Tuesday, April 5, 2011

March 2011 Analysis

Well, my final numbers are in for March 2011 and I am very pleased. The total kWh produced was 577.65 which equates to approximately $463.28 this month. Not bad for a March that seemed like there was lots of rain.

It helped that the last week had three or four days in a row that were very very sunny with very little cloud cover. I was producing 35kWh those days which really helped the bottom line.

For the month it was approximately $14.94/day income and the target was only $12.05 so I was producing above target which is more than one can ask for!

The kWh/kWp/day was 3.529.

Here is a graph of the results of the power produced vs. target to give you a better idea how the system is working.

I guess the last thing of note is that 4 days in March had less then 2kWh produced. One day had 0, and another 2 days fell in the 2-3kWh. These days were likely snowy and or pouring rain with extreme cloud cover.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maternity Leave and a Home Business

For tax reasons, all solar income from the OPA go into my wife's business which only purpose is for the solar panels. My wife is currently on maternity leave right now and collecting EI.

Unfortunately, the business, has really impacted the maternity benefit process. When we had our first child, and had no solar business, the EI cheques just came in the bank every couple weeks. When we had our second child in October, the cheques were coming in regularly and then we told the Government that my wife now has another income stream, the solar panels.

Boy, trying to explain this to Service Canada has been quite the experience and involved a LOT of phone calls and one trip down to the local Service Canada office. The unfortunate thing, is that just about every person I talk to, tells us something differently.

After we told them about the solar business, they told us to report the income weekly. We told them that this was not possible as the payments come bi-monthly. This was something else that was extremely hard to comprehend. Basically the end result of that was that we were to report the income for the week it was earned when we knew.

Well, a couple days after that, we recieved a letter in the mail saying that if the income was less than 850$, we could CHOOSE to voluntarily report it by week or as a lump payment. This has different implications that I will get into another day.

This was contradictory to what we were told on the phone so we called again to make sure that what came in the male was correct. We were told, no, that we still MUST report the income for each week that it was due. During this process, we had nothing to report and without telling us, they cancelled my wife's EI claim because she had not claimed any income.

So, fast forward a couple weeks and we got a payment so we finally had income to report. I broke it down by week and subtracted the expenses. (Side note, capital cost depreciation is not counted when calculating expenses) My wife called today, to claim the income per week and to re-activate the claim. She went into the details, again, for the nth time about what she was doing and that she had income to claim by week and the person said she didn't want it broken down, she just wanted a total and that next time we can just claim the total for the week the payment was received. Completely opposite of what the last person told us!!!! Anyhow, I like this answer and we are going to go this way from now on. She also told us we need to start filing her papers weekly stating income as 0$ until a payment is recieved and then claim that full amount as income for the week it was received.

The long and short of it, is that no one who works in the EI office goes by the same rules so I guess it just depends who you talk to!!!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

First Payment from KW Hydro

Earlier this month I received my first official payment from my LDC. The payment was for $302. This was for the period starting December 3rd (Connection date) to February 10 or around there.

The payment included HST which I am collecting and remitting to the government. It also included a one time 10$ account setup fee from KW Hydro and another 10.50$ in administration fees.

The $10.50 in administration fees will be every period. The payments are bi-monthly so that means that it is approximately $5.25 per month for administration. Not exactly ideal, but reasonable given the fact that I have heard that Toronto and Cambridge are both around $10/month. So, hopefully KW Hydro keeps the rates as is!

March 2011 Looking Good

As the sun gets higher and higher and stays out for longer and longer, my system is really starting to generate som serious power.

Three or four days this month have reached over 30kWh which is approximately 24$/day. The average per day is over 15kWh/day so far and that is ABOVE my target/plan so that makes me very happy.

I have noticed that it is not uncommon to average over 4.3kWh between 11AM and 2PM. I have also seen a max of 5.1kWh for a couple brief seconds. I am not exactly sure how this is possible as the inverter is only rated for 5kW, but whos complaining?

Clearly as these numbers come in I get more and more comfortable with the 'investment' because I am actually seeing the results!

