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THE REAL VALUE OF SOLAR ELECTRICITY

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Written by Nani Pradeepan, P.Eng.

Electricity is a commodity regardless of the how it is generated from different resources by different suppliers. But like many commodities, the cost of electricity varies depending on the time and location it is delivered.

Utilities pay as low as $0.04/kWh for electricity generated in centralized plants but the average charge to consumers is $0.17/kWh. Why such a big range between wholesale generation costs and retail selling price? There are costs involved from generation to retail sales – generation, transmission and distribution. Services associated with generation, transmission and distribution are provided by monopoly utilities which are not under any competitive pressures hence the cost associated with these services can only go up.

By investing in clean solar power system, people can gain greater control over their energy bill while making the electric system more efficient and contributing to the environment.

Listed below are some of the benefits a rooftop solar system offer to customers and utilities.

Avoided Energy Costs – Generating electricity from rooftop solar makes it possible to buy less electricity from a utility. Because this electricity is generated locally and does not have to be transmitted hundreds of miles from a centralized power plant, energy losses that happen along the way can be avoided. This means less electricity needs to be generated by centralized power plants, and the costs of generating that electricity can be avoided.

Avoided Infrastructure Costs – By reducing demand for utility-provided electricity, the rooftop solar system cuts down on the amount of costly infrastructure necessary for generating, transmitting, and distributing electricity. Power plants need sufficient capacity to meet the electricity demand from all customers. This also requires transmission and distribution infrastructure to deliver that electricity to the customers’ homes and businesses. When electricity is produced on site from solar power system customers require less electricity from central power plants and results in less investment in generation, transmission, and distribution capacity and related costs can be reduced.

Avoided Emissions – By reducing amount of electricity needed from a centralized power plant, the rooftop solar panel also helps to avoid emissions coming from those plants.

All of these avoided costs have value in the form of environmental and electric system benefits. I can’t think of a single reason why we cannot transition to a more consumer and environment friendly solar power system to generate electricity locally.

SOLAR ELECTRICITY MOVE CLOSER TO GRID PARITY

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Written by Nani Pradeepan, P.Eng.

First, what does Grid Parity mean? Grid parity means, solar PV system produce electricity for the same cost as the electricity available on a utility’s transmission and distribution “grid” from other traditional sources such as nuclear, hydro, coal, gas, oil etc. As we all know cost of electricity from other sources can only go up but properly designed and installed solar electricity cost does not change much over the years as operational cost is comparatively near zero.

Significant incentives and number of resulting solar installations have resulted in substantial prices reductions in the cost of solar power system. This means depending on the country and resources used for electricity generation, solar electricity has achieved or approaching grid parity in many parts of the world including Canada.

Solar equipment prices are three time less expensive today than it was seven years ago at the start of Ontario’s Feed in Tariff program. This has enabled electricity generation from solar closer to grid parity ahead of schedule. Other costs such as balance of system materials, labour costs have not dropped significantly but overall project cost also has dropped proportionately.

Even though hardware cost associated with solar project has come down in last seven years, soft cost (getting the incentive approvals, permit fees, LDC charges etc..) associated with solar project has gone in the other direction. It is industry’s hope that transition from Feed in Tariff program to Net-metering program will bring down these costs as well.

This drop in solar project cost has helped Ontario government to lower the incentive paid to solar power system owners and Ontario government has already decide to phase out the incentives by end of 2017. Solar system owners who secure a contract with Ontario government for selling the electricity into the grid before end of the program will receive payment for their solar electricity for 20 years from their contract start date.

Economics’ basic principle of supply and demand which has caused the significant price reduction in solar equipment price can also go other way. As more people in more countries decide to go solar, demand for solar equipment can surpass the supply and results in higher solar equipment prices. It remains to be seen what will happen to the PV equipment market. As solar industry become mature similar to Ontario government, governments around the world will phase out incentives provided for solar projects. This may keep the balance of global solar equipment supply and demand and keep solar equipment price stable.

This scenario for solar electricity reaching Grid Parity has already initiated changes in the way electricity is produced and distributed. This is just a start look out for the interesting time is a head for energy industry.

MANDATORY BENCHMARKING

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Written by Narayana Asogan, P.Eng.

