Welcome to Alberta's Experts in Renewable Energy

FAQ and Glossary

There are some "must read" pages if you are seriously considering an "Off Grid" Solar Power system. The most important one by far is the System Design page.

The others are

Frequently Asked Questions

Q) How much will it cost to power an average home?

This is by far the most frequently asked question, and there are several parts to the answer. (be prepared to be shocked!)

  1. Most households have a usage problem, so that needs to be addressed first.

  2. The average Calgary household uses about 22 KWH per day, so it depends on where you are in relation to the "average". Remember too, that generally you will be using more power in the winter than the summer because of the heating system. For the purpose of this answer, we will use the 22 KWH per day though.

  3. If you are looking at a battery-less Grid tied system and want to "zero" out your energy consumption over the course of the year, then a 6 KW solar system would be sufficient. It would be about 40' wide and 11' high and likely cost around $ 25,000.00 installed (depending on the complexity of the job and the cost of the approval process)

  4. If you are looking at going "Off Grid" and using a generator sparingly, then the Boomer 12000 would be about right. It is just under $ 100,000.00 prior to installation. The total installed price could easily top $ 120,000.00. The solar array would be about 80' wide and 11' high and the batteries would require a space about 10' wide, 3' deep and 3' high.

  5. If you want to live totally "Off Grid" without using a generator, then you would still use the Boomer as a base, but add another 20 KW of solar power and another battery bank. Now you would have a solar array that is about 220' long and 11' high. There would now be 2 battery banks, each of which would be 10' wide, 3' deep and 3' high. The equipment cost would now rise to about $ 160,000.00 and installation will likely take it over $ 200.000.00.

So, taking an "average" home "Off Grid" is very expensive if energy efficiency in the design of the home, the heating system and the occupant's habits are not addressed. A well-designed "Off Grid" home with care in usage by the occupants should be able to come in at about 7 to 8 KWH per day or less, even in winter. For that load there would be a few basic choices (which would also depend on the peak demand).

The first choice would be the Pioneer if the peak demand is less than 7 KW. This system would require minimal generator run time.

The second choice would be the Solar Freedom Packages which would eliminate the need for a generator.

The third choice would be the Boomer series inverter and appropriate solar array and battery bank if the peak power demand is between 7 KW and 14 KW.

My personal system is the approximate equivalent of the Solar Freedom package and we use about 7 KWH per day. We always work with our customers to reduce the amount of energy that is required to keep the size of the system as low as possible and to reduce the dependency on a generator as they tend to be problematic both in terms of reliability and in terms of charging the batteries properly. The design of the heating system is one of the most important aspects in going "Off Grid".

Q) Is the price of Solar Technology going to drop more?

A) There is more than one aspect to look at in answering this question. First off, there is an underlying misconception to this question. Solar is considered a "technology" like a computer, whereas in reality, it is much more like building a custom home. To explain this, think of the computer. In terms of actual material, there is very little there, it is small, easy to ship and even bought on line a lot of the time. You take it home, plug it in and you are done. There is very little dealer time involved in selling the product. Now let's take a look at building a custom home. It starts with a dream which then needs to be put on paper, so an architect is hired to draw up the plans. Next, the location needs to be looked at and the trades people are then brought in to build it. In this scenario, a lot of the cost of the new home is in the labour of the people building it and the co-ordination and building supervision. Solar systems are very much that way, there is a product component which is the Solar modules, racking, inverters, batteries and the balance of system and there is a relatively large labour component. The labour component has many aspects as well. There is the initial inquiry, design of the system, co-ordination of the installation, permitting, regulations and interaction with the customer throughout the project. The people doing this work all need to be paid.

Secondly, the price of Solar modules has been driven down to the point that there are a significant number of module manufacturers that have gone out of business as the low price of modules is not sustainable. Also, in a good Off Grid Solar Power system, the price of the Solar modules is less than 15% of the total package price and even less than that of the total installed price, so even if the price of modules were to go down more, it would not have a significant impact on the total price.

