Future bright for solar power

SaskPower says interest is soaring in its net metering program, which allows landowners to make their own electricity

Interest in solar power continues to grow rapidly in Saskatchewan as consumers and property owners look for greener ways to power their homes, farms and businesses.

Joel Cherry, a spokesperson for SaskPower, said hundreds of new solar power clients have signed onto the crown corporation’s newly expanded net metering program since the program was updated last November.

The net metering program allows SaskPower clients to generate their own power, using privately owned solar systems or other alternative technologies.

Privately owned infrastructure, such as solar panels or wind turbines, are connected to the SaskPower grid through a bi-directional meter.

The program also offers participants a rebate equivalent to about 20 percent of system equipment and installation costs to help offset the client’s upfront capital investment.

The maximum rebate amount is capped at $20,000 per applicant. Rebates will remain in effect until Nov. 30, 2021, or until the net metering program’s capacity limit is fully subscribed.

Net metering clients can also realize additional savings due to the fact that solar electricity that’s used to power the client’s own electrical infrastructure is exempt from the federal carbon tax, which will be applied to provincial utility bills effective April 1.

“There’s a lot of interest into self-generated power in Saskatchewan, especially when it comes to solar,” said Cherry.

“Basically, in the last couple of months of 2018, we added another 500 net metering customers….

“There’s growing interest from all sectors in the province…,” he said.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest in rural Saskatchewan … partly because you’re not limited in space to just putting panels on your roof and hoping that your house faces the right direction.”

As of Jan. 1, SaskPower had about 1,900 customers generating power under the net metering program.

Program participants pay for the cost of having their systems sized, designed and installed. SaskPower rebates help to offset those costs.

Power that’s generated is used locally to meet the client’s immediate electrical needs. Surplus power feeds back into the SaskPower grid through a bi-directional metre.

Contributions to the SaskPower grid are measured through the bi-directional metre and are retained as credits for future use by the client.

Accumulated credits can be used at a later date and applied against SaskPower consumption bills during periods when self-generated power does not meet consumption demand.

Power credits can be carried forward for a maximum of 36 months, at which time unused credits on the net metering account are reset to zero.

Ideally, self-generation systems should be properly sized to ensure that maximum generation capacity does not exceed annualized consumption.

Under the program, the maximum size of a single system is capped at 100 kilowatts, Cherry said.

In reality however, the average system currently participating in the net metering program is rated at around 10 kilowatts.

The net metering program itself is capped at a limit of 30 megawatts, up from 14 MW previously.

At an average of 10 KW per net metering client, the additional 16 MWs of capacity would accommodate about 1,600 new net metering customers.

Additional details on the program can be viewed online here.

Devon Ambros, a solar system expert and sales associate with Solarcor Energy Inc., says interest in solar generation has been booming across Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Since 2015, when Solarcor began selling residential and commercial systems in Saskatchewan and Alberta, sales have been increasing by 300 to 400 percent annually.

“I’d say the overall industry in Saskatchewan and Alberta is very robust right now,” Ambros said.

“Even on a global scale, this type of technology is being adopted at a very rapid pace.”

In a recent interview with The Western Producer, Ambros said interest in solar generation is coming from all sectors of the western Canadian economy, including urban residential consumers, urban commercial, rural property owners, farms, acreages, cabin owners, rural municipalities and manufacturing facilities.

A typical client’s primary motivation is financial, he added.

Economic factors such as the projected rate of return on the investment and the estimated payback period are common questions clients ask before making a decision.

“Often times, the client will want to reduce their operating costs, or they’ll want to see some sort of beneficial financial impact from an installation. Is the system financially feasible and does it meet their financial objectives?” Ambros said.

System costs depend on the size of the install and the client’s specific situation, he added.

In general, however, a complete, residential roof-mounted 10 KW install using 60-cell, 320 watt panels will cost in the range of $2.90 per watt gross, or $2.30 per watt after SaskPower rebates are applied.

Properly sizing the system is a key consideration, given that unused power credits are forfeited to SaskPower every three years.

“When we look at property, we typically look at how many kilowatt hours are used in a 12-month period and then we try to size the system to offset that same amount of power, or as much of it as we can,” Ambros said.

“One of the most significant changes to the (net metering) program was the decision to extend that system rebate, which is now calculated at 61 cents per watt of the system sizing,” he added.

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