So you’re thinking about going solar in Atlantic Canada—excellent choice! The cost of installing solar panels has fallen dramatically in the past ten years. While many Canadians are interested in installing residential solar for their environmental benefits, others are keen to take advantage of increasingly enticing money saving opportunities and energy independence. 

According to the Canada Renewable Energy Association, solar panel installations have dropped over 55% in the last decade. While the entire nation has benefited, Canada Energy Regulator surmises that Atlantic Canada and provinces like Nova Scotia are seeing overall costs that are lower than the rest of the nation. This is due to top tier benefits like generous regional rebate programs and an up to $40,000 interest free Canada Greener Homes loan.

Now is the time to take advantage of the planet’s most plentiful natural energy source – the sun to increase your property value, take advantage of generous incentive programs, cut utility bills, and forgo complete dependence on the grid for good. 

Gaining a holistic knowledge of solar will empower you to design a system that best suits your needs and budget. Here is everything you need to know before making the leap to solar energy in Atlantic Canada.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

The photovoltaic effect is the fundamental process that allows solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. In layman’s terms, here’s how it works: When sunlight hits a solar panel, it consists of tiny particles of light called photons. These photons carry energy, and when they strike the semiconductor material in the solar panel (like silicon), they transfer their energy to the electrons within the material.

This energy boost causes the electrons to become ‘excited’ and break free from their atoms. As these free electrons move through the material, they create an electric current. This flow of electrons is harnessed by wires within the solar panel, directing the electricity to be used immediately or stored in batteries for later use.

Essentially, the photovoltaic effect is the process of turning light into electricity, making it possible for solar panels to generate power from the sun.

The Basic Anatomy of a Solar Panel System

  1. Solar Panels: The primary component of a solar power system, solar panels are made up of multiple solar cells that convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. These panels are usually mounted on rooftops or in open areas with maximum sun exposure.
  2. Inverter: While solar panels generate DC electricity, most appliances and the grid operate on alternating current (AC) electricity. The inverter’s role is to convert the DC electricity produced by the solar panels into AC electricity that can be used by your home or fed back into the grid.
  3. Batteries: Batteries store the excess electricity generated by the solar panels that is not immediately used. This stored energy can then be used during periods when the solar panels are not producing electricity, such as at night or on cloudy days, ensuring a consistent power supply.
  4. Monitoring System: A monitoring system keeps track of the performance. This can be an app or data that is synced to a digital platform to help monitor energy generation, use, and maintenance needs. 

Assessing Solar Feasibility for Your Home

Before installing solar panels, it’s crucial to conduct a thorough assessment to ensure your system suits your household’s energy needs and will provide a good return on investment.

How to Evaluate Your Energy Needs

Reviewing your electricity bills

Start by reviewing and collecting your electricity bills over the past year. This provides a clear picture of your monthly and annual energy consumption. Take note of any seasonal variations in your usage, which can help in determining the capacity of the solar system you’ll need.

Calculating your energy consumption

A solar specialist can help you calculate your average daily energy consumption in kilowatt-hours (kWh). Doing so allows for a more accurate sizing of your solar panel system. To find this value, divide your total annual kWh usage by 365 days. This data is essential for designing a system that can offset a significant portion or all of your energy needs.

Use a solar calculator

Take advantage of a solar calculator to enter your home address and province to get a general estimate of what capacity to shoot for and the optimal location and angle of your panels.

Site Assessment

Roof condition and space availability

The condition of your roof and the available space will play a big part in solar feasibility. Solar panels can last 25 years or more, so it’s crucial that your roof is in good condition to avoid having to remove and reinstall the panels for roof repairs. Your solar specialist will help to ensure there is enough unobstructed space to accommodate the panels needed to meet your energy goals.

Sun exposure and shading analysis

Different areas of Atlantic Canada will see varying levels of sunlight daily. There are also seasonal considerations to factor in. It is also prudent to conduct a shading analysis to identify any potential obstructions like trees, chimneys, or neighboring buildings that could cast shadows on the panels and reduce their efficiency. 

