Toronto - Downtown West

Downtown West Solar Energy Project

10 Aug 2022

The Downtown West Solar Energy Project is a group of volunteers who have, over the last 18 months, organized a bulk purchase of solar energy systems for downtown homes. The electricity generated by solar electric systems can be sold to the Province for 42 cents per kilowatt-hour under the new Standard Offer Contract program. The hot water from solar water heating systems will be used in each household.


Two years of dedicated effort by members of the Downtown West Solar Energy project have resulted in forty system installations, including 13 photovoltaic systems and 27 solar hot water systems.  Six of our participants have gone solar in a big way, purchasing both PV and hot water systems.


It has been estimated that the solar hot water systems are now generating approximately 104,000 kW-hrs equivalent of energy and displacing 36 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.  The PV (i.e. solar electric) systems are generating approximately 30,000 kW-hrs of electricity and displacing 29 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.


Installing solar panels on your house isn’t just good for the planet – it is good for the soul, as these project participants and Harbord Village residents attested:


"Getting my solar panels was the single best decision I have made in my life. It is unequivocally thrilling to be able to help the planet. We solaristas are bound to the solar system and each other in a powerful and moving way! Thanks Downtown West,” said Sue Dexter.


“I am amazed at how happy it has made me just to order a solar hot water system. It makes me feel as if I am moving in the right direction. It makes me very happy to know that my neighbours are organizing to help me in this way, and to relieve me of all the confusion and doubt that prevented me from investigating on my own,” says Harriet Friedman.


While the project has been a great success, project activity has slowed to a trickle, and so we have decided to wind the project down.  Thanks are due to the entire Downtown West team, including the homeowners who have purchased systems, our hard working committee members, all local residents who came to meetings to learn about solar energy systems for their homes, our fine vendors Solera Sustainable Energy and Goldwater Solar Systems, and our bright and shiny co-chairs Tim Grant and David Booz.



Public Meeting Wednesday March 19, 2022

The Downtown West Solar Energy Project hosted a public meeting on Wednesday March 19 at the St. Vladimir Institute Theatre. Approximately 100 people were there to learn more about solar energy for their homes.

Several DWSEP participants spoke about how happy they are with their solar energy systems. Here Sue Dexter talks about the joys of a PV system:

Olivia Chow, Member of Parliament for Trinity-Spadina, showed up to voice her support for the DWSEP and talk about the solar hot water and PV systems on her own home:

Leonard Allen, president of Solera Sustainable Energies, gave an excellent presentation on the benefits of solar energy for the environment and how the Solera PV systems work:

Here Aaron Goldwater, president of Goldwater Solar Services, explains how a evacuated tube solar hot water panel works and why it is a good choice for the DWSEP participants:

The meeting also included a presentation on why you should have an energy audit on your home, even if you don’t buy a solar energy system, and if you do buy a solar energy system, you want an audit even more. Jody Salomon spoke talked about the economics of solar energy, the grants and incentives available to homeowners and small business people who purchase solar energy systems, and the financing options available to help with your solar energy system purchase:

Meeting photographs courtesy of Greg Tjepkema, photographer.

The meeting finished with an opportunity for the people attending to ask questions about solar energy and the systems that are available through the Downtown West Solar Energy Project. Approximately 16 attendees filled in their SignUp sheets, and the vendors have been busy making site visits to those people to evaluate the potential for solar energy on their homes.


To download a copy of meeting flyer, click on this link:March 19 Meeting Flyer

If you are interested in participating in the Downtown West Solar Energy Project, it is not too late. Just download our SignUp sheet, fill it in and sign it, and return it to us. If you indicate that you are ready to purchase now, you will receive a visit from the solar vendor(s) who will confirm that your rooftop is suitable and discuss any customization that will be required for your particular home and system configuration. Once all of your questions are answered, you will purchase your systems directly from the selected vendors at the discounted prices that we have negotiated. The vendors will be responsible for the supply, installation and warranty of the complete solar system, including solar panels, required peripheral equipment, installation, testing, commissioning, and warranty support.

