How Solar Power Works In Canada

Congratulations! You’ve found the ultimate guide for learning about how solar in Canada for 2018!

How Solar Power Works in Canada

This page covers the basic technical information about how solar power works in Canada and answers frequently asked questions about solar system set-up, solar panel efficiency, and need-to-know information.

If you prefer to read about rebates, utility policies, performance payment programs, and other policy-related information about installing a solar system in your home province – then be sure to check out your province’s complete solar power guide (another page).

Otherwise, continue to learn about how solar power works in Canada by reading this page from top to bottom, or by selecting your preferred section by clicking on it below:


Solar Power Components

At the most basic level, every solar system is composed of five unique components:

Solar Panels

Output: Power (Watts)

Efficiency: 16% – 22%

Materials Cost: $0.70-$1.10/Watt

The first and most obvious component of every solar system is the panels. Solar panels work by converting light (electromagnetic radiation) into electricity (electrical potential energy) at an efficiency of around 20%. However, the electricity produced by solar panels is “Direct Current” (DC) and must be converted into “Alternating Current” (AC) before it can be used by home appliances or be sent back to the energy grid. For this reason, a second piece of equipment is always needed when generating electricity from solar panels called an inverter.

Solar panels are typically rated in terms of their peak power output – which is the maximum amount of power that the panel is able to produce under ideal conditions. This is also referred to as the ‘size’ of the panel and it ranges from 250 to 400 Watts for most commercially available panels. The higher the power rating of the panel, the less panels you will need to use to offset your energy usage.

Almost all solar panels used in 2018 for residential systems are composed of silicon, including the two most popular types on the market:

Monocrystalline

Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Polycrystalline

Polycrystalline Solar Panel

Monocrystalline panels are more efficient and tend to perform better in high heat and low light conditions, making them far superior to polycrystalline panels in terms of performance. They also tend to be more visually appealing because of their black appearance (but they can also be blue). Polycrystalline panels can only be blue and are less efficient, but their benefit is that they tend to be less expensive.

Got more questions about solar panels? Ask us by commenting at the bottom of the page.

Quick links: Solar Panel Efficiency (this page), Calculate Number of Watts Need For Your Home (another page), Cost of Installation (another page).


Inverters

Output: Power (Watts)

Efficiency: 90% – 99%

Materials Cost: $0.20-$0.50/Watt

Inverters are need to convert the electricity produced by solar panels from Direct Current (DC) to Alternating Current (AC). This is needed because Alternating Current is the only form of electricity that can used with modern appliances and on the energy grid here in Canada.

There are several types of inverters technologies that Canadian installers will use with your solar system:

MicroinvertersMost Efficient, common for roof-mounted systems
String InvertersLess Efficient, common for ground-mounted systems
Power OptimizersAdd-on technology, used with string inverters
Smart ModulesAdd-on technology, used with string or microinverters

Microinverters Microinverter Diagram

Microinverters work by converting electricity from DC to AC at each individual panel – this makes microinverters more efficienct than string inverters if you expect shading on your system or if your system faces more than one direction (see inverter efficiency section for details).

Converting power at the panel level also allows you to monitor individual panel performance – an important consideration if you want to be able to quickly identify reversible shading (leaves, bird droppings, etc.). Most microinverters will also allow you to track performance in real time using a mobile or desktop app and send you email alerts if power output drops below the expected range for an extended period of time.

Individual panel tracking is also great for taking full advantage of your 25-year power output guarantee. Not only will you be able to easily identify which panels are performing sub-optimally, but so will your installers. This makes changing a problematic panel a quick and easy process.

The downside of microinverters is their relative price and long-term reliability. Because so many individual units are needed (one per panel or one per every two panels), their total cost tends to be more expensive and the chances of one failing over the lifetime of your system is also increased.

String Inverters

String Inverter Diagram

String inverters work similar to how they sound: a series of panels are tied together in a ‘string’, and then the combined power from the panels is converted from DC to AC together.

String inverters are best suited for panels that are all facing the same direction AND if no shading is expected (see inverter efficiency section for details) – this is most often the case for ground-mounted systems.

The main benefit of using string inverters is that they are cheap, mostly because less equipment is needed. However, you lose the ability to track the performance of individual panels (like you can with microinverters), making it difficult to isolate a problematic panel should performance decline unexpectedly.

Since the power from all panels is combined before it’s converted from DC to AC, the power lines have a very high voltage which may make them unsafe for certain on-roof applications. Ground mounted systems, again, are the most suitable application because power lines are typically buried and high voltage is not an issue.

