If you are interested in installing solar panels in BC, whether now or in the future, you came to the right place.
This comprehensive guide is to answer any and all questions relating to solar power systems throughout British Columbia from selecting how many panels you need to understanding the cost of solar panels on a home to what you can expect from the system for the next 30 years. The main topics covered are itemized below:
1. How many solar panels do I need?
2. What is the cost of a home solar power system?
3. What is the cost of a commercial solar power system?
4. Solar power grants in BC
5. Economics of solar panels BC
6. Common FAQs – warranty, snow, hail and more
What size solar power system you need depends on three main things:
1) how much energy you use,
2) where your home is located in BC, and
3) the orientation and site specifics of your home
How much energy you use is found on your monthly power bill. BC Hydro and other electricity retailers provide a graph breakdown showing your average and historical energy use. This often represented by an average kWh/day over a given 2-month period.
Note: The unit of Energy is kWh (“kilowatt-hour”). The unit of power is kW (“kilowatt”). Solar power system sizes are measured in kW. How much energy (kWh) they produce will depend on your location, and roof tilt/azimuth.
The number of kWh’s used (energy consumption) is very important for sizing your solar power system.
The second point, where your home is located, is less obvious. Different regions in BC receive different amounts of sunlight (also called solar irradiance). 10kW of solar panels in Kamloops, BC will produce slightly more energy than the same 10kW solar power system in Victoria and much more energy than the same array in Fort Nelson assuming all other site conditions are the same.
There is no exact, blanket calculation for the number of home solar panels needed. The exact figure will depend on your azimuth, tilt, and location. Shading considerations such as trees and chimneys always need to be assessed on a case by case basis.
Steeper roofs facing due south will produce more energy than shallow roofs facing east or west, but don’t worry if your roof is facing east and west. Installing home solar on roofs facing east and west is still very viable. A minor drop in efficiency is easily countered by the addition of a couple more panels on the home.
Solar panels come in varying sizes as well. You will need more 400W panels than you will 450W panels to create the same amount of energy. For simplicity, we assume 400W solar panels are being installed on the home.
To calculate the approximate number of home solar panels you need, use the following:
1kW of solar power will generate approximately 900kWh/yr to 1,200kWh/yr of solar energy or 0.9MWh/yr to 1.2MWh/yr. This range will fluctuate depending on the tilt/azimuth.
Annual Energy Use (kWh) = Avg. Energy Per Day (found on your power bill) x 365
Number of solar panels required in BC = Annual Energy Use (kWh) / 400 (W/Panel) / 1.0 (MWh/kW)
The above formula assumes that the solar power system will produce 1,000kWh per kW. This value is on the conservative side of average. For systems that are highly optimized (such as a ground mounted solar system facing due south) the above formula’s final term would be 1.2. For system that may have substantial shading or be facing East or West, the above formula final term would be 0.9.
A home in BC uses 30kWh/day on average throughout the year. Annual Energy Use = 30 x 365 = 10,950kWh/yr.
If this were an average house, it would require approximately 10,950kWh / 400W / 1.0MWh/kW = 27 solar panels.
If this were an acreage with a ground mounted solar array, it would require approximately 10,950 / 400 / 1.2 = 23 solar panels.
Different size solar panels can easily be substituted into the formula. Please keep in mind all the figures shown here are approximate only and differences may occur for your exact site conditions.
The cost of a home solar power system in BC will vary quite a bit. The main factor influencing the potential investment amount is how much energy (kWh) the home uses. The more energy one is trying to offset, the more solar panels will be required to offset that energy (most of the time).
The average home in BC uses approximately 10,800kWh per year or 30kWh/day. This number can easily swing +/- 100%.
Several factors will influence the cost of your home solar panel system and the value it creates. The roof area, azimuth, pitch, as well as your budget, desired offset and location will all come into play.
A larger 15kW solar system on one big face can be installed at a more affordable rate than a smaller 5kW solar panel system spread across four separate roof faces due to the economies of scale in solar contracting.
Similarly, if a roof has a 12:12 pitch and an interlock metal roof, there may be additional costs compared to a 4:12 pitch on asphalt shingles due to the difficulty of installation and components required. However, the 12:12 pitch is more likely to produce higher amounts of solar energy than similar sized systems with a shallow tilt.
