Michael Betzner added solar panels to his Bowness home about eight years ago to reduce his ecological footprint. Courtesy SkyFire Energy

Solar’s appeal is growing for Calgary homeowners due to falling costs, and rebates

With the cost of solar power generation dropping, and a provincial rebate program launching, it’s a pretty good time to be living in the sunniest city in Canada.

More homeowners are investing in solar as it becomes more economically viable.

In the past, many who embraced it traded the wallet shock for the feel-good vibes of reducing their ecological footprints.

That’s the original reason Michael Betzner added solar to his Bowness home about eight years ago.

“We’ve always had a desire to do what we can to leave a smaller footprint on the planet,” he said.

“We have three (panel systems) on there now, and are slowly filling every square inch. I also put a solar hot water system in.”

Solar photovoltaic panels mounted on roofs absorb energy from the sun and converts it into electricity. Power is transported though a residence or building to anything requiring electricity, and any electricity not used is passed through to the city’s electrical grid to be used in the community.

Early adoption was financially painful, says Betzner. However, in less than a decade, the cost of panels has come down significantly and the monitoring software has improved dramatically.

“It’s quite fun every day to see how much electricity you generate, and you have the ability at any given moment to see what your house is using and producing,” he said.

Using system readings, Betzner has a good grasp of what some of the biggest energy consumers in his house are. Now, he has timers on his televisions and computers so they are completely shut off when not in use.

Betzner saves about $750 per year in energy consumption costs, and sends plenty of power to the grid. In May, for example, his system produced 600 per cent more electricity than his home used.

Most Calgary homes are suitable for some type of solar installation, says David Vonesch, COO of SkyFire Energy.

It’s quite fun every day to see how much electricity you generate, and you have the ability at any given moment to see what your house is using and producing.

“Some may have too much shading, or there may be other challenges in integrating a system, but for most homes you can do something,” he said.

The company starts with a preliminary assessment of a home based on aerial photography and satellite imaging, and a more detailed estimate is created after a physical assessment. Most homes use about 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month, and the average solar system can meet 100 per cent of that demand.

“The process is very streamlined. You don’t need a development permit. We take care of the paperwork with Enmax. Your existing meter is replaced with a bi-directional meter free of charge,” said Vonesch.

The average cost of a six-kilowatt system of about 20 panels is roughly $17,000, but the new solar rebate program launched this month by Energy Efficiency Alberta can cut home solar installation costs by up to 30 per cent.

To see if your house would be a good candidate for solar, check out the City of Calgary’s solar potential map at https://maps.calgary.ca/SolarPotential/.

The map was created using laser radar technology to capture the solar energy potential of City facilities, and then expanded to determine the solar scores of residential buildings. The data was captured using laser radar on a helicopter flying the city in a grid pattern.

Calculating the solar score takes into account terrain shape, position of adjacent buildings and structures, and tree canopies.

The City itself has eight solar projects highlighted on the map.

“We just finished one on the Glenmore water treatment plant, and there is one upcoming at the new organics facility, and a couple of fire halls as well,” said Bruce Cullen, director of corporate analytics and innovation for the City of Calgary.

The 600-panel system installed at Southland Leisure Centre in 2015 has generated $26,000 in annual savings on electricity, Cullen says.

Enmax estimates show about 850 residences in Calgary and about 120 commercial buildings have solar installations.