Power Optimizers

Power Optimizer Diagram

Power optimizers work by ‘conditioning’ the electricity of each individual panel (matching the output voltage of the panel with the voltage of the entire string) before power is converted from DC to AC at the string inverter. They are often used with string inverters to ‘regain’ several important benefits that are common with microinverters:

  • Power optimizers are used on every panel, so you can track individual panel power output
  • Power optimizers are suitable for use when when panels are facing in more than one direction or if shading is expected

Power optimizers may also provide some additional efficiency benefits (depending on the system) that microinverters cannot due to the conditioned electricity and the possibility of the accompanying string inverter being installed in a cooler location than the roof. See the inverter efficiency section for more details on inverter efficiency (this page).

Power optimizers also tend to make the system safer than just using string inverters alone because they can shut down individual panels in case of overheating or voltage spikes. However, power lines still remain at relatively high voltage which may make then unsuitable for some on-roof applications.

Smart Modules

Smart Module

The final term that you might hear is ‘smart module’ – smart modules are solar panels with power optimizers built into them. These power optimizers can be used with both string and micro inverters.

If you use smart modules with a string inverter then you will ‘regain’ all of the benefits discussed in the previous section. If you use smart modules with microinverters then you will the gain safety benefits discussed in the previous section. Smart modules are still a new and relatively rare technology.

Quick links: Inverter Efficiency (this page), Panel to Inverter Mismatch (this page), Improper Inverter Selection (this page).


Energy Storage Device

Output: Energy (Watt-hours)

Round Trip Efficiency: ~90%

Materials Cost: ~$0.75/Watt-hour

A third component that’s necessary for all solar systems is an energy storage device. Energy storage is necessary because solar systems will often produce more energy than is used at any given time. Excess energy produced during the day can be stored for use at night, and theoretically, excess energy produced during the summer can be stored for use in the winter.

And while a ‘battery’ is likely the first storage solution that comes to mind, there is actually a storage solution that’s currently more popular in Canada: using the energy grid.

Energy Grid (“on-grid”)

Electrical Grid Canada

Often times, people don’t think of remaining connected to the grid as a storage solution – but in fact, that’s exactly the purpose of the grid! All excess energy from your solar system (produced during the day and during the summer) is sent back to the grid and credited to your utility billing account.

These credits can then be applied against your energy usage during periods when your solar system is producing less than is needed (during the night and during the winter). This process is called ‘Net Metering’ and serves the exact same function as a battery back-up.

This is also why utility companies still make you pay your base monthly fee when you remain connected to the grid even if your net energy usage is zero – because you’re using their infrastructure for energy storage!

Batteries (“on-grid” or “off-grid”)

Tesla Powerwall

Using a battery for energy backup is still relatively uncommon here in Canada. This is mostly because battery systems have not yet caught up to the significant improvements in solar panel technology and because batteries still remain relatively expensive.

However, with the advent of electric vehicles – battery technology is due to improve rapidly into the foreseeable future.

There are several benefits of using a battery with your solar power system:

  • HUGE savings if you’re on Time-of-Use (TOU) rates by using energy from your battery during peak demand
  • Store energy to charge your Electric Vehicle (EV)
  • Store energy for backup in case of a power outage
  • Store energy, then sell it back to the grid during peak demand (future possibility)
  • Peer-to-peer renewable energy trading (future possibility)

It should be noted that most people who invest in a battery storage device like the Tesla Powerwall or the ElectrIQ Battery still remain connected to the energy grid. This is because most batteries can only store a couple days worth of energy – meaning your solar system would produce more energy than you could store in the summer and likely leave you with a shortage during the winter.

Therefore, investing in battery packs to go ‘off-grid’ is only useful if the cost of trenching a new power line to your acreage far exceeds the cost of several battery packs. Using a battery while remaining connected to the grid is currently the only smart choice for most homeowners.

Quick links: See the ‘Performance Payments’ section your Province’s Complete Solar Power Guide (another page) for more discussion about Net Metering.


Racking

Function: Fixing Solar Panels

Materials Cost: $0.20-$0.50/watt

Another component of every solar system is the ‘racking’. Simply put, the racking holds the solar panels in place over their entire operational lifespan. And depending on whether you’re putting your panels on the roof or on the ground (we also heard a rumor that you could put them on the water), different types of racking is used.

