Solar panels are quickly becoming mainstream, especially here in Alberta. As this new technology evolves, so does the industry and the number of people wanting to install solar panels on their home and the number of solar installers offering their services.
Investing in a new technology can be quite daunting, especially if you don’t have previous experience in the industry or know the right questions to ask.
If you are looking to install solar panels on your house or business, read this.
Educating people is the most important thing we can do as a professional solar company. Renewable technology is rapidly changing. What was correct 3 years ago, may be obsolete now.
This complete guide to solar in Alberta will answer many common questions and allow you to make an educated decision before putting solar panels on your roof.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about installing solar panels on your home or business and give you direct questions you can ask to ensure you are making the soundest decision. We will cover selecting a solar installer, what is involved in the construction process, how solar energy works, what questions to ask to be better prepared and finally, what you can expect out of your solar power system.
And of course, we’ll go over the cost of solar panels in Alberta.
Even if you don’t want to install solar this year, this guide will give you all the baseline information you need to make the right decision when the time comes.
The guide is written for anyone interested in photovoltaic technology in Canada (although special attention is paid to the Alberta solar market).
There are lots of Alberta solar contractors to choose from and picking the right one might seem like picking a needle out of a haystack.
Obviously we would greatly appreciate your business and are happy to provide a free solar power quote. If you are looking other solar companies to compare quotes, review Solar Alberta’s guide on how to choose a solar provider.
Here you can view a complete list of Alberta solar companies and their specific qualifications.
Your solar company should impress you and want to earn your business. How this is achieved will vary. Different people have different desires and values when it comes to preferred contractors.
One may prefer the lowest cost solar power system while another may value working with a local business with superb service. At Kuby Energy we strive to deliver both.
Typically, a quick phone conversation which will answer many of the general questions such as:
· What happens to solar panels in winter?
· How do solar panels stand up to hail?
· What is the product warranty? [25 years on solar panels, 12-20 years on the inverters]
· How much do solar panels cost?
· Are there any Alberta solar power grants?
These are just a few of the common questions, you may have more specific ones relating to solar panels on your roof. You can find the answers to each of the questions in the link if you want to research the basics
Your solar installer should be able to confidently answer any and all your questions (it is a red flag if they can’t answer the basics).
An average home solar panel system will cost around $12,000 to $25,000.
Solar panel companies should also provide a free estimate and free site appraisal (we will touch more on the site appraisal later), outlining all pertinent information such as system cost, energy output,material listing, payment schedule etc.
It is good practice to take an in-depth look at the solar contractor’s business. The modules will be with you for 25+ years so you want to make sure you get this right.
A few key areas to inquire about:
These are a few of the key areas you should know about when choosing a solar contractor.
We recommend not selecting a company based purely on cost alone. The lowest price may seem attractive, but the adage ‘you get what you pay for’ seems to hold true time and time again.
Installing solar panels on your home is a long-term investment (25+ years). Connecting the solar power system on the roof often requires bolting to trusses and weatherproofing the penetrations.
Think twice about selecting a cheap solar contractor.
We strive to offer the most competitive solar panel costs but be aware of the line between budget contractors and professional solar companies in Alberta.
The solar installation process is quite simple. The process might be different for other solar installers but for us there are four basic steps involved:
1. Free Appraisal – after a quick phone call and some number crunching, you will be provided a very high-level ballpark estimate remotely, based off satellite imagery in the area.
We ask that you provide your address, and kWh consumption as well as some general information on your goals and what you hope to achieve and when you hope to achieve it.
Those last two points are extremely important to us; everyone has different goals and we want to really make sure we are taking care of your exact needs.
Although estimates can be given remotely,visiting the site is prudent prior to installation. During a site appraisal, your existing electrical infrastructure will be inspected noting any upgrades that may be required. Similarly, your trusses and/or shingles may be inspected to ensure that a solar power system is viable on your home.
If your trusses, membranes or general structure are not in perfect condition, a Professional Engineer will be called to verify the structural integrity of the building.
2. Proposal – we will then draw up a detailed proposal for you.
In this we will include various system size and component options, outlining various colour and cost options for you to choose from. Everyone has a unique taste, architecture and budget so we outline all your options and include our recommendations based on our conversations with you.