In June 2016, “Energy Conservation and Long Term Energy Planning” bill (Bill 135) was passed in the Ontario Parliament, and now it is a Law.  Electricity Act 1998, Green Energy Act 2009, Ontario Energy Board Act 1998 are affected by Bill 135.

Similar laws are in practice in Several US states, Europe, Australia for many years now, encouraging buildings to be more energy efficient, reduce waste of energy and water.  Ontario is the first Canadian Province to implement reporting of Energy and water use encouraging large buildings to be more energy efficient.

Who are affected by this Law?

Energy and water reporting rules are to be developed by a Public Agency and applicable to Commercial, Industrial and Multi-Unit Residential Buildings (MURBs).  Owners will be mandated to benchmark energy, water usage and Green House Gas (GHG) emission and provide details to Ministry of Energy.

The very first step in any long term improvement plan is Bench marking. Benchmarking is the practice of comparing the performance of an object to its peers and or established standards. It also helps to monitor the performance of the object over time and relative to similar objects.

Timeline for reporting:

Commercial/Industrial – 250,000 Sq Ft and above – July 2017

Commercial/Industrial – 100,000 Sq Ft and above, MURB – 100,000 Sq Ft and above – July 2018

Commercial/ Industrial – 50,000 Sq Ft and above, MURB – 50,000 Sq Ft and above – July 2019

Reporting of electricity, gas, oil, GHG, water consumption will be required.

Many jurisdictions who adopted energy benchmarking had shown energy and water (thus money) savings of around 10%.

Portfolio Manager developed by Natural Resources Canada with Canadian Data is recommended for Benchmarking and energy use studies and reporting.

Benchmarking and tracking energy usage coupled with good audit methods would save energy, improve energy usage intensity, GHG emission.  Energy audit will guide in long term energy use planning of the building / operations.

Energy Star Score

Energy Star score is measured on a scale of 1 to 100 and involves around 150 metrics.  Basic property information, energy use information, number of rooms, Heating/cooling Degree Days (HDD/CDD) etc are some of the information required.  Once the required information is entered into Portfolio Manager, the buildings Energy Star Score could be obtained.  Larger the number, more energy efficient is the building.  Lower numbers indicate that there is a good potential for improvement.

In multi building management situation, benchmarking all the buildings will show which building requires early attention for improvements etc.

Who can do this task of data collection, analysis and reporting?

Generally anyone could do this.  However the busy Building operators may not get the time to record relevant data without scarifying normal maintenance duties.  In many building operations, maintenance is delayed or overlooked due to various reasons and the building and equipment may be already in poor state, resulting in maintenance situation to more costly replacement situation.

Third Party Consultants

A third party consultant (like New Dawn Energy Solutions) with specific task of such data collection and study would be beneficial to the building owners under these conditions as the legal requirements of energy and water reporting and benchmarking could be done more professionally.

As the time is short and initial data collection and assembly task would have various snags, it would be advisable to start this process early.

Also energy saving project funding including Audit funding are available from Utility providers.

WHAT IS AN ENERGY AUDIT – PART 2

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Written by Narayana Asogan, P.Eng.

In an earlier article we introduced what an Energy audit for commercial building is and discussed about ASHRAE Level  1 audit which involved the study of utility bills for one to two years and determining a Baseline Energy Consumption, Energy Utilization Intensity and “Walk Through Audit”.

Our thanks to those managers who took our advice and contacted us for a study.

In this session, we will discuss about higher levels of audit and what could be expected. Having done a Level 1 Audit and seen the reports and results on implementing the suggestions, it is time to move on to do further studies and get more savings and improvements to facility.

Level 1 Audit is more of a visual inspection and fact finding of how the building is operated and maintained and identifying Energy Management Opportunities.

Level 2 Audit – “Energy Survey and Engineering Analysis” involves review of electrical and mechanical system design, condition of installation, O & M practice in place findings from Level 1 Audit. Level 2 audit involves use of some instruments to gather data of various parameters, analyzing the measurements and reporting what further improvements are possible.  Typically the building envelop, lighting, HVAC, Domestic Hot Water, plug loads, process loads, refrigeration and other mechanical / electrical systems are studied and analyzed under this audit.

Results would typically show what improvements could be expected, estimates of investments and ROI.