Roof Mounted

Racking for roofs is fairly standard and most installation companies use similar materials, varying only on the type, shape, and slope of the roof.

Angled, Shingled Roof
5kW Solar Power
Used with by Empower Energy in British Columbia

Flat, Shingled Roof
Roof Mounted Solar Array
Used with by Roots Rock Solar in Saskatchewan

Racking can be procured for both angled (even 12-12, 45°) and flat roofs, as well as for shingled, concrete, and metal ones.

  • On concrete roofs, racking is typically ballasted (with concrete)
  • On shingled roofs, racking is typically screwed directly into the trusses
  • On metal roofs, racking is fastened directly to the sheet metal or screwed into underlying wooden trusses if present

Notice any potential issues? You got it – water leakage! Anytime you drill holes into your roof, you run the risk of leaking water (especially on a metal roof because of seasonal contraction and expansion of materials). This is why it’s important to make sure that your installers are using proper sealant. Most installers will also offer a workmanship warranty that covers any defects as a result of installation, including leakage.

As a general rule, there is racking that exists for every roof regardless of its type, shape, or slope. Got more questions? Ask us in the comments at the bottom of this page.

Ground Mounted

Wooden Racking, Wooden Piles
Solar Power Nova Scotia
Used with by WattsupSolar in Nova Scotia

Steel Racking, Concrete Ballasts
Solar Power
Used with by Empower Energy in BC

Steel Racking, Driven Steel Piles
Solar Panel Installation
Used with by MiEnergy in Manitoba

When it comes to ground mounted panels, there are a variety of racking types that can be used, steel and aluminum being the most common. Mounting panels on the ground is generally more expensive (upfront only, see system set-up efficiency section for details) than mounting them on the roof because extra materials must be used to keep the panels fixed in place. Weighted ballasts (often concrete) are used when piling is not possible (rocky or year-round frozen terrain), but piling is the most common and preferred way to fix the panels to the ground.

Wooden racking is only used in rare circumstances (likely when the homeowner wants to build it themselves to save costs) because it likely wont last the operational lifespan of the panels! Also, installers usually stipulate that their workmanship warranty is valid only when they do the complete installation, so building your own racking could invalidate the installer’s warranty.

Similar to roof racking, there is a racking solution for every proposed ground mounted system. Designs are typically engineer-certified and approved based on the underlying geological formation, the expected wind speeds, and any loads due to snow. Advanced ground mounted technologies also include sun tracking and seasonally adjusted arrays.

Quick links: System Efficiency: Ground vs Roof Mount (this page), see the ‘Basics’ section your Province’s Complete Solar Power Guide (another page) for more discussion about the benefits and trade-offs between ground and roof mounted systems.


Bi-Directional Meter

Function: Net Metering

Materials Cost: Varies by Utility

Net Meter Bi-directional Meter

The final unique piece of equipment that you’ll need for your solar system is a bi-directional meter (often called a ‘net meter’). It should be noted that a bi-directional meter is only needed if you choose to remain connected to the energy grid – but 95% of the time, this is the case!

A bi-directional meter allows you to track both the energy that you supply to the grid when you’re producing excess (during the day and summer), as well as the energy you use from the grid when your energy production is low (during the night and winter).

Note: Energy produced by your solar system is usually (check with your installer) routed to your house first before being sent to the grid as excess.

A bi-directional meter is also necessary to participate in your utility’s ‘net metering program’, something that’s currently offered in every province and territory in Canada (except Nunavut). Depending on your power provider, a bi-directional meter will be supplied for free (most provinces) or for a fee of up to $500 (Saskatchewan).

Quick links: See the ‘Performance Payments’ section your Province’s Complete Solar Power Guide (another page) for more discussion about Net Metering.


Solar Power Efficiency

There are several factors that contribute to the loss of overall energy production in a solar power system. These factors include the components that make up the system, the way you combine them, the way they’re set up, as well as external factors like snow and dust.

In total, system loss due to inefficiencies of all kinds is approximately 14% of total energy production potential (source: NREL).

You can read the solar power efficiency section from top to bottom, or jump to a specific topic of your choice by clicking on it below:

Solar Panel (Module) Loss

Solar panel efficiency gets the most attention – and for this reason research and improvements in panel efficiency have skyrocket over the past several years. We will briefly cover the main factors that affect panel efficiency, but you can also read about these factors in-depth in this SunPower Module Degradation PDF.