  1. Choosing the Right Solar System

Types of Solar Systems

When deciding to transition to solar power, it is crucial to choose the right type of solar system to suit your specific energy needs and preferences. Solar power systems can generally be categorized into three main types: grid-tied, off-grid, and hybrid systems.

Grid-tied Systems

Grid-tied solar systems are the most common type of solar power installation. They are connected to the local utility grid, allowing homeowners to use solar energy when the sun is shining and draw electricity from the grid when it isn’t. 

Grid-tied systems are often more affordable to install compared to other types, as they do not require additional battery storage.

Off-grid Systems

Off-grid solar systems operate independently from the local utility grid. These systems are ideal for remote areas where connecting to the grid is not feasible or too costly. Off-grid systems depend on battery storage to provide electricity during times when sunlight is insufficient. Off-grid solar installations require the need for batteries and additional equipment to ensure a reliable power supply.

Hybrid Systems

Hybrid solar systems combine the features of both grid-tied and off-grid systems. They are connected to the local utility grid but also have battery storage to store excess solar energy. This allows homeowners to use solar power during periods of low sunlight or power outages. Hybrid systems offer greater flexibility and energy security, although they come at a higher cost compared to standard grid-tied systems due to the addition of batteries.

Sizing Your System

Determining the number of panels needed for your solar system involves several key factors. 

  • Energy consumption and sunlight: Your solar team will assess your average energy consumption, typically measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). They will use this information on your utility bills by using a home energy monitor or using the methods discussed above. 
  • Efficiency rates: The efficiency of the solar panels will impact the number of panels needed. Higher-efficiency panels generate more electricity per square foot, thus potentially reducing the total number of panels required.
  • Available space: Lastly, the available roof space or ground area where the panels will be installed must be measured to ensure there is enough room for the calculated number of panels. Each roof is different, but there are many configurations and panel sizes to optimize output according to your needs.

 Select an Inverter

Choosing the right inverter for your solar system is crucial, as it converts the direct current (DC) electricity generated by your solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity, which can be used by your household appliances. Like panels, there are several types of inverters that cater to specific needs. 

When selecting an inverter, also consider factors such as its efficiency, warranty period, and whether it offers features like monitoring capabilities. The inverter’s size should match the size of your solar system to ensure it can handle the expected energy output.

How do you know which one you need? Ultimately, your installer will help you make an informed choice about the ideal pick that will complement other components in your system and your individual needs. Here’s a brief explanation of each type. 

String Inverters

These are the most common and cost-effective option, especially for smaller and simpler installations. They connect a series of solar panels into a single string, and all the DC electricity is converted to AC by one centralized inverter. However, the performance of the entire string can be affected if one panel’s output drops due to shading or damage.

Microinverters

These are installed on each individual solar panel, allowing for maximum energy production from each panel since they operate independently. This setup minimizes the effects of shading or panel failure on the system’s overall performance. Microinverters are more expensive upfront but can be more efficient and offer better long-term returns.

Power Optimizers

These devices are similar to microinverters in that they are attached to each panel, but they work with a central inverter. Power optimizers improve the DC output before sending it to a string inverter, optimizing energy production and dealing with shading more effectively than string inverters. They provide a middle ground between cost and performance.

Warranties and Certifications

Like any long-term investment, you’ll want to know the company stands behind the durability and longevity of its product and is vetted for safety. 

Warranties

A robust warranty package is essential for safeguarding your investment in a solar PV system. Typically, there are two main types of warranties to consider: product (or equipment) warranties and performance (or power output) warranties. 

 What to Know About the Solar Installation Process

Pre-installation Steps

Before installation, a site assessment is typically conducted to evaluate your property’s solar potential. This includes 

  • Measuring roof space
  • Checking for shading from trees or other structures
  • Assessing structural integrity
  • Energy usage review and system sizing recommendation. 
  • Planning and design of the system
  • Panel size and space

Permits and Regulatory Requirements

Navigating permits and regulatory requirements is an essential part of the solar installation process. Your installer should handle most of the paperwork, but it’s important to be aware of local zoning codes, building permits, and electric company requirements. 