Level 3 Audit is a “Detailed Study of Capital Intensive Improvements”.  This engineering analysis focuses on potential capital intensive projects identified from Level 1 and 2 audits.  Requires collecting more detailed field data, rigorous engineering and economic analysis – may include modeling or simulation.  A comprehensive study beyond the scope of Level 2 is done including Life Cycle Cost Analysis of the project to guide the decision makers.

Another type of Audit is “Targeted Audit”.  This is of limited scope to study, typically of “one energy consuming system” like lighting, cooling tower, boiler etc. whereas Level 1, 2 and 3 audits are comprehensive study of all systems.  Many times, vendors of a particular product would convince a Manager that if such and such equipment is replaced with their product energy savings (thus money) will be saved. No real studies of current situation are done.  The process may look like a Targeted  Study, however is a “Targeted Sale”.

What are the costs of Energy Audit?

The cost of Energy Audit is partly recoverable via Audit Financing programs by Utilities – typically 50% of eligible audits.  The balance cost is usually recoverable on adopting the recommendations by way of energy savings. Capital equipment upgrades also have additional incentive programs.

Contact us on saveonenergy@newdawn-es.com or phone 416 855 9377 to book an appointment to help your energy management team

CHOOSING AN EFFECTIVE SOLAR PV SYSTEM FOR YOUR NEED

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Written by Nani Pradeepan, P.Eng.

Choosing an effective solar PV system for your need can feel like a difficult task, but if you focus on the essentials it becomes easy. The main components of a solar PV system are the solar panels, the inverter, and the mounting system. Each of these have a range of options to choose from, but understanding the differences among them will ensure that you select the right system to meet your long term energy needs.

Solar Panels Options

There are a few different types of panels available today, with the majority based on crystalline silicon technology. There are two basic types of crystalline silicon panels – mono crystalline (mono-Si) and poly crystalline (poly-Si). Mono-si cells are slightly more efficient, meaning you can get little more watts out of a given area. They also perform slightly better in low light conditions, but their higher price compare to poly crystalline is downside. Poly crystalline panels are less expensive and for dollar-for-dollar, you can get more power out of them.

Other panels in the market based on thin film technology ranging from amorphous silicon to panels made from newer thin film materials. These panels tend to perform better in high temperature, low light conditions but their use are less common due relatively new technology and their lower efficiencies.

Inverter Options

An inverter converts the direct current (DC) produced by the solar panels into alternating current (AC) used at homes or businesses. There are three types of inverters are available today – central inverters, string inverters and micro inverters. Each type has pros and cons depending on a project size, site and suited for different applications.  Central inverter is typically a large string inverter which is used in large scale projects. String inverters are currently the most cost-effective inverter option available and have been used for decades.

This type of inverters connects solar panels in series to create strings and number of strings are connected in parallel to create a single solar system and easy to install. If the roof is exposed to sun without shade throughout the day this type of inverter is a good option. If one or more of the solar panels are likely to be shaded during any part of the day, the power output from all the panels that are connected in series would be reduced to the lowest panel production level. Fortunately now we have optimizers to mitigate this problem associated with string inverters and provide additional functionalities to string inverters.

Micro inverters are a newer technology and more expensive than string inverters. Micro inverter is installed under each panel solar panels convert DC electricity into AC electricity at each panel. Since they are installed under the solar panels on the roof they are exposed the hash Canadian weather all the times increase the number of failure points. Since they installed under each panels they are not prone to the partial shading problem associated with string inverters.

Mounting System

Solar panels can be mounted on the ground, wall or roof. Depending on where the solar panels are mounted mounting system options will vary. Type of roof, soil conditions also affects the selection of a mounting system.

In general, a roof mount system has lower costs as the roof is already there to support the installation. In contrast, a ground mount system requires more upfront investment to prepare the site, but is less complicated for the actual installation process.

Along with new technology, mounting systems have undergone standardization, simplification and now mounting options are cheaper, simpler and easier to install.

Installing a roof mount system requires one to be more than a solar expert and need to have good understanding of building construction. Roofs have their own set of concerns, from durability to drainage that need to be considered when installing a roof top solar system.

Another challenge with roofs is that no two are exactly alike. Each rooftop is unique and will have its own set of variables—such as pitch, shingles, vents, drains and chimneys—that can complicate the design and installation process. This is compounded by the fact that one really does not know what will be found until up on the roof. These unknowns can add up and the amount of time spent designing and installing a rooftop solar system can become a large part of the total project cost.