These are just a couple examples of how the value and cost of solar panels are influenced.
Every home and project is unique in their own way. To compare value across different solar system’s it is important to consider $/W (dollars per watt).
This is one of the best ways of comparing end value (bang-for-buck) between two solar panel systems in BC. This is like $/sq. ft. in other contracting industries.
Low $/W = Favourable. High $/W = Unfavourable.
Individual solar panels range from 250W to 450W+ so it is best not to measure in $/panel – this can unfavourably skew the results. The power of solar panels is measured in watts (W) or kilowatts (kW), a better base metric.
Using $/W is not perfect though since each watt can produce different amounts of energy (kWh) from one location to the next. If the solar systems you are comparing are on the same azimuth/plane then $/W is best but if not, energy must be considered.
For example, a roof mounted system facing East and West may be installed at a better $/W compared to a ground mounted array, but the ground mounted array will produce more energy per panel resulting in fewer panels being required. In such a case the energy (kWh) output should be considered as the higher $/W might be the better option if it produces a lower $/kWh.
As a rule of thumb, $/W is the most reliable metric to assess bang for buck.
As you might be able to guess, the $/W of home solar panel systems decreases as the size increases. The graph above details how the value of solar power systems increase with the size of the system as shown by the decreasing $/W.
Note the logarithmic scale on the X axis used to make the graph more readable.
Roof solar panels are typically more affordable than ground-mounted solar energy systems due to the ground work required.
Like most industries, you get a better bang for your buck with larger solar panel installations.
Most solar power systems for a home will range from 4kW to 15kW although this range can be broadened.
The same graph in the previous section is shown below, but with the capacity plotted against the cost of solar in dollars ($) rather than dollars per watt ($/W). This can easily be used to answer our most common question – how much do solar panels cost in BC?
The average cost for a home solar power system in BC will typically range from $12,000 to $30,000 fully installed.
The price of a solar panel installation will depend on the factors mentioned earlier.
If you are building a new home, there are a number of simple tricks to save money, increase your energy production, and make a nice looking perform solar. Planning your home for a solar panel installation in BC can save you lots of time, money and grey hairs.
Solar panels for businesses follow similar trends as residential solar but with larger numbers (except for $/W!).
The $/W continues to decrease further for commercial solar systems as the power increases. The graph below shows approximate capital costs for commercial and farm solar power systems.
Large solar arrays in BC may drop to below$1.50/W fully installed.
Commercial solar power systems in the 50kW to 200kW range will cost approximately $100,000 to $350,000.
Once again, this range is an estimate only. It is very possible that your farm solar installation will require substantially less than $100K.
There is much to consider when planning commercial solar power systems in BC. It is highly recommended to contact us for a thorough design relating to your specific project.
The most significant solar incentive in BC is the net metering policy. Through this program, owners can sell excess solar energy back to the utility company to be used against future expenses. Energy generated is used by the home first, and any excess energy is sold back to BC Hydro (or your retailer) for a credit. The kWh's exported is subtracted from your bill. If you have surpluss beyond that, the credits roll over to the next billing cycle.
It is important to size the solar installation correctly as the credits get paid out at the wholesale (reduced) rate at the anniversary date.
Solar panels and related equipment are also subject to a PST exemption which greatly reduces the cost of goods. This is a significant savings as the cost of solar panels, inverters and other exempt equipment makes up over half of a solar installation’s cost.
Commercial solar power systems are eligible for an increased capital cost allowance, providing businesses with the ability to write off 100% of the asset in Year 1 of purchase.
Understanding the costs associated with home solar panel installations is an important part in the decision-making process. How those costs offset against electricity is what creates the long-term value for homes and businesses.
Buying solar panels in Canada is similar to buying vs renting other major products such as a home or vehicle. There is an upfront cost associated with it that reduces perpetual, and more costly, fees resulting in a more affordable product over a long period of time.
Electricity billing in BC is split into two tiers, upper and lower. The upper tier is approximately $0.14/kWh and the lower is approximately $0.10/kWh. The lower tier is what you pay for every kWh up to 1,350 per 2-month billing cycle (roughly 23kWh/day).
Beyond that, the upper tier is paid.
Installing solar panels will offset the upper tiered portion first!
Electricity prices have increased drastically in the last 10 years. Do you think this trend will continue?
