Why Solar: Domain of the affluent

Producing electrical energy from the sun, to date, has become a well-known technological process. We see solar panels on businesses and homes, touted in documentaries, raved about on the internet. It, ostensibly, is promoted as the panacea to cure all the ills of humanity. Pollution will disappear, winter will return, and the dreaded, evil spectre of the oil industry will be beaten.

Photovoltaics are an intelligent method of producing electricity; appropriately “solar panels” are durable, increasingly efficient with ongoing research, and perform, as advertised, in sunny conditions. By design they generate direct current (DC) so in order to harvest the arrays production a piece of electronics identified as an inverter converts the direct current to the grids familiar alternating current (AC).

A typical homeowner, who wants to generate power, initiates the process by calculating their energy requirements; if you are already connected to the grid, simply check your electrical statement. Once the amount of power required is determined, the number of panels, the size of the inverter, and the mounting system needed for clear access to a southern sky, all can be established. Next find a qualified electrician that can supply your new equipment, and install it, and you would then have the distinction of reducing your energy bill while making a huge contribution to the environment.

Want to make a bigger contribution? Install a second array, purchase an electric vehicle (EV) either plug in or hybrid, and now you are saving both on your homes energy consumption costs, and the outlay for providing your family the ever necessary mobility requirement.

However, as utopian as this sounds there is major turbulence on this flight, namely cost. The price of a system designed for a normal home ranges from approximately $25,000 to $40,000 for equipment alone, dictated by energy requirements and location. As it is mandated by the provincial government to use an electrical professional, a wise move from a practical perspective, you can add another $10,000 to $25,000 for installation.

Currently the provincial government offers a Residential and Commercial Solar Program, RCSP, which provides up to 30 per cent of the cost, to a maximum of $10,000. The program limits the size of array for residential purposes to 15 kilowatts. With the cost for the array, approaching the price of a new vehicle, most citizens of this fine province will find it beyond their financial reach. What it boils down to is simple; currently the adoption of photovoltaic panels by the working class is largely unobtainable. Photovoltaics remain the domain of the affluent.

In contrast, Australia’s plan to supply 50,000 homes, with a 5 kilowatt array and a 13.5 kWh Tesla power wall, addresses this issue. As it starts with public housing properties, at no cost to the owner, those with the least ability to pay will benefit the most. The program will be paid for by minimal government funding and the sale of the electricity produced. Alberta has a million homes that would benefit from such foresight.

Lorne Oja can be reached at lorne@solartechnical.ca

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