Monitoring System

A monitoring system displays the details of the performance of a solar power system. There two main types of monitoring systems are in use, one display the whole system output while other displays each panel output. In either case the performance data of a solar power system is uploaded into a web portal and access through desktops, laptops, PDAs and smart phones ect.

Properly designed and installed solar power system can last for 40+ years. Hence a proper monitoring system can eliminate lots of headaches and reduce maintenance cost during these years.

Installation Partner

The best way to decrease the anxiety about the unknown is to work with a good installation partner who is vendor neutral, offer different solutions for you to choose for your specific needs rather than providing one cookie cutter solutions for all and abreast of the developments in the industry.

A good installation partner will be able to give you a number of tips and streamlined process for your project, support, and tech manuals to ensure that system you install is a success for its life time.

Bottom Line

When designing a solar system, site conditions and energy needs carefully considered and appropriate components must be selected to ensure customers’ energy needs are met. A good installation partner who anticipates the issues you might face, address them, and help you at every step of the way from initial contact to final installation is good to have on your side.

WHAT IS AN ENERGY AUDIT?

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WHAT IS AN ENERGY AUDIT?

Written by  Narayana Asogan, P.Eng.

The term “Audit” has several meanings.  The common meaning comes to mind is “Financial Auditing” which many Managers, Directors of Commercial institution understand quite well.  Year-end Financial Audit is required by Stakeholders, Regulators etc. as a way to see how the organization had managed the finances. Banks ask for audited reports to approve loans and so on.

There are other meanings to “Audit”.

Here we are explaining what an “Energy Audit” is and its implications.  Energy Audit also means Energy Assessment, Energy Analysis, Energy Survey, Energy Evaluation – all these intended to study the use of energy and find out ways to use the energy more efficiently.  Efficiency is (Energy Usage/Energy Purchased) and higher this number means more efficient the system is.  Higher efficient system means you are getting better return of the energy purchase. Or you can achieve the same result by spending less on energy.

Energy is a commodity purchased (hence Money) as Electricity, gas, oil, water in many commercial institutions.  This energy is used for various activities of the institution for production activities (if any), heating and cooling of the building, lighting, ventilation and so on.  Energy is measurable, hence its use could be analysed to see if the energy is used efficiently.  In other words, is the money spent to purchase energy well used?  Can we achieve the same effect of use of energy using less purchased energy?

Energy Equation in a building

Energy In (as Electricity, Gas, Oil, water) = Energy Usage (for the need of the building) + Wasted Energy + Energy Loses

Energy usage will be items like production activities, heating, ventilation, cooling etc. which are essential for the functioning of the business.

Waste energy are like exhaust from boilers and other fuel burning equipment, exhaust of used air, used water drained into drainage and so on.

Energy loses are due to undesirable leakage out of the building.

The first step in an Energy Audit process is to gather information of Purchased Energy by way of Utility bills – Electricity, gas, oil, water etc. for at least one year and 2 to 3 years would be preferable.  Analysis of these bills – called Preliminary Energy Use Analysis (PEA), give an idea of baseline energy usage and Energy Use Intensity (EUI) and compare it to other buildings of similar function.  This comparison indicates how efficiently your building uses energy compared to similar buildings and similar usage.

If EUI of your building is higher than the others, there is a good potential to go to the next step to become more energy efficient.

Next Steps:

Arrange a Level 1 Audit – which is a walk through audit to identify low cost/no cost measures for improving energy efficiency.  Level 1 Audit additionally identifies potential capital improvements which can improve energy efficiency/reduce energy consumption.

This audit/survey consists of visiting the site and walking through all spaces of the building and noting of anomalies, talking with key personnel on the way the building is operated/used and to establish general energy saving potential.

If you are managing a portfolio of buildings, Level 1 survey of all the buildings can establish which building has higher potential and to prioritize for Level 2, Level 3 audit.

Stay tuned for more on Level 2, Level 3 audits and what results could be expected.

What are the costs of Energy Audit?

Managers know very well that Financial Audit has costs associated with it.  In the case of Energy Audit too there are costs associated with it.  However part of the audit fee is recoverable via Audit Financing programs by Utilities – typically 50% of eligible audits.  The balance cost is usually recoverable on adopting the recommendations by way of energy savings. Capital equipment upgrades also have incentive programs.