For more information on the steps involved in going solar with DWSEP, download a copy of the Purchase Flow Chart by clicking on this link:DWSEP Steps to Going Solar

To download a copy of the signup sheet click on this link:DWSEP Sign Up Sheet

Downtown West Solar Energy Project Results


The Downtown West Solar Energy Project has been a great success. In 2007, over 87 households signed up for vendor site visits for a potential of 70 solar hot water systems and 66 PV systems. 16 contracts for solar hot water systems have been signed with 10 systems installed, and 12 contracts for PV systems have been signed with 10 systems installed. System installation has started up again with the arrival of good weather.

"I am pleased to have been the first on my block to install solar hot water. The research work done by DWSEP made it easy for me. I just had to sign up to get the installation that I knew would be the best available. Now when I check my preheat tank I see energy savings even on overcast winter days, and when spring comes I expect to be almost free of dependence on fossil fuels for my hot water needs. I feel really green!" – Ron Shirtliff

"Working with Solera was a pleasure. They accurately assessed the correct configuration for our home and the actual installation was on time and on budget. You can tell they really enjoy what they do and believe that solar energy can make a difference. I have recommended them to other friends since our installation." – Dave Hunsburger

Here is a map showing the location of some of our installations. The "waves" represent solar hot water installations, the "sun" represents PV installations, and the green arrow is for both.

Photographs of some of our installations:

Hot Water System on Major Street

Photovoltaic System on Wilcox Street

Combined Photovoltaic and Hot Water System on Wilcox Street



Photos: David Booz

Two of our photovoltaic installations have real time monitoring systems, provided by Cachelan.

Here is the link to the system on the Dexter Home: Dexter Home PV System:


Here is the link to the system on Coach House Books: Coach House Books PV System:


The Downtown West Solar Energy Project estimates that the solar hot water systems are generating approximately 62,000 kW-hrs equivalent of energy and displacing 22 tonnes of CO2 annually, and the PV systems are generating approximately 30,000 kW-hrs of electricity and displacing 29 tonnes of CO2 annually.

The Downtown West Solar Energy Project has been getting some media attention as well. Here is a link to an article from the Globe and Mail on December 3, 2007: Globe and Mail article


Our Community Solar Energy Project


It was very challenging to select the preferred vendors from a number of very high quality bids. Eventually, we selected Goldwater Solar Services for the solar hot water systems, and Solera Sustainable Energies Company for the photovoltaic systems.

Goldwater Solar systems have completed ten installations of solar hot water systems. Margaret Proctor was the first HVRA resident to complete her installation, and is very pleased to be reducing her natural gas consumption by getting hot water from the sun.

A number of the DWSEP participants have also purchased on-demand water heaters to provide backup hot water, thus reducing their gas consumption even more. The combination of solar pre-heating with an on-demand heater is a particularly potent combination for an extremely efficient domestic hot water system. Some of the project participants are also looking at using their solar hot water systems to supplement their space heating needs, for even greater savings (and even greater reductions in greenhouse gases).

Solar hot water systems need to meet CAN/CSA standards to be eligible for the Federal ecoEnergy Retrofit grants. Goldwater currently has their systems undergoing certification testing at a special solar energy testing laboratory in Europe. Once the testing is complete, all Goldwater solar hot water systems will be eligible for rebates - even the systems that have been previously installed, as long as the required energy audit has been completed (see more details below).

For more information on Goldwater Solar Services, check out their web site:

Goldwater Solar Services:

Solera Sustainable Energies has installed ten photovoltaic systems and the homeowners are delighted. Jessy Kahn writes, "I'm happy to report that I love my solar panels. The installation was painless and my array is making electricity every day….I highly recommend this purchase to other neighbours and hope that more people will want to jump on such a worthy bandwagon. Thanks again for organizing everything."

