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On-Grid Renewable Energy Systems

For many years, solar, wind or microhydro systems were the domain of off-grid locations.

The last several years have seen a tremendous worldwide awareness and uptake of renewable energy technologies. Europeans have paved the way, with innovative policies to encourage and R&D support to develop products, and the education of an entire new workforce has had a dramatic impact on the whole renewable energy sector.

Here in Canada, we lag about 10 years behind Europeans. For the last few generations, we have existed in a playground of cheap, abundant energy and as a consequence, we have become complacent about the very energy that sustains our lifestyles.

In British Columbia, we enjoy the third cheapest electricity rates in North America!

Despite what you might hope you are hearing, and despite some slow progress in the right direction, Canadians have yet to see the bold type of political actions that have enabled European nations to thrive in this sector.

Economics: No matter how you slice it, in BC with it's cheap power rates, the economics are not favorable. A 1 kW PV system will produce on average 5 kWh per day in Southern BC. About $0.30/day at $0.06 per kWh. Works out to about $100 a year of power for a system that will cost you around $10,000 to purchase. Of course, as electricity prices increase, support for renewables increase, and the costs go down, this equation will only improve.

Renewable Energy Systems Are Expensive!

More and more people are investing in renewable energy systems today to protect them from whatever the future may bring. It gives them direct feedback as to how much energy is being produced. The self-reliance and satisfaction of producing your own energy is hard to quantify.

People purchase grid tie systems because they want to do their part by reducing their impacts and generating their own energy.

Systems

Grid Intertie Direct (without batteries).

These systems are the simplest, and the most cost effective in terms of $ per kW of electricity to produced. They work just like any other appliance in your home - with the notable exception is they create electricity and push it backwards into the power grid. These systems are extremely scalable and flexible. Starting points around $10,000 and the sky is the limit from there.

Grid Intertie / Backup Systems (with batteries).

These systems add storage in terms of batteries. This gives you more flexibility, in terms of having a reserve energy system that will operate when the grid goes down. It also allows flexibility in terms of buying and selling power at different times of the day (to take advantage of time of use electricity metering).

To get the best performance from a grid intertie system, one must consider energy efficiency upgrades.

Energy Efficiency

The average Canadian home uses between 700-1500 kWh per month. A highly efficient home can reduce this to 60-500. How can you realize these kinds of improvements?

Every $1 you spend on efficiency will save you $5 in energy generation.

The following steps are ranked in order of least capital cost to highest. Start at the top to get the best bang for your buck.

  1. Behavioral change: The best way to save money on your home energy use is to use less! You can do this in a variety of ways, including turning off and unplugging unneeded lights and devices, insulating your attic, walls, windows and doors, and by converting to more efficient appliances. Cost: $0

  2. Make your heating or cooling system work less. How many buildings do you go into where the temperature inside is either extremely high or extremely cold, exactly the opposite of the weather outside? Space heating and cooling accounts for 54% of the country's energy. The less energy you use to heat or cool your building, the less it will cost. Cost: $0

  3. Consider using a clothesline instead of a clothes dryer. Cost: $0

  4. Install energy efficient lighting. Switching to energy efficient lighting, such as Compact Fluorescent (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED), will result in fast payback. Cost: $

  5. Have an EnerGuide Home Assessment done and act on the recommendations to better insulate your home and replace draughty windows. Cost: $

  6. Check your appliances. Measure your energy usage with a Kill-a-Watt electricity meter and learn how much energy your appliances use. If you haven't already, invest in EnergyStar appliances. Do you really need that second fridge? Cost: $$

  7. Solar hot water is one of the most cost effective renewable energy technologies. If your location has a suitable southern exposure on which to mount solar collectors, you will find this option pays for itself in 3-10 years, depending on the system. The more hot water you use, the better the return will be. Cost: $$$

  8. Wind Generation Systems. IF YOU HAVE A GOOD WIND SITE, installing a small or medium sized wind generator may be a good investment. Siting a wind generator is tricky business. More information... Cost:$$$$

  9. Microhydro. If you are blessed with a good source of running water, preferably with 10' or more drop, microhydro is an excellent technology to consider. Cost: $$$$$

  10. Solar Electric systems Most utilities now allow reverse metering, grid intertie, or net metering. Generally speaking, the energy that you generate will directly offset the power you draw from the power grid. If you are creating more power than you are using at the time, this power will be exported to the power grid. Cost: $$$$$

Government support we would like to see:

All of Canada (except Ontario) uses a system called Net Metering. That means the utility will pay you the same price for the power you produce as you are paying for the power you consume.

The problem with this system is that the power utilities across Canada are highly subsidized and renewable energy is not. That makes it really difficult to compare the costs of one with the other. For example, with a coal fired power plant, subsidies in terms of roads, real estate and tax exemptions are substantial. The environmental cost of cleaning up a coal mine and the health cost of the pollution created from burning the fuel is not accounted for at all. It's left as a mess for our kids to deal with.

When you purchase an RE system there are limited associated indirect environmental or health costs and there are no serious government subsidies to offset the cost of the system. The price you pay for an RE system is the actual cost of the power produced.

In Ontario they use a system called the Standard Offer Contract Program (aka Advanced Renewable Tariff). Under this program the government has regulated the utility to recognize that RE power has a greater value than power from conventional sources. In Ontario the utility will pay 42¢ /kWh for solar power and 11¢ /kWh for wind or microhydro power compared to 7¢ /kWh for RE power in British Columbia. This is an example of a forward-looking policy which will help an industry that is booming through the world, but lagging in Canada.

This is an example of an innovative policy that helps promote the use of renewable energy.

For Non-Canadian On-Grid Customers
For our international friends, we recommend that you consult your local phone book, business directories, etc. and select a local contractor who can help with your projects. Alternative energy systems are very site specific and who better to design your system than someone who lives in the same locale.

 

 



Natural Resources Canada Office of Energy Efficiency

 

Canada ranks an embarrassing 27th out of 29 OECD nations in terms of energy use per capita

Profiles

Installer Profile:
Vancouver Renewable Energy Co-Op.
EA has been working with VREC since 2003. Their focus is grid-tie installations in the Vancouver area.

Laura Iwan
Burnaby Now Article
Georgia Strait Article

Doug Horn
Homepower Magazine Article

EA Installations

Gordon Handford. Customer walking his environmental talk with one of the largest privately-owned Grid-Tie PV systems in British Columbia.

Grid-tie / backup power system. Faced with a desire to to generate their own power, and critical need to keep power on during sometimes extended power outages, EA designed and installed a very customized system.

Grid-tie / backup power system. Small grid-tie battery backup system to keep the lights on during often extended outages down a country road.

Click here for more installations

 

 


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