I can only imagine as the days in June/July get longer and longer that I might be able to reach 40+ kWh/day.

I can't wait!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New Maximum Reached!

The last couple of days have been great and I reached a new maximum output yesterday and then another new one today. Yesterday was around 19.5kWh and today was about 20.8kWh.

I am not sure exactly they today was 1kWh better as both days seemed similar. Temperature's were similar, and cloud cover seemed equivalent.

I mention temperature being the same because my understanding is that the colder the temperature, the less resistance, and therefore the more efficient the PV System works.

I paid pretty close attention to the panel output and it was a very steady bell curve that produced over 3.5kWh for quite a while with a quick peak reached at 1:20pm. This doesn't really make sense as you would think the peak would have been around noon. The peak itself was just over 4kWh!

I can't wait till the summer!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Insurance and MicroFIT

Insurance is something that we should all have if we own anything that would cause us a lot of trouble if something were to ever happen to the item. A solar system is something that for ten's of thousands of dollars, is something that you would want covered.

The other thing about the panels is that they are attached to your house and in the event that they happen to start a fire, you would want your house insurance to cover the costs of rebuilding your house to ensure you were not stuck with the bill. The likelyhood of this is very very small, but to me, it is worth going into detail to ensure no possible problems could arrise.

My suggestion to you is to investigate your insurance with your insurance company BEFORE you sign a contract with an installer or pay for anything as it should be taken care of first. Back in the summer, I called my insurance company, TD Meloche Monex, and told them what I was doing. I told them that the cost of the panels would depreciate and I asked them straight up, 'if the panels would cause a fire, would they cover the damage?' This question went to the under-writers and I was told, yes. As long as they were approved for use in Ontario and that they had the proper ESA certifications, this would be fine.

The quote they gave me was about 5$/month, which I thought was pretty reasonable, so I went along and got my system installed.

After the connection to the LDC, I called back my insurance company to put the additional insurance on and the guy said, yup no problem and then he said, everything is fine with one condition on the agreement. 'If you use the panels for commerical purposes, any damage caused by the panels would NOT be covered'.

Of course I raised the red flag and was thinking, why was this not told to me back in the summer. I explained exactly what I was doing, selling the power back to the LDC and they said it was fine. Fortunately, I got one of the very good sales agents and I told him that it was unacceptable and that I would be switching insurance companies and he told me he would talk to the underwriters to see if this could be removed.

He called me back a couple hours later and told me the first level of underwriter's could not remove the line but a higher level underwriter could so he contacted them and wouldn't you know it, he was able to get it removed! I was thrilled, so for an extra 5$/month, my panels are covered.

I was also told that I could call in every year and tell them the 'new/depriciated' value of the panels and it would lower the insurance premiums.

I have asked another person and they were paying almost 40$/month for the insurance with the panels....

What insurnace company do you have and how much is your monthly premium?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Analysis of Solar Production as the Days get Longer

As the days get longer, and the sun gets higher, it would only make sense that the panels would produce more and more energy until mid June and then would slowly produce less and less as the sun got lower again.

However, I noticed back in January that there was one day where there was some 'bursts' of sun that brought the panels up to near max efficiency, approximately 4.3 kWh AC. On February 3rd, I assumed that with an amazingly clear day, with only sun in the sky, I would reach the same 4.3 kWh, but I didn't. The day still turned out to be the best day yet, 18.95kWh.

So I thought about it and can't explain while the max didn't get reached, I could explain how the total energy produced would increase even if the max output at any one point wouldn't be increased. And that is simply that on shorter days, the max output is a very sharp peak where as longer days will have a flat top and a much longer curve to the graph, with no distinct peak. Here is a simple chart that shows this and it is only a difference of 5 or 6 days!

The values you see there are averaged over 5 minutes so you can't actually see the 4.3kWh but you can see that the curve is flattening out at the top with the blue line (Feb 3rd).

It is 8:45AM today and the panels have already reached 1kW/h production which was not reached until 9:45 on February 3rd so if the weather stays the same, you can bet that the 20kWh for the day is attainable today!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January 2011 Output

Well, January is officially over and that was the first full month of power generation.

