Tag Archives: solar panels

How will shade affect the performance of my Solar Panels?

19 Jul

It’s common knowledge that vampires can’t stand garlic, that the Joker is Batman’s nemesis and that oil and water simply don’t mix. The same can be said about solar panels and shade. They simply don’t work well together.

Solar panels installed by Eco Alternative Energy at a house in Ontario

Solar System installed by Eco Alternative Energy

Solar modules are designed to convert solar radiation (otherwise known as sunlight) into electricity which will then either be sold to your local Hydro Company in a grid tie scenario or used to charge batteries in an off-grid system. When a panel is blocked by a shadow (either by a cloud, a chimney, or tree branch, etc), it can reduce the performance of your system dramatically.

Without getting too complicated, imagine a standard solar panel on its side, in a landscape position. Now divide the solar panel in two with a top half and a bottom half. Each half is a circuit interconnected together in series (30 cells in each half for a total of 60 cells). When you shadow any of the cells in either of these two half’s, the voltage of the solar panel will drop in order for the panel to protect itself. Even if only one of the 30 cells in that section of the panel is covered,  it will have a dramatic effect on that half of the panel and potentially on the system as a whole depending on whether you decide to go with a string or micro-inverter (future blog coming soon).

Some common shade considerations you will need to look out for include chimneys, hydro wires, dormers, TV antennas, snow, neighbouring houses and of course tree branches (doesn’t really matter if its winter or summer as the shadows of branches in the winter alone can still have a significant impact on your system). Do shadows from these obstructions mean that you can’t add solar to these areas of your roof? Not necessarily.

Solar Pathfinder: Eco Alternative Energy

Solar Pathfinder: Eco Alternative Energy

Your solar installer should have the knowledge and expertise in choosing the best areas of your roof to add your panels that will maximize your return on investment. He or she may avoid certain areas due to constant shade obstructions but it’s important to keep in mind that some shadows may affect a panel in the morning however may not affect the same panel the rest of the day – resulting in overall good performance. That’s  because shadows move throughout the day as the earth moves (but I know you already knew that).  Solar installers should have the tools, like a Solar Pathfinder, that will allow them to make educated decisions on the best places for you to add your panels. With the Solar Pathfinder tool, they should be able to predict your solar systems performance based on any obstructions you may have on your roof. It doesn’t matter what time of year they do the analysis – the tool is smart enough to give results for the entire year with surprising accuracy.

We hope you found this article on shade helpful. If you would like to have a shade analysis done on your roof, drop us a message here or call 1-888-907-5848. We have three locations to service you (Toronto GTA, Sharbot Lake and Peterborough) and we would be happy to help you out. You can also find out about other posts to many of your common questions here on our blog.

If you are in Ontario, Canada and would like a free online evaluation of your property for solar, feel free to fill out the short form below and one of our experts will get in touch with you in 1 business day.

Solar Systems: What could possibly go wrong?

17 Jul

So, you’re considering investing a rather large chunk of money to have a solar system installed at your home with the benefit of receiving a preferred rate for the electricity you generate that will be guaranteed to you for 20 years through Ontario’s MicroFIT program.

Now you’re wondering what could possibly go wrong in the coming years.  After all, it’s good to know about any problems that may arise now so that you’re going into this with your eyes wide open. By planning now for potential problems down the road, you can most likely prevent nasty service issues in future years.

The good news is that for most solar systems, there is very little that can go wrong. Solar panels have no moving parts which makes maintenance virtually non-existent.  As for cleaning the panels, here in Ontario, we typically get a good rainfall once a week which naturally cleans the panels of any dust or debris. Solar panels typically come with a 25 year warranty so you’re covered in that respect.  As for the inverter(s), they often come with a 10-25 year  warranty (term will depend on the inverter you choose, so choose wisely).

