As solar panels have become more affordable and efficient, many homeowners in Alberta are considering solar as a feasible alternative energy source.
If you reside in Alberta, you must have spotted solar panels on rooftops in your neighborhood. Or it is also possible that you have solar panels on your roof too. But how do these panels work?
Want to figure out the workings of solar PV systems? If yes, then this article is for you. The purpose of this writing is to explain to you the technology behind solar PV panels. You will also get to know how they convert solar energy into electricity that powers your household appliances.
Why do solar panels need to be installed?
The Sun, a blazing ball of renewable energy, has enough fuel to meet our energy demands. Typically, each square meter of the Earth’s surface collects 164 watts of solar energy.
Solar energy is available free of cost for 320 days and approximately 1500-2500 hours a year in various parts of Alberta. A study depending on the average sunshine statistics from 1981 to 2010 is conducted.
According to study, if you live in southern Alberta, such as Lethbridge or Medicine Hat, you will have availability to the sun for more than 330 days or more than 2500 hours out of the year.
Living in central Alberta like Calgary or Edmonton, you will get sun available for more than 325 days, around 2400 hours. If you are in northern Alberta like Grande Prairie, you will receive sunlight for 314 days and 2198 hours.
Depending on the sunlight hours, 50 percent of the days remain sunny. In Alberta, we get maximum hours of daylight reaching 18 hours in June. Winter is also sunny with the decreasing daylight to 8 hours in December.
But what is the downside of this excellent solar energy? That is, we cannot use this energy to power our household appliances directly. How can we harness this
limitless solar energy then? We will need to transform this energy into a usable form of energy electricity – and that is exactly what solar panels do.
How does a solar panel work?
Solar power is generated when solar cells in solar panels absorb sunlight, producing direct current (DC) energy, which is then converted to consumable alternating current (AC) energy using inverter technology.
The converted AC energy then passes via the electrical panel in the house and is distributed as needed.
- Multiple solar cells in a solar panel collect sunlight and convert it to direct current (DC) power.
- The solar inverter transforms direct current (DC) power from your solar modules to alternating current (AC), which is consumed by most household appliances.
- Electricity circulates throughout your house, powering modern equipment.
- Surplus electrical energy generated by solar panels is fed into the electrical grid.
Now, you might be wondering how a solar panel generates direct current (DC) power. Well, a solar panel is a combination of multiple silicon solar cells. Silicon is a conducting nonmetal that can absorb and transform sunlight into electricity.
When light falls on a solar panel, the cells absorb fallen light and generate electrons across the cell. These generated electrons initiate electric current to flow. The phenomenon is referred to as the photovoltaic effect. In general, this photovoltaic effect is the main driving force behind solar panel technology.
How do grid-connected solar panels work?
Though most people realize the power generation by solar panels, there is still widespread misunderstanding regarding how the grid plays a role in the residential solar system.
Most homes in Alberta are connected to the electrical grid with a utility or electric meter. Using this electric meter, your energy supplier provides and measures electrical energy to your home.
If you mount a solar panel on your home or office, eventually the solar-generated electrical power will be connected to your utility meter. It does not matter whether you mount a rooftop solar or a ground solar.
On-grid solar panel system is based on net-billing system. The Alberta Micro-Generation program is available to the majority of householders in Alberta – a bi-directional metering service. The bi-directional meter will allow you to track the energy you have been provided from the grid and the energy you sell back to the grid.
Net metering, in a way, provides free storage to homeowners who use solar panels to generate energy for their usage. When your solar panel generates more electrical energy (like during summer days) than your demand, your solar system can automatically transmit surplus power to the grid in exchange for credits on your energy bill using the net-billing system.
Under the Alberta Micro-Generation program, your energy retailer is required to credit you for excess energy at the same rate you pay.
If you have a deficit in energy production (like at night time or snowy days) from your solar panels, you can utilize your credits to draw more energy from the grid to fulfill your household’s electricity needs.
How do off-grid solar panels work?
An off-grid system can be established in a distant place where the power grid is inaccessible. Like an on-grid system, you can use generated electricity by solar panels to meet your energy demands.
Unlike on-grid, when your off-grid system produces more electricity than your requirements (at day times), excess electricity generated from solar panels is stored in a storage device like a battery. Again, if energy production is scarce (like at night time), you can use electrical energy from your storage device.
At times, the weather may be adverse, or peak demand may last for an extended period. To avoid this unfavorable event, you might need a backup generator for your off-grid solar panel to power and recharge the storage device.
