Rebates are just one of many ways to encourage people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, but in Edmonton, they’re being touted as a major success.
That’s evident if you look at the recent demand for solar energy systems on homes.
Shaun Miller is the VP of sales with Kuby Renewable Energy and says in the last few years, people have learned a lot more about solar and decided to take the plunge.
“I like to think there’s an environmental attribute to it as well, but on the economical side, you’re saving on your electricity bill. A lot of people are realizing those monthly costs are going quite high.”
In June 2019, Edmonton launched a solar rebate program as part of its commitment to fight climate change. Three-point-seven-million dollars was available to offset the expense of buying panels.
“Putting panels on your roof is a pretty easy thing, aside from the cost. So where there were opportunities to reduce the cost and provide subsidy, there was tremendous uptake — more than anticipated,” explained Ward pihesiwin councillor Tim Cartmell.
Two years later, in the summer of 2021, the federal government announced its own rebate program, the Greener Homes Initiative, and the two rebates became stackable.
That meant big business for Kuby.
“A lot of customers saw that as a good time to convert to solar,” Miller explained.
“The average homeowner, they’d spend maybe $20,000 on their total system cost to offset 100 per cent of their electricity consumption. From that, we had $5,000 off from the federal rebate and around $2,000 off from the city rebate.”
That drastically reduced the ultimate cost to homeowners.
Andrea Soler, Edmonton’s senior environmental program manager, says in 2022, the number of solar rebate applications doubled, completely maxing out the program by Sept. 2.
“We have seen a substantial demand around solar. There’s definitely an increased interest,” she explained.
In all, 1,200 solar systems were approved, nearly doubling the number of small scale systems generating electricity from sunlight to 2,600 across Edmonton.
Despite the continuation of the rebates from Ottawa, including an interest-free loan for solar panels, when the city’s rebate ran out of cash, momentum for this renewable energy source in Edmonton took a hit.
“The interest level dies off. The psychology of a customer always changes when they’ve missed out on a potential rebate,” Miller explained.
Still, he thinks the program paid off.
“It was huge,” he said. “I think it was a really, really great idea and it did what it was intended to do. A lot of people adopted solar.”
Miller explained Edmonton had fantastic conditions for solar power generations. The ideal rooftop faces south and has a 45 degree pitch, but they also install systems on east and west facing rooftops, with varying slopes.
“South orientation is the best for production. East/west is about 18-20 per cent less.”
He said most of the electricity is generated between March and September, and what a home doesn’t consume itself is sold back into the grid, earning bill credits for the winter months.
In his experience, customers are able to eliminate 90-100 per cent of their annual electrical bills.
A decline in solar interest isn’t what the city wants to see. Council has made environmental sustainability a priority.
Budget deliberations start next month, and Cartmell said there might be hope yet for the solar rebates.
“Consideration of a renewal of the plan I think will be on the table,” he explained.
His advice to homeowners?
“Be a little patient.”
In the meantime, they might choose to take advantage of another energy efficiency rebate that is still accepting applications.
The Home Energy Retrofit Accelerator (HERA) launched in January 2021.
“In Edmonton, our homes consume nearly 20 per cent of the energy use and produce about 20 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions, so any efforts that we make in improving the energy efficiency of our homes, as well as generating renewable energy, make a big difference,” Soler explained.
HERA offers rebates for all kinds of home improvements, things like smart thermostats, high-efficiency furnaces and more.
“Our most popular upgrades are insulation and windows, which is great because we want to ensure that our homes are properly sealed before we do any other improvements,” Soler said.
To get started, homeowners need to get a home energy evaluation from a certified company, like Energy Werx.
“[It’s] a type of home inspection geared more towards the energy efficiency of the home,” explained energy advisor Matt Ingvardsen.
“We assess the geometry, the components of the windows and doors. We test the air leakage rates of the home and check for combustion spillage potential with older equipment and wood fireplaces.”
Edmontonian Aaron Hoyland needed to replace his hot water tank — something covered under HERA and the Greener Homes Initiative.
“I was looking into it and found out there are these hybrid heat pump models where they basically pull heat from the ambient air and use that to heat the water and top it up with electricity when needed, so they’re substantially more efficient,” he explained.
The problem? They’re nearly twice as expensive as a traditional hot water tank, at least until you factor in both rebates.
“Now the cost is similar, somewhat comparable to what you would pay for a normal, less efficient one. So it makes those energy efficient ones that much more appealing.”
Those rebates, plus the future energy savings, tipped the scales for Hoyland.
HERA has a budget of $1.8 million, but 71 per cent of that has already been claimed less than two years into the four-year program.
More than 2,100 applications have been received to date.
“You implement any of these improvements in your home and you’re going to see immediate benefits in the comfort of your home, immediate benefits on the utility end of things and of course you’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Ingvardsen said.
If homeowners are on a budget and aren’t sure what to tackle first, this is his recommendation: “Air tightness would be your number one go-to. Maintaining and conditioning heated air and trying to keep that in as long as you can.
“The insulation values of all the surfaces exposed to cold would be the second up, then you can look at mechanical and solar and all those contribution systems.”
Hoyland hopes these kinds of rebates stick around.
“We’re already seeing the effects of climate change. It’s not this esoteric, vague future thing. It’s here, we’re seeing it now all the time.
“So I think whatever various levels of government can do to facilitate people moving to a more energy efficient lifestyle are obviously valuable.”