Squirrel damage to solar panel wiring

Squirrel damage to solar panel wiring

If there was one thing that could potentially go wrong with your system, I would hazard to guess that it would be our furry little friends, squirrels.  If your roof is near an area accessible to squirrels, they could decide to call your solar array home and set up a nice nest underneath your solar panels to protect them from local predators and the elements.  However, a bigger concern than the nesting is what they do when in their new digs.  You see, squirrels like many rodents like to chew and the wiring under your panels make a great snack for their little chompers.  The damage that these little critters cause to wiring can result in thousands of dollars worth of repairs as your solar installer will not only be required to remove the panels, but also replace all of the wiring affected by squirrel damage.  In the meantime, you’ll be losing production which also costs you money.  Now for the really bad news, most insurance companies do not cover rodent damage which means that you’ll be on the hook for this bill. The solar industry  has been experimenting with various  solutions to this problem (coating the wires with a nasty taste that squirrel’s will naturally want to keep away from and protective wiring) but to date they have not provided us with a cost effective solution.  So is all hope lost? – Nope.

Squirrel Guard installed around solar panels

Squirrel Guard installed around solar panels by Eco Alternative Energy

The good news is that some solar companies are now providing customers with a product called Squirrel Guard which in essence is a galvanized steel screen that is installed around your panels and acts as a deterrent so that squirrels (or birds for that matter) are unable to get under your solar system to wreak havoc.  The Squirrel Guard screen is made by welding and hot-dip galvanizing, followed by PVC coating (this ain’t no chicken wire).  This high quality screen stands up to the extremes of rooftops.  It combines just the right mix of strength and weight with workability and transparency for a quick, long-lasting, secure and inconspicuous installation.  Squirrel Guard is the most effective solution so far for squirrel damage to solar panels.

Be sure to ask your solar installer if they provide Squirrel Guard before you sign up especially if you know you could potentially have a squirrel issue either now or down the road.

We make it a point to inform our customers about Squirrel Guard before signing up.  If you would like to speak to a solar specialist for a high performance squirrel protected solar system, please Contact Us or call us at 416-907-5848.

Which Solar panel type is best: Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline?

11 Jul

There’s a great deal of interest about Mono-crystalline and Polycrystalline Solar Panels. As such, we decided to do a comparison from your point of view and we will try to avoid using any trade jargon to give you a better understanding of the difference between the two options: Mono and Poly solar panels.

Surface of Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Surface of Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline cells are made from a single crystal of ultra pure silicon. They are the original silicon solar cell and they are still the most efficient today. Mono cells are typically a little more expensive since they’re a little more difficult to manufacture. The benefit of mono cells is that they perform slightly better under low light conditions equating to better production on cloudy days versus polycrystalline panels. How much better? Well that is a topic for discussion as there has been little local data to prove this here in Ontario. Suffice to say, you may get up to about .5% better production per annum using mono cells versus using polycrystalline.

A Polycrystalline Solar Panel: by Eco Alternative Energy, Ontario

A Polycrystalline Solar Panel

Polycrystalline cells are made up of multiple crystals and are generally less expensive to manufacture than mono cells. The gap in performance has narrowed significantly over the years to the point where they are very close. Since Polycrystalline panels are made up of several crystals, this means that they also absorb less sunlight and produce slightly less than mono cells per metre squared.

Many Solar panel manufacturers here in Ontario offer both mono or poly options. Ask your installer what they recommend for your roof and maybe have them quote on both. If you are in Ontario, Canada and you’d like to drop us a message you can do so here or call us at 1-888-907-5848.

In short, both are good technologies. It’s simply a matter of personal preference and budget. In case you wanted to find out how much a solar system installation typically costs, please read our post on How much does it cost to install solar panels in Ontario? We hope you find it helpful! For any questions feel free to drop us a comment below.

If you are in Ontario, Canada and would like a free online evaluation of your property for solar, feel free to fill out the short form below and one of our experts will get in touch with you in 1 business day.

Choosing a Solar Installer: Checklist for choosing a Solar Company in Ontario

28 Jun

Choosing your solar installer can be a big decision and we understand it’s not the simplest one either. With infinite options available just with a simple Google search, the question quickly becomes how do you choose the best one? How do you know if they’re good and how do you know if they’ll do the best job for your home?

Ontario's most trusted solar company, Eco Alternative Energy

Choosing the right solar company for your home: Ontario

In order to help you out, we decided to create a simple checklist to help you make this decision. It’s a list of short questions that you can ask any solar company or installer you are considering to see if they are the right one for you.

