FAQ

General FAQ

 

What is the Warranty on the Solar Power System?

Solar panels have a manufacturer’s warranty of 25 years.  SolarEdge optimizers also have a 25 year warranty and the SolarEdge inverter has a 12 year warranty, extendable to 25 years.  Micro-inverter warranties vary, depending on manufacturer.  Suncatcher Solar has a 5 year installation warranty and provides free installation of warranty replacements.

What is the expected lifetime?

The expected lifetime is 35 or more years.  Solar panels already exist that have been producing for longer.

If I have to replace my roofing, what would you recommend?

Metal roofing or asphalt shingles with a 35-year warranty both have a long lifetime.  A light color will keep the house cooler in the summer and light colored shingles also last longer.

Will solar panels be damaged by hail?

Solar panels are mounted in aluminum frames with tempered glass faces.  They are very robust and would only be damaged by extremely severe hail storms,  See a hail test in this Tips article:  Solar Panels and Hail.  In this case, the panels should be covered