: you can generally only get approved for a system rated to 105% of your previous year’s energy consumption. That means you can’t build a massive array covering your whole roof unless you truly are using that much power. If you have an EV or air conditioning though, your consumption will be much higher than average which means you can take advantage of economies of scale when you are getting a system. Another thing: Calgary does get a lot of sunny weather even in the middle of winter but don’t expect to generate much power. Even once all the snow has melted off the panels, the angle of the sun is so low that you will never come close to your summer time production. One other limitation: your system is tied into your electrical panel and takes up 4 full size circuit breakers. If your panel is full or older you may need to have an electrician move some breakers around, or even upgrade your electrical panel. The installation of my array took 1 ½ days and was done entirely by a local company. I have 13 panels on my roof. If your shingles are in rough shape it makes sense to replace them beforehand since the panels are installed on top of your existing roof.

One of the coolest things about having solar is that you can nerd out in real time about what you’re producing using an application on your phone. I was in BC on holidays last summer and could sit on the beach and see my system generating as much as $9 per day in energy. See the screen shots below to see how the interface looks.

If you are interested in Solar, ask one of your neighbours who might have those nifty looking panels on their roof about what they recommend. Or Google the “Greener Homes Grant” and you can start your solar journey right away. One thing is for sure: energy prices are certainly not getting any cheaper. With a solar system you can begin to take advantage of high energy prices, and help the environment at the same time.