It is expected that as the number of Solar module manufacturers that go out of business increases, we will be seeing a rise in prices again to a sustainable level. At this point, it seems that we have pretty much hit bottom and that we will soon see a rise in module prices to this sustainable level.

For more information on labour costs, see this article.

Q) I have heard of new improvements and products which are supposed to radically change the way the power system works and be able to go "Off Grid". A recent example is the announcement by the Tesla Company promoting their new "Powerwall" battery and using solar power in conjunction with these batteries. Is this really possible in the near future?

A) It is a great idea, unfortunately though, in our climate in Alberta and our energy consumption patterns there are some major issues.

  • We need the most power in the winter when there is the least amount of energy available

  • To be totally "Off Grid" you need enough storage and generation capacity in the winter to handle 2 to 3 weeks of heavy overcast and cold when there is not much solar energy coming in. this would amount to about 30 of the 10 KWH battery packs for the "average" Calgary home!

  • Most homes do not have enough space, clean roof lines, south facing area or unshaded area to mount enough solar modules to generate enough electricity to make this possible. They also do not have the space generally to mount all the required equipment inside.

  • Installation costs are also going to be fairly high because of the amount of work involved, both in terms of interaction with the customers and the actual planning and installation.

  • Cost is still going to be a major issue. Current storage technologies like the traditional lead acid battery are still less expensive or at the very least the same as the new technologies.

  • A lot of the costs are always going to be labour cost (which will continue to rise). Increasing Government regulations, code and safety requirements will continue to increase the costs as well.

The "big picture" people and solar crusaders usually have great ideas, but there is usually a lot more to it than they realize.

Another aspect that relates to this is the whole aspect of "good" solar jobs being created. The problem with this is that people are not willing to pay for the workers to have a "good job". Everyone is always trying to beat up on the price and wanting the people in the solar companies to work for free or for minimum wage. This is especially true for interacting with the solar dealers and not wanting to pay for their time in interacting with them. It is not possible to run a business without charging enough for the product and services to pay for the people working there. See also the article on why it costs so much. Business Costs. In order for employees to have a "good" job, they need to generate enough revenue each day to cover their wages and all the overhead related to having them as an employee.

Q) This is Alberta, not California. Can I expect solar to perform?

A) Most areas of Canada can use solar very effectively but Alberta is the sunniest province in Canada, and there are solar installations operating here as you read this, performing every bit as well as any other location in the world.

Q) Is solar power reliable?

A) Yes, with our designed and integrated complete systems using the new electronic controls and the high-quality components now available, it is equal to or even more reliable than your power from the grid. Solar electric modules have a very long life span.

Q) Is wind power reliable?

A) There are 3 parts to this answer: 1) The wind itself is generally not very reliable in most of Alberta. 2) Most small wind generators are made too cheaply to withstand the elements that they are exposed to. Wind generators are a mechanical device and as such require maintenance just like a vehicle. 3) Larger, quality machines in good steady wind areas are quite reliable.

Q) I want a wind generator but am concerned about birds being killed by it.

A) We also have these concerns, and since 2001 when we installed wind on our site we have kept track. We have recorded one fatality from wind generators on our test site, which has had 2 or 3 running at any time. Investigating this incident we found that we had a smaller, quieter wind turbine quite close to a larger, noisier one. The bird struck the smaller one and we believe that he didn’t hear it because it was drowned out by the noisy one. We changed this situation and to our knowledge have not lost a bird to a wind-gen since. Ironically we do lose an average of one bird a year to hitting windows at the same location and have had quite a few that have fallen down chimneys.

Q) How will having home solar power affect my lifestyle?

A) As much or as little as you wish.

Q) I have heard that a solar panel takes more energy to manufacture than it will ever put out?

A) We are not sure if this was ever true; in any case, today a regular solar panel recovers the energy it took to manufacture in approximately 2 years. Specialty solar tiles can take up to 4.5 years.

Q) Can we really live independently from the grid?

A) Yes. There are many households in Alberta, one of them being our own Erhard Hermann's. We have built systems for large homes with elevators, entertainment systems, security systems and all the modern amenities, completely off grid.

