Tag Archives: Solar system

Solar System Installation: Is it better to do the install yourself? Professional vs DIY

4 Jul

Whether you choose a professional to install your solar system or decide to do it yourself, kudos to you for choosing to go solar and thank you for helping us make Ontario greener!

Professional Solar Panel Installation by Eco Alternative Energy, Toronto

Why choosing a professional solar installer is better: Grid Tied Solar Systems Ontario

A lot of hobbyists jump at the idea of a DIY project but hold on, before you put your tool belt on and start climbing up the ladder onto your roof you need to ask yourself; “which option is better for such a significant project”?

If you’re planning to install a Grid Tied Solar System, we recommend you take a look here at what a Professional Solar Installation company offers you vs a DIY project:

  1. Professional Expertise: The first advantage of using a professional company to install solar panels on the roof of your home is that they employ professional electricians, installers and solar specialists to do the job right. This means that everyone involved in your solar installation is an expert in their field as opposed to a hobbyist trying to figure things out for the first time. If you’re planning on doing a small home project that does not tie into the grid, then the Do It Yourselfer (providing he or she is handy in this regard) may be a better option.
  2. Making the best recommendations: A professional Solar company will be able to make the best choices for your solar system. They will know exactly which system design will be the most lucrative, which inverters to use, which racking to go with and all this faster than you can type “Photovoltaic” on your browser. It is unlikely that hobbyists will know the best configurations of a system and still be able to maximize production, since they probably don’t account for factors such as shading, preferred azimuth, pitch, etc.
  3. Time Savings and Faster Earnings: When you start a DIY project for the first time on your own, you will evidently go through the many panel brochures, inverter info and engineering specs and eventually find a simple flowchart of steps required to install Solar that you may use as a template for your installation. It is unlikely that you’ll finish your project without running into a few roadblocks which could potentially take a while to figure out. When using a professional solar installation company, you’ll be dealing with professionals who have been through the process several times and understand their way around any roadblocks they encounter. As a result, they should be much faster (a 10 kW system should be installed by professionals in about 5 days) and your system will start producing sooner which in turn equates to you earning money faster.
  4. Trying to save money: Keep this in mind, the cost of your average solar system is primarily made up in the panels, inverter(s), rails and electrical. Labour is a very small percentage of the overall price tag.
  5. Paper work made easy: Are you fond of provincial red tape? Like the rest of us, probably not – especially when you don’t do it on a regular basis. Filing for your OPA (Ontario Power Authority) application to get approved is the first step to installing a solar system and a service that many solar companies are happy to provide. Then comes the LDC paperwork, single line diagrams and in many cases engineering and a building permit. Having your solar installer take care of this for you will save you the headache and time of shuffling through what some describe as an endless sea of paperwork. Similarly, solar companies take care of the majority of other paperwork required in the process so you don’t have to worry. If you are taking up this project as Do It Yourselfer the paperwork will slow you down, not to mention the unnecessary stress associated with it.
  6. After service care: It’s a great relief to know that someone will be around to look into any trouble that your system runs into long after your installation is complete as opposed to getting up on the roof every time something goes wrong and making sure you are around to fix it. Most solar companies will be available to provide you with some form of after service care on your system. Many solar installers offer a 24-36 month warranty on their installation.

So at first glance, it might look cheaper to install a Grid Tied Solar System on your own or have a friend do it but in the long run it could turn out to be more of a headache than it’s worth. To make solar a truly rewarding and wonderful experience we suggest you choose a professional solar installer for your home. And if you’re considering looking into choosing a solar company in your area, please read our post on How to choose the right solar installer: a checklist for some great tips! Like always, our solar experts will be happy to answer any questions you have, so be sure to drop us a message here or call us on 1-888-907-5848 .

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.

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.