Solar Panels

Solar energy systems offer a bright ROI

Using the renewable energy source at a property can protect against energy price volatility
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
By Scott Fleenor

As energy prices continue to increase, many property owners have been looking for ways to curb costs.

In a recent article in the Vancouver Sun, British Columbia’s Energy Minister Bill Bennett said that rate hikes are inevitable due to necessary capital investments. This statement would apply to most provinces across Canada. However, there is a bright side to the increases; solar energy will be a more attractive return on investment.

Using photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems, the electricity generated by the panels, or modules, can directly power everything from streetlights to household appliances. It either can be off the grid or tied into it.

Excess energy can be stored in battery banks, or fed back to the grid for credits. Most provinces have programs in place that allow solar energy systems to connect to the grid at little or no cost.

The solar modules are the solar-electric system’s main component, where sunlight is used to make direct current electricity. Other components in the system include combiners, disconnects and inverters which enable the electricity from solar modules to safely power utility loads in AC electricity. Solar panels are available in many sizes, voltages and formats, and are virtually maintenance-free. They are also long lasting, and most manufacturers offer 25 year warranties.

When looking at solar power systems, most property managers first have to decide what size system they will need. On the designer and installer’s end, this depends on a few questions to the owners: what is the roof space available, and does it have southern exposure? And what percentage of energy do they desire to be offset?

Regarding the roof space, solar systems needs room to harvest energy. The most common commercial module installed at this time is 250 watts, or four modules for every kilowatt. Each module has a footprint of approximately 3.5 by 5.5 feet, and needs to face as due south as possible.

Based on that roof area, designers will layout modules making sure that each module gets the best year-round sun exposure.

Once the roof area is assessed, the client has to decide what percentage of electricity they want to be offset. This varies depending on the client’s needs, but the best place to start is an analysis of the previous year’s electrical consumption.

On the solar harvest side, Natural Resources Canada has published a photovoltaic potential and solar resources map of Canada that allows estimates to be found for most cities around the country. From these published results, designers can match up solar harvest production with energy consumption and get an offset percentage. Since these systems are flexible, the client has the ability to pick and choose the best system to fit their needs and budget.

The largest benefit of a solar energy system is that it locks energy rates in at a fixed cost for the life of the system. The environmental benefit is also a big plus. Typical systems will last for more than 30 years. It becomes all the more attractive when looking to the future, where further rate hikes from utility companies have a probability of occurring.

Simply put, solar power provides freedom from energy price volatility and can help protect against rising energy costs with its reliance on free renewable energy.

Scott Fleenor, B.Comm, is principal with Terratek Energy Solutions Inc. He is an advocate of the benefits of building green, and the long-term legacy that renewables can provide to communities. He can be reached at 1-877-335-1415

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