The Complete Guide to Installing Solar Panels in Alberta

From selecting a company to flipping the switch and everything in between, this is all you need to know about installing solar power on your home/business

The Complete Guide to Installing Solar Panels in Alberta

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. 

Why did we write this?

Educating clients is the most important thing we as solar
professionals can do.  With so many new
innovations in the industry and new solar installers in Alberta, it is prudent
that we try to empower people to make informed decisions for themselves. 

This guide will cover everything you need to know about
installing solar panels on your home and give you direct questions you can ask
to ensure you are making the soundest decision. 
We will cover selecting a solar installer, how the construction
process/solar energy works, ideal homes for solar, what questions you can ask to be better prepared
and finally, what you can expect out of your solar power system.

Who is this guide for?

is for anyone who is considering an
investment in a solar power system.  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 credence is paid to the Alberta solar
market).

Choosing a solar company

Alberta solar installers

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.
To help with this and to eliminate any potential bias from us as a solar
installer (obviously, we would appreciate your business) you can read the Solar
Energy Society of Alberta’s post on

You can view a complete list of Alberta solar
companies
and their specific
qualifications
through the Solar Energy
Society of Alberta
.

What to expect from an Alberta solar installer

Expect a quick phone conversation which will answer many of
your specific questions such as:

·        

·        

·        
What is the product warranty? (See below)

·        

·        

·        
How much money will solar energy save me?

These are just a few of the common questions, I am sure you
will have more relating to your specific project.   Your solar installer should be able to
answer any and all your
questions (if not, give us a ring). 

Your solar contractor should also provide a free estimate and
free site appraisal (we will touch more on the site appraisal later on),
outlining all pertinent information such as system cost, energy output,
material listing, payment schedule etc. 

Residential solar panels Edmonton
Edmonton Solar Panels Installed by Kuby Energy, 2016

What to ask for

It is good practice to take an in-depth look at the solar
contractor’s business.  The system will
be with you for 25+ years so you want to make sure you get this right.

  • How long the solar company has been around?
  • Are they a general electrical contractor, or do they specialize in solar energy?
  • How many solar power systems have they installed?
  • What warranties do they offer (both material warranties and workmanship warranties)?
  • What certifications do they have?
  •    Are they members of SESA?
  •    Are they members of CanSIA?
  •    Are they a licensed electrical contractor?
  •   Are they a member of APEGA or do they have APEGA members on staff?
  • What personnel do they have?
  •    Master electrician(s)?
  •    Journeyman electrician(s)
  •    Professional Engineer(s)?
  •    Who is doing the work? Electricians? Labourers?
  • Do they subcontract any of the work out?
  • How long will the solar installation take?
  • When can the installation be completed?
  • Where are they based out of?  Edmonton solar installers will be the most cost effective if you live in Edmonton.  Similarly, Edmonton solar installers might cost a little more if you live in the South-East corner of Alberta (granted, there is much more to consider when selecting a solar contractor than just the cost).
  • What is the payment schedule?
  • Does the solar installer have liability insurance (at least $2,000,000 but preferably $5,000,000)
  • Was the contract drawn up by a lawyer?  What are the terms?
  • Does the solar installer have WCB coverage? Does it include director coverage?

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.  Solar panels will be on
your home, possibly penetrating your roof, for 25+ years. The cheapest option
is seldom the best, it certainly can be, but definitely consider more than the
cost of the solar panels.  

All black solar panels Edmonton Alberta
Solar Panels in Edmonton Installed by Kuby Energy, 2016

How the Installation Process Works

The solar installation process is quite simple.  The process will vary from one solar installer to the next, but in general 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  make sure we are
taking care of
exact needs - not our previous clients'. 
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. 
Building and truss integrity is verified by a 3rd party Professional Engineer to ensure the safest installation possible.

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.      
Installation – Most solar installations can be
completed in just one day.  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 designed by experienced professionals
and 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 Micro-generation project notice, your wire service provider (WSP) will replace your current electrical meter with a bi-directional
meter.  This device allows them to
monitor how much solar energy you import and export so they can credit you. 

Ground Mounted Edmonton Solar Panels Installed by Kuby Energy, 2016

What is Needed to Install Solar Panels?

There is not too many pieces of information required to
install solar panels and everything that is needed will be provided by your
solar contractor (at least it should be). To complete a solar power
installation in Alberta, four documents may be required:

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 project notice.  This form is submitted to the wire service provided and 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 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.)
we will need to apply for a specific grant. 
Once again, we will complete this step or as much as possible on your behalf.  Most grants require a few different
documents (including the aforementioned 3 items) to receive funding. 

Is My Home Good for Solar Power?

There is usually no issues with most home solar power installations.  Some homes are more capable of generating
solar energy than others, but in general, most homes are suitable candidates for solar installations. 

Ideal Home

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.

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 your home is facing East and West that is ok
too.  You will experience approximately 24%
energy losses for homes facing East and West if your home has a pitch of 4:12.
This is not damaging though, as the losses in energy can usually be made up for
by installing more solar panels on the larger area provided from two major roof faces.

Obstructions

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.

How Solar Energy Works?

This section will cover exactly how sunlight turns into cash
in your pocket. We cover

How Solar Power in Alberta Works
Solar Power in Alberta

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 useable 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

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

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

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 live off-grid, then batteries are an ideal means of
retaining your standard of living.

The Tesla Powerwall 2 is now available in Alberta through Kuby Renewable Energy. This energy storage system is the most state of the art (and sexy) battery on the market today.

Tesla Powerwall 2 in Edmonton Alberta
Tesla Powerwall 2 - Now Available in Alberta through Kuby Energy!

What to Expect from your Solar Power System

Financially

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. 

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 overpromise on your investment.

Warranty

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. 

Performance

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

Sample Edmonton Solar Energy Output
Edmonton Solar Energy Output Sample Curve

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 average
Alberta home will need ~20 to 24 solar panels to be electrically net zero (i.e.
to not pay for electrical energy again). 

Alberta Solar Rebates

There are multiple solar power grants and rebates available to Albertans. 

Residential and Commercial Solar Program

The most recent and prominent incentive is the Alberta Residential and Commercial Solar Rebate.

This is a broad based solar rebate targeting most homes and businesses in Alberta.

Residential solar installations will receive $0.75/W up to 30% or $10,000 off their solar power system. Commercial solar installs will receive $0.75/W up to 25% or $500,000 off their solar power system.

The guidelines are still being finalized, but you can read more details using the previous link.

Conclusion

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. 
When in doubt, trust your gut. 
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
applications, although a more detailed financial analysis will occur.

To reduce any uncertainty and misunderstandings,
communication is key.  Discuss any and
all questions you have with your solar 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 so you can rest easy knowing that certified
electricians completed your solar installation.

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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