Solar power & heating for your home
Do your research on the practicality of going solar in B.C.
Solar energy is an affordable alternative energy that can be used to help heat and power your home or business. However, there are some important considerations around the use of both solar photovoltaic and solar thermal systems in British Columbia that you should be aware of.
While the cost of installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system for electricity generation has dropped dramatically in recent years, for homeowners in B.C. connected to the BC Hydro electrical system, it would take at least 20 years to recoup the investment at today's average electricity rates. However, in remote locations where there is no grid to tie into for power, off-grid solar PV systems can be used to store power in batteries and can make for a sound investment.
In Canada, solar thermal systems are used mostly for domestic water heating rather than for primary space heating. In our climate conditions, other fuel-source options may be more economical for primary space heating than a solar thermal system.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are comprised mainly of solar panels, inverters, breakers and mounting equipment. A solar panel generates power by converting sunlight to direct current electricity. Inverters are then used to convert the direct current electricity to alternating current electricity to be used in your home.
There are two main types of solar PV systems:
- Grid-tied systems, which feed alternating current electricity directly to the local grid
- Off-grid systems, which store direct current electricity in batteries for later use
It's important to note that any grid-tied systems require complex electrical connections and must be approved by BC Hydro before installation to ensure safety and effective operation.
Learn more about net metering options for residential and commercial customers looking to connect a small electricity generating unit to the BC Hydro distribution system.
Solar photovoltaic costs, considerations in B.C.
The cost of installing solar PV systems has declined steadily over the last decade as a result of technology improvements and more efficient systems yielding a higher power output.
In B.C., a 1 kW solar PV system, south facing and tilted with no shading, will generate about 1,200 kWh per year or about 30,000 kWh over its 25 year lifetime. This is taking into account an industry average solar panel efficiency degradation rate of 0.5% per year.
At a turnkey installation cost of about $3,000, it would take you over 25 years to recoup your investment at today's average electricity rates.
In remote locations where there is no grid to tie into for power, off-grid solar PV systems can be used to store power in batteries which can be used throughout the day or even at night. In B.C., off-grid systems make for a sound investment when installed in locations where alternative power sources such as diesel generators are required.
Batteries are obviously an added cost to an off-grid system and, depending on the type of batteries used, they require regular maintenance and/or replacement during the system's lifecycle.
What you should know about grid-tied solar PV systems
- In B.C., a 1kW solar PV array would require about 7 to 8 square metres of south facing free space. A professional systems installer can help you estimate the solar potential of your home.
- Before installing a solar system on your home's roof, consider your roof's current condition and if rework is needed anytime in the near future.
- Installing a solar PV system can be complicated, especially for roof mounted systems. Solar panels are essentially made of glass and need to be handled with care. Mounting solar panels on your roof should be done by a roof system professional to ensure that no damage is done to the building’s existing weather proofing during installation.
- Connecting a solar PV system to the grid requires complex electrical connections which need to be approved by BC Hydro. Hiring a professional solar PV system installer will help ensure that all necessary permits are obtained and that all safety measures are in place before the system is energized.
What you should know about off-grid solar PV systems
- Off-grid systems are more expensive due to the added costs of the battery banks and charge controllers.
- Battery banks are one of the highest lifecycle costs of an off-grid solar PV system as they require regular maintenance and/or replacement to ensure optimum system performance and longevity.
- Depending on the type used, batteries have a life span of anywhere from 5 to 10 years. Speak with a professional to understand your battery options for your specific application.
- Off-grid systems need to be sized appropriately to ensure that the battery banks are being used at its maximum capacity throughout the year.
- Consider hybrid solar PV/diesel generator systems for remote locations to ensure an adequately sized solar PV system and reliable power even during long periods of cloudy weather conditions.
Solar thermal systems convert sunlight into heat energy through solar thermal collectors, usually mounted on rooftops.
These collectors circulate a fluid which is heated by the sun's radiant energy. The heated fluid can then be pumped through a heat exchanger to heat water, provide space heating for your home or even heat your swimming pool.
Solar thermal costs, considerations in B.C.
Solar thermal systems are complex systems which can be installed in various different configurations depending on application, geographic location and site conditions.
The average cost for installing a domestic solar hot water system is about $6,000 for a small family. Evacuated-tubes are about 20% to 30% more expensive than flat-plate collectors.
A solar hot water system can provide water heating needs all year round. In the summer, it can provide up to 100% of hot water needs and in winter it can provide up to 25%. A solar hot water system can easily be integrated with your existing domestic hot water system to provide you with hot water all year round.
The true savings realized with installing a solar hot water system will depend on the type of system installed, its location and your home's existing hot water system. For example, solar hot water systems are most efficient when used to heat a swimming pool. A professional contractor can help you design and install the most optimum solar hot water system for your home.