Testimonials from Project Participants
Here is a sample of the comments received from people who purchased solar energy systems through the Downtown West Solar Energy Project:
“Getting my solar panels was the single best decision I have made in my life. It is unequivocally thrilling to be able to help the planet. We solaristas are bound to the solar system and each other in a powerful and moving way! Thanks Downtown West.”
“I am amazed at how happy it has made me just to order a solar hot water system. It makes me feel as if I am moving in the right direction. It makes me very happy to know that my neighbours are organizing to help me in this way, and to relieve me of all the confusion and doubt that prevented me from investigating on my own.”
“My family decided to install a solar water heater, in conjunction with a tankless (demand) water. The installation was completed last October. While any new system has kinks to work out, we're mostly quite happy with the hot water system. There has been a noticeable impact on our gas bill. Aaron Goldwater has been great to work with and I recommend him highly.”
“Working with Solera was a pleasure. They accurately assessed the correct configuration for our home and the actual installation was on time and on budget. You can tell they really enjoy what they do and believe that solar energy can make a difference. I have recommended them to other friends since our installation.”
Solar Energy Systems
The potential for solar energy in the GTA is greater than many people expect, with more annual solar radiation than leading solar energy nations Germany and Japan. Because solar hot water and electricity production is greatest during Ontario's energy consumption peak -- hot, sunny, summer afternoons -- producing hot water and electricity using solar panels has a number of community-wide benefits. Cleaner air is just one of those.
The DWSEP offered two different types of solar energy systems. Photovoltaic systems generate electricity with an array of solar panels mounted in a sunny location, a grid-tie inverter to convert low voltage DC current into high quality 240 volt AC current and connect it to the distribution grid, and a dedicated meter that measures the power coming out of the PV system. Solar domestic hot water systems pre-heat the water going into your hot water heater with a solar collector on your roof. The heat from the collectors on the roof transfers into a solar storage tank so that the solar hot water is there when you need it. Solar water heating systems are freeze protected so that they may operate year round.
Solar energy has the potential to be a major energy source, especially in urban environments. At the moment, the Canadian solar industry is small and system costs are high. Adding solar panels to your rooftop sends an important message to politicians that they need to develop policies to make it easier for people to capture the sun’s energy.
While solar energy is new and exciting, there is no question that investing in energy efficiency and conservation is more cost-effective, whether you replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, seal the cracks around your doors and windows or upgrade your attic insulation. Other options include installing high efficiency windows and low-flow toilets or replacing an older refrigerator with a new one with a good Energy Star rating. Efficiency and conservation initiatives should always be the first step on your energy program.
Solar Photovoltaic Systems
Above: Sue Dexter’s PV installation
Solera Sustainable Energies is the Downtown West Solar Energy Project’s selected vendor for photovoltaic systems to generate electricity.
There are a number of different types of solar cells, but all use the same basic process. Solar cells are semiconductors, manufactured using a similar process as computer chips. These cells create a small amount of electricity when sunlight shines on them. Manufacturers seal a number of the cells into panels, which are very strong and durable. Several panels are mounted together to make up an array of 1 kilowatt, 2 kilowatts, etc.
An inverter is a sophisticated electronic device that converts low voltage DC current into high quality 240-volt AC current. The inverter also synchronizes the frequency of the AC with the grid so it can be fed into the distribution system. Inverters include safety circuits to shut down the solar energy system when the grid goes down to ensure the safety of Hydro personnel.
The output from the inverter can either be used by the household (“net metering”) or passed through a dedicated meter that measures the power coming out of the PV system and sold to the province for a premium tariff through the Feed-In Tariff program.
Solar Domestic Hot Water Systems
Solar hot water systems heat the water we use for washing – clothes, dishes, ourselves. A correctly sized solar hot water system should supply 50-60% of hot water needs over a year. A basic system consists of solar collectors, a storage tank, pump, controller, heat transfer fluid and piping and hardware.
Above: Margaret Proctor beside her solar hot water system
There are different styles of collectors (solar panels). The systems that Goldwater Solar Services offer use high performance evacuated tube collectors, with copper heat collection pipes enclosed in evacuated glass tubes. A standard package consists of two collectors, each with 24 tubes, and a 300L solar storage tank. On an ideal day with proper collector orientation, this system will provide 300L of 55-60 degrees C (the temperature at which your hot water tank is set) hot water or better.
The storage tank looks like a standard water heater tank, however it includes a heat exchanger to transfer the heat from the collection fluid into the domestic hot water. The collection fluid and the domestic hot water don’t intermix. Tank sizes can range from 200 to 550 litres. The storage tank serves as a pre-heater for a conventional water heater, either electric or gas.
A pump is provided to circulate the collection fluid between the rooftop collector and the storage tank in your utility room. The controller monitors the temperature in the collector and the tank and cycles the pump to either collect heat or shut down.
Goldwater Solar Services offers two system configurations – glycol and drainback. Glycol systems use a food grade glycol solution as the collection fluid. This eliminates the risk of freezing, allowing the pipes to run outside. Drainback systems have a small secondary tank inside the house above the solar storage tank. The exterior components are sloped to ensure the collection fluid drains back into the secondary tank when the pump stops. Since the collection fluid only circulates when there is heat to be collected, distilled water can be used. Drainback systems are not suitable for all sites, and are slightly more expensive to install but are virtually maintenance free over time. Glycol systems require additional maintenance to monitor the antifreeze properties of the glycol solution and replace it periodically.