The final output was 183.3 kWh. The projection from the analysis was 240kWh. That means I hit about 75% of target, which was pretty decent because it seemed like we had a lot of snow and lots of cloudy days this month!

I think the important thing to see is that there was about 6 days that were for the most part nothing days and that the overall trend is increasing. The average yield per day is approximately 6kWh/day and if you took the first half of the month and the second half of the month as a unit, you would see the second half was significantly better.

Why is this? Well there is a couple reason.

  1. Days are getting longer! The system turns on earlier in the morning and stays on later in the afternoon.
  2. I am more aware of what needs to be removed and what doesn't in terms of snow.
  3. As the days get longer, the sun gets higher, and with a low slope (15 degrees), my panels should be getting more efficient.

My highlight for the month is reaching 4.3kWh for a couple seconds. This is AC which is pretty close to 100% effiiency for my system, after you derate the DC to AC conversion of a 5.3kW system!

Here is hoping to February being a strong month with a similar trend!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Snow on Solar Panels

I have been very curious about how snow impacts the panels and on yesterday was a perfect day to do some 'tests' to determine the actual impact of snow.

I had approximately 1 inch of snow on my panels, and this was very light fluffy snow. The day was completely sunny with NO Clouds at all, the PERFECT day for solar panels.

At 9:45AM, the output on the panels, with snow, was 156W. I went and cleared them off. This took approximately 15 minutes. When I checked the output right after I was done clearing them, and the panels were producing 1150W, or approximatly 10 times more with no snow. This is extremely significant and will definitly encourage me to clean them off when possible.

It should be noted that my roof is only 15 degrees or so and I am very careful when I go up on the roof in the winter as it can be very dangerous. I do not recommend doing this for anyone who is not extremely careful AND capeable. I use a nylon broom to clean the panels and the snow comes off very easily assuming it is just snow. If you have ice in there, good luck. My suggestion is to wait it out until it melts it self.

I have no doubt that on a day like yesterday when the sun is shinning all day with NO clouds at all that an inch of snow would have been melted off by 1:00pm but there would have been some missed output until they were cleared that I wanted to capture!

The bottom line is that snow, even only one inch, has a significant impact on the panel performance and so any way possible to clean them will make a big difference during the winter. I would suggest cleaning them with a roof rake of some kind with a very soft attachment to make sure you don't scratch the panels, but I have not tried this yet.

What techniques do you use to clean them, or do you just let the sun take care of it?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cloudy Winter Days and Solar Panels

I am often curious as to how the season and the weather impact the efficiency of panels as it can really have a negative impact depending on the scenario.

At the moment, I can only give a perspective of the winter. I would say that in January, on a sunny day, I could get around 15kWh. From what I have found, is that if you only add clouds (Where most of the day is grey out but the sun peaks through here and there), it cuts the efficiency in half, to somewhere around maybe 8kWh/day.

From what I can see, if you add clouds and snow into the equation, the output is cut by half again, and giving you maybe 3kWh.

So you can quickly see that for strong performance, the sun needs to be out and anything that gets in the way of the sun rays will have a pretty significant impact.

I should also quickly mention that snow on the panels has an enormous impact on the system and that just because it is cold out, does NOT mean that the panels produce less, in fact, panels produce energy more efficiently if they are cooler!

I plan on posting many more posts on performance, whether, snow, and clouds in the future!

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Solar System

I have a roof top Solar PV System. I have 24 Schuco PS 09 panels. Each panel is approximately 3 x 5 and 220 Watts. All the panels put together make up 5.28kW DC. My system was installed in October of 2010 and was hooked up to the grid on Decemeber 3rd. I live in Kitchener, Ontario and would highly recommend using an installer who is able to follow all of the requirements because there are a lot of them. Permits, ESA, and documentation are all things that are required and not always easy to figure out! My inverter is a SMA Sunny Boy 5000 and it is connected to a Sunny Webbox. The Webbox is little hardware device that allows you to monitor multiple inverters. I only have one inverter hooked up to it but it can handle lots. It gives me real time analysis of how my system is working at any given moment and is small and takes up the same space as a cable box or network router. One of the best parts about the Webbox is that it has a built in web browser so you can view the data from anywhere within your home network and it also sends the information up to Sunny Portal that allows you to monitor your system anywhere in the world that has an internet connection. The other thing that is totally awesome about Sunny Portal is that it is completely FREE. Other monitoring systems give you 1 year free and then they have annual fees to be able to monitor regularly. Canadian Solar's monitoring package is like that. Schuco is a German company that has been in the business for a long time and seemed to have a good price point versus quality. The panels have a 25 year, 80% efficiency performance warranty. I am not exactly sure how easy it would be to claim that warranty, but they offer the warranty so that means that you should expect somewhere around 80% efficiency after 20 years, which is the length of my MicroFIT contract. I plan on posting more about the panels, the inverter, and the Webbox in the upcoming weeks! What panel manufacturer did you go with?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Official OPA MicroFIT Contract Offered

Yesterday was a great day when I checked my email and found that the OPA had offered me the final Contract that will pay me 80.2 cents/kWh for the next 20 years. This is the MicroFIT contract in Ontario.

My connection date to the grid was December 3rd so Any power generated since then will be eligible for payment.

I accepted the offer which requried information on the Ontario content rules. I only needed 40% content rule because my conditional contract was from 2010. New content rules for 2011 I believe are 60% Ontario content. I will elaborate more on this in the future!

It took about 7 weeks (plus the Christmas break) to get my local distribution company (LDC) and a couple emails to LDC to get them to send the OPA my connection information and then another week for OPA to finalize the contract and offer it to me.

So, I guess that means that I just have to wait because the cheque should be in the mail soon!

Monday, January 17, 2011

How Much Does It Cost?

Typically people are very interested in the cost of a solar system until they here the cost and then they decide that it is far too expensive to purchase.

When I was doing my research, before I purchased, I was trying to find the 'sweet spot'. I was trying to take advantage of economies of scale while still purchasing something that would NOT destroy my life if things didn't turn out, like the sun stopped shinning! I suppose if the sun stopped shinning we would all have much bigger problems than wasting money on solar panels!

So, how much does the standard setup cost? And what is the standard setup?

To me, the standard setup would be panel installation on the roof with no tracking (follow the sun throughout the day) capabilities.

From my research, I found a very good breakdown that helped me find the 'sweet spot.'

1 to 2 kW --> 10$/W = 10,000$ to 20,000$
3 kW --> 9.25$/W = 27,750$
4 kW --> 8.50$/W = 34,000$

So the next question is naturally, how much did you end up spending on the system? And to that I tell people the same thing. It was around 32,000$ for a 5.28kW system. My panels are Schuco and my inverter is a SMA Sunny Boy. Of course, my price above is plush HST which is a significant amount of money but in Ontario, the HST can be recovered via the HST rules IF you charge HST and remit it to the government. I will eloborate more on this in a future post.

Next post, I will get into the details of my system.

If you have purchased a system, how much did it cost?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Do I use the power I generate?

This is one of the first questions that people ask when they find out that I have solar panels. They want to know if I generate enough power to power my house.

My answer is always the same, "I don't use any of it, I sell it all". This usually catches people off guard because they assume that the intent is to be 'off the grid' so to speak. This while has benefits such as self sufficiency, and the ability to have power if there were ever another black out, but is really not very advantages because of the government of Ontario's MicroFIT program.

This program essentially makes it foolish to use any of the power because the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) is willing to pay 80.2 cents/kWh and KW Hydro only charges 6.5 cents/KWh at the moment. The other benefit is that I don't need to store any energy via batteries so the cost is lower to get going. So, the long and short of it is that all power generated is sent directly to the power grid!

In the future, I will be talking much more about this contract that I have with the OPA and the benefits and drawbacks that are sure to encounter along my journey.


Welcome to my new blog. On this blog you will find all the little tidbits of information that I have found out about Solar Panels. All of this is coming from a perspective from Ontario, Canada!