Conversion Efficiency

When it comes to questions about efficiency, the first question that people usually ask is: “How efficient are solar panels?”. This question is unique because it’s the only efficiency factor that can’t be controlled (except for buying or inventing a better performing panel).

The efficiency rating of solar panels is usually given as a percentage (%) of the total electromagnetic radiation (energy from light) that will be converted by the panel into DC power. For modern solar panels, this number usually ranges between 16% – 22%.

However, the efficiency rating is sometimes given (and promoted) for both the solar panel and the solar cell – but these are two separate things.

Solar Cell Efficiency NREL
Best Research-Cell Efficiencies (10.6% – 46.0%), data by NREL. See full size image.

Solar cell efficiency. Some manufacturers (and installation companies) will try and make their panels sound better than they are by reporting the efficiency of the ‘solar cell’ contained within the panel. However, this is not a true measure of the panel’s output efficiency because it doesn’t take into account the other components within the panel. The cell efficiency is meant for scientific research, analysis, and comparison – not to represent the end-product.

Solar panel efficiency. The real number that you’re looking for is the solar panel efficiency. This number takes into account the efficiency of all cells within the panel, the spacing between them, and the internal resistance of the panel itself. The solar panel efficiency rating (also called the ‘module efficiency’) is the true % of light that’s converted into DC power.

Panel Degradation

Solar Panel Degradation SunPower
Solar Panel Degradation, SunPower vs. Conventional Panel.

All solar panels will lose some of their capacity to produce power over time as the silicon-based molecules within the cells naturally degrade. Typically, power output will decrease between 0.75% and 0.25% per year. Manufacturers often state this degradation over a 25 year time-frame as indicated by their warranty.

For example, after 25 years SunPower solar panels are guaranteed to produce 92% of the power that they produced on day one. This would be equivalent to 0.32% yearly degradation [(100% – 92%) / 25 years].

Since output is almost always guaranteed over 25 years, be sure to question your installer if they offer you anything less.

Most Efficient Panels

Here are the top 3 most efficient solar panels in 2018*:

  1. SunPower is regarded as having the most efficient solar panels on market with a 21.5% peak efficiency. As it turns out, they also have one of the best production warranties – after 25 years, their panels are guaranteed to produce 92% of the energy that they produced on day one!
    • Cell efficiency: not stated
    • Panel efficiency: 21.5%
    • Power rating: 345 Watts (STC)*
    • Spec Sheet
  2. LG has the next best panel with a 21.1% energy conversion efficiency. This panel also has a 25-year output warranty, but it’s only guaranteed to produce 87% of the energy that it produced on day one.
    • Cell efficiency: not stated
    • Panel efficiency: 21.1%
    • Power rating: 365 Watts (STC), 274 Watts (NOCT)*
    • Spec Sheet
  3. Panasonic is third in line with their most efficient panel converting at 19.1% and a 25-year production output guarantee of 91%.
    • Cell efficiency: 21.6%
    • Panel efficiency: 19.1% (remember, only this number matters)
    • Power rating: 315 Watts (STC)
    • Spec Sheet

*Only commercially available products in Canada were considered. STC – Standard Test Conditions (laboratory conditions). NOCT – Normal Operating Cell Temperature (realistic conditions).


Inverter Loss

Inverters are extremely important considerations when it comes to solar system efficiency. There are three main ways that inverters can cause your system to be less efficient:

Inverter Resistance

Inverter Efficiency Curve
Inverter Efficiency Graph Illustrating CEC Test Protocol. Used from scandia.gov.

No inverter converts 100% of DC electricity produced by the panels into AC electricity due to internal resistance and energy released as heat. The percent of electricity that’s actually converted is referred to as the ‘Inverter’s Conversion Efficiency’. The conversion efficiency, as you can see in the graph above, changes depending on how much power your panels are producing (relative to the size of the inverter) and the operating voltage of the system.

When reading about inverters you will often come across two terms: ‘peak efficiency’ and ‘CEC efficiency’. The peak efficiency is the highest conversion efficiency capable of the inverter, given optimal power output and optimal system voltage. The CEC (California Energy Commission) efficiency is calculated by taking a weighted average of three different operating voltages and six different power outputs (indicated by the points in the graph above) to better reflect real world operating conditions. The CEC efficiency rating has become the industry standard for comparing inverter efficiencies.

Currently, the most efficient string inverters are made by SolarEdge with a CEC efficiency of 99% and the most efficient microinverters are made by Enphase with a CEC efficiency of 97.5%.

Take Away: String inverters are more efficient than microinverters at converting electricity from DC to AC (but they are not necessarily the most efficient on an overall basis, read the next section for more info). Power Optimizers may be more efficient than microinverters or string inverters alone because voltage can be ‘conditioned’ for maximal conversion efficiency.

Inverter Selection

The efficiency in which an inverter can convert DC to AC doesn’t tell the whole story because different inverter types perform differently under certain circumstances.

As you can see in the picture comparison below, a 50% decrease in energy production from a single panel in a system using string inverters will cause the whole system to lose 50% of energy production! Whereas if you’re using microinverters or power optimizers, you will only lose 50% energy production on that single panel. (this applies for any amount of loss, not just 50%)

Microinverters or Power Optimizers
Microinverter efficiency
Picture used from Enphase

String Inverter Alone
String Inverter Efficiency
Picture used from Enphase.

For this reason, microinverters and power optimizers are always more efficient than string inverters if you expect your system to be shaded (think trees, neighbours, your roof, dust, leaves, snow, etc.), or if your panels face more than one direction*. Thus, string inverters are only appropriate for use when differences in individual panel power production is not expected (ground mount system with no shading).

The technical reason for why this happens is because string inverters are designed to only produce as much power as the least productive panel in the ‘string’. So when one panel fails, they all do (they behave much like your old Christmas lights). This also makes it difficult to locate a problematic panel, as discussed in the inverter component section (this page).

Take Away: Even though string inverters are more efficient at converting electricity from DC to AC, microinverters and power optimizers are more efficient on a overall basis for most systems.

*There is an exception to this rule that is sometimes permissible: a multiple MPPT string inverter must be used and each string must be connected to groups of panels with similar performance expectations (for example, one group may be all east-facing panels and at x angle, another group may be all south-facing panels and y angle). This exception only applies to panels facing in different directions, string inverters are still less efficient if any type of shading is expected.

Panel-Inverter Mismatch

Inverter Efficiency Graph
Another inverter efficiency graph, this time clearly indicating peak efficiency and showing efficiency below 10% rated output power of the inverter. Used from Penn State University.

The last way that inverters can cause your system to be inefficiency is due to their relative size. Sizing your inverter (or inverters) to your solar panels is extremely important because power will be lost if your inverter is smaller or larger than what is needed. But this is not an easy task (and installers have different opinions about how it should be done) because standard sizes for solar panels don’t match standard sizes for inverters.

Inverter Output Rating Larger Than Power Produced By Panels

As you can see in the graphs above, the conversion efficiency of an inverter begins to drop rapidly when the power being produced by your panels is roughly 10% of the rated power output of your inverter.

For example, if you have an inverter that’s rated for 1000 Watts but your panels are only producing 100 Watts, then your inverter will be converting electricity at an extremely inefficient rate and it may be fair to say that your inverter is too large for your system. Larger inverters also use a greater amount of ‘baseline’ energy needed to keep them running.

Thus, having an inverter that’s sized too large for the amount of power that you expect your panels to produce will cause your system to be less efficient than it needs to be.

Inverter Output Rating Smaller Than Power Produced By Panels

Since your inverter will only produce as much power as it’s rated for, having an inverter that’s sized too small is also not good! For example, if you have 1500 Watts of solar panels on your roof but you’re only using a 1000 Watt inverter, than you will only get 1000 Watts of power regardless of how much power your panels are producing.

In another example using microinverters, let’s say the maximum power rating of your solar panels is 320 Watts but the maximum rating of your microinverters is only 280 Watts. This means that even if your panels are producing 320 Watts of power, your inverters will only put out 280 Watts. That’s a 12.5% loss in peak power just for the inverters being smaller than the panel’s output, this loss is called ‘clipping’.

So you might be thinking it’s better to have an oversized inverter than an undersized one. Well, this isn’t always the case.

Since solar panels don’t often perform at their peak rated output, it’s sometimes better to have an undersized inverter (even though power will be ‘clipped’ on sunny summer days) so that the inverter is more efficient under lower light conditions when panels are not producing power at their peak output rating (as is often the case).

Take Away: Sizing your inverter is a complicated issue and can only really be done effectively by a system design engineer who has access to historical weather data and sophisticated modeling software. Neither an over or undersized inverter is good, but often times the optimal size for an inverter is slightly less than the total power output rating of the solar panels (especially here in Canada).


System Setup Loss

In terms of efficiency, there are many things to consider when setting up your system and all of them can be easily covered by comparing the differences between ground and roof mount systems.