3. Construction – Most solar panel installations can be completed in just one to two days.
Large residential and commercial projects will likely take longer, but in general expect a fully functional solar power system to be completed in a day or two. All Kuby Energy solar projects are installed by certified electricians under the guidance of a Master Electrician.
4. Commissioning – This is the final stage where we verify code compliance and proper system functionality. During this stage, your system will be inspected by the proper authorities to ensure it meets the Canadian Electrical Code standards. After system commissioning we will walk you through your online monitoring system so you can see your live and historical system performance.
Following your AUC application, your wire service provider (WSP) will replace your current electrical meter with a bi-directional meter. This device allows them to monitor how much energy you import and export so they can credit you.
It is a simple process to install home solar panels. Your solar contractor should take care of the entire process for you. Below are the documents required for solar panels on homes:
1. An electrical permit. This is pulled by a Master Electrician and lets the local electrical authorities know what work is being completed and where. Homeowners can pull their own permit, however we do not recommend completing any electrical work unless you are a qualified electrician.
2. A micro-generation application from the Alberta Utility Commission (AUC). This allows you to export your solar energy back to your electrical retailer for a credit. You will see a Micro-Generation Credit line appear on your monthly power bill to see exactly how much energy you exported that billing period.
3. A development/building permit. This is not required in every jurisdiction,but is sometimes required.
4. Grant Application. Depending on what classification the solar installation is (residential, commercial, municipal, farm, first nation etc.) you may be eligible for rebates or incentives. Once again, we will complete this step or as much as possible for you. Most grants require a few different documents (including the aforementioned 3 items) to receive funding. As of 2019, the Alberta Residential and Commercial Solar Program has been withdrawn and is no longer accepting applications.
Commercial solar power systems most often require a building and development permit, both of which will involve more engineering work.
Most homes are suitable for a solar panel installation. Some homes are more capable of generating solar energy than others though, but overall, the solar energy potential in Alberta is fantastic.
If you are building new, consider designing your home for solar panels.
The ideal tilt and orientation of solar panels is due South (azimuth = 180 degrees) at a tilt close to the latitude. For Edmonton, the latitude = 53 degrees but a 45-degree tilt or a 12:12 pitch is nearly identical in energy production and is a much more common pitch/tilt.
If your home does not have a 12:12 pitch facing south, don’t worry. There will be energy losses, but nothing detrimental.
The average Alberta home has a pitch of 4:12 or approximately 18 degrees. If this home is facing due south, it will experience approximately 9% energy losses relative to the ideal tilt/azimuth.
If you your home is facing East and West that is ok too. Some energy is lost, but the solar panels can still generate 100% of your annual demand.
East/West faces do provide advantages though. Homes with gables running North/South typically have a very large area to install solar. The additional area often makes up for the slight drop in energy output. Similarly, East and West faces will generate lots of energy in the morning and evenings, when people use electricity the most, helping the payback period of solar power.
Roof solar panels are typically most cost effective, but if you have the space, ground-mounted solar panels can provide incredible energy.Ground mounted solar arrays will cost more than a similar size system on a roof due to the costs associated with piling/ballasts and trenching.
Vents, chimneys, trees and other shading sources will negatively affect your solar power system.
A good solar installer in Alberta, or anywhere for that matter will position the modules to avoid obstructions and maximize solar harvest. If you are in the design stage of building a new home, then it would be wise to position all the vents on the North side of the home or at the very least, group them together near the crests to allow for the maximum number of solar panels to be installed.
This section will cover exactly how sunlight turns into cash in your pocket. We cover how solar works in more detail, but in general, it is as follows:
1. Photovoltaic input - Light shines on the solar panels which generate DC electricity
2. Inversion – DC electricity passes through an inverter(s) which outputs AC electricity. Most Alberta homes and businesses use AC electricity (residential =120/240V, commercial = 120/208V, 480V, 600V) so we must convert the voltage into a usable form.
3. Distribution – The solar power system is tied into the breaker panel where the solar energy can be distributed/used throughout the home. You will use any generated solar energy first, and any additional energy that can’t be supplied by the solar panels (such as at night or during winter) will be imported from the grid as usual (this is one of the key advantages of solar power in Alberta).