1. Licenses and Insurance: Ask your solar company if they have the appropriate licenses and insurance; especially for the workers involved in your installation. It’s a wise thing to do so that you do not end up with a potential liability claim. And if they are reluctant to disclose whether or not they have it, you’re probably better off with another company.

2. How long have you been installing solar?: The last thing you want is an installer working out of his basement or installing solar on the side. You need a reliable company that has been around for 5 or more years and installing solar needs to be their primary business, not a roofer who sometimes installs solar or an electrician who does it on the side. You want to ensure that they have a place of business that you can actually walk into and see a solar panel for yourself.

3. Are the installers actually employees or subcontractors?: Sometimes, solar companies subcontract their services to reduce labour costs. The trouble with choosing a company that uses subcontractors for their installations is that you might know and trust the solar company but you know squat about the subcontractors – this can create quite a dilemma and one that you want to avoid. There’s also the off chance that they won’t follow “company procedure” during an install. Always choose a solar company with in-house installers and like CanSIA (Canadian Solar Industries Association) says ‘reduce your risk’.

4. How realistic are the ROI (return on investment) projections?: This is one of my biggest pet peeves! Some solar companies (not all) tend to present over inflated ROI projections to customers to get you to sign up. Since they show your return to be higher than what it will actually be, your system purchase looks that much more attractive as they will come out with unrealistic expectations saying you’ll earn 12 to 17% return on your money when in fact, you will actually earn closer to 10%. Once they have sold you, it will take a few months before you realize that you’re not meeting their projections and by that point you’ll have no recourse to take when your monthly cheques don’t match what they suggested when you made the purchase.

Instead, ask them how they calculated the ROI, and whether or not they accounted for shading, snow etc. You can also ask for past records of solar projections and hydro payments of some of their previous customers – WITH contact information. Please have them review with you how they got to their performance projections and ensure that you understand! They should be able to go through their process with you so you have a clear understanding.

5. What does their price include?: Since you are not a solar professional you’ll probably not be as familiar with the all the details involved with your installation (building permits, engineering, connection costs, squirrel guard, etc). Ensure your solar installer clearly states what’s included in the price and more importantly what their cost does not include. No one wants surprises at the end of the day that they were not counting on.

6. Who files the microFIT / FIT application?: It’s a good thing to ask your solar company if they’ll file your application or will you have to do it, because you do not want to be struggling with paperwork – especially something that’s key to your installation. Besides, the biggest plus about a Solar professional filing your application on your behalf is that they are familiar with the process and know the intricacies involved.

7. Warranties and References: Like for any purchase; always, always, always ask what the warranties cover and for a few references. It’s the first thing that should pop in our head when we make a purchase – especially something that requires a big investment, so don’t be shy about asking for warranty information and some references you can talk to.

Feel free to print this list off and have it by your side when you speak / meet with solar companies you are corresponding with. Go over these questions with any potential solar installer one by one. At Eco Alternative Energy we adhere to all the above standards because we believe customer satisfaction comes first. And in case you are wondering what should be included in the cost of your solar system, here’s a great post that lists it for you: How much does it cost to install solar panels? For any questions that you have regarding choosing the right installer or solar don’t hesitate to drop us a message or call us at 1-888-907-5848.

And remember don’t sign up with a solar company just because they seem to be offering the best price – like they say, if it’s too good to be true, that’s because it probably is!

If you are in Ontario, Canada and would like a free online evaluation of your property for solar, feel free to fill out the short form below and one of our experts will get in touch with you in 1 business day.

Do Solar Panels Improve the Price of Your Home?

21 Jun

This is a great question and one asked often before making an investment in residential Solar system on the roof of a home.

Here in Ontario, we don’t quite have enough history yet to prove that adding Solar will in fact increase the value of your home. Having said that, in the U.S where Solar has been around longer than Ontario, the evidence suggests that having a Solar system could very well increase your property’s value.

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2011/04/21/bright-spot-for-solar/ ) in 2011 found that homes that have solar electric systems installed actually have a better market value and sell for better prices as compared to those houses that do not. The study brought to light the fact that homes that have PV solar panels installed sold for a premium that ranged from $3.90 – $6.40/watt of capacity, averaging to about $5/watt.