For more information on Solera Sustainable Energies Company, check out their web site:

Solera Sustainable Energies Company:

We had four public meetings around Trinity-Spadina in May 2007. Over 220 people came out to learn about solar energy systems, community power initiatives, system siting, and the proposed solar hot water and solar electric systems. To publicise the meetings, about 40 volunteers hand delivered approximately 17,000 flyers to all the houses in the area bounded by University to Ossington, Dupont to Queen. Along with promoting our public meetings, the flyers included some general information on solar energy systems, allowing us to raise the general understanding of solar energy among many people, even those who couldn’t attend our meetings.

The Downtown West Solar Energy Project has had support from many members of our community. Our public meetings were co-sponsored by the local Residents’ Associations, including the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, the Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park, the Palmerston Area Residents’ Association, and the Seaton Village Residents’ Association. Special thanks to the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association for funding for room rental for the May public meetings and for the excellent presentation from OSEA’s Simon Gill. We also want to thank Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone and Councillor Adam Vaughan for assistance with the printing of flyers. A special thank you to all of the many volunteers and committee members who helped in many ways, big and small. The largest thanks go out to the project participants who by installing solar systems on their homes are taking a stand against climate change and are making Toronto a greener place.

You can find lots of additional information on solar energy technologies on the Go Solar website: Go Solar:

If you have questions, please feel free to contact either of the project co-coordinators below. May the sun continue to shine on us all!

Tim Grant, [email protected]
David Booz, (416) 806-2669

Photo Credit: Ron McKay

Why Participate in a Bulk Solar Purchase?

The potential for solar energy in the Greater Toronto Area is greater than many people expect, with more annual solar radiation than leading solar energy nations Germany and Japan. Because solar hot water and electricity production is highest during Ontario's energy consumption peak - hot, sunny, summer afternoons - producing hot water and electricity using solar panels has a number of community-wide benefits. Cleaner air is just one of those.

The DWSEP project includes two different types of solar energy systems. Photovoltaic systems generate electricity with an array of solar panels mounted in a sunny location, a grid-tie inverter to convert low voltage DC current into high quality 240 volt AC current and connect it to the distribution grid, and a dedicated meter that measures the power coming out of the PV system. Solar domestic hot water systems pre-heat the water going into your hot water heater with a solar collector on your roof. The heat from the collectors on the roof transfers into a solar storage tank so that the solar hot water is there when you need it. Solar water heating systems are freeze protected so that they may operate year round.

Solar energy has the potential to be a major energy source, especially in urban environments. At the moment, the Canadian solar industry is small and system costs are high. Adding solar panels to your rooftop sends an important message to politicians that they need to develop policies to make it easier for people to capture the sun’s energy.

Costs & Incentives

Solar water heating systems cost $4,000 to $6,000 and can have a payback of 5-7 years, depending on the amount of hot water used in the household.

There are a number of incentives available to help reduce the capital cost of the system. New programs announced in 2007 by the Federal and Provincial governments provide over $ 1,000 in incentives on a new solar hot water heater. The key to qualifying for this money is to have a home energy audit done. The energy auditor will complete your application to receive your federal and provincial grants. At the same time, you will learn ways of improving the energy efficiency of your home. The Ontario government subsidises the cost of the audit by 50% up to $ 150.

Once your system is installed, you will be eligible for a $ 500 grant from the Federal ecoENERGY Retrofit program, along with a matching $ 500 grant from the Provincial government. The home energy auditor will apply on behalf of the homeowner for all applicable grants. There is no PST charged, because the system is considered an improvement to a building.

A list of approved energy advisors can be found on the ecoACTION web site:


Solar electricity-generating systems can cost $12,000 for a basic 1-kilowatt system up to $ 28,000 for a 3-kilowatt system, with an expected payback of 15-20 years.