4. Generate Credit - If you generate more solar energy than you need, you will export your energy to your retailer who will credit you on your monthly bill. By generating solar energy, you no longer import as much energy. By not importing energy, not only do you reduce your energy charge, but you also reduce your transmission and distribution fees too!
If you get a power bill every month, you are interconnected to the grid (‘grid-tied’). By ‘grid’ we mean the Alberta electricity infrastructure – power lines running from you home to various substations and power plants that give you energy. Here is the best part:
Grid-tied solar power installations do not need batteries!
People always ask us where the batteries go because they think we are taking them ‘off-grid.’ Being off-grid means you have no power lines running to your home and are completely independent of the Alberta power grid. With solar panels, you are still connected to the grid, you just won’t need it as often.
Batteries are not needed because of point #4 above. Any excess solar energy that you generate can be sold back to your retailer for a credit. So rather then store your energy in a battery bank, you can sell it and make money from it.
With that said, if you want or need backup power when the grid goes down or you want to experience off-grid living with solar power, then batteries are an ideal means of retaining your standard of living.
The number of solar panels you need depends on your home’s azimuth and roof tilt as well as how much electricity you use. You can only install as much solar power as your home or business needs.
1kW of installed solar power will produce approximately 1,000 to 1,200kWh of solar energy annually. This number may be larger or smaller based on your tilt and azimuth.
The average home in Alberta uses roughly 7,000kWh of electricity per year. This means the average home will need roughly 14 to 18 x 400W solar panels (5.8kW to 7kW) to cover their annual energy needs.
If you use 2x the electricity of the average Alberta home,you will need 2x as many solar panels to be net zero electrically.
The cost of home solar panels will be largely proportionate to the installed capacity (kW). Larger solar arrays can be installed a lower rate, in terms of $/W (dollar per watt). An average solar power system will cost around $12,000 to $25,000 and be installed for approximately $2.00/W to $2.75/W.
The $/W is how much bang you are getting for your buck, like$/sq.ft. in the flooring or painting industry. The lower, the better.
The cost of solar panels in Edmonton is comparable to the cost of solar panels in Calgary, Red Deer or other major hubs in Alberta.
One common misconception is that the solar panels will pay for themselves in three to five years and will make you rich. Another equally unfortunate misconception is that solar panels will never pay for themselves and are a poor investment.
Both are incorrect. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Solar power systems will typically pay for themselves in 7 to 15 years depending on the size of your system and the grants that are available to you. In select cases, under favourable conditions, a solar power system may pay for itself in less than 10 years, but we like to err on the side of caution and not over promise on your investment.
Your solar panels are performance warrantied for 25 years and are expected to last for 30+ years. Solar panels also come with a 10-year material warranty as well.
Inverters generally come with a 10 or 12-year warranty which you can extend to 25 years as well.
Solar energy generation will follow a bell curve over the course of a year as shown below by the sample production graph. Most solar energy will be generated in the spring, summer and fall month, with very little production coming in the winter. This is to be expected and does not mean that solar doesn’t work.
How much solar energy your panels will produce depends on a few key factors: your roof tilt (standard roof pitch is 4:12), your azimuth (degrees from North), and how many obstructions you have (how much shade will fall on the solar panels).
The most important part of the whole process is choosing the right solar installer. We recommend not choosing a contractor based purely on cost, and to highly consider their qualifications and what they will provide you.
The lowest cost option may have been a suitable criterion for choosing beer when you were 20, but it might not be sufficient when selecting a solar installer to put a life-long investment on your home.
We hope that you have gained a little more insight into a few different aspects of installing residential solar panels in Alberta. The same methodology will apply to commercial solar applications, although a more detailed financial analysis will occur.
Communication is key. Discuss any and all questions you have with your solar power contractor, don’t assume anything.
At Kuby Energy, we strive to make the process as simple and stress-free for you as possible. This is why we take care of every step of the process including all the paperwork, design and installation.
We don’t use outside subcontractors and all work is completed by certified electricians. Even if you don’t choose us as your solar installer, you can always reach out for a second opinion or to learn more on solar power in Alberta.
Questions, comments or concerns? We would love to hear your thoughts on this.
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