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The Solar Roof Revolution

solar roofs, Kingston, OntarioIn just over a month, on July 1st to be exact, we (my wife, the bank and I) will be celebrating three challenging yet glorious years of home ownership. Since moving in, we’ve painted every single room in the house, save for the bathroom, which we’re planning to renovate this summer. We’ve also had electrical outlets and light switches replaced, installed energy efficient potlights and crown moulding, built a new privacy fence (thanks to a car crashing through our old one), planted our own vegetable garden and the list goes on. Like so many others, we also have an ever-growing list of essential and frivolous projects we’ll never totally get through. On that note, we have often considered whether or not it makes sense for us to install solar panels on our roof, but it’s not cheap, and we’re wary about the return on our investment. Nevertheless, over the past year more and more Kingstonians have been embracing solar.

While researching local companies who install solar panels, I came across Switch’s 1,000 Solar Rooftops Challenge. In partnership with the City of Kingston and the Ontario Community Go Green Fund, Switch’s goal is to make the Limestone City the first community of its size to reach 1,000 solar installations by the end of 2011. That’s definitely a lofty goal, especially when you consider the fact that there are only 127 participants thus far, consisting of 57 solar domestic hot water systems, 49 solar electric systems (photovoltaics) and 21 others projects. Although Kingston may not get all the way to 1,000 installations by the end of the 2011, we’ve got other big solar projects and solar panel manufacturers setting up shop here, which are good signs that we’re diversifying beyond our neighbouring wind farm.

Delving further into the residential application and the 1,000 solar rooftop challenge, Switch outlines the highlights of the microFIT program as follows:

  • Ontario Power will buy the electricity your solar panels produce for 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour
  • The microFIT contract lasts for 20 years
  • There is a streamlined application and approval process
  • Solar electric systems cost in the range of $7,000-$10,000 per kW
  • You can expect a 4 – 9% return after tax for 20 years
  • Solar panels usually have a 20+ year warranty
  • You can use depreciation to reduce your taxable income from the panels
  • If you take out a loan to pay for the panels, the interest payments are tax deductible
  • The contract can be transferred if you sell your home

While you may not be convinced that solar is right for your property or pocket book, there are other ways to invest in solar. Recently I’ve noticed numerous real estate listings that temp buyers with solar arrays, and properties that are open to installation, on the roofs of car washes, restaurants, apartment buildings, residential homes, and even vacant land outside of the city. As someone who isn’t quite ready to pay to have photovoltaics installed on my roof, if there’s an interested buyer out there who wants to rent the top of my sun-drenched home, I would gladly entertain offers to lease my unused roof space.

What are your thoughts on Kingston’s future as a solar producing city? Are you willing to take the plunge, or are you already harnessing the power of solar energy? Tell us about it!

Thanks to earthworm for today’s photo.

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

8 thoughts on “The Solar Roof Revolution

  • May 12, 2011 at 7:36 am
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    I’m glad to see your enthusiasm about solar, you are not alone. i too share a dream of solar across Ontario. 1000 rooftops in Kingston would be a significant push towards this goal. it has to happen at the grass roots. We are at risk however of losing all of this opportunity for supplementing our income and greening our existence due to the brash comments of Hudak. i would gladly rent your roof, i do this for a living but if we do not support it is all at risk. support solar at http://www.standupforsolar.ca/

  • May 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm
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    We have taken the plunge for domestic solar hot water (SDHW) using the rental program available from Utilities Kingston. This, coincidentally, was only 2-4 months shy of the microFit program coming into effect, when we first bought our home almost 2 years ago. In hindsight, had we known that an $0.802/kWh incentive for PV was coming into effect, we likely would have just added the capital costs of a 1-2kW PV system to our home purchase at the time and rolled it on in with our mortgage.

    So, how is our SDHW going? Well, I think we were keen to do something we thought was "right" and green, and in that respect, we did fulfill that by going with SDHW. Is it paying off or will it pay off? In a nutshell, I'd say no. Naturally, we would have been better to just buy it up front and roll it into the mortgage, but by the time we realized we no longer had the cash after our moving-in home renovations, it was too late, and we did not have the cash to buy the system outright. So, we are renting, which of course will cost us more in the long-run. We will likely buy out the system when we can, after perhaps another couple years or so.

