Solar Power | FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Most of our potential clients have similar questions about solar power. We have put together this list of frequently asked questions to help our clients educate themselves before moving forward. If you would like more detailed answers, please feel free to contact us any time.

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WHAT IS SOLAR ENERGY?

Solar energy takes energy from the sun to generate electricity. It is an infinitely renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent manner.


No matter how much we use, there will be more when the sun comes up again!


WHAT PERMITS ARE REQUIRED TO INSTALL A SOLAR POWER SYSTEM?

This can vary a bit depending on where you live and what type of system you are installing (grid tie or off grid, and roof mounted or ground mounted). You typically will need an electrical and building permit (which we will acquire on your behalf). In some places you will need a building permit as well. In Edmonton, only an electrical permit is normally required.


WHAT COMPONENTS ARE REQUIRED FOR A GRID TIE SYSTEM?

We provide a “turn-key” service, meaning that you don’t need to provide or do anything except open the door for our installers. However, for the sake of information, a solar power system basically consists of the following: solar modules, module mounting equipment, inverter (or micro inverters), wiring, grounding equipment, and some conduit.


WHAT IS A GRID TIE SYSTEM?

Grid tie systems are what most people want. The basic idea is that your home or building is still tied to the electrical grid and you buy and sell electricity from it. When the system is set up like this, you don’t have to worry about not having electricity at night or on a cloudy day, you simply buy electricity during those times. It is important to note however, that if the grid power goes out, the inverter will turn off the power of the system as well (to protect maintenance workers), so your home will still not have power.

The main advantage of a grid tie system is the overall cost savings resulting from no batteries.You don’t need any batteries at all, and as such you also don’t need the equipment to hold them, charge them, or maintain them. 


You can have a grid tie with a battery backup. Normally when this system is installed, the installer only wants to have battery capacity for one day or so. This allows for fewer batteries and a solar array that is only slightly larger than a grid-tie system. This is a nice balance, although few people use it because of the additional cost.

HOW DO I KNOW IF SOLAR PANELS WILL WORK ON MY HOME?

Most homes can benefit to some extent from a solar power system. Those that won’t or which will benefit less typically have large trees directly south of the house. To assess your situation, simply ask these questions:

Is there good southern exposure? Orienting solar panels to the south maximizes the effectiveness of energy collection. This is not required, but it does help. Being within 25 degrees of a southern exposure is quite acceptable, and considered ideal.


Is the exposure free of trees or buildings that could shade the panels or drop debris on them? Shading photovoltaic panels dramatically reduces their effectiveness. 


What is the pitch of your roof? Most roofs, from flat to 60-degrees can accommodate photovoltaic panels. 

In addition, feel free to contact one of our professionals to come and assess your home for free.


I HAVE PLANS FOR EXPANSION; CAN I PLAN FOR THIS NOW?

Yes. This is something that everybody should  consider. There are many reasons for future expansions besides the obvious financial limitations. 


These reasons may include the purchase of an electric car, installation of electric heating, future government rebates, etc. 


We will help you design your system so that expansion will be as simple as possible in the future.

HOW MUCH GHG’S EMISSIONS WILL I SAVE BY USING A SOLAR POWER SYSTEM?

This can be a tricky question, because it can be answered in a number of different ways, but here is the answer that seems to be the most accurate and accepted:


To get a single kWh of energy to your door, a coal-burning power plant will emit 820g-1200g of eGHG’s, but the required eGHG’s due to a solar power system is only about 41g-60g! That is a reduction in GHG’s by 24 times for your electricity usage.


To put that in perspective, an average house may produce 9000kWh per year from its solar power system, saving about 9,000kg of CO2. But how much is that? Well, for each dollar a person spends on fuel for their car, about 3.2kg of GHG’s are produced, so this PV system will offset a fuel bill of $2,813 annually (or $234/month)!

WHAT ABOUT THE SNOW, WILL THE SOLAR PANELS STILL WORK IN THE WINTER?

Solar panels will produce electricity whenever the sun shines on them. Because they tend to stay warmer than the ambient temperature, they tend to meltthe snow that lands on them quickly. Additionally, since most of the energy production is during the summer months, an occasional slight snow cover willnot reduce the annual production by a large amount.

