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1. How do the solar technologies work?

These resources should help answer some of those questions for you:

* Go Solar Ontario - About Solar Technologies

* Wikipedia - Solar Hot Water

* Wikipedia - Solar Photovoltaics

2. I know solar is a great environmental option but how practical is it for southern Ontario with our cold climate and northern location?

We receive more sunlight than you would think. Toronto has more sun hours per year than Miami Florida and solar capacity leader Germany! Although the output of solar does diminish in winter as compared to summer, the sun continues to shine and your system will continue to produce power all year round.

3. What is the point of getting involved in a community-led solar initiative rather than just doing it on my own?

There are a number of advantages to a community-led initiative. Firstly, this is a great opportunity to work with other neighbours and friends in dealing with humankind’s most pressing issue, climate change. You will be part of a group of like-minded people taking ownership of our challenges right here, right now. The large purchasing power and the due diligence of the community’s selection committee will ensure you will receive a very attractive price for your system and it will be supplied and installed by a competent, experienced contractor. You can also be confident that the hardware used will be top quality. Finally, a community group can help streamline permitting and auditing/rebate processes. Working in a community-led initiative takes a lot of the "guess work" out of doing it on your own.

4. How does a basic grid-tied solar system work?

Solar panels capture the energy generated by the sun. This energy is converted from DC current to AC current (the current used in your home and transmitted on the power grid) by an inverter installed with your system. This power is then fed directly to your electrical system by connecting to the main circuit breaker panel. This is parallel generated electricity that works in conjunction with the existing utility-grid supply. During the daytime, when the system is generating electricity, it is this electricity that will be consumed first within the building. During times when the system is generating less than the building’s demand, the additional required power will be automatically drawn from the grid. Conversely, if the solar generating system is producing more electricity than is being consumed in the building, the excess will flow back to the grid, reversing the electrical meter. This electricity will be effectively "stored" in the hydro grid for later consumption.

5. How much will this cost and what is the payback?

The cost is dependent on the terms of the contract negotiated by your community-led initiative. Solar PV (photovoltaic) systems that produce electricity can cost $10,000 to $12,000 for a basic entry level system that will reduce your demand by about 20% (depending on your home’s energy consumption patterns). Systems are scaleable, meaning you can always add more panels in future assuming you have available space. The payback hinges on the details of the Feed-In-Tariff Contract offered by the Province of Ontario (more info in next question). In any case, the payback could be in the neighbourhood of 15 years based on today’s energy prices (which are going up and will reduce the payback period).

Solar thermal systems usually cost between $4000 and $10 000. Rebates of $1000 are available through the Federal and Provincial ecoEnergy programs and the Green Energy Act has mandated further incentives such as low or zero-interest loans, the specifics of which will be known later this spring. The payback for solar thermal systems is highly dependant on domestic hot water consumption and can vary from 6-12 years.

Don’t forget that once paid off, each system will continue to earn you revenue long into the future. Since a solar system is an improvement to your home (like a renovated kitchen or bathroom) you can expect that the value of your home will increase as will your quality of life. Home renovations are done to enhance your home and your quality of life and may not offer immediate return.

6. What is a Feed-In-Tariff Contract?

A Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) Contract is an incentive offered by the Province of Ontario to encourage construction of renewable energy projects. Although the terms of the contract will not be announced until late spring 2009, the Premier has said that the rate paid to producers of solar power be "best in class" which based on the example of industry leader Germany woud be somewhere in the range of $0.80/kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity generated. This will almost double the $.42/kWh offered by the old RESOP program . Right now, an Ontario hydro utility will charge somewhere in the area of $.06/kWh of electricity. That means that small solar systems will pay us 14 times what we now pay for our electricity! A 1 kW system (the entry level system) will payback about $800.00 per year based on this formula. More details, including whether old RESOP contracts will be grandfathered into the new program, will be known this spring.

7. Why should rate payers pay so much for solar?

The reality of the new feed-in-tariff policy is that the price premiums for renewable generators, including solar, are paid by rate payers, unlike the RESOP program which was funded directly by the Ontario Power Authority. The price paid by residential consumers of electricity is usually around $0.06/kWh, which is comparable to the price paid to nuclear generators, which are heavily subsidized. However, nuclear generators produce 'base load' power which runs all the time, resulting in cost efficiencies, whereas solar PV naturally produces 'peak' power, a much more expensive type of generation that meets the peak load in the middle of the day. Currently, peak power in Ontario is provided by peaking natural gas plants and imported coal-fired electricity from the U.S. at a cost that regularly EXCEEDS $0.80/kWh. Since these 'peaking' plants only generate electricity for roughly 80 hours/year, they must charge a high price/kWh to cover their year round operations and maintenance costs. When examined in the proper context, paying generators of solar electricity $0.80/kWh is economically rational and especially when the environmental benefits of displacing coal and natural gas generation are taken in to account, the decision to incent solar generation at this rate is a no-brainer.

8. What about snow on the panels in the winter?

Snow will form on the panels during winter, however since the panels generate some heat and are tempered glass, the snow will either slide off or melt off in a couple of days. There is no need to clean the snow off the panels.

9. What about maintenance? How much will that cost?

Solar PV is basically maintenance free. There are no moving parts, pumps or motors. The panels are usually guaranteed for about 25 years. The inverter will likely need to be replaced once over this period which will cost between $2000-2500. Solar systems installed more than 30 years ago are still going strong. The systems today are much more efficient and technically advanced than the system sold even a few years ago. The contractor that supplies and installs your system will also offer a warrantee on the installation. That warrantee will depend on the terms of your contract.

Maintenance costs for solar thermal systems are similar to the regular ongoing costs of maintaining household appliances. A safe assumption for the average maintenance costs over the life of the system is 1% of initial capital cost annually.

10. I am not sure that I get enough sunlight on my roof for a solar system. How can I make sure it is worth my while?

Before you sign any contract, your home will be evaluated, at no cost to you, to determine the viability of a solar system. You can discuss this with the solar contractor before you make a firm decision.

11. Do the panels need to go on my house? I have a garage with great sun exposure.

Panels can be installed on the roof or on the side of any structurally sound building with good exposure to the sun. Additionally, systems can even be installed on a pole in your backyard. There are all kinds of brackets available that will hold the panels in place and orient them to the sun for maximum efficiency. The solar contractor can discuss all the installation options with you at the time your home is evaluated.

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