To understand the payback period of solar panels, an estimate on the future price of electricity must be made.
For the past 10 years, electricity prices in BC have gone up by approximately 4% per year.
If that trend increases to 5%/yr, homeowners will be paying nearly $0.20/kWh in 10 years. If that trend slows down to 2.5%/yr, energy prices in BC will sit around $0.15/kWh.
Using the historical average of 4%/yr, it is simple enough to plot the net generation of solar energy over 25 years converted to a dollar value for that given year.
What can be equally as important as the economics of installing solar, is the economics of not installing solar.
Just because you choose not to install solar panels does not mean there is no associated cost. You must buy energy from someone every month for the rest of your life.
Plotting the two lines against one another paints a telling picture.
The graph above is for an example 10kW solar panel installation in Kamloops. Similar trends would be observed for solar panels in Vernon, the Okanagan, or other sunny regions.
The orange line is the cumulative expenditure of your electricity purchases from BC Hydro (sum of all electricity bills for the rest of your life). The blue line is the cumulative savings after installing solar.
The blue line starts in the negatives (the upfront cost of solar panels), but increases over time as all investments do. The red line starts at $0 but continuously goes down month after month.
Both lines represent the same amount of purchased electricity.
It was assumed that half the electricity is the upper tier and half is a lower tier. If your solar only touches the upper tier portion of your bill, your figures may look better than this. Similarly, if your system is facing East, is surrounded by trees and you only pay the lower tier, your figures may not look as good as this.
The cost of not going solar vastly outweighs the cost of installing solar panels. Without solar, one will continue to pay BC Hydro year after year.
Investing in your electricity up front allows you to own your outcome and save tens of thousands of dollars over the next 20+ years.
Snow does not affect solar panels as detrimentally as you may think. A recent study by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) showed that snow will reduce energy output by approximately 2% to 5% per year depending on the tilt of the solar system.
These numbers may increase to approximately 10% for some sites with higher precipitation, more shading obstructions, or different azimuths.
To be certified for use, solar panels must undergo testing for hail. Underwriters Laboratory (UL) testing entails dropping a 2” solid steel sphere from 51” onto the solar panel which simulates 1 3/8” hail stone falling at terminal velocity.
An additional test is performed where a 25mm (1”) ice ball is fired from a pneumatic cannon at over 80kph.
Both tests validate solar module’s quality prior to installation.
In many instances, solar panels will protect your roof from hail where other items might fail such as windows, siding, and vehicles.
Regardless, we recommend adding solar panels to your home’s insurance policy to protect against the worst-case scenario.
Solar panels are performance warrantied for 25 years. This means that in 25 years, they are guaranteed to produce approximately 85% of the nameplate capacity. Solar panels also come with a 12-year material warranty.
Inverters are typically warrantied for 10 or 12 years which is often extendable to 25 years as well.
Kuby Energy provides workmanship warranties of 5 years in most instances. This can, once again, be extended in 5-year increments.
An inverter is a device that converts DC produced by solar panels to AC which is commonly used in homes. They come in 2 forms, string inverters and micro inverters.
Micro inverters sit on the roof under the solar panels and are generally a more flexible and cost effective system for the average home in BC.
String inverters come in two classes, classic and optimized. Standard string inverters are only recommended for large systems or ground mounted systems that have a uniform tilt and azimuth. Any amount of shade on a classic string inverter system will adversely affect the entire array. Optimized string inverters include a small device that acts similar to a micro-inverter so if there is ever shade on one panel, the entire array still operates efficiently.
Only if you have a battery backup system such as the Tesla Powerwall2.
If not, the inverters are required to turnoff by code to prevent solar power systems from back feeding the grid while it may have maintenance being performed.
Read more frequently asked questions and answers.
Installing solar panels on your home can be a major decision. We hope this has provided the first key pieces of information for you to make a sound decision.
The cost of solar in BC and electricity in BC is everchanging. Please use this information as a reference for typical cases and contact us for any project-specific questions you may have.
Whether you are wanting a solar contractor immediately or planning your forever house in 5 years, we are happy to help answer all your questions and provide FREE information for you to make educated choices (and hopefully choose us when the time comes!)
Questions, comments or concerns? We would love to hear your thoughts on this.
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