Solar Panels

My husband Jim and I decided to take it up a notch this summer. In mid-June, we ordered a 4.16 kW grid-tied solar PV system to be installed on our garage. By the time you read this article, the system should be producing enough electricity to offset all the electricity we use at our home.

Solar PV (photovoltaic) means solar panels that will generate electricity. The electricity generated will be used in our house, garage and yard, and any excess power will flow into the grid – maybe to be used in your house, garage or yard. We won’t have any batteries, and it won’t help us out in a power failure.

We will have meters measuring the electricity produced by the panels, and electricity flowing into and from the grid. For those of you who know Jim and me, you know that this data will be a great source of entertainment for us. Watch for future columns containing many wonderful graphs.

Because I work in the green building/ energy conservation field, I am familiar with a few of the solar suppliers. I chose two who I see regularly and feel comfortable with. I talked to both of them and had each of them provide quotes for us. Both were wonderful to work with and their quotes came out very similar. The hardest part of the project so far was deciding which quote to accept.

As regular readers know, our family works to minimize our electricity, gas, and water consumption. Before investing in solar panels, I certainly recommend energy conservation. Learning to turn off lights, computers, and TVs, and buying ENERGY STAR electronics and appliances every time you are replacing things is much cheaper than installing solar panels. The average Saskatchewan household would have to install over twice as large a system as we are installing to offset their consumption.

I’m sure there are more things we can do to reduce our electricity consumption, but we decided it was time to get solar panels.

Our yard is not ideal for solar. We live in an old neighborhood in Saskatoon (think small yards and large trees). Our house and garage roofs both face east and west, so we don’t have a nice south slope to install the panels on.

We are installing the system on our garage because:

  • Our electric service enters at the garage
  • Our garage is less shaded by trees than the house.

We will have 16 panels, which would fit on one side of our garage roof. We will be putting 8 on each side, to minimize shading from a couple large, beautiful trees.

A few people have asked me about maintenance. My understanding is that removing snow in the winter is all the maintenance we should need to do. A thin layer of snow should melt off.   We’ll get a snow rake, and rake the snow off the panels when there are heavier dumps of snow. A future column may talk about how that goes. The whole system is warrantied for 25 years.

The economics… well the economics are marginal. However, homeowners don’t normally use the same financial indicators that businesses use. As we buy cars, couches and new cupboards, we don’t normally calculate a Return on Investment.

You could say we’ve locked in our electricity price at 11¢/kWh for the next 25 years. When will the investment pay back? As soon as we’re producing our own electricity!

Our economic indicator is: “we have the opportunity to buy this system now, so let’s do it”.

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