A homeowner harnesses the power of the sun

With utilities warning of longer, more frequent power outages due to extreme weather events and advising residents to make 72-hour emergency preparedness plans, more Canadians are looking to reduce their reliance on the grid and produce their own electricity. 

Small-scale technologies like solar panels and on-site battery storage (also known as distributed energy resources) are empowering homeowners and businesses to become more energy independent during outages caused by storms.

The National Capital Region’s unpredictable weather was, in part, what drove Dick Bakker, an Ottawa-area homeowner and Director of Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative, to install a solar panel system on his home in December 2023. 

“We’ve lived in our house for 30 years and we’ve been out of power for more than five days at a time due to the 1998 ice storm, the 2003 “trees in Ohio” blackout that affected the eastern seaboard, the 2018 tornadoes and the 2022 derecho,” says Bakker. “We nearly had another big ice storm in April 2023, so yes, weather events have been instrumental in our decision to install solar.” 

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Sunny side up

While Bakker has long-wanted to install solar panels, he couldn’t justify the costs financially, until 2023. That’s when the Ontario Energy Board changed the rules governing the electricity landscape to help facilitate electrification and streamline the ability for Ontarians to connect distributed energy resources to the provincial grid. More than that, net-metered customers with home generation could now choose between the three rate plan options: Time-of-use, Tiered or Ultra-low overnight. The future for solar started to look bright to Bakker. 

For those unfamiliar with the term net metering, the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative website defines it as follows: Net Metering allows for the generation and self-consumption of electricity on your property. The energy produced on your roof is consumed by you. Any extra energy is fed into the grid, for which you receive credits that can be used up to a year later.

“As a net metering customer with solar generation, if you’re producing electricity at the higher rate during the day, you get the higher rate in your credits,” says Bakker. “What really changed for me was the ability to switch to the Ultra-low overnight rate.”

The newest rate plan encourages electricity users to use electricity more overnight when it’s cheaper, and not during the dinnertime/evening hours when everybody's turning on lights, eating, and on their devices - when rates are higher. This plan encourages people to reduce consumption during these peak hours, and shift more consumption overnight. “I realized that if we produce solar power during the 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. period at 28 cents a kWh, we get credits at 28 cents,” says Bakker. “That is much better economics for the homeowner, the end user and the solar producer. And actually helps the neighbourhood grid!”

With Bakker’s home blocked by trees to the south, he originally thought solar wasn’t a good fit. But with the newest rate plan, he could take advantage of the east and north side of his home, which could produce more electricity during 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the summertime at the higher rate. “So one hour at that time can offset 10 hours at the 2.8 cents rate during the low rate period,” says Bakker. “The other benefit to me is that I have an electric vehicle and a heat pump, so time-shifting my consumption to the lower overnight rate makes sense and will improve my return on investment.” 

In total, Bakker installed 24 panels on the north slope of his house and 13 panels on the east slope, for a total capacity of 14.4 kW. He predicts over 12 months, the system will produce just more than 10,000 kW, covering nearly 80 per cent of the electricity he uses in a year. 

“The system cost just over $30,000 plus HST, not including other costs to upgrade the electrical panel and Hydro Ottawa’s connection,” says Bakker. “The system looks great and our house is future-proofed with 30-plus years of electricity cost insurance and forced savings. To me, homes that have solar are going to hold their value better than those with a new kitchen that a new owner at some point is likely to pull out and replace. You’re not going to replace solar on a roof when it’s reducing your utility bills.”

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The dawn of energy independence for homeowners

Thanks to the federal government’s Greener Homes Grant Program, solar projects are eligible to receive $1.00 per watt, up to a maximum of $5,000. The program was so successful, the government recently announced it is closing applications a year early due to maximizing its $2.6 billion budget. But the federal government promises that plans are underway for the program’s next phase. 

Visit Hydro Ottawa’s website to understand the options that exist for connecting energy sources, find a list of distributed energy resources standards, frequently asked questions, and related connection processes, charges and application forms.

As Bakker proves, there is a growing movement among Canadians to take charge of how they interact with energy, not only to manage their costs and consumption, but to responsibly generate their own renewable power in the age of climate change. The landscape of energy is evolving, putting power into the hands of individuals and businesses alike.

If solar, or other distributed energy resources aren’t a right fit for you, there are other options and incentives that exist (municipally, provincially and federally) to help lower your home’s electricity consumption and allow you to become a more active participant in an emissions-free future.

Listen to our full interview with Dick Bakker on the ThinkEnergy podcast to learn more about his solar installation, and the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative.

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