Q) Is there anything that needs to be done to my household before installation?

A) Not necessarily, but it will be a lot more expensive if energy conservation measures are not applied. It is always a lot cheaper to conserve energy than to collect and convert it.

Q) If I buy one type of system now, can I convert it to another type later?

A) A Grid interactive system can be converted to a battery based system, but it is more expensive. A battery based system can be grid tied if the proper inverter is chosen.

Q) Is the installation process complicated?

A) No, not for our customer. In some jurisdictions a building or development permit must be acquired in addition to an electrical / plumbing permit.

Q) How long does it take to install a system?

A) That depends on the size of the system, once all the planning and pre building is complete at our shop on site work goes quite quickly, for 3 Kw and less of electrical solar even off grid systems are done in one day. Also see the Grid Systems page.

Q) Do you offer free assessments or services?

A) Yes, all the basic information to guide you to the point where you know your goals is on this web site, and further basic inquiries are handled by our office staff. Specialized requests, design and consultation are professional services, and are not free.

Q) I bought a kit from " X ", will Boyd install it?

A) No, We cannot guarantee performance or integrity of someone else's product. Miss matched parts or ones not certified for use in Canada are also common in these situations making it illegal to install them.

Q) Should I get a battery back up?

A) A battery-based system gives the added security of having power when the grid goes down. It can be set up with a sealed "no maintenance" type battery bank. The higher cost must be weighed against the advantages by you however.

Q) Can I just tie to the grid and have a simple system?

A) Yes, the only drawback to this is when the grid does not work, your battery-less system will not work either. Please see the Grid Systems page.

Q) Roof considerations, repair, replacement, etc?

A) Generally, if the roof is metal or other durable construction the solar system can just be installed. If the roof is marginal or even halfway through its life, it may be best to re-roof before installing solar panels.

Q) We live in "Hail Alley." How will my solar panels and/or collectors stand up to hail?

A) The panels are rigorously tested for impact resistance. In order to be approved they are required to withstand 1" (2.5cm) hailstones at 52 MPH (84km/h). Also, at our high latitude, panels stand quite vertical, allowing even very large hail to deflect rather than impact the panel directly.

Q) Will solar panels work when it's cloudy?

A) Yes they will, even though their output diminishes, there is still considerable output, especially on mildly cloudy days.

Q) How long will a system last?

A) The modern silicon solar panel was developed in the 1950's and some of the earliest are still producing power. They do slowly degrade (like all of us) but we do not know for sure how long they will last. Based on our experience, we expect at least 40 years of usable service, and most are guaranteed to produce 80% of original spec in 25 years. The electronics and inverters are long-lived as well, as long as they are not overloaded. Wind generators have life spans of 0 to 20 years.

Q) How long does it take for a system to pay back?

A) While there are some interesting calculations being done right now, realistically, this is still a long term investment.

For more information see the On Grid Page of the Website.

Q) Do your products carry warranties?

A) Yes, all of our components carry manufacturer’s warranties ranging from 1 to 25 years.

Q) I need solar to cut my costs, my power bill is too high, how can I save money?

A) You have a usage problem, not a source problem. Solar or wind will not help since its cost is higher than present utility rates. Learn where you are using power and take action to reduce your energy usage. Solar or wind may help you in the future.

Q) How much room will a solar system need to supply the power for my house?

A) That depends on how much energy you are using, but If you know how big a system you need, you can calculate the required size based on the following. A 1500 Watt array is 20’ long and 5 ½’ tall. So a 6000 Watt system would be 40’ long and 11’ high.

Q) What is the difference between (True) Sine Wave inverters and Modified Sine Wave inverters?

  • Sine wave inverters are those that produce an actual sinusoidal waveform like that of the power grid. It is smooth in shape, and gentle on electrical devices. Modified Sine is a very poor approximation of True Sine and is rough and abrupt in shape. It is older, cheaper technology that is harder on appliances, motors, etc. This form can cause early failure or may even prevent some devices from operating.Modified Sine Wave inverters are typically the ones that the box stores sell.

