Solar Energy | Ecology Action Centre

Solar Energy

Here Comes the Sun

Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy has until recently been marginalized by many North American jurisdictions as an expensive and impractical option for electricity generation. This situation has shifted dramatically in the past decade with a substantial improvement in the efficiency and affordability of solar PV technology. Ontario’s rapid development of solar PV since 2009 through its feed-in tariff program has gone a long way to normalizing solar PV energy in Canada.

As outlined by Groszko (2013), the installed cost of solar PV in Nova Scotia has decreased by an average of $1.06/W in recent years. Though yet to be confirmed, Groszko predicted a levelized cost of PV electricity for Nova Scotia of 25 cents/kWh by 2013. While not competitive on a utility scale, this price is certainly competitive when considering the small-scale, distribution-level electricity production solar PV is ideally suited for.

Solar PV can help Nova Scotians to transition our electricity system away from its current fossil fuel dependency. This may be particularly relevant for urban residents in Nova Scotia who are less likely to be able to participate in a community feed-in tariff (COMFIT) projects.

EAC has collected nearly 400 signatures from Nova Scotians on a petition asking the province to design a feed-in tariff (FIT) for solar PV, which would guarantee an established rate per kilowatt hour for electricity generated from solar panels on people's homes and businesses.

Solar Power At Work in Nova Scotia!

There are solar panels being installed in many corners of Nova Scotia! Communities are so excited about solar energy that they are banding together to get things moving.

The HRM Solar City Program installed more solar thermal panels in Nova Scotia in two years than were installed in the rest of Canada in that time. Now, the program will be helping home and business -owners to install solar photovoltaic panels.

Check out this beautiful 100-panel system installed at a private school near Sydney by Appleseed Energy. We're pretty sure this is the largest array in Nova Scotia so far.

The Antigonish Community Energy Group has an incredible goal of installing 1 million watts of solar power through their Energy Co-op. Check out their amazing story here:

While you're at it, take a look at the other work the community in Antigonish is doing to combat climate change in their film Listening to Our Neighbours.

The Solar Colchester intiative is looking to replicate the HRM Solar City model in Colchester County - organizers in Tatamagouche have been working hard on that initiative.

And the Living Earth Council in Truro is thinking about how to develop solar energy in their community.

These are a handful of examples of the inspiring ways that solar power is growing in our province.

Designing a COMFIT is just one way in which Nova Scotia might create opportunities for the expansion of solar PV in the province. There are several additional suggestions below.

Opening Nova Scotia to incremental growth of solar PV

Taking advantage of the province’s existing programs by designing a FIT for solar PV would be a straightforward means of giving Nova Scotians the opportunity to participate in this promising technology.

However, given current grid constraints and the nature of Nova Scotia’s solar resource, it may be preferable to begin with programs that target geographic and demographic areas of the province most immediately primed for efficient uptake of solar PV.

> Urban solar

Densely populated urban areas have high daytime electricity loads, making them ideally suited for uptake of daytime-peaking solar PV installed at the distribution level. Programs designed to target solar PV installations in urban communities could make strategic use of Nova Scotia’s solar resource and reduce the amount of electricity transmitted long distances from larger generators to urban areas. It would also give urban residents the opportunity to participate in renewable energy generation as most urban areas can not accommodate the requirements for other types of renewable generation underway in other parts of the province (e.g. setback distances for wind turbines).

> Industrial solar

The advantage of coupling low rise industrial buildings and solar power is that daily electricity use, especially in the summer, peaks midday when solar energy is the strongest and wind energy is often low. Local distribution level PV generation can counter peak demands from these buildings.

The 3400 acre Burnside industrial Park has enough area to collect over 400GWh of electricity each year. Even allowing for restricted use on rooftops alone, the park could provide 2-3% of Nova Scotia’s annual electricity use. by offsetting refrigeration and air conditioning loads that strain summertime grids. While winter solar output is lower, well insulated buildings and greater wintertime wind output can help balance these effects.

> Solar + electric thermal storage

As explored through PowerShift Atlantic, electric thermal storage (ETS) is already available to some households throughout Nova Scotia. The majority of these households are located outside of urban areas. Designing a program that couples solar PV with households equipped with ETS units might avoid some of the difficulties associated with solar PV outside of urban areas (different load dynamics and distribution grid capacity). Solar generators might charge ETS units for deffered use.

> Virtual Net Metering

Massachusetts’ virtual net metering (VNM) law permits people to buy solar panels in a community -owned and -sited array. The law requires utilities to reduce the panel owners’ bill by an amount commensurate with the power sent to the grid by the array. While grid constraints may prohibit this arrangement in the near-term in some areas of the province, such a program might make solar available to a larger number of individuals who may not have sites appropriate for solar PV. It is also a means of extending the ‘community’ value of the COMFIT to solar PV without designing a specific solar PV COMFIT.

Click here for Wayne Groszko's report on solar energy in Nova Scotia

Take a look at a Prezi on solar energy put together by Energy Coordinator, Catherine Abreu


Solar Panels: Frequently Asked Questions

What is a solar panel?

Solar panels are basically made up of individual solar cells. Solar cells are made from wafers of semiconductor bonded to an aluminum plate. The semiconductor materials vary, but the some of the most efficient cells are made from single crystals (monocrystalline).  Sun strikes the semiconductor and excites electrons causing movement. This creates a current and, consequently, voltage. The power generated by a cell/panel varies from 8% to 15% of the incident solar energy.
Individual cells are soldered together and mounted on a plastic (typically) backing plate. All of this is then covered with tempered glass and mounted and sealed in an aluminum frame.
There are different semiconductiors and also different ways of creating the cell and there are also different grades of cells.
How much electricity will a solar panel produce?
The output of solar panels will depend on the panel, its placement, and the time of year. Panels in a good location in Nova Scotia, mounted at the correct angle (generally 40 degrees) facing South can produce about 1100 killowatt hours (kWhr) per year per 1000 watts (W) installed.
Will installing solar panels reduce my electricity bill?
Installing solar panels will help you develop a better understanding of your daily electricity use. Because we are never taught how to monitor our energy use, most of us do not have a great understanding of how much energy we use and how much solar panels generate in comparison.
Given the steep decline in the cost of solar photovoltaics in recent years, it is likely that, if your site is suitable, solar panels could reduce your bill. Investing in the energy efficiency of your home or business first will dramatically increase the likelihood of solar panels saving you money.
What is the life expectancy of a solar panel?
You can expect solar panels to operate well for at least 25 years. There are panels in Germany and other parts of the world that have been up and running for 35 years and more without large losses in output!
What will it cost me to install solar panels?
While every set of solar panels will be unique, experience in Nova Scotia suggests that a 3,000 watt system, costing roughly $5,000, would generate roughly one third of the average household's electricity use before conservation.
What is the cost of solar power?
Again, this varies according to the location and specificifications of the solar installation. Experience in Nova Scotia suggests a current cost of 14 - 20 cents per kWhr.
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