As a general rule, ground mount systems more efficient than roof mount systems because of following reasons:

1) Ground mount systems can easily be setup facing the optimal direction.

The optimal direction for systems in Canada is south, or an azimuth of 180°. (The direction, if given in degrees, is called the ‘azimuth’)

2) Ground mount systems can easily be setup tilted to the optimal angle.

The optimal angle is different for every location but it can be roughly calculated by taking the degrees latitude of the system location and then subtracting 10. For example, if you’re setting up a system in Charlottetown, PEI then your latitude is 46° (just Google it). After subtracting 10 you will get your optimal tilt angle of 36°.

In reality this is 2° away from the truth in Charlottetown, but as stated, this is a broad formula that will work for most of Canada. You can use the PVWatts Calculator (another site) if you’re interested in determining a more precise number.

3) Ground mount systems maintain a more optimal operating temperature.

Ground mount systems stay cooler than roof mounted ones because there is often lots of free flowing air going over the equipment. Solar panels and inverters are both more efficient under cooler conditions.

4) Ground mount systems can easily be setup and maintained for less shading.

Shading obviously causes a decrease in energy production. Not only can ground mount panels be setup to deliberately avoid shading, but they can also be cleaned easier in the case that they get dirty or if they are covered in snow.

5) Advanced system capabilities are more often available, more efficient, and easier to install.

For example, the tilt angle of some systems can be manually adjusted to increase energy output for that particular season while other panels can ‘track’ the movement of the sun for optimal performance.

It’s also becoming increasingly common for panels to generate electricity from light hitting the back of the panel. Ground mount systems often have more reflected light hitting the back (especially when snow is on the ground) which can increase energy output by 30% in the winter months!


Weather Loss

Solar Power Map Canada
Average annual energy production given in units of kWh/kW/yr.

There are several weather related factors that affect the energy output of a solar system. In order of impact on performance, they are:

1) Annual average amount of full sunlight hours.

The amount of sunlight that your region receives on an annual basis is arguably the most important factor in determining its potential output capacity. The above map shows how much energy your system will be able to produce over the course of a year due to average sunlight levels alone (these numbers account for fog and clouds).

To view the solar map for your province, or to learn more about these maps and how to read them, please visit the Solar Maps Page.

2) Temperature.

As stated in previous sections, both solar panels and inverters are more efficient in colder temperatures. This is one reason why ground mount systems may be more efficient than roof mounted ones and why string inverters and power optimizers may be more efficient than microinverters on roof mounted systems (because the inverter can be placed on a shaded wall, away from the hot roof).

A decrease in ambient air temperature around the solar panels of just 1°C leads to an increase in efficiency of ~0.45%!

3) Unexpected shading.

Solar Panels Cleared of Snow
Used from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

The issue of snow is covered extensively in our article about snow and power production (another page). But in summary, panels that aren’t cleared of snow will produce about 5% less energy over the course of a year than panels that are (based on data from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology). This means that investing in a snow rake would be a good idea, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t, even in heavy snow environments.

The only other unexpected shading factor worth mentioning is dirtying due to natural causes (dust cover, bird droppings, trees seeds, etc.). Solar panels are made to last a long time but just like your deck, it’s a good idea to clean them from time to time. As a general rule, you should clean your panels about as often as you would pressure wash your sidewalk – once every one or two years. The rain will do the rest.


Future of Solar Power Efficiency

Over the past 10 years, commercially available solar panels have increased in efficiency by approximately 6% every year. This means that standard sized panels (17.55 sqft) are able to produce about 10-20 more watts per year.

Interestingly, this increase in efficiency is not due to improvements in the underlying solar cells (which only increase ~0.55% per year), but rather due to changes to the entire solar panel.

For example, LG has recently improved their panel’s efficiency by reducing the thickness of the ‘bus bar’, changing the shape of the bus bar from rod shaped to cylinder shaped, and by configuring the panel so that reflected light hitting the back of the panel can also generate electricity.

Other manufacturers increase panel efficiency by making changes to the reflective coatings so that more light comes in contact with the cells, by changing the shape of the panel to increase airflow (decrease operating temperatures), as well by various other methods.

Right now the cheapest solar on the planet is being installed in Mexico for ~2¢/kWh. Historically, due to rapidly improving solar technologies, this price will take approximately 2-5 years to be applicable to the Canadian market.


