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The Beach Triangle Residents Association, Toronto, Ontario

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Capture the Sun

By John Ellis and Ian Cole

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The concept of solar energy has been around for more than a century, but the rising cost of energy, advancements in technology resulting in improved efficiency and the lower cost of an installed system makes solar energy a wise investment today.

The benefits of installing a solar Photovoltaic (PV) System include; reduce your carbon footprint, help protect the environment by using clean energy, add value to your property, become your own power producer, collect free energy and create a wise investment tool, generating revenue from the sun.

The Ontario FIT & Microfit Program

In the fall of 2009, the Ontario Government introduced the FIT (Feed-In-Tariff) Program; a Micro-FIT system is 10Kw or less. The power will be bought back for 80.2 cents/Kw for the next 20 years, guaranteed by the Ontario Government. You can take advantage of a tax write down for 10 years of Capital Cost depreciation. The contract with the government is transferrable ands adds to the value of your property.

In Ontario, you need to install a second meter that will calculate the amount that is being supplied back to the grid. Generally, the property owner owns the second meter; however, other arrangements are possible, such as a rental or lease arrangement, where the home owner is paid for the use of the space on a monthly basis and a separate party, such as the Beach Solar Committee, installs the system and receives the revenue from the system.

Site Assessment

In order to determine whether your site has sufficient sunlight and just how much output you can expect, a Site Assessment is essential. A trained Solar PV expert can determine the maximum size of an installation possible and calculate what you can expect as a return on your investment. Just a word of caution before you climb up on your roof to scout it out, keep your safety in mind at all times in Toronto, there were more than 40 deaths from people falling of a roof last year. It is wise to have an expert make the assessment.

Factors to consider include:

  1. The roof pitch and building orientation have a direct effect on the efficiency of any system installed. Generally, a magnetic south facing roof with a 12" rise and 12" run (45 degrees) is a good start.
  2. The amount of daily direct sun exposure must be taken into account including any causes of shade, from sunrise to sunset, as it varies over the year from the summer to winter solstice. This requires a roof top assessment using one of a variety of precision tools. You might think the horizon is clear, when standing on the ground, and find that there is a significant obstruction from the roof top.
  3. The structural integrity of existing roof surface and the supporting trusses may limit the ability of the current roof to support the weight of the installation.
  4. The age of the roof will be a factor; it would be unwise to install a system that will last over 25 years on top of a roof that is expected to last only a few more years.
  5. From the ground it may be difficult to see the number of vents, chimneys and bathroom stack that may reduce the actual useable space and limit the total number of panels that can be installed.
  6. Each Local Distribution Company (LDC) has specific regulations, which may affect your decision or ability to tie into the grid.
  7. The existing electrical capacity for the property is a factor; every LDC requires a minimum 100 amp service.
  8. Not the least of all concerns is the finished aesthetic look. While you may want to make your contribution to the environment, you may not want to do that at the expense of the overall appearance of your property. A well designed system should fit into the appearance of you property, not dominate it.

Installation Economics

A typical 3 Kw Installation can cost around $30,000 installed. It should generate over 1200Kwh/Kw or 3600Kwh in total, generating revenue of $3,000/year. Your investment should pay for itself. Typically, the system will be paid for in less than eight years, and with the Ontario Government guaranteeing you a fixed rate to purchase all the power for 20 years, you can enjoy more than 12 years of steady income pure profit. Also, an investment of $30,000 can add more that that amount to the value of your property. You can also structure the investment as your own power company, and take advantage of tax write downs for capital depreciation for up to 10 years.

One serious consideration in your timing is that the HST tax to come into effect July 1 2010, will add 8% to the cost of your project. Given the lead time required to process the Ontario Government application and the uncertainty over when the program will be fully subscribed, it would be wise to decide to move forward, sooner rather (Alternating Current) than later.

Don't let another sunny day go by without capturing your share of that free energy! Check out these links for more information: