By Collin Gallant on April 11, 2017.
Getting a cheque at the end of the month, rather than a power bill, is a tantalizing selling point for home and business owners considering installing solar panels.
That day has not yet arrived in Medicine Hat, but soon could, say several industry observers as well as the city’s own utility office.
“This is possible,” said Jaret Dickie, utilities business support office manager.
“There are a lot of variables to consider with this — the size of the microgeneration system, the consumption on site, etc.”
The City of Medicine Hat has 120 customers with bi-directional metering — a process measuring power going in to buildings, but also power exported back onto the grid, usually from solar panels.
Typically a home’s power needs are greater than its solar system’s production capacity over the course of a 24-hour day, let alone a month.
Some smaller systems might not be enough to completely supplant power imports even during daylight hours.
Also, since energy is hard to store, while power might be put on the system when the sun is shining, power imports are needed at night.
The city meters the energy use to and from, then credits exports to bills.
So far though, while it reduces costs, it hasn’t yet eliminated imports or put a customer in a net position (exporting more than importing) for an entire billing period.
That might change next summer.
Two schools in Medicine Hat, planned to be operating next year, will have large solar arrays included.
They will produce the most power during the summer, when usage at the schools will be minimal.
That could see negative billing over the course of a few months, then see credits built up to be paid on powerbills in the autumn.
Marcus Campbell, who designs and installs systems with Terralta Inc., said while “a payout” has not yet taken place, solar power has cut into power bills.
Also, he states, the sector is expanding to the point where net money to panel owners may become common.
“There is the potential,” he said. “I’ve modelled a number of systems this year in which we’re meeting and offsetting all of the customer’s electrical needs.”
He expected to install about 20 residential systems this year, and says interest is high, partly because of grants both by the city’s HatSmart program and provincial programs to partly pay for solar installations.
The province’s electric system operator announced this month that it will study regulatory related to micro-generation.
“Realistically, systems (in Alberta) are not allowed to be installed to make a profit,” said Campbell of current regulations.
“The solar system offsets the consumption of the home, whatever extra is produced is pushed back onto the grid.”
That rolls forward to the next month, he said, meaning the idea of collecting cheques is not really possible.
Campbell said cost savings that are often cited when a system “pays for itself” involve avoiding costs are complicated to decipher and need to be better understood.
Because the home is importing less actual electricity, it is charged less — not only for the bare commodity but on a variety of non-commodity charges linked to consumption levels.
He said a customer saves not only on the bare cost of power, about three cents per kilowatt this month), but also on lower amounts charged for administration, capacity, facilities upkeep and, ironically, the city’s “Going Green” surcharge that buys wind power.
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