Solar Power Need To Know

Warranty

There are several different types of warranties that may be offered with your solar system, both by the manufacturer of the system components and by the installation company that you’re working with.

Here are the important ones to look for:

Solar Panel Warranties (manufacturer)

Power Output Warranty

All solar panels should come with a 25-year power output warranty – an indication how much the panel’s performance is expected to degrade over time. For example, after 25 years, LG solar panels are guaranteed to produce 87% of the power that they produced on day one (this is typical). If expected power production is not met, LG will replace or repair the panel at no cost to you.

Keep in mind that 25 years years is a long period for a warranty. Manufacturers are certainly confident in their products, but you may want to seriously evaluate whether or not the company will even be around in 25 years. Big names like LG, Panasonic, and SunPower are all relatively safe bets – but newer companies may not be.

Product Warranty

All solar panels will also come with a product warranty that covers manufacturing defects. In some cases these warranties are offered only for 10 years, but most reputable names (again: LG, Panasonic, SunPower) are all offering 25-year product warranties. If a manufacturing defect is found, they will replace or repair the panel at no cost to you.

Your installer should provide you with both the power output and product warranty letters provided by the manufacturers. For example, here is what the LG warranty letter looks like (opens in new tab).

Inverter Warranty (manufacturer)

Similar to panels, inverters should also be covered under a product warranty program. However, 10 to 12 years is the standard warranty period and a 25 year warranty is usually only available with an upgrade.

Inverter warranties are extremely important because it’s actually more likely that an inverter will stop working than it is that a panel stops working. Installers should (again) provide you with a letter of warranty directly from the manufacturer like this one from SolarEdge (opens in new tab).

Workmanship Warranty (installer)

A workmanship warranty is the most common type of warranty offered by installers. Since the equipment you’re using is made (and guaranteed) to last 25 years, you’ll want to be sure that the quality of the installation is high enough to support this time-frame.

Most installers will offer a workmanship warranty between 5 and 15 years, while some will offer none at all. As a general rule, the warranty should cover any system defects due to labour as well as any roof leakage due to the installation process (leaking is rare, but possible).

A signed warranty certificate should always be procured by the installer upon completion of the job.

Power Production Warranty (installer)

Solar Power Production Estimate

Another warranty offered by some installers is a power production warranty. This warranty is a guarantee by the installer that your system will produce a predetermined amount of energy over a specified time-frame (often 10 years).

This type of warranty arises because installers often use different calculations to estimate energy production. Some installers will inflate their numbers to make the system appear better than it actually is (this is where the Power Production Warranty really comes in handy) while others will deflate their numbers so that you require more panels than is actually required.

If you system doesn’t produce as much energy as the installer guarantees, they will typically pay out the difference in electricity at the current retail rate. Make sure to clarify these details before signing!

If you require a second opinion on your system proposal, please simply email a copy to [email protected] (email link) and we will assist you. We are currently reviewing proposals from any installer in Canada.


Roof & House Condition

Roof Collapse Solar PowerIf your house is old and your roof is sagging – you’re probably not a good candidate for solar. It’s the same with your shingles – if they’ve been on your roof for 15+ plus years, you should probably consider replacing them before installing solar.

Remember, solar systems are typically guaranteed to produce energy for 25 years and often last 35 years. Your roof condition is as important for your system as your foundation is for your house. It should be able to support your panels for at least their useful operating lifespan.


Timelines & Paperwork

Installing a solar system in Canada typically involves several parties (and their associated paperwork) including the installer, municipality, utility, and financer. For this reason, and because of our Canadian weather, the timeline of any given solar project is an important consideration when thinking about switching to solar.

Installation

The first thing to recognize is that most ground mount systems can be installed during the winter as long as the piling is completed before the ground is frozen. However, roof mount systems cannot are usually completed between the months of April to November. This time frame changes slightly depending on the region that you’re living in.

Most installers will also have a good idea when they can complete your installation and some will even estimate an installation date on your system proposal. In most circumstances a roof mount solar systems will take 1-3 days to install and ground mount solar system will take 2-5 days to install, varying on the complexity and size of the project.

Immediately after you sign your system contract, your installer should be completing the necessary paperwork required to proceed with the installation. Your rebate application (if applicable) should also be completed at this time.

Make sure in advance that your installer is in charge of arranging all the necessary paperwork, figuring everything out on your own can be a very large burden.

