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Can the power of the sun power your home?

Solar power and the production of personal photovoltaic panels have come a very long way during the past decade. Solar-powered billboards line the highways, and some vacant warehouses and manufacturing buildings’ roofs have found their niche as unobstructed solar panel fields. 

Has the technology and production advanced enough that it can power a small home or an air conditioner? The answer is yes.

Solar power is the conversion of the sun’s rays into electricity. This process is done directly with the use of photovoltaics (PV) or indirectly using a technique called concentrated solar power (CSP).

CSP involves focusing the sun’s rays through a mirrored or tracking system and using the concentrated heat to run a power generation system through the use of steam and other techniques. PV converts the sun’s rays into an electric current through a process called the photoelectric effect that takes place in solar cells and panels. It is a PV system that we commonly see powering billboards on the side of highways and for powering the homes of eco-minded early adopters.

The increase in interest and demand has lowered the cost of efficient PV systems enough to make them a realistic long-term alternative for homeowners. While it is still a relatively considerable up-front investment to power a complete home, there is the potential to use solar panels to offset some of your electricity bills. It is also possible to tie your PV system back into the main power grid so the energy produced by your solar panels will offset your overall electricity cost. In Ontario, this program is called the Ontario Power Authority microFIT program.

It can be difficult to generalize the pricing of home PV systems because there are many different factors that contribute to the cost, including your home, placement opportunities for the solar panels, and the structure of your roof. Fortunately, the economic downturn beginning in 2008 happened at the same time that PV panel production peaked so there is an oversupply on the market and excellent prices are available. A great aggregation of links to solar system installers within Canada can be found on the Eco Business Links website.

If you have more information on the use of residential solar power systems or advice from your own experience, please post it in the comments below.


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{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Dave in Ottawa June 16, 2012, 8:45 am

    We looked into the Ontario microFIT program last year, and decided to go with it – partly because we could feel good about “saving the planet”, but more because of economic analysis: the return on investment (ROI) was way better than any savings account, bond, or GIC and with much less risk than the stock market. We worked with a reputable supplier (we checked with Ottawa Hydro for those they had experience with) who worked up an estimate for both cost and return. After 8 months both are tracking pretty close to their estimate, which would have our investment paid off in less than 10 years and an over 10% ROI over the guaranteed 20-year life of the contract. Of course long-term maintenance is still the unknown, but with all solid state / no moving parts I’m hoping that’s negligible. Just a note about Ontario’s program, which is really the thing that makes this reasonable for the individual: you get a guaranteed 20-year duration AND rate for ALL your power generation, and the rate (80 cents per kwh) is far greater than the current consumption rate (about 10 cents per kwh). Under the microFIT program you MUST send all your output to the grid – no local consumption / storage, so no batteries either – but given the discrepancy in rates for now and probably quite a while to come it’d cost you to use any of that generated power to offset your own consumption. I’m hoping it’ll work out OK. (Oh, and remember to get those panels added to your homeowner insurance!)

  • Kayden May 6, 2012, 11:32 pm

    Amy’s right on. We have panels, but like most plpeoe, we don’t get any income from them we simply avoid the cost of some of our electricity.This is not true for some other countries, but for the US in general, installing solar is not a money-making proposition, it’s money-saving. If you want to make money, you’d get a better return by buying stock in the power company, and getting dividends.

  • Bhosz May 5, 2012, 3:12 am

    i am not a solar expert.. nor do i own a home. i did do some reraesch on panels.. what you need to figure out is how much electric you use. everyone usage is different. check you meter on the side of the house. record the readings over a period of time, and do an hourly avg. then you can figure out home much solar power you need for you life style.. the less power you use the less panels you will need. also,consider how much sun light your home is exposed to in each season. you may have more than enough during the summer but what about the winter when there is less sun?finding the average will also help you figure out how big of a battery bank you will need for your house (if you are going to go completely solar). once you have done all the math you can add a couple more panels than you need, which will be you money makers so to speak. once you batter bank is full, all the extra power will back feed into the grid, granted that you dont disconnect from the grid.

  • Peter Bacon April 20, 2012, 4:23 pm

    I participate in the OPA microFIT program with solar panels on my roof. Until storage battery technology improves, it is simply wishful thinking to consider powering a whole house year-round without an unrealistic number of solar panels.

  • Snowman42 April 20, 2012, 10:41 am

    Good information! Thank you. I have been planning for years to set up solar on my home, and will do so as soon as I have some money to invest in it. I am very proud of the Ontario MicroFIT program and their leadership in bringing clean energy to Ontario, and providing influence on the world. We definitely need something to offset the growing Canadian policies against the good economic sense of renewable energy.

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