    Anyway, are we ahead? No, definitely not. Unfortunately, when doing my research and calculations on the benefit of an SDHW system, I think I made the numbers out to look better on paper than they really would. We are a family of four, 2 boys who are just 4. We are water conscious, we have a 6L flush and a dual 3/6L flush toilet, we have a newer dishwasher, and a newer washing machine, so, our hot water use is not that much. In the end, I'm quite certain we are not ahead. Saying that, I'm not suggesting its not a good thing for others. If you happen to live in a house where water conservation is not in your thinking, or your family members all like to take 1-2 long hot showers every day, it is likely to be very cost-effective.

    If I could do it again, for our family, I would go with 1-2kw of PV given the microFit program and skip the SDHW.

    • May 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm
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      Thank you very much for sharing your experience with your solar hot water tank. I can fully appreciate the fact that renting would have added to the overall expense of this. Do you mind sharing how much it costs to rent, versus how much it would have cost to buy? While you may not be ahead 2 years after installing, do you foresee a point in time when you will realize savings, and the potential of the SDHW?

      • May 13, 2011 at 11:14 am
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        No problem sharing the details. The rental costs from Utilities Kingston, in rounded dollars, are generally $50/mo. However, if you are already renting another gas HW system from UK, the price for rental of the SDHW system will be discounted by $10 to $40/mo. So, in the end, we are paying $60/mo for our gas tank + the SDHW system. The rental systems are Veissman, which are very reputable systems and I was told by a friend in the industry that the $5,000 upfront purchase price for the system (you can out-right buy a system right off the bat from UK), is a very good price.

        Definitely the cost effectiveness is partially downgraded by the rental fee, as UK is not going to finance these things for free. When deliberating a SDHW system, I probably assumed too much water use in my calcs, perhaps nearly double, and for that scenario, the payback-period was around the 10-yr mark. Using only half the water we thought we'd use, I doubt the economics are favourable over even 15-20yrs, or roughly the life expectancy of the system.

        If we could only find a way to heat our neighbour's pool for them…

        I would totally recommend a SDHW system if you are in a 4+ person household that uses a lot of water, takes a lot of long hot-showers, etc… For couples or smaller families who are water conscious, do some of their showering elsewhere and have low-water use fixtures/appliances, I doubt they are the way to go from a financial perspective.

  • May 17, 2011 at 8:57 pm
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    These are both excellent ways to go. I have a Viessmann solar thermal system from Utilities Kingston which I really enjoy, as well as a microFIT system that has just started to pay its way. Even though there are only two of us in our home (other than visitors), the two panels of the hot water system produce proportionally much more energy than the 52 solar electric panels, but because natural gas is sold so cheaply I don’t save/earn as much money with it. Furthermore, because the Kingston Utilities program is a pilot project, every penny I pay in rental is credited towards a buy-out after three years, which I plan to do.

    On the solar electric side, the returns are even higher than SWITCH publishes, because the costs have gone down since those figures were calculated, and the tariff has not (yet) dropped. (They will drop this July, we expect). I did not have enough room on my south roofs to put a full 10kW, so I used the east and west roofs of my garage, and then did the math, and put an additional set of panels on the (low slope) north roof. It was simply worth it as an investment.

    This government policy has created a large number of jobs already, particularly in the Kingston area. It will create even more in the coming years, even though the tariffs can be expected to drop steadily. I am now one of the people who works in this industry, and I feel proud to be able to contribute to re-orienting our society from a centralized oil- and coal-based economy into a decentralized renewable energy economy.

    If there was a way to share photos of my installation in this forum, I would be glad to do so. It will soon be on our company’s web site, but that has not gone live yet.

  • May 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm
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    It's been a thought on my mind for awhile, although I'm actually more interested in a small wind turbine. Kingston isn't giving out licenses for small wind turbines unless your in commercial zoning but probably within 10 years it will be feasible.

    I would love to have solar on my home and be pumping power back into the grid, however it does concern me that it would impact the sell-ability of my home. I'm in the new construction area on King's Landing (behind chapters) which is quickly becoming a very desirable area. Perhaps if I see some installs near my home it'd be tempting to get into it.

  • June 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm
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    I am not far away; I could show you my set-up if you wanted.

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