Contact us by saveonenergy@newdawn-es.com or phone 416 855 9377 to book an appointment to help your energy management team.

WHICH IS YOUR CHOICE?

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Written by Nani Pradeepan, P.Eng.

Energy is one of the important commodities the world need as global economy expands to include nations around the globe. Not all the nations are blessed with the fossil energy sources we currently use. Depleting fossil energy sources in a growing energy need will pose new problems. Fossil fuel is the root cause for many problems associated with health, security, credit crunch etc. Reasonably priced energy is what separates us in North America from developing countries.

We all know the posted price for energy, but many of us do not realize the true costs. There are many hidden costs that most of us do not realize. It is not obvious but we are quietly paying these additional costs every day in different ways. These additional indirect costs actually make the real cost of the current fossil fuel energy sources many times higher than the posted price. Unfortunately we do not know all of the necessary cost components that contribute to the hidden costs of using fossil fuel. Listed below are some of the hidden costs of using fossil fuel.

  • Air Pollution
  • Noise pollution
  • Water and Land Pollution
  • Thermal Pollution
  • Health Related Costs
  • Macro-Economic Costs
  • National Security
  • Global Warming

Costs of healthcare is getting out of control and becoming a major financial burden for many countries. Large part of health problems are due to the food consumed, the air breathed and the water drank. To increase production excessive use of fossil fuel based fertilizers, and fossil fuel powered engines are used in food industry. Combined with this fossil fuel power plant emissions and fuel related water pollution all make their way into our bodies through what they eat, drink or breathe and creating health problems. Costs associated with treating these problems are indirectly passed on through higher taxes, increased pollution clean up costs and higher medical costs.

Burning fossil fuels for power generation causes global warming. Even if we had unlimited and secure fossil fuels (which we don’t) we could not continue to burn them at the current rate of use. Scientists have already proved that the planet we all live on cannot support the current level of fossil fuel use. Hence we must turn to renewable energy sources and that create opportunities and not sources that destroy the space we live, our drinking water and our planet.

We need to turn to renewable sources of energy now; not in 5 or 10 years when our math shows us profitable; whatever that means? By turning to solar and other renewable we can lower healthcare costs, reduce air, water, thermal pollution and develop a more stable economy with local resources. To their part prudent governments are doing their part to encourage their people to switch to solar with incentives of various forms. It is up to us to make a choice to spend the money on renewable now and contribute to alleviating above mentioned problems or spent the money in healthcare and clean up expenses later.

RESIDENTIAL SOLAR POWER RISE TO THE MAINSTREAM

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Written by Nani Pradeepan, P.Eng.

Small ticket item trends, like DVD players, catch on quickly, and just as quickly, they fade away. But earth-friendly decisions those are economical start out slowly, and then gain momentum as time goes on. Solar power is one of those earth-friendly decisions which began as an unattainable power source for the average consumer, but within few years has quickly picked up speed as more and more households make the change. Solar panels on roofs are becoming common seen in cities and villages around the world.

Lower costs and tax credits

16tbThe cost of solar power system has gone down substantially as the volume and production technologies of solar energy have improved. Consequently, prices for rooftop solar systems dropped by almost three from since 2009.

Feed in Tariff, tax credits and rebates have encouraged many people to go solar in Canada and North America in general. Indeed, these feed in tariffs and credits make solar energy system more affordable and attractive to home owners. However, feed in tariffs and tax credits are set to decline and eventually disappear by second half of 2017. Taking that into consideration, as well as available financing options and growing number of solar energy system options, there has never been a better time to switch to solar power.

 

Easy maintenance

Maintaining solar panels is as easy as hosing them down once a year. For the average homeowner bogged down by home maintenance of many systems in a home, this is a huge benefit.

As the electricity price rise, easy maintenance and the fact that homes with solar power sell faster and for more money than homes without, will entice almost every homeowner to consider switching to solar power.

Businesses have also jumped into on the solar wave

In addition to homeowners, businesses have found that solar power can lower their operating costs. Solar energy not only lowers the cost to businesses but also allows companies to capitalize on improved environmental profiles and will help them in their marketing efforts.
Cities are mandating to require solar on all new construction

The Santa Monica City in California is the latest city to pass an ordinance requiring rooftop solar systems for all new construction in the City – both residential and commercial. The ordinance went into effect at the end of May 2016.

