Guest Blog: Cowichan's Solar Revolution

Don Skeric is a local electrician

A solar revolution has been happening in the Cowichan Valley. It started about one year ago with the first bulk buy of solar photovoltaic modules. This was organized by Peter Nix of Cowichan Carbon Busters fame in co-ordination with Viridian Energy Co-operative. Together we were able to organize the installation of 764 solar modules in different residences around the Valley. Since then hundreds of other panels have been installed.

So you may ask why some people install solar systems. The main reasons are: it saves money on your hydro bill, it can decrease your carbon footprint, it is economically viable, it locks in the price of energy at today’s prices, it is sustainable and non-polluting,  and we need to start doing things differently.

Does it really save money on your BC Hydro bill? To answer that lets look at the 2.55 kilowatt system (10 modules) I installed on my house on Feb. 11, 2015. To date it has produces 2.97 megawatts of electricity. Based on the BC Hydro second tier rate of $0.13 per kilowatt hour I have saved $386.00 on my Hydro bill. My system cost approx. $8,000 to install. So my return on investment has been 4.8% and it has only been in operation for 8 months. This is much better return than you can get on a GIC.

Although there are some contrary opinions, the economics of solar show that it is a good investment.

The Duncan Journal recently ran an article suggesting that it was a waste of money investing in solar. Looking at the figures that were used in that article let's compare them to my real life example. They used $4 per watt for installed costs when the true costs are closer to $3 per watt. They said a 4 kilowatt system would only generate about $560 in electricity savings. My real life 2.5 kilowatt system generated $386 in savings in only eight months.

Who do you believe: my real life example or their numbers pulled out of the air? Many people who have installed solar systems will show similar savings that I have received.

When making an investment in solar you lock in your future energy costs at today’s prices. Your investment is up front but as Hydro costs increase your investment makes better returns.

Solar grid tie systems are modular, meaning that you can start with a small system and continually add on to it. The micro inverter has allowed this to happen.  BC Hydro has also made it easy to do grid tie systems. A grid tie system means you don't have to use batteries as a storage place. The grid becomes the storage place. When you are not home and your system is producing electricity it is being fed back to the Hydro grid and the meter keeps track of the electricity whether it is coming or going.

Grid tie solar systems have dropped in price. Solar modules have also significantly come down in price in the past few years. We use to pay over $4 per watt and now they can be purchased for under $1 per watt. Also with the advent of the micro inverter it is much easier and less expensive to install systems.

The micro inverter works by changing the voltage from DC to AC right at the solar module and is located under the solar module.

Not everyone can install a solar system. Some people have too many trees which cause shading and affect the efficiency. Others will have a roof sloping the wrong way. Ideally the roof area should be facing in a southerly direction with no shading from trees or other buildings.

For these people there is the option of joining a co-operative community based solar utility. This is a good way to contribute to the solar revolution. A person could start with a small investment and continually add more as budget allows.

Once a solar system is installed there is virtually no maintenance cost involved other than giving them a cleaning if they get dirty. In our area we usually get enough rain to keep them clean. But in order to be assured of the best efficiency its best to clean them periodically. The equipment comes with a 25 year warranty and the lifetime would be 30 plus years. All you have to do is watch your savings come in.

Each system comes with a monitor where you can log onto the Internet to see how the system is working. Monitoring will allow you to look a present time production as well as weekly, monthly and lifetime production.

Reducing our carbon footprint is something we need to seriously start doing. Even if you don't care about climate change, cleaning up air pollution is something visible that we can all see needs to be done. Cleaning up the air pollution will in effect reduce our carbon footprint.

The main causes of climate change and air pollution are burning fossil fuels, factories and manufacturing processes, agriculture practices, and mining operations. As individuals we contribute most by burning fossil fuels. This is something each of us can control. If we add an electric vehicle to installing solar panels, we reduce fossil fuel use.

Conservation of energy is the best way for an individual to start. This saves money and reduces the need for more energy production. Heating our homes and transportation are the two biggest contributors to climate change. We can make sure our homes are energy efficient to help conserve fuel. Adding insulation, weather stripping, sealing windows and doors and switching to energy efficient lighting like LEDs and appliances are main ways of conservation in the home. The more energy you save the more money you save.

When you are able to conserve as much energy as possible then you don't need as big of a solar system to be effective in reducing your Hydro bill.