The most significant incentive for PV systems is the Ontario government Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program (RESOP), which pays $ 0.42 per kilowatt-hour for electricity generated using PV systems. See the additional details on this program below.

Some homeowners prefer to use the electricity they generate themselves, avoiding the paperwork and costs involved with the RESOP. They can connect to the grid under the Net Metering program. Under this program, homeowners send PV-generated electricity to the grid for a credit on their electricity bill. The local utility subtracts the value of the PV generated electricity supplied from the value consumed by the homeowner. The electricity bill shows the “net” difference between these two amounts.

The Ontario government will rebate the PST on PV as well as hot water systems.

If you are connected to the grid under the Standard Offer Program, you are selling the electricity produced by your PV system. While this income is “taxable”, you may be able to write off the money spent on the capital cost of a PV system under the RESOP against the income generated by the PV system. This would reduce taxable solar income to zero each year until the capital cost allowance for the system is used up. This would be spread more or less evenly over the full payback period of the equipment. Depending on your tax bracket, this could significantly increase the return on your investment. For more information, please download the Solar Economics flyer and speak with your accountant. Please note that numbers used on the Solar Economics flyer are approximate and simplified and for illustration purposes only. The document excludes annual operating costs, such as the monthly customer charge by the LDC, e.g. Toronto Hydro. Although these costs are tax deductible, they will reduce net solar income.

To download a copy of the Solar Economics flyer sheet click on this link:DWSEP Solar Economics

Once your investment is paid off, a solar electric system will continue to earn money, and solar water-heating systems will be producing hot water long into the future.

Solar systems are capital intensive, requiring a significant upfront investment. There are a number of options for financing the installation of solar system for individual homes. For additional information on financing options, download a copy of the DWSEP Financing handout by clicking on this link:DWSEP Financing

There are still some outstanding issues that may affect the payback of a solar energy system, including generator licence fees, account fees charged by Toronto Hydro, zoning issues, and the potential that property assessments (and therefore taxes) can increase. We are continuing to work to identify and clarify these potential additional costs.

Please keep in mind that investing in energy efficiency and conservation is more cost-effective than adding a solar energy system on your roof. Whether you replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, seal the cracks around your doors and windows, upgrade your attic insulation or install high efficiency windows, these initiatives should always be the first step in your energy program. Once completed, that’s the time to consider adding solar energy to your home. The world will be a better place if you do.

Solar Photovoltaic Systems

There are a number of different types of solar cells, but all use the same basic process. Solar cells are semiconductors, manufactured using a similar process as computer chips. These cells create a small amount of electricity when sunlight shines on them. Manufacturers seal a number of the cells into panels, which are very strong and durable. Several panels are mounted together to make up an array of 1 kilowatt, 2 kilowatts, etc.

An inverter is a sophisticated electronic device that converts low voltage DC current into high quality 240-volt AC current. The inverter also synchronizes the frequency of the AC with the grid so it can be fed into the distribution system. Inverters include safety circuits to shut down the solar system when the grid goes down to ensure the safety of Hydro personnel.

The output from the inverter is passed through a dedicated meter that measures the power coming out of the PV system. This is a separate meter from the one that meters the power going into your house, so that the power generated is sold at $ 0.42 per kWh, while power is purchased from Toronto Hydro at approximately $ 0.12 per kWh.

Solar Domestic Hot Water Systems

Solar hot water systems heat the water we use for washing – clothes, dishes, ourselves. A correctly sized solar hot water system should supply 50-60% of hot water needs over a year. A basic system consists of solar collectors, a storage tank, pump, controller, heat transfer fluid and piping and hardware.

There are different styles of collectors (solar panels). The system we are proposing uses high performance evacuated tube collectors, with copper heat collection pipes enclosed in evacuated glass tubes. A standard package consists of two collectors, each with 24 tubes, and a 300L solar storage tank. On an ideal day with proper collector orientation, this system will provide 300L of 55-60 degrees C (the temperature at which your hot water tank is set) hot water or better.