Energy Storage systems are promoted

Germany and California have set the example when it comes to energy storage. New York also budgeted $25 million to go towards storage development. In an emergency, backup power is often run by diesel generators, which cause pollution. As solar energy moves forward, solar power systems combined with battery systems are providing a safer stable power alternative.

Environmentally friendly

Solar power is more environmentally friendly than any other power system as it doesn’t rely on fuel or water to make electricity. Further, solar panels do not pollute the air as they generate electricity, and they produce no waste. Solar power has no fuel costs, which means there is no gamble of fuel prices increasing in global market. Solar power also make no nice and it is cleaner and more reliable than other sources of power.

The future

We predict this is only the beginning of the surge of solar energy use. As people continue to recognize the benefits of solar power, its use will be even more widespread.

LEASING VS. OWNING A SOLAR SYSTEM

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Written by Nani Pradeepan, P.Eng.

Reduced system costs, increasing electricity rates and incentives are bringing new solar customers into the market in greater numbers than ever before. Unlike early adopters who chose to go solar because of environmental concerns, or a desire to reduce their reliance on the electric power grid current shoppers are motivated by pure economics of switching to solar power.

shoppers some installation companies offer solar leases. Under this model, the solar company installs a PV system and pay the property owner a fixed price rent to their roof and keep the income / saving for the duration of the agreement. These companies’ aggressive advertising of solar leases created an artificial upsurge in demand for leases and many homeowners were led to believe that system ownership was cost-prohibitive.

Can going green by leasing solar panels for your roof cost you money — or give you headaches — when you go to sell the house? Possibly both.

Say you get pitched by one of the companies offering solar panels at no upfront cost and they will pay you money annually. Sounds like a good deal and you sign on. Then a few years later you decide to sell the house. You assume that the presence of solar panels can only be a marketing plus, maybe even get you a higher price. Some would-be buyers won’t sign a contract unless you buy out the remaining lease term with solar company which would cost more than if you had initially purchased it. Issues like these are popping up increasingly and are interfering in sales and closings of real estate sales, according to US real estate industry experts.

Be aware of the potential complexities that can occur when you lease, rather than buying solar panels. If you opt for a lease, understand your long-term obligations.

The $0-down solar loan makes it possible for homeowners to capture more of their solar energy system’s value, and provides a route to system ownership for those that cannot afford a cash purchase. Homeowners with access to loan can save significantly more over their system’s lifetime than if they entered into a lease agreement.

Ownership = Higher Home Value

Multiple studies have shown that solar system ownership means better home value. In addition studies have also found that installing a PV system on a home increases property values and only if the system is owned, rather than leased.

CAN YOU GO OFF-GRID WITH SOLAR AND ENERGY STORAGE IN GTA?

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residential_300x250The cost of PV keeps has come down substantially. Now, solar can compete with any other form of electrical generation. So, why don’t we just convert to solar based off grid? Off-grid solar is a system designed to help people function without the support of electrical infrastructure – utility’s electrical grid. A true off-grid house is able to operate completely independently of all traditional public utility services.

The sun doesn’t always shine. Nightfall, clouds, storms and seasonal variability in number of daylight hours make solar PV an intermittent source of power. The intermittency of solar makes it challenging to off-grid. So how feasible is it for the average household in GTA to go off grid – and is it really worth it? The short answer is that unless your electricity usage is minimal, it’s not very easy to disconnect from the grid and still have all the comforts you are used to. Even with the cost of solar and energy storage having fallen as much as they have, installing a stand-alone solar system really only makes sense if you are in a home where getting grid-connected is something you would have to pay for.

If you are in a major urban centers like GTA, deciding whether or not to truly get off the grid should be something you consider very carefully. To do so, you will either have to significantly change the way that you use electricity or spend a significant amount of money on a solar-plus-storage system large enough to get you through a cold, dark winter.
So at this time best options available for people in urban centers like GTA is to participate in programs like Micro FIT orNet Metering programs offered by the utilities. However, as the cost of utility power continues to rise, going off-grid will become justified in urban centers too.

Phone: 416-855-9377