There’s nothing better old folks can do for the next generation these days than to allocate a bit of their nest egg to solar panels on the roofs of their houses. Let me explain.
About a year ago, on January 27, 2022 we had a 7.74kW system of solar panels installed on our garage roof. It took three men only six hours to do it and by 3:00pm on that particularly gorgeous winter day our BC Hydro meter was running backwards. (Figures 1 & 2)
Now one year later our most recent Hydro bill is -$106. Yes, that’s a negative sign. Big letters on the bill say “Do Not Pay.” Consider that we also have a Tesla, and for the last year we have been charging the car at home as well as drying our clothes, heating the garage with baseboard heaters, using central air conditioning on hot days, and running all the electric lights and appliances in our house. We still use natural gas for heat, hot water, and cooking, but now we’re looking at converting some of that to electric as well.
Solar is SMART
Indeed $100 of that negative BC Hydro bill was the NDP cost-of-living credit, but over the last year our electric bills have been $15 or less to just cover the basic connection charge. In 2011, BC Hydro changed all their electric meters to smart meters, which now allows people to install “Grid Tied Solar Systems” so when your house creates more energy than it consumes your hydro meter runs backwards. BC Hydro keeps track of the amount of electricity your solar panels generate and it remains in your account as a credit.
Over the summer of 2022 we socked away almost six megawatts of electric power, literally making hay when the sun shined. Then during the dark dreary months of November, December and January we used up most of those watts. Indeed on snowy days, when the panels are completely covered in the white stuff you get zero electricity from them. Same with those super dark wet Vancouver winter days. But on a bright sunny day in December or January our solar panels provide up to 15kWh of power. This is basically enough to run the whole house. Interestingly the panels are somewhat more efficient when they are cold. Nevertheless on a hot July day they can generate 50kWh of power, most of which is stored by BC Hydro as a credit.
When do solar panels become profitable?
People often ask, “How many years does it take to pay for itself?” I find this to be an odd question because the panels, like a new fridge or a new roof, add value to a house which is recouped when the house is sold. But the answer these days is about 5 or 6 years.
Consider that we don’t have to buy expensive gasoline for our electric car as well. There’s something absolutely magical about driving around town in a car fuelled by sunshine. Couple this with essentially zero electricity bills for the house and the solar panels “pay back” in a very short time.
Solar panels are a far better investment than putting money into a GIC or a mutual fund. And this does not even include the larger societal benefit of oil and gas NOT being burned, or new hydro dams NOT being built and valleys NOT being flooded.
Let’s do the math…
Our system cost about $16,000 installed after taxes (late 2021), but nowadays you can get a $5000 grant from the federal GreenerHomes program if you put solar panels on your house. In addition, interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for solar panel installations are available from CMHC. Also in BC there is no PST on solar panels.
If you work it out, after subtracting the $5000 grant, our system generates energy at a capital cost of just $1.42 per watt. For comparison, the site C dam, now at $16 billion for 1,100 Megawatts, comes out at a cost of $14.55 per watt. Ten times more!! Think about it. Weird that solar panels are not more common on all BC roofs. Try to imagine how many years the Site C dam will take to “pay back.” You will not be alive. Personally I feel solar panels should be legislated and mandatory for all new buildings. They should be natural, accepted and commonplace like toilets.
Any additional benefits of going solar?
Here’s something else that nobody thinks of: the electricity you make in your own back yard (or roof) is yours. Not only are the electrons “fresher” but they are tax free and far more efficient because they don’t have to travel through expensive infrastructure like high tension wires or substations and transformers. It’s like home grown organic vegetables because you know where it came from. You made it yourself. That feels amazing.
We have had zero problems with our solar panels. They have no moving parts. In summer during long periods of no rain they get a little dusty so a window cleaning company came and gave them a wash. Power went up 10%. Impressive. Other than that, nothing. The panels send information via wifi to our home Internet and you can see how much energy they are creating on a smart phone app (figure 3).
Energy and power are on the vertical axis and time is on the horizontal access for the day shown, March 30.
In this way the panels act as a kind of sun-meter. You can always tell how sunny it is at a given moment. Plus the data is stored forever in a database and can be accessed over months and years to see what days in the past were sunny, or relatively how much sun we’ve been getting over time. It’s useful and fascinating to have access to your own local weather data and surprising how often this information comes in handy.
Save, make, and use your own energy!
The most poorly understood fact about solar panels is that energy is real. Solar panels are not like anything else you can buy. Nothing you own creates energy. Appliances, computers, heaters, lights, cars, etc. They all USE energy. And yet solar panels MAKE energy. For free. Compare it to real-estate. Real estate is worth something because it is real. Energy is also real in the same sense. Einstein showed that Energy equals Mass, hence it is essentially like real estate. You can use it, you can save it, you can trade it. And with solar panels you get more of it for free every day. People don’t comprehend this uncanny fact about solar panels. It’s as if each day you were to magically obtain a bit more real estate. Something you can use. In other words these things “pay back” the second they are installed.
If you have around 400 square feet of unshaded south facing roof area there’s no better investment you can make today than taking around $20,000 from a RRIF or a TFSA and putting it into solar panels on your roof. For you. For your kids. And for the planet. Do it!
Brad is proud to be of First Nation’s descent with ancestry traced back to the Manitoba Red River Band. With over 20 years’ experience in the construction industry, Brad offers an extensive background of project procurement in industries from agriculture, electrical distribution to commercial construction. Brad is a NABCEP certified professional with a thirst for ongoing education in the renewable field.