But the advantage of an off-grid solar panel is, you are less likely to be affected by power fluctuations even if there is a multi-day power outage occurs in the grid. Your off-grid solar system will not be influenced and continue charging your battery backup throughout the daylight time.
However, an off-grid solar panel will cost you 4-5 times more than an on-grid installation cost. This is because, for off-grid solar panels, you will need additional equipment like backup batteries and off-grid inverters which are expensive.
On-grid or Off-grid?
If you are unsure whether to install on-grid or off-grid solar panels for your property, you should thoroughly explore the cost and feasibility of both types of solar panels in your location.
Many people prefer on-grid solar panels for their homes or offices because they want to reduce their utility bills but still have the security of the grid. Besides, some people don’t feel secure investing a lot of money and off-grid solar panel systems with batteries can be pricey.
Keep in mind that with on-grid solar, you may have to pay some monthly expenses even if you aren’t using any power due to various fixed fees like municipal access fees, fixed transmission/distribution, etc.
Some people prefer off-grid solar panels because they don’t want to pay a monthly bill particularly when there’s no way of knowing how high power prices will rise in the coming years Off-grid solar can also be a good fit for a remote site where bringing in a powerline over a long distance would be very expensive.
For a proper cost estimation and feasibility of solar panels in your location, you should contact an experienced solar contractor. Your solar contractor will provide you with all relevant information including the costs and considerations of solar.
Your solar service provider will assess your roof or yard to see if roof mounted or ground mounted solar is the best option for your site.
In general, you may use an off-grid solar panel if you reside in a remote location and live and off grid lifestyle. However, if you live in a city such as Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, or Medicine Hat, you can choose a grid-connected solar panel where electrical grid is already connected to your home.
How much energy can we generate using solar panels?
Theoretically, a large amount of energy can be generated using solar panel. But in reality, the amount of generated energy depends on some factors like location, orientation, shading, roof mounted solar or ground mounted solar, if roof mounted then pitch and facing of the roof, etc.
If you install a 1 kW south-facing solar module in a location like Grande Prairie, Peace River, or Fort McMurray near Northern Alberta, you will receive around 1000 kWh per year.
For same amount of solar panel installation size in Southern Alberta cities such as Medicine Hat or Lethbridge, you will get roughly 1200 kWh (20% more annual energy) per year.
Depending on your property location and quality of the equipment, your average annual production will vary. Your solar contractor will design a system specific to your home or property so you can fulfill your yearly energy demand.
How effective are solar panels?
On average, in Alberta, a household uses 600 kWh per month. Depending on your monthly usage, you need to spend around $108 each month. You must bear extra expenses such as administrative expenditures, rate riders, GST, and municipal taxes. So overall you have to spend more than $1300 per year.
The installed cost of home solar panel per watt ranges between $2.00 and $3.00. The average cost per watt is $2.50. To get your desired energy using on-grid solar panels, you will need to spend around $18,000 If you plan to install off-grid solar with this same energy usage, the cost could be four-five times more with the batteries and increased system size.
This cost normally covers all necessary equipment, permissions, design, construction, and labor. Prices may vary based on the intricacy of the roof, access restrictions, local permitting restrictions, and other considerations.
If you are thinking about the over-installation price, you can relax. Top-notch equipment and services provided by your experienced solar contractor will keep your investments safe and secure for the next 25 years and even beyond. Not only that, your investment should typically pay itself back within less than half of the solar panels warranty period.
Besides, if you plan to install solar panels for your house, you may be eligible for govt. incentives based on the capacity of the installation and your residence location. These incentives will help you to lower your installation cost.
For example, if you live in Edmonton, you can get $0.40 per Watt as rebates for solar panels installed on your property. Being Medicine Hat’s resident, you are more likely to get $1.00 per watt to a maximum of $6,000 as incentives from the city’s incentive program.
Canada now has the Greener Homes Grant as well where existing homeowners can get up to $5,000 towards their grid-tied solar system.
Give it a thought! A solar panel is highly effective in its own way.
Solar panel technology is getting popular over time as it has become mainstream in our modern-day living. The main advantage of this technology is that you can take control of your own energy production and lock in your cost for energy over the next 25+ years. Moreover, your investment will be secured for many years and even pay a healthy return to your investments.
If you are in Alberta and thinking of installing a solar panel in your property, you can contact Empower Energy Corp. A qualified professional will help you to design and install a suitable solar system for your home or office.
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