Go Solar!

Yesterday I visited the roof of Mountain Equipment Co-op‘s Vancouver location and saw some solar panels.


Panels on top of MEC--this was the first grid-tied installation in Vancouver
Panels on top of MEC–this was the first grid-tied installation in Vancouver

Whoop-de-do? What do you mean, “whoop-de-do?” Solar panels  are awesome!

If I understood Rob Baxter, the presenter from SPEC (The Society Promoting Environmental Conservation) correctly:

  • With Solar PV (Photo-voltaic panels) you can generate your own electricity, eliminating the need for costly new powerlines across the countryside that we pay for in our taxes. If we all did this we could throw away all the projections BC Hydro has made for the growth in our demand for electricity.
  • Since you are still connected to the power grid, you don’t need to worry about running out of juice if the panels don’t produce enough (like in the winter).
  • Nor do you need to get complicated with batteries because you can automatically sell BC Hydro what you don’t need and get credit on your bill.
  • Over the course of the year, the panels pictured here would produce enough electricity so that, over the course of the year, a typical household could achieve a net electricity bill of $0.
  • The panels are tough and built to last. They may not produce quite as much after 30 years, but they will last a lot longer than that.
  • You can save more money by pre-heating your hot water with a solar hot water heater.
  • You can buy them from Canadian companies like Vancouver Renewable Energy who installed these ones.

Well if they are so darn great, why don’t we see them on every rooftop like they do in Germany? Well, here is why:

Rob told us that the Solar PV array at MEC would cost about $13000 if you bought it today. At today’s electricity rates, he figured it would take about 30 years to “pay them off”.* [Note that in Germany, power is much more expensive.]

And for most people, that’s the end of the story.

We are all busy just keeping up with our regular lives. We look to solar as an extra thing that we know we “should” do. As soon as we see those numbers, we can allow ourselves to write off the idea as “too expensive” and not “practical”.

If we are going to go to the trouble of fighting climate change, it darn well better pay for itself. If it doesn’t, we’ll wait until someone makes it cheaper with government rebates or other incentives.

Here is my quick response:

1. Solar panels are getting much cheaper very quickly.

2. Electricity rates are not staying the same they will soon be much higher.

3. Our governments and utilities would be very sensible to offer much better incentives to encourage going solar, indeed it would be the conservative thing to do, but they are waiting for tax-payers to demand this.

4. If we relax and put down roots where we live, instead of imagining we are going to move every few years, going solar suddenly makes much more sense.

5. If we use the Solar PV generated electricity to charge an electric car, they pay for themselves much more quickly because gasoline is more expensive than electricity.

6. Finally, remember that solar hot water heaters are cheaper than solar PV panels and actually save you more money faster (but you really want both).

Another barrier for people going solar is they don’t know how. But that is the same with other stuff in our houses. I don’t know how to install a furnace or a hot water tank, so I call someone.

Surely solar panels are just as easy.

1. Talk to a dealer and buy some panels (as if you were buying a new water heater).

That is Rob Baxter, President of SPEC, answering all our questions
That is Rob Baxter, President of SPEC, answering all our questions

2. Ask an installer to install and tie them in to BC Hydro’s grid for you (as if you were installing a new furnace)

3. Watch your bills drop.

Okay, many of us really can’t afford to install solar panels right now, but in the meantime you can pay a slightly higher rate for Bullfrog Power to offset the fossil fuels you are burning to heat your home. They will purchase clean energy on your behalf. Aaahh…that will make you feel better.

All in all, a very interesting visit. I encourage you to sign up for one of the next Go Solar Tours in September.

* Whenever we talk about these new energy saving options, we demand that they pay for themselves. We do not seem to demand this from standard items like furnaces. We need a furnace, so we buy one. If we pay extra for a more efficient furnace, suddenly we need to justify that cost with an equivalent savings. The future of the climate is not enough motivation for us, or so it seems…



Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

7 thoughts on “Go Solar!”

  1. Hi James,

    Thanks for covering our tour. I just wanted to point out that the panels picture could power an energy efficient household. The average household in BC would need a larger system than pictured. But most household could reduced their consumption and become more efficient.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Rob, and thanks for the tour!
      That is the balance we are hoping to strike with Hammond Forever House: reduce our need for energy until a smaller renewable system will be enough.

  2. Here is how one of James’ students reacted to this post:
    I have read about Solar Panels in your blog. Here in Canada it is very expensive to have them in houses because our government doesn’t subsidize.
    I try to save energy in my house in several ways. 1. I have changed a lot of my bulbs to energy-saving bulbs. 2. I have a gas stove. It is also a good way to save energy. 3. When I do my laundry, I only wash the clothes and hang them and don’t use the dryer. This saves me a lot of energy. I dry my clothes near a window when it is summer and in winter near a heat vent. 4. I’ve taught my daughters when they leave a room and nobody is there to turn off the lights. 5. I try not to vacuum every day because I love to do it. 🙂 We noticed that when I vacuum everyday our BC Hydro bills increase a lot. 6. We have in our house a gas boiler. This saves a lot of energy, too. 7. Our heat uses gas and when you use gas instead of electricity you can save a lot of money in your bills. 8. When I use my oven that is electric I bake more than one thing at the same time like one pie and some potatoes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *