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Going Solar in Ontario, Canada

2010/10/18

Our family is one giant step closer to being part of Ontario’s innovative micro-FIT program, which is encouraging the growth of renewable energy production in the province by paying a premium to regular folks like us for generating electricity using renewable technologies and feeding it back into the grid. Our journey started last February when my husband Mark filled out the application to the program, acting on advice given to him by David at the R.E. Source Store in St. Thomas, Ontario. For more details on the process that has got us to where we are today, go to the “Ontario’s microFIT program: The Nitty-Gritty On Going Solar” page.

Here are some pictures of the process:

 

Getting started

 

 

All the clips installed on upper roof

 

 

Installing the rails and micro-inverters

 

 

 

Hauling the panels up to the roof

 

 

Panel #1 of 33 installed!

 

 

The finished installation

 

And just for fun, a video of putting on the last solar panel:

Did I mention I’m not fond of heights? Oh well, what doesn’t kill a person makes them stronger…

We are still not quite to the point of feeding our electricity back into the grid. That requires hooking up the solar array to a separate meter, which will be done by a local electrician. And, of course, approval from the electrical inspector. So stay posted!

More links:

We’re Solarized

Ontario Power Authority microFIT program

R.E. Source Store

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Krystofer permalink
    2010/10/18 8:21 am

    Very cool! I was starting to wonder if you guys were going to be able to get it finished this year. I’m glad that you did. Thanks for showing me what they look like, as it will be a while before I can see them for myself.

    • Christine permalink*
      2010/10/18 9:30 am

      Yes, we were racing against the calendar but the weather stayed balmy enough that installing them wasn’t a miserable experience. And of course we will be happy to show them off to whoever makes the trek up to see us!

  2. 2010/10/18 9:17 am

    Excellent! I loved seeing the video, too. Congratulations, guys!

  3. Thomas permalink
    2010/10/18 11:03 am

    I hope you have the right stickers on those panels!

    • Christine permalink*
      2010/10/18 6:35 pm

      I think at this point that’s a 100% certainty!

  4. Kate permalink
    2010/10/18 11:01 pm

    Hey guys, looks great! The video was an added bonus. For someone who’s afraid of heights, you look pretty comfy up there. I agree with Krystofer, I was worried you wouldn’t get them done, what with all the hold-ups you’ve been having. Hope everyone works out soon!

    • Christine permalink*
      2010/10/19 8:43 am

      The only reason I looked okay for the video was because we were on the lower part of the roof by that time. The really scary part was that first panel on the upper roof – WAY too close to the edge for me!

  5. 2010/10/19 7:02 am

    Congratulations on a job well done! We’re happy you got it done before the weather turned cold. We enjoyed the step by step pictures and the video as well. I’m happy I didn’t have to be up on that roof 🙂 We’ll wait to hear more once you’re connected to the grid.

  6. Dan Williams permalink
    2010/10/25 9:39 am

    Very interesting, and I’m sure the pictures would be quite helpful to anyone contemplating installing solar panels on their own home.

    What I’ll really be interested in seeing will be what happens when you get snow on the roof. I imagine any depth at all might stop the electricity generation. And if you had a lot, or had snow and ice build-up, it could damage the solar panels? I understand some people use “roof rakes” to clear the snow. We have quite a bit of experience with roof rakes. I wonder would they be likely to damage the solar panels? And I can’t imagine trying to use a roof rake on your upper roof. There’s a practical limit to how long the telescoping handle can be. Maybe the snow will simply slide off the panels. Or maybe there would be ice build-up, with large ice chunks causing problems when they come crashing down when it thaws. I wonder about some of the same things in the case of solar hot water heater installations (your “We’re Solarized” link).

  7. Christine permalink*
    2010/10/25 12:37 pm

    As per Mark, the researcher and installer:
    We’re in northwestern Ontario where we get a large seasonal shift in angle of sun and length of daylight. As such, fortunately, we expect to generate the vast majority of our electricity from the panels between the spring and fall equinoxes when there is no snow. The sunshine charts I’ve consulted confirm this. I’m told that a light layer of snow doesn’t completely stop the panels from working. My guess, though, is that if I were to climb up on the roof regularly during winter and sweep off the panels (I don’t think the snow will slide off as our roof is only a 4/12 pitch) I might be able to generate another 10% or so of power for the year but I doubt I will bother. The great thing about being grid-tied rather than on battery is I don’t have to generate a minimum amount of electricity monthly to get by. Whenever the sun is out I make money; when it isn’t I don’t but I still have all the electricity I need from the grid. If you wanted to go up on the roof in winter to clear off the panels I would recommend using a wide push broom with a long 2×2 tied to the handle. Of course, if the snow has iced on to the panels probably nothing will get it off. We don’t get many ice storms up here so it’s mostly a snow load problem for us. I’m not sure whether a 2 inch thick coating of ice on and between the panels would hurt them but keep in mind that they are mounted about 3 inches up off the rooftop so they have some space in which to move. I know they’re designed to survive on rooftops for upwards of 30 years and they seem pretty sturdy to me.

    • Dan Williams permalink
      2010/11/25 9:55 am

      So, hopefully snow won’t be a serious problem for the solar panels on the roof. My earlier comment was perhaps biased by the fact that I live in a “snowbelt” and that we have had painted steel roofs for some years now. They’re durable but they tend to make ice out of snow and to release the ice and snow in something like an avalanche. This might cause problems if someone installed solar panels on a steel roof, but I’m just guessing because I have no experience with solar panels.

      ANOTHER WAY OF GOING SOLAR

      Besides installing photovoltaic solar panels, there are several other ways of harnessing solar energy for household use. Using it to heat water is one (see link to “We’re Solarized”). Then there’s what I’d call “Basic Passive Solar Space Heating” or passive solar for short. It’s a very “low-tech” way of reducing heating fuel use (and the need for air conditioning). Sometimes it can even be cost-free, which I think is great, but which is apparently a big problem. Authorities seem to ignore things that are free; instead they like costly ways to combat climate change, so they can wring their hands and say “Oh, that’s too expensive!” and use that as an excuse for inaction.

      Our house, built in 1980, faces south-southeast, and has quite a bit of window area in the front wall. Not too much, though, or it would get too hot. The south windows have roof overhang above them sufficient to keep out the high-angle summer sun but that let in the low-angle winter sun. For the first 25 years we heated mostly with wood we cut in our own bush, so we were particularly aware of how the incoming sunshine was supplementing that heating. On many sunny winter days, with temperatures around zero degrees F (or minus 20 C), we’d let the wood furnace go out by 8 or 9 a.m. and not have to light it again until 5 p.m., because of the passive solar heating. Unfortunately we eventually had to give up heating with wood, but the passive solar continues to help us minimize our fuel needs. I’ve read that passive solar can save as much as 30% in fuel consumption. And the roof overhang can help reduce or eliminate the need for air conditioning by keeping out the summer sun. One could also have deciduous trees in front of the house, which would shade the south windows in summer but let in the winter sunshine.

      Any government which does not encourage passive solar is not taking climate change seriously. There are measures each level could take to encourage energy conservation by passive solar design. The federal level could stipulate that such design be required if financial backing for any house mortgage was to be provided. Provinces or states could amend building codes to encourage passive solar. Municipalities could promote the use of east-west street layouts in planning, with adequate window areas in front for south-facing, or back for north-facing houses.

      So if you’re building or planning to build a house you should seriously consider orienting and designing it for passive solar. If unreasonable restrictions prevent this, try to get those restrictions removed. For an existing house, consider adding windows on the south side, or installing awnings if existing windows cause overheating in summer. And whether or not building or renovation is likely in your case, contact your elected representatives about the issue.

      One of several useful Internet sources for information on passive solar design is http://www.ecohomeduluth.com/design/passivesolar.html.

      • Christine permalink*
        2010/11/26 9:52 am

        Thanks for sharing your own experience, Dan. It’s a good reminder that the solutions to the crisis of global climate instability isn’t one-size-fits-all. Sometimes lo-tech solutions are a great answer to our need to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels.
        FYI – The windows we installed in our rec room ten years ago are built with argon gas between the panes and allow heat in during the winter (related to the angle of the sun) and block heat in summer. They work really well.

  8. 2010/10/30 11:30 pm

    to date, solar panels which generate more than 100Watts are still expensive but hopefully they are getting cheaper each day “”

  9. Michael M permalink
    2011/01/07 2:00 pm

    Hi Christine,

    Congratulations on getting your system installed.
    I am in the process of selecting a vendor and I was wondering if you could share what criteria you used.

    Thank you in advance,
    Michael M

    • Christine permalink*
      2011/01/07 4:47 pm

      Hi Michael –

      Good luck with your project! I’ve asked my husband Mark to respond, as he is the one who did the research for our solar array.

  10. Don permalink
    2011/01/10 12:48 am

    Good to hear from another enviro concerned citizen 🙂 Keep up the good work.
    If solar panels are too expensive for you (as of this date around 2.30/watt), a good rule of thumb is to reduce your consumption by reading the energy use specifications of all appliances large or small and considering the usage before buying a product – this is far better than paying attention to sometimes relevant energy star ratings. Each dollar you spend towards energy efficient (proven by reasonable testing and spec sheets) products, you will save 10 dollars on your PV system. So far I believe an integrated system approach of passive solar, active solar, 1.5 g/hr co2 wood stove using fallen trees, efficient building design (rectangle(ish)/fewer walls), thermal storage slab/water, and wind are the best options. Batteries are used as backup during dark days. If there is a need for multiple backups, then a propane backup generator can be wired by an electrician to check the level of electricity left in batteries and turn on if needed.

  11. Christine permalink*
    2011/01/10 4:01 pm

    Hi Don –
    Thanks for the practical points, made from someone who’s “walking the walk” when it comes to renewable energy.

    Just a question – is that price for solar in Cdn dollars, and does it include the battery system?
    We are feeding our power back into the grid, so didn’t have to look at batteries at all, which can be expensive and take up a lot of room. Also, in Ontario the FIT program can be approached like an RRSP/investment which gives really good returns, if one can afford the initial expense. It makes going solar an option for people who want to make a good investment as well as those who are interested in saving the planet (which is what will have to happen if we are going to get more people on board in time to turn this boat around before we head over the tipping point).

    If you’re ever interested in sharing more about your set up, especially with photos, let me know and you can do a guest post!

  12. 2012/02/06 2:40 pm

    coooool….

  13. 2013/08/09 9:22 am

    Fantastic job!

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