Exploring your options for solar and wind power

Research renewable energy solutions for your home

By Jay Somerset

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Ullrich uses net metering right now, but he’s in the process of applying to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to become a generator. Ontario is the first area in North America to provide what it calls the Standard Offer Program. Basically, you fill out a contract to become a power generator, install a solar system and sell your power to the utility company. (To view the contract, visit their website.) “A feed-in tariff is applied to the amount of kilowatt hours you produce,” says McMonagle. “You sell your power at 42¢ a kilowatt, and buy back at 6¢ a kilowatt, which gives you an approximate rate of return of five or six per cent a year.” Similar programs are common in Germany and Japan.

“The Standard Offer Program is a contract between the homeowner and the OPA; we’re just the delivery company,” says Hydro One’s Manchee. “To sell into the grid, you need a four-way meter, which costs about $4,500, and then there are the installation fees and paperwork needed for any generator. We’ve received more than 500 inquiries about the program.”

The contract comes with a 20-year guarantee, meaning the government can’t come back in a year and change the price structure. But even though you’re selling at 42¢ and buying at 6¢, don’t expect to start receiving cheques from the hydro company. “Most people use more power than they produce,” says Spencer Evans, national sales manager, residential division, for Carmanha, a renewable energy system manufacturer and distributor in Victoria. “But because you’re buying your electricity at a seventh of the cost you’re selling it, you’re still benefiting.”

The benefits will come–in 10 to 20 years. “A regular home can handle a one-, two- or three-kilowatt system,” says Evans. Companies such as Carmanha and Canadian Tire sell solar grid-tied packages (everything you need, plus installation) for about $10 to $12 a watt. Evans estimates a three-kilowatt system from Carmanha would cost about $25,000. A typical warranty covers 25 years and the only maintenance required is removing debris from the array, such as leaves, every once in a while.

The rate of return depends on consumption, so if your home is highly efficient, you will naturally use less electricity. “If you just want to install a solar hot-water heater, you’re probably looking at $3,500 to $5,000, which will give you about 50 per cent of your hot water,” says McMonagle. “A solar system to heat your pool will cost about $4,000, but you get 100 per cent of your water needs. And since a typical pool costs about $1,000 a year to heat, your payoff comes in just four years.”

Benefit beyond the bottom line

“It’s funny that we don’t ask about payback with our cars or furnaces,” says Evans. “We just accept these costs. And, yet, here we have something that is good for the environment and we’re asking about payback. The fact that there’s a payback is great, but it shouldn’t be the driving force.”

The environmental benefits of a PV system include lessening carbon dioxide emissions, zero waste and reduced dependence on non-renewable energy such as oil and gas. “When you look at the pressure put on the grid in Ontario–all the blackouts and brownouts–we need alternative, renewable energy sources to meet the demand for power,” says Evans.

Whatever the driving force, the choice is up to you. “The payback is so far off, you have to do it because you want to,” says Ullrich. “Every day, I’m reminded of the savings and environmental benefits. The sun comes up and you see your electricity meter running backwards. It’s hilarious.”

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