Solar Panels Improve Home Sale Prices

Solar Panels Improve Home Sale Prices ! – An Installation By Eco Alternative Energy

Another study conducted by NBER ( National Bureau of Economic Research) also found that solar panels did increase the value of a home at the point of sale by 3 – 4%. The two findings are complimentary to each other and point to one conclusion.

Why?  Well, let’s play a simple scenario for you.  Let’s say that you decide to move after 12 years of your 20 year contract with the Ontario Power Authority.  By this point, your system should be completely paid off and you are now benefiting by receiving monthly cheques from your local Hydro Company.  Now, not only are you selling your home, but you’re also selling a source of income associated with your Solar system!  You should be able to easily show past years performance numbers of how much you made.  That has value and is attractive to potential buyers because it is a potential lucrative income stream to them.  Think about it, now they may be able to afford a bigger mortgage as a result of that additional income.

You could say that Solar is kind of like having a basement apartment with a renter except unlike a renter, Solar systems don’t make any noise, and Hydro companies have lots of money so they pay their monthly cheques on time!

So it’s a win -win situation whether you decide to sell your home or not. And all this while saving the environment! – Super! Incase you are curious about how much it would cost to install solar here’s a post where you can find out : How much does a solar power system cost? And if you have any questions about solar before you take the plunge give us a shout at 1-888-907-5848 or simply drop us a message with your questions.

Grid Tied vs Off Grid Solar Electric Systems: Which option is better for you?

19 Jun
Solar Electric System Installed by Eco Alternative Energy in Spring 2011

Grid – Tied Solar Installation Completed by Eco Alternative Energy in Spring 2011

If you’re wondering which of these two options are better for you, then you’re at the right blog!

Let’s face it, we would all like to be off the grid generating our own electricity and telling our local hydro company not to bother sending us another bill – ever! It’s also nice to take comfort that during a thunder-storm when the lights go out, you’ll be watching T.V with your lights on while your neighbours sit in the dark. It’s a pleasant thought however not always practical, economical or to your benefit.

First of all, just in case some readers are not sure about what Grid Tied or Off Grid Solar electric systems are, here’s the difference

Grid Tied Solar Electric System: In this case, your solar system generates power through your solar panels and you sell ALL of that power to your hydro company at a preferred rate (often guaranteed for 20 years). You will then buy electricity (including your clean solar electricity that you produce) as you normally would however you will buy this power at the standard lower rates for electricity that we all pay.

To take part in this Provincial Solar incentive program, (called the MicroFIT program in Ontario), you would be required to apply to the Ontario Power Authority for approval. To be eligible, you are required to own your home and your system cannot exceed 10 kW’s in total. Your Solar installation company can help you navigate through the approval process. ( In case you want to know if your home is fit for solar you can find out the requirements here)

Solar Electric System Ontario

One of our head installers installing a Grid Tied Solar Electric System

If you look at your hydro bill, you’ll see that here in Ontario, we all buy our electricity at a rate of 6.7-12.4 cents per kWh (depending on the time of day). Under the MicroFIT program, generating electricity with solar power and selling it to the grid will pay you a premium rate per kWh (current June 2013 MicroFIT rates are at 54.9 cents per kWh) and that rate is guaranteed for 20 years! Since the average Solar system costs between $25-$40,000 before taxes, you can expect your investment to pay for itself in about 8-10 years. As your OPA contract runs for 20 years, the remaining 10-12 years will be money in your pocket.

Off Grid Solar Electric System: For Off Grid systems, you are completely off the grid as your system generates power through your solar panels and that power is used for your own consumption. In this case, you will require batteries to store that power to be used in the evening or on cloudy and low producing days.

The trouble with Off Grid Solar systems is that you need to truly understand your electricity consumption and then you need to build the size of your array to the worst month of the year (let’s say January) so that it will still meet your minimum daily requirements. With Off Grid systems, you now need to purchase and hold a bank of batteries (amount and size of batteries to be determined by the size of the system) to store the electricity you generate. Batteries are not cheap and they typically only last about 10 years before they need to be replaced. Chances are, you will need a back-up generator for the times when your system is not be able to meet your requirements in the worst producing months of the year. These batteries can add at least a third of the cost of what a Grid Tie Solar system would be. Lastly, an off grid system is a lifestyle change as you need to conserve electricity wherever possible.