The storage tank looks like a standard water heater tank, however it includes a heat exchanger to transfer the heat from the collection fluid into the domestic hot water. The collection fluid and the domestic hot water don’t intermix. Tank sizes can range from 200 to 550 litres. The storage tank serves as a pre-heater for a conventional water heater, either electric or gas.

A pump is provided to circulate the collection fluid between the rooftop collector and the storage tank in your utility room. The controller monitors the temperature in the collector and the tank and cycles the pump to either collect heat or shut down.

Goldwater Solar Services is offering two system configurations – glycol and drainback. Glycol systems use a food grade glycol solution as the collection fluid. This eliminates the risk of freezing, allowing the pipes to run outside. Drainback systems have a small secondary tank inside the house above the solar storage tank. The exterior components are sloped to ensure the collection fluid drains back into the secondary tank when the pump stops. Since the collection fluid only circulates when there is heat to be collected, distilled water can be used. Drainback systems are not suitable for all sites, and are slightly more expensive to install but are virtually maintenance free over time. Glycol systems require additional maintenance to monitor the antifreeze properties of the glycol solution and replace it periodically.

The hot water from the solar hot water storage tank is fed to a conventional backup water heater (gas or electric) as you draw hot water for your household needs. The backup heater is included to ensure a supply of hot water at night or on cloudy days, however the preheated water from the solar system will significantly reduce (in the winter) or potentially eliminate (in the summer) the consumption of conventional energy. Solar hot water systems are most effective in the summer season, but still provide a significant proportion of hot water requirements during the winter. A solar hot water system feeding an on-demand water heater is a particularly efficient combination and will provide the maximum savings in conventional energy. These systems can also be used to pre-heat water used for radiant floor heating systems.

System life expectancy should exceed 25 years. Each site is different, so installation requirements (and therefore costs) will vary from house to house.

Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program

The Provincial Government has recently brought in the Standard Offer Contract program. Under this program, the government will pay 42 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar electricity generated by homeowners and other small-scale producers. "This is the most progressive renewable energy policy in North America in over two decades", says international renewable energy consultant Paul Gipe.

The Standard Offer Contract program is a financing model taken from Europe that addresses the financial challenge of renewable energy - high capital costs and no fuel costs. The higher price also serves to recognize the extra value provided by electricity that is produced using renewable sources. The cost of the pollution created by conventional energy sources is not included in the price we pay for conventional energy – it shows up in health costs, extreme weather damage, and infrastructure failures. Since renewable energy doesn’t create this pollution, it has greater value, which is reflected in the higher price paid under the Standard Offer Contract.

Another benefit of renewable energy that is recognized by the premium prices of the SOC is the reduction of demand on the power transmission grid seen when electricity is generated locally. As electricity is transmitted from large conventional power plants in remote locations, a significant amount of energy is lost. Also, Toronto is experiencing a transmission capacity crunch, with power demand exceeding the capacity of the transmission lines feeding the city. Generating electricity locally, on your own roof, helps to address these issues.

Under the Standard Offer Contract, the price paid to small generators is guaranteed over a 20 year fixed price contract, guaranteeing a long-term revenue stream. Electricity generated from renewable resources such as wind, solar, small hydro and biomass is eligible for the program.

A household or MURB that is selling power to the grid under the Standard Offer Contract will use two electricity meters - one load meter to measure the electricity consumed by the homeowner, the second generation meter to measure the electricity generated by the solar panels. The value of 100% of the electricity generated is credited (at $ 0.42 per kWh). Power consumed is purchased at the normal rate (approximately $ 0.12 per kWh).

In Ontario, one Watt of photovoltaic panels will generate about 1 kWh per year. Thus a 1 kW (1,000 watt) PV system will produce about 1,000 kWh per year - or about $420 per year at the $0.42 per kWh SOC rate for PV.


Site updated November 15, 2021

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