We typically see solar panels in Alberta without snow on them, while adjacent shingle roofs do have snow. That being said, there are times when the snow

will accumulate quickly that it will not melt right away. In these cases, the solar system will not produce electricity. We also size our panels under the assumption that you do not clear the snow off your solar system. Thanks to a research program at NAIT (and partially funded by the City of Edmonton) we have documented data regarding the effects of snow on a solar power system at various roof pitches.

HOW DO SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC 
CELLS WORK?

Photovoltaic cells are comprised of a semiconductor material such as silicon. Added to the silicon is typically phosphorous and boron (although all of the ingredients may change in the future) which create conductivity within the cell and activate the movement of electrons. The electrons move across the cell when activated by the sunlight’s energy into the electrical circuit hooked up to the solar panel.


Sunlight on photovoltaic modules produces direct current (DC) electricity, which is converted to alternating current (AC) by a device called an inverter, which is then wired into your main service panel where it feeds your internal power grid.


HOW LONG WILL THE 
INSTALLATION TAKE?

After you have signed the contract, and given permission to proceed to install, there are three portions of the installation: pre-installation, installation, and post installation. 


Each takes time, and may vary due to the workload on the permitting authorities and other involved parties. For a smooth and rather ideal operation, the pre-installation will take about a week, the installation will take one day, and the post-installation will take about two weeks.

DO I NEED BATTERIES FOR MY SYSTEM?

You do not need batteries for a grid tie system, but you do need batteries if you want your solar power system to function without being tied into the electrical grid (which is quite rare).


HOW MUCH SPACE DO I NEED FOR A PV SOLAR SYSTEM?

Many homes can power themselves with less than one half of their roof space being covered by solar panels. Like most things, this can change due to the location, environment around the house, or the orientation of the house.


Regarding in-home equipment, a grid tie system only requires a small box that mounts on your wall (typically beside your electrical breaker box).


DO I NEED A SOUTHERN FACING ROOF TO HAVE A SOLAR SYSTEM?

A south facing roof portion will help but is by no means necessary. Ideally, you want a roof exposure to be sloped south and slightly to the east. Your roof can be taken into account when the system is sized by our professionals.

HOW LONG WILL MY SOLAR POWER SYSTEM LAST?

One of the great things about solar power systems is that there are functionally no moving parts. This allows a much longer lifetime than most things that we own or use. In 2003, BP Solar published the results of their analysis of warranty claims and reported that of more than two million modules in service over nearly ten years, approximately one-tenth of one percent were reported faulty, which means it “represents one module failure for every 4,200 module-years of operation.” 


Put another way, if your system has one thousand modules, you may experience the failure of ten modules in 40 years. In non-technical language, you will not likely see a failure in 40 years.


WHAT IF I SELL MY HOUSE, DO I TAKE THE SOLAR PANELS WITH ME?

Installing solar panels on a home is more like installing a new furnace in your home than buying a new couch. Like a furnace, it will stay with your home when you move, and like a new furnace it will increase the selling value of your home. Our sales professionals will show you how your home value will be affected by the installation of your solar power system.


A study from the USA found that the average sale price of a home with a solar power system sold for $4/installed Watt higher than an equivalent house without the installed system.

SOMEONE TOLD ME THAT THE ENERGY REQUIRED TO MAKE PV PANELS IS GREATER THAN THEY WILL EVER PRODUCE, IS THAT TRUE?

This is a common myth in the solar power industry. It began during the early days of the technology, but with new manufacturing methods, it is simply not true anymore. In fact, many studies indicate that in 2-3 years a solar module will generate more energy than it required for manufacture. 


An interesting fact is that according to the Environmental Working Group’s “Green Energy Guide,” the energy return on investment for photovoltaics is about 9-1, greater than many other electricity production methods (coal: 8-1, biomass: 3-1, nuclear: 5-1, wind: 5-1).


OUR ROOF NEEDS REPLACING SOON, SHOULD WE INTEGRATE THE INSTALLATION?

Yes. You will save the most amount of money if you work these two investments together. If your roof is in need of replacing in the near future, it may be in your best interest to replace it before you install your solar power system.