At the end of the day both systems have their merit. Off Grid systems work best in areas of the Province where you cannot connect to the grid in any other way, typically in rural settings. Grid Tie systems are better in an Urban environment where Hydro is readily available.

If you’re curious about your home and want to see how much a Solar system on your roof can generate, please feel free to drop us a line here or call us at 1-888-907-5848.

How much does it cost to install solar panels in Ontario (home / residential) ?

13 Jun

If you’ve been considering solar for your home or business, we’re pretty sure you’ve also been thinking about how much it’s going to cost you. We’ll try and narrow the basics down as much as possible here so you have a fair idea of the costs involved.

How much does Solar cost in Ontario, residential?

Cost of installing solar panels on a roof in Ontario

First of all, the question is a little tricky because it depends on a number of factors, namely –

  1. How many panels you can fit on your best roof faces
  2. The type of panels you choose
  3. The type of inverters used

Before we go too far talking about installation costs, it is important to note that the price of solar panels fluctuates in the Ontario market so we suggest you contact a reputable solar installation company and have them quote you based on your particular installation. Even so, let’s look at some numbers so you have more information than just the fact that it “depends on a couple of factors”.

At today’s pricing, a solar system would typically cost you anywhere from $20,000 – $40,000 in Ontario depending on the size of the system (40k for a 10 kW system and 20K for a 4.5 kW system). We understand that the cost may seem a little bit high but here’s the good news – depending on the size of your solar system, a homeowner can expect to earn a 10% or greater return on their investment under Ontario’s Solar incentive program. Your actual return will depend on the pitch of your roof(s), how your roof(s) face in relation to due south and if there are any shade factors to consider (shadows are a solar panels worst enemy). Where else in today’s economy can you expect to earn 10% or better return on your money!

How much does it cost to install solar panels

Enjoy a great return on investment with Solar in Ontario

So let’s say you have enough space on your roof(s) to install a 10 kW solar system (Ontario’s MicroFIT program allows for a system the size of 10kW or less). In this case you would be looking at an investment of $ 40,000 plus tax (don’t worry about the tax as you can apply to receive all of this back). In this case you can expect to earn over $4,000 each year for 20+ years meaning that it will take you about 8-10 years to pay back your initial investment (with the money you earn each month by selling the electricity your system generates back to your hydro company) and after your system is paid for, the remaining 10+ years of income you’ll receive will be money coming to you. Ontario’s micro-FIT program guarantees the rate that your Hydro company pays you for 20 years so long as you are willing to sell them your electricity. Solar panels come with a 25 year warranty, yet you can expect them to last for 25-35 years.

When you are in talks with your solar installer be sure to ask them what costs are included in the price and what costs are not. There should be no expensive,nor unpleasant surprises. At Eco Alternative Energy, we believe that our customers have the right to complete transparency which is why we include the following components in all of our installations (this is also a good checklist to go over with your solar installer):

  1. Solar Panels (we’ll go over options & pricing with you)
  2. Rails & Flashing units
  3. Inverter(s) & monitoring
  4. Permits (varies per jurisdiction)
  5. Design
  6. Complete system wiring, disconnects & sub panels
  7. Engineering (if required)
  8. Labour
  9. Electrical
  10. Assistance with OPA & Hydro paperwork
  11. Squirrel Guard

We hope this post provided you with some added knowledge on solar pricing and the approximate rates of return. If you have any more questions, feel free to drop us a message here and we’d be happy to answer your questions! You can also call us toll-free at 1-888-907-5848. To read more about solar and related topics follow our blog !

Tip: Be sure to checkout our post on How do I know if my house is right for Solar? to know what the basic requirements are for getting solar panels installed on your roof.

If you are in Ontario, Canada and would like a free online evaluation of your property for solar, feel free to fill out the short form below and one of our experts will get in touch with you in 1 business day.