Depending on your location, you might also need to adhere to specific fire safety and environmental guidelines.

Timeline and Scheduling

The timeline for installing a solar PV system can vary depending on several factors, including the complexity of the system, local permitting processes, and seasonal factors. 

Installation Days: What to Expect

On the day of installation, your property will become a hub of activity as technicians arrive to set up your solar PV system. The process typically begins with the installers bringing in the necessary equipment and materials, including solar panels, mounting systems, inverters, and electrical wiring. 

The team will secure the mounting system to your roof structure, ensuring it is anchored properly to withstand wind and other weather conditions. Next, solar panels are affixed to the mounts, followed by running the necessary wiring to connect the panels to inverters and your electrical main. 

This step may require some drilling and minor modifications to your roofing structure. Throughout this process, installers will work diligently to maintain safety protocols and minimize disruptions to your daily routine. 

Post Installation: Inspection and Testing

Following the physical installation, an inspection and testing phase begins. The installation team will check all electrical connections and ensure the system is functioning correctly. They will also test the inverter and ensure that the entire system aligns with local electrical codes and safety standards. Your solar installer will then schedule an inspection with local authorities to certify that the installation is safe and ready to switch online. 

In some jurisdictions, inspections occur after the completion of a step. Your installation team will book these inspection appointments for you.

Maintenance and Monitoring

Regular maintenance tasks are essential to ensure the optimal performance of your solar PV system. These tasks help prolong the lifespan of the system and ensure that it operates at peak efficiency.

Monitoring System Performance

Monitoring your system’s performance is paramount for maintaining its efficiency. Many solar PV systems come with monitoring apps and tools that provide real-time data on energy production and system performance. These tools can alert you to any discrepancies or issues, allowing you to take corrective action promptly.

Using Monitoring Apps and Tools

Monitoring apps and tools can be easily accessed via smartphones or computers. These platforms provide insights into your system’s performance, track energy production, and sometimes even predict energy savings. Familiarize yourself with these tools to better understand how your system is performing and to identify any areas that may need attention.

Identifying and Addressing Issues

When monitoring your system, keep an eye out for any anomalies or drops in performance. These could indicate issues such as shading, panel damage, or inverter problems. Addressing these issues promptly can prevent more severe complications and ensure your system continues to operate efficiently.

Professional Maintenance Services

While regular maintenance can be performed by the system owner, there are times when professional services are necessary to ensure the system’s longevity and performance.

When to Hire a Professional

Professional maintenance services should be considered if you notice significant drops in performance, if there are any evident physical damages to the system components, or if it’s been a long time since the last professional inspection. 

Hiring a professional ensures that any complex issues are diagnosed and fixed by a qualified technician, providing peace of mind and protecting your investment in renewable energy.

What is the Payback Period for a Typical Solar Investment

Return on Investment (ROI) and Payback Period

Return on investment (ROI) for solar energy systems depends on various factors, including system size, local energy prices, and available incentives. 

In Atlantic Canada, the typical payback period for a residential solar energy system can vary depending on a variety of factors. Given that solar panels have a lifespan of 25-30 years, this means homeowners can enjoy free electricity and significant savings for many years following the initial payback period. 

According to a case study conducted by the Halifax Regional Municipality, an average 6 kW solar panel system could save around $1,500 per year in energy costs, translating to a substantial ROI over the system’s lifetime.

Available Incentives and Rebates

In Atlantic Canada, numerous incentives and rebates are available to make solar investments more attractive. For instance, the Nova Scotia SolarHomes Program offers rebates ranging from $0.30 to $0.60 per watt for residential solar photovoltaic installations, potentially lowering upfront costs by thousands of dollars. These programs work in tandem to help homeowners mitigate the initial investment, thereby shortening the payback period.

Find Your Energy Freedom with SolarU

Hopefully, you feel empowered to start your solar journey. Investing in renewable energy for your home or business is a strategic choice for the financial and environmental future you want to see. 

Stay in the know and follow SolarU for everything solar in Atlantic Canada.

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