October 31, 2013 6:37 pm
Updated: October 31, 2013 8:21 pm

Solar panels not quite mainstream yet, but getting more cost-effective


EDMONTON – As the mercury drops, the power bills rise. Some Albertans are trying to keep them low, though, by going green with solar power.

John Thompson is one of them. He says issues like carbon footprints and global warming have always been in the back of his mind.

“So the question I asked myself one day was, ‘if I know about all of this what am I doing about it?'”

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He decided to convert his home to solar power. The cost will vary from home to home; his system cost $1,500 to install and set up, plus $40 per month to lease from ENMAX – that’s on top of whatever non-solar generated power he uses.

Six solar panels were installed at Thompson’s home this summer. But the system didn’t become fully operational until EPCOR installed a bi-directional meter last month. The meter lets you receive credit for extra energy you produce, which then gets uploaded onto the public power grid.

EPCOR says meter changeouts typically only take a week or two. While the extended wait did cost Thompson some summer sunlight, he’s happy to finally be up and running.

Even though it’s a little too soon to see if the investment’s paying off, Thompson is enjoying keeping track of the real-time output from his solar panels online.

According to the results, since his system became operational a month ago, he has produced 127 kilowatt hours of electricity – which is equivalent to running four houses for an entire day. He has also saved the equivalent of 193 pounds of carbon – the equivalent of two trees.

“Solar is providing 18 per cent of our electricity needs, but we also exported 10 per cent of solar power,” he added. “It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens in May, June, July – when you’ve got such extended hours of daylight.”

He says anyone who has a south-facing roof with minimal tree coverage is a prime candidate for solar panels.

For those who do wish to go the solar power route, EPCOR officials recommend doing your research, adding that they have lots of information on their website.

ENMAX says it has 250 Alberta customers signed up for solar, so far. The savings each will see depends on the direction of the roof, number of solar panels and more.

You can read ENMAX’s emailed responses to Global News’ questions below (keep in mind that these answers are Alberta-wide, not Edmonton specific):

1. When the program started: We began installing solar under the program in September 2011

2. How many residential customers are enrolled: We have installed solar on more than 250 homes under the program with more installations happening each week.

3. How much savings are possible in a year: Generating your own electricity from renewable sources has certain benefits and it should not be looked at from just a cost-savings perspective. The value proposition for a particular solar customer in Alberta depends on a variety of factors such as geographic location in the Province, direction of the roof face, roof pitch, shading and the size of the solar energy system. Homeowners will be reducing the total amount of electricity they would otherwise buy from the grid and replacing it with their own solar power generation (also see ‘meters’ answer below).

4. How difficult is it to get started: Customers start with a free home evaluation and are assigned a dedicated account manager who guides the homeowner through the process. Everything from initial permitting through installation and final inspections are managed by ENMAX.

5. Why are reversible meters needed: A bi-directional meter tracks the electricity being taken from the grid as well as any solar generated electricity being sent back to the grid. The Micro-Generation Regulation dictates that it be installed by a homeowner’s wires company (Epcor in Edmonton) at no cost to the homeowner. Most customers do not generate enough electricity to completely offset their annual energy consumption. However, there may be times throughout a day when more electricity is being generated through the panels than is required by the household at that point in time.


· On your bill , you will see the amount of your energy consumption from the grid, which will be lower due to the electricity generated by our solar PV system.
· If a homeowner generates excess electricity that is exported back to the grid, they will receive credit from their electricity retailer at their negotiated rate.

6. What is the usual wait to get one: Once a homeowner has had their home evaluation completed and have signed the Home Solar Lease or Purchase Agreement (coming soon), ENMAX will be able to provide a better timeline for that specific installation. ENMAX will acquire permits and approvals on the customer’s behalf and help them notify their retailer to ensure they will participate under the homeowner’s current contract. Once ENMAX has all the approvals to proceed (typically 1 – 3 weeks), we will schedule an installation date. Depending on the size and complexity of the installation, the actual installation will take approximately 1 – 3 days.

Adding up all the ENMAX’s installed solar panels on homes across the province, more than one million kilowatt hours have been generated as of this July; this is roughly equivalent to how much electricity is needed to run 1,600 average homes for one month.

With files from Julie Matthews, Global News

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