WHAT’S NEXT FOR SOLAR ENERGY?

The Ontario government incentives for solar energy initiatives have run out – so now what? Is solar dead? Not at all!

Solar power is quickly becoming a larger part of Ontario’s energy mix. With the majority of Canada’s solar energy generated in Ontario, this province remains an attractive location to invest in renewable energy.

From 2009 until December of 2017, the Ontario Government offered and encouraged consumers to install solar power systems: the MicroFIT program was designed for small applications such as residential, while the FIT program design was for larger applications such as commercial rooftops and large-scale ground-mounted systems. Under the FIT and MicroFIT programs, the province bought power produced by these solar panels and used it to support the local hydro grid.

Though these incentive programs have ended, renewable solar is still a viable and lucrative option for consumers. Solar energy continues to be a fast-growing technology and part of the larger energy management picture. Solar energy is one element of what is called “Distributed Energy Resources”  (DERs for short) and can be used in multiple ways by the average residential and commercial consumer.

Net Metering

A net metering system allows current solar energy producers to install inverters into their existing power systems, letting them use the power that their panels generate. By using the energy created by their own solar panels, they draw less from the larger hydro grid – and save money in the process.

For new applications, consumers need to install the correctly sized solar net metering system to their land, building or home.

What if the solar panels produce more energy than gets used?

If a solar energy producer creates more energy than they use, the extra energy produced can be added as a surplus to a consumer’s hydro account. The surplus can then be applied when a consumer uses more energy than they create at some point in the future – like ‘rewinding’ their meter. From the month when the additional energy is created, the consumer has 11 months to consume that surplus before the smart meter is re-set by the LDC for another annual period to start. You can learn more about net metering here.

But that’s not all, the future of green energy has a plan for your excess energy.

Energy Storage Systems

Another element of DERs is energy storage systems, or more specifically, battery energy storage systems (BESSs). A simple enough concept, BESSs work with solar power systems in a few different ways:

  • Solar power generated can be stored directly in the BESS. From there it can be used to power specific equipment, for example, an electric car. Or power can be drawn from the battery at specific times during the day when traditional grid electricity costs are higher.
  • Excess power generated by your net metering system – that is, extra energy that is not needed by the consumer – can be stored in your BESS and be used in the same examples as above.
  • Consumers can also draw power from the traditional grid at low-cost times, store it in their BESS and then use it from the BESS when power is needed at high-cost times

    The catch: if you enter into a net metering agreement you will go off of time-of-use rates to a fixed flat rate, which means there is no incentive to store excess energy generated by your solar systems in the batteries. This means that in order to take advantage of time-of-use electricity rates, BESSs are better used without the integration of renewable solar and net metering systems that are in contract with your LDC, or if you are developing an off-grid system.

The combination of using renewable solar energy and energy storage also allows consumers to develop hybrid systems or off-grid (residential) and microgrid (commercial) systems. These systems allow consumers to generate all their own energy to power all their needs (off-grid), or as much as they possibly can while supplementing with local hydro when required (hybrid). To develop these types of systems, consumers must first understand their power requirements. A handy tool to help residential consumers determine this can be found here.

Click here to learn more about Energy Storage Systems and how much more they can do.

So why is Renewable Solar Energy important?

By collecting and using solar energy, we (consumers) directly lower the amount of energy that the larger hydro grid needs to produce to satisfy the demand of local consumers. This places less stress on the larger power grid and local distribution centers, reducing the need for infrastructure upgrades and ultimately, consumer electricity costs.

Using a renewable solar energy source also eliminates the need to rely on less reliable (electricity blackouts and brownouts) and/or less eco-friendly power sources (coal and fossil fuels) and allows consumers to take direct control of their power needs. While this is true, depending on weather patterns, renewable energy like wind and solar are not always reliable on their own in the sense that their power varies dramatically based on time of day, weather, wind gusts, cloud passing etc. New and existing renewable systems around the globe are being tied to BESSs to strengthen reliability and increase production efficiency.

Solar energy could power the world, according to numerous studies. How much is needed seems to be a fluctuating opinion – but the most interesting part is that it is much less than you might expect.

Who is currently using solar energy?

The solar market is made up of a broad spectrum of users. Many consumers who already have a solar system and contract with the government (FIT or MicroFIT) have added additional systems to support net metering. These consumers have, in many cases, a steady income from their contracts to reinvest into additional solar.

For consumers considering a new solar application, net metering provides a way to reduce hydro costs and offset the cost of the new system installation. This is true for everyone from residential users to agricultural, industrial, and commercial consumers, either as a stand-alone system or part of a larger DER solution.

Renewable solar is becoming more popular in new construction applications where it contributes to LEED certification and sustainable development.

How do I know what system is best for me?

The best system for your application depends on a number of factors from power requirements, location and electricity consumers class (e.g. Class A consumers), to conservation and sustainability goals.

Arcadian Projects Inc. is an energy contractor who has worked with all classes of energy consumers, to develop and install hundreds of solar projects. They are the leading contractor in battery energy storage system integration. Contact Arcadian Projects with your questions about renewable solar energy today!

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Want to learn more? Up next: The Basics of Energy Storage Systems