 

What they look like:

 End FAQ

 

 

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Glossary

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AC (Alternating Current): an electrical current whose direction alternates. AC is the form in which electricity is used in our households and businesses. It can be thought of as "standard" electrical power.

DC (Direct Current): an electrical current whose direction stays constant. The photovoltaic cells on solar panels capture energy from sunlight in the form of DC. Batteries also hold and put out DC. In order to power your home, this current must be converted to AC by an inverter.

Electrical Current: the flow of charged electrons through a circuit. Depending upon its behavior, an electrical current can be alternating or direct (AC or DC).

Electric Panel: an electrical distribution board that houses electrical circuit breakers. It is the main point at which electricity is distributed throughout a building. It is otherwise known as a breaker box. The circuit breakers can be turned on or off, thus permitting or restricting the flow of electrical current to electrical outlets.

ETL Listed: the assembly is built in an ETL-approved panel shop, where it is built and tested to North American standards, and the "ETL Listed" sticker on the panel means it is legal to be connected, without the sticker it is not legal. ETL shops are government inspected, certified and reviewed every year.

Fossil Fuel: fuels that are derived from natural resources, usually in the form of coal, oil, or natural gas. There is a limited supply of these resources, and they are only located in certain parts of the world, causing them to be subject to political and international maneuvering, and making energy prices unstable.

Grid Tied System: a solar or wind electric system connected to feed back and forth with the electric utility grid.

Ground Mounted Systems: a solar system that is supported by pilings or a structure that is built specifically to support it. They are ideal for buildings with shady or undersized roofs.

Inverter: a device that converts DC power captured by the photovoltaic cells on solar panels or in your batteries into AC power that any home appliance or light can use.

KW (kilowatt): a measurement of power based on the Watt, the standard unit used to measure power. A kilowatt is one thousand watts.

KWh (kilowatt hours): a measurement of energy consumption. One kilowatt hour equals one "unit" of electricity. One kilowatt hour is defined as the amount of energy consumed by a 1000-Watt appliance running continuously for 1 hour. This is the measurement your utility company uses to calculate your electric bill.

Net Metering: an agreement between a solar system owner and the local electric utility that allows the system owner to buy and sell energy. When the solar system produces excess energy, it is sold back to the electric utility at the same rate your contract says. When the system is not producing energy, the system owner can use the grid to buy back electricity. Currently in Alberta your "fixed" monthly charges remain even if you net meter to zero.

Off-grid System: see Stand-Alone System.

Photovoltaic Cells: More commonly called Solar cells, the small elements of semiconducting material that capture sunlight and convert it into power. A group of photovoltaic cells make up a solar panel or a photovoltaic module.

Pool Price: The price of wholesale power paid and sold by the utilities, then distributed to us, the pool price varies widely and quickly. The price climbs as demand goes up, as during the "electricity rush hour".

Roof Mounted Systems: a solar system in which solar panels are mounted directly on the roof of a building or adjacent structure.

Solar Array: a group of solar panels collectively makes up a solar array. A solar array is the entire system of solar panels that capture sunlight and convert it into power

Solar Energy: energy emitted from the sun.

Solar Panels: a grouping of solar cells arranged into a panel that can be installed onto a flat surface. The panel captures sunlight and converts it into usable power.

Smart Meter: A meter that varies the price you pay for electricity based on the "Pool price" of power at that moment.

Stand-Alone System: a solar energy system that is not connected to the utility grid. Also called an Off-Grid system. In order to provide continuous power, these systems must be connected to storage units (batteries) that can store excess power produced during daylight hours for use when it's dark.

Tilt Angle: the angle at which a solar array is tilted towards the sun.

Utility Grid: the infrastructure that delivers electric power to homes and businesses.

Utility Meter: a device that measures the flow of electricity or gas between a site that uses electricity/gas and the utility company.

Vampire: The actual electrical name given to the transformer cubes used on many computer devices, cordless phone bases and many other devices. They have 2 fangs and suck electricity 24-7, hence the name.

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