Solar power for your B.C. business: an update

Nina Winham

BC Hydro recently had an inquiry from a business group about how they might apply solar power in lodging and campground-based businesses. And that got us to thinking – other businesses might be interested in an update, too.

So, here are a few notes about the state of solar in B.C.

Sunlight to electricity: About the technology

Photovoltaic technologies convert sunlight directly into electricity. When sunlight strikes the semiconductor surface of the photovoltaic cell, an electrical current is created that can be captured and harnessed. The DC current produced depends on the semiconductor material and the intensity of solar radiation on the cell.

An emerging approach to producing photovoltaic cells that shows great promise is thin film photovoltaics, where a relatively thin layer of semiconductor is deposited on a low-cost material such as glass or plastic. Cells can be flexibly sized and incorporated into building components, such as roofing shingles.

Research and development continues into these cells and other novel concepts based on new discoveries in physics and material science.

Photovoltaic potential in B.C.

Incoming useable sunlight varies by time of day, time of year and location on the earth. British Columbia has a moderate average annual solar resource, with nearly three times the energy available in July and August compared to December and January.

Over the year, a one-kW PV system located in Vancouver will generate approximately 1,000 kWh. Northwest B.C. has the poorest solar resource, where one kW of installed photovoltaic will generate between 800 to 900 kWh per year.

In contrast, southeast B.C. has the best solar resource, and one kW of installed photovoltaic will generate 1,200 to 1,300 kWh per year.

Market status for PV systems in B.C.

Photovoltaic systems can be viable and economic in B.C. for off-grid applications to support residential loads in cottages and remote communities, and for non-domestic loads that are not connected to the B.C. grid, such as lighting in park areas distant from the distribution system.

Sunlight to heat: solar hot water applications

While photovoltaics are still relatively new in B.C., solar hot water is catching on fast. This technology uses an array of pipes to capture heat energy from the sun (instead of translating solar energy into electricity). The heat can be used for domestic heating, through radiant heat systems, and/or for domestic hot water.

Systems usually include another source of energy (i.e. natural gas) for days when the sun is not bright, but still provide significant reductions in energy costs. (A solar hot water heater can provide up to 60% of the water heating energy needs for a family of four, and hot water represents about 30% of the total energy usage in the home.)

Solar B.C. is offering an incentive to homeowners interested in installing solar hot water systems.

Additional information on solar energy technologies:

Incentives are also available on solar energy technologies:

Natural Resources Canada's ecoENERGY for Renewable Heat will offer an incentive  to
industrial, commercial and institutional purchasers of solar heating systems.

For additional information on financial incentives for industrial, commercial and institutional entities in B.C., visit Energy Savings Plan.

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and frequent contributor to