Paperwork Often Required: System Contract (provided by installer), Net Metering Application (provided and submitted by installer), Rebate Application (provided and submitted by installer), Electrical Permit (completed by electrician), Line Diagram (completed by electrician), Site Map (completed by installer or electrician).

Inspection

After your system is installed, it doesn’t mean that it can be turned on. In almost all cases your utility (and sometimes your municipality) will need to ‘inspect’ the system first. This can hypothetically happen the same day your installation is complete but often it takes places 1-4 weeks following.

These inspections must be prearranged with the utility and are typically initiated through the Net Metering Application. Sometimes a bi-directional meter must also be installed (if not previously present), this often happens at the same time at the utility inspection.


Policy, Rebates, & Other

Solar Power Canada

Beyond the topics covered on this page, there are a lot of external factors at the provincial and utility level that affect a person’s ability to switch to solar energy. Each province has a different set of policies that govern how and when solar can be connected to the grid, different variable and fixed electricity rates that determine its financial feasibility, as well as different incentives, rebates, and tax credits available for decreasing the upfront costs.

Each province also has different regulations on how much energy you can produce and send back to the grid with your system, different policies on how much you get paid for energy production in excess of your usage (you may not get paid at all), and even different price points charged by installers based on current supply and demand.

Solar Panel Power Canada has ranked every province and territory in Canada on these factors and more. The summation of this province specific information can be found in your complete provincial solar guide.

Quick links: Complete Provincial Solar Guide (another page), Average Cost of Installation (another page), How We Rank Provinces (another page), All Provincial Rankings on One Page (another page).


Choosing a Solar Installation Company

Because Canada is a relatively new market for solar, there are currently no mandatory certifications or training requirements for system designers or installers. This means that homeowners must be extremely diligent when considering their company of choice. At the very least, your installer should have a certified electrician on staff or contract, and have at least one person in-house with Solar PV design and installation training from the Solar Installers Canada (links to another site), the Canadian Solar Institute (links to another site), or NABCEP (links to another site).

Ultimately, choosing an installer is similar to choosing any home services business (like a roofer or landscaper) – you’re looking for a company that offers high quality equipment and services, legitimate experience in the industry, and some sort of warranty on their work.

At Solar Panel Power Canada, we only allow installers on our platform that satisfy the following criteria:

Customer Feedback

  • Verified Google Business Listing
  • Verified Facebook Business Page
  • At least 5 Positive Facebook/Google Reviews
  • 4.5+ Average Rating on Google and Facebook

Support & Reliability

  • Human-Answered Phone Number
  • Email Reply In Less Than 24 Hours
  • User Friendly Website With Real Project Photos
  • BBB, CanSIA, or B Corporation registered

In addition, we are currently only accepting applications from installers are licensed and insured, offer a workmanship warranty, and have been in full time business for at least 3 years.

Quick links: All About Warranty (this page), Some Info on Equipment (this page), Calculate Cost of Installation (another page), Get a Free Cost Estimate (another page).


How Solar Power Works in Canada: Summary

In theory, installing a solar system in Canada is a relatively simple task due to the widespread availability of advanced solar technologies. Solar is not only an efficient and reliable energy source but it’s also seen by many homeowners to be a sound financial investment and a way to stop the environmental degradation of our planet.

However, as with any large and long term purchase, there are several important things to keep in mind:

  • Not all equipment is made equal.
    • Efficiency, reliability, and warranty all vary between panel and inverter types and manufacturers. You may want to compare equipment choices if receiving multiple estimates. Use the resources on this page to help guide your decision.
  • Not all systems designs perform equally.
    • Your system should be designed and sized by a certified PV design engineer. As discussed in the efficiency sections above, there are several controllable factors that affect your system’s ability to produce a maximal amount of energy.
  • Not all companies install the same.
    • The day of installation is the most important day of your system’s entire lifespan, 30+ years of energy production depend on it. Make sure your company is qualified to do the job and that they provide you with all applicable warranties.

Summary: Nearly every home in Canada can offset their entire electricity usage by installing a solar system, exceptions exist only for extremely shaded or awkwardly shaped houses. Most solar system components are guaranteed for 25 years (for both product failure and energy output) and will last typically last 30+ years. Canada also receives a fair amount of sunlight and remains relatively cool throughout the year enhancing solar panel efficiency. And it’s for these reasons that we consider Canada to be one of the best Countries in the world for solar power.

If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments below or email us at [email protected]. If you’re interested in receiving an estimate for your home from a pre-screened installer, click here to go to our Cost Estimate Page.


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