I am happy to say that our solar install is now up and running. As of August 10, 2015 at 10:10 am, our 5 Kw of solar started producing power.
In celebration, I thought that putting out the beginnings of the solar posts would be a good idea.
As I have only ever set up solar in our location in Calgary, most of the information I am going to give out is directed to people in the Calgary area, but I hope that at least some of the information is of use to everyone everywhere.
For everyone, I strongly suggest that you check your local bylaws and contact your municipality and electrical distributors to ensure that the information is current and applies to you in your area.
Always follow the laws and be 100%safe when working with the installation and operation of your solar install. Going renegade could void your insurance, harm people and more.
Lastly, I am not a professional solar installer or product dealer. I am basing this off of my experiences as a consumer and DIY’er and information I have gathered, as such, you should expect that there will be some personally skewed interpretations based off of our journey. I will however attempt to minimize that as much as possible.
Photo Voltaic Solar Power How To. Planning
Most people think that doing solar is as simple as getting solar panels and putting them on a roof, this however, is far from the case.
There are many steps in getting into solar, and as silly as it seems, getting the panels (or any gear for that matter) is a long way down the path.
Location, location, location:
Many municipalities have strict rules governing where solar panels can be installed. Issues with grid use, infrastructure, glare, community and community association bylaws and city land usage bylaws are just a few of the potential issues you may run into when attempting to install solar.
There are many places in the city of Calgary where you cannot have a P.V. installation at all. One of many of these locations is around Chinook Mall due to the power consumption of the mall and area.
A check with 311 will put you in contact with the city Planning and Development group that will give you a rough layout of where you can and cannot have solar. Ask questions and be thorough. Ensure you get e-mails to fall back on and know who you talked to.
My first experience in this was to call 311 and ask if there were permits needed. The operator that I talked to said they didn’t think there was, and only after I pushed the issue did they find out how much was needed for locations, permits and paperwork from the correct office.
Do the homework and dig deep!
This should be the first step before anything. Going head long into the project and purchasing panels only to find out later that you can’t use them would be more than heartbreaking.
Once you have determined if you can have a photo voltaic power system in your area, you are ready to move on to the planning phase.
The planning phase is what a lot of folks seem to just rush by. People usually just ask how much power are you making, how much does it cost and they think that is all there is for figuring out what they need or start calculating the total roof space they have and want to know how many panels they can install on it.
First, there are some pitfalls that you need to know about.
You are limited in the amount of power you can generate to some capacity. The power company does not have to pay you for the power you send to grid for others to use as you would likely expect. Above this, the expectation of the power company is that you will not produce more electricity than you will use.
This means that you may be restricted in the number of panels you have, the power you create and that wishful payback of the P.V. system being made by supplying electricity to your neighbors; all huge factors in the scale and effectiveness of the system and things that need to be planned out.
To start your planning phase, you need to do some hard work.
There are companies out there that will assist you in all of this if you decide you want to pay for the service. Many of the solar installers out there actually prefer to be involved in every level of the P.V. install including the planning phase (read this is a pay for service) and will dissuade you from doing this alone.
There are some complexities involved and you do need to understand some basics like how power is measured, how you are being billed and the correlation between the two, but for the most part this is just straight up paper work and something I believe most people can do themselves.
With that said, using a service or going it alone is totally up to you.
Start by having a look at your electrical bills.
By going through your bills, you can look at the amount of electricity you are using. This is going to give you a picture of what your electrical usage is, how much money you are spending, and allow you to set goals for your P.V. system and even your projected usage.
Go back as far as you can with your bill investigation. Take note of seasonal changes and additions to your electrical use with items you purchased.
Also take note of the cost of your electrical in cycles. Note when power increases have happened and the changes and cost per month. This can assist you in deciding on the long term investment you are willing to make hedging on the chances of price changes in the future.
At the end, this is going to be a very different picture for everyone which is why it is so hard to give anyone an estimate on what they need or what they should purchase.
Now that you have scared yourself with the level of electrical you are using (and it should scare you), it is a very good idea to start going through your house looking for the electrical thieves in the system. The more things you can take out of the electrical use equation the better, and there are many items that are gobbling up power that are costing you a lot of money over time.
This is where you get to turn into the stereotypical cranky parent yelling about turning off electrical appliances, lights and closing the door.
What you will quickly start to discover is that everything is interconnected. The efficiency of the solar array is directly tied to how efficient your house is as a whole.
The big ticket items you will be looking at are things like heating, cooling and lighting.
Heating and cooling (HVAC) can add up to a 40% or more of your electrical bill. Simple things like putting in a programmable thermostat and ensuring proper seals around doors and windows can have a very large cost savings impact on your electrical use. Small investments on making your house more efficient for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer can help you recoup your investment in solar.
Refrigeration and freezers are another big ticket item that can have a huge impact on your electrical bill.
Lighting is another item that can get up there fast. Changing out inefficient lights for lower power usage LED lighting, setting up timers and make sure that lights are not on when not needed can make huge differences.
The lights don’t stop there however.
There are a lot of devices in your home that are thieves of the system.
Items that use power just because they are plugged in can have a big drain on your electrical. Everything with a clock, lights and background functions when powered off are using electricity. The crazy part is that there are many in most homes that people never think of, so they add up quickly.
Attempt to find these items and remove them from the power system by unplugging them or if possible, removing them completely from the home.
Downsizing and minimizing is the best method of conservation long term.
Now have a look at the power usage on each device that you have left over.
All electrical devices have a power usage sticker on them telling you how much power they consume. For a number of these devices, you will be shocked at how inefficient many of them are. If you have duplicate items in your home like TV’s etc., compare them out and see which items are giving you the best power usage, then make decisions based on that power usage for use of the item.
Small changes in your lifestyle can again have a huge impact over time without taking away quality of life.
This is also a great thing to look at as a consumer when you are purchasing new items for your home. Look at the power consumption and figure out how that relates in price over time when doing a purchase. This can save you a lot of hidden cost that is not on the sales price of the item.
Keep in mind that “Energy Efficient” and “Green Compliant” advertising is somewhat subjective and is in many ways just marketing. Check and compare to know what you are actually getting.
Now that you have everything unplugged and minimized, go through a couple of power and billing cycles and see what the usage is. This will give you a much better idea of what your real power usage is and how much power you need and want to produce.
I never said this was going to be a fast process, so don’t be afraid to tweak things and take the time. The more prepared you are going in the better the system you will have on the other side and happier you will be.
It is also a good idea to revisit this every 3 months to see what items have weaseled into the electrical system and if seasonal requirements are different.
Remember, this is planning, and it is your personal plan.
You are allowed to decide what it is you want to use, how you want to use it and how you are going to power it and the only person you are trying to impress is yourself.
At the end of this process you should have a handle on your electrical requirements and have a base number of how much electricity you would like to create or off set.
In the next step we will look at location and seeing how possible it is to achieve those goals.