The hot water from the solar hot water storage tank is fed to a conventional backup water heater (gas or electric) as you draw hot water for your household needs. The backup heater is included to ensure a supply of hot water at night or on cloudy days, however the preheated water from the solar energy system will significantly reduce (in the winter) or potentially eliminate (in the summer) the consumption of conventional energy. The combination of solar pre-heating with an on-demand heater is a particularly potent combination for an extremely efficient domestic hot water system.
Solar hot water systems are most effective in the summer season, but still provide a significant proportion of hot water requirements during the winter. In some instances, it is also possible to use your solar hot water system to supplement your space heating needs for even greater savings.
System life expectancy should exceed 25 years. Each site is different, so installation requirements (and therefore costs) will vary from house to house.
Costs & Incentives
Solar water heating systems cost $ 5,000 to $7,000 and can have a payback of 5-7 years, depending on the amount of hot water used in the household. The best payback is seen in households that use a lot of hot water, because you are displacing a lot of natural gas or electricity.
Above: Debby Black has both photovoltaics and solar hot water
There are a number of incentives available to help reduce the capital cost of your solar hot water system. New programs announced in 2007 by the Federal and Provincial governments provide over $ 1,000 in incentives on a new solar hot water heater. The key to qualifying for this money is to have a home energy audit done. The energy auditor will complete your application to receive your federal and provincial grants. At the same time, you will learn ways of improving the energy efficiency of your home. The Ontario government subsidizes the cost of the audit by 50% up to $ 150.
Once your system is installed, you will be eligible for a $ 1,250 grant from the Federal ecoENERGY Retrofit program, along with a matching $ 1,250 grant from the Provincial government. The home energy auditor will apply on behalf of the homeowner for all applicable grants. There is no PST charged, because the system is considered an improvement to a building.
Solar electricity-generating systems can cost $12,000 for a basic 1-kilowatt system up to $ 28,000 for a 3-kilowatt system.
There are two basic ways to connect to the grid and produce a financial return on your photovoltaic system. The simplest is to use the electricity you generate yourself, connecting to the grid under the Net Metering program. Under this program, homeowners send PV-generated electricity to the grid for a credit on their electricity bill. The local utility subtracts the value of the PV generated electricity supplied from the value consumed by the homeowner. The electricity bill shows the “net” difference between these two amounts.
The other connection is under the Ontario government Feed In Tariff Program (FIT). Under this program, the government will pay 80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar electricity generated by homeowners and other small-scale producers. "This is the most progressive renewable energy policy in North America in over two decades", says international renewable energy consultant Paul Gipe.
A household or multi-unit residential building that is selling power to the grid under the Feed in Tariff will use two electricity meters - one load meter to measure the electricity consumed by the homeowner, the second generation meter to measure the electricity generated by the solar panels. The value of 100% of the electricity generated is credited (at $ 0.802 per kWh). Power consumed is purchased at the normal rate (approximately $ 0.12 per kWh).
Under the Feed in Tariff, the price paid to small generators is guaranteed over a 20 year fixed price contract, guaranteeing a long-term revenue stream. In Ontario, one Watt of photovoltaic panels will generate about 1.1 kWh per year. Thus a 1 kW (1,000 watt) PV system will produce about 1,100 kWh per year - or about $800 per year at the $0.80 per kWh FIT rate for PV. This gives a system return on investment of about 10%.
The Ontario government will rebate the PST on PV as well as hot water systems.
Once your investment is paid off, a solar electric system will continue to earn money, and solar water-heating systems will be producing hot water long into the future.
Please keep in mind that investing in energy efficiency and conservation is more cost-effective than adding a solar energy system on your roof. Whether you replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, seal the cracks around your doors and windows, upgrade your attic insulation or install high efficiency windows, these initiatives should always be the first step in your energy program. Once completed, that’s the time to consider adding solar energy to your home. The world will be a better place if you do.
Tower Power Toronto
(formerly the Downtown West Multi-Unit Solar Energy Project)
David and Tim continue to chair a sister organization, now called Tower Power Toronto, which helps residents of multi-unit residential buildings obtain renewable energy systems for their rooftops. A second purpose of Tower Power Toronto is to encourage energy conservation and other greening measures.
When 50 people from multi-unit residential buildings attended a late September 2006 meeting at the Harbourfront Community Centre, it confirmed that there is great interest among many in seeing solar water heating and solar electricity-generating projects sprout on the rooftops of downtown condos, co-ops and rental buildings. More than 50% of Toronto residents live in multi-unit buildings, yet there are financial and other challenges that make it difficult to establish solar energy projects on their rooftops.
Since that time, all all-volunteer working group has brought together representatives of corporations, government, not-for-profit organizations and interested residents in order to catalyze discussion around rooftop solar for condo and co-op residences. Several of the co-ops and condos that are members of Tower Power Toronto have undertaken significant energy conservation and renewable energy projects. At our bi-monthly meetings, participating co-ops and condos report on the progress they have made on their projects, sharing the challenges and opportunities and building on the experiences of each other.
Each meeting also includes brief presentations from renewable energy equipment vendors, condo or coop federations, or granting agencies, when they explain what they do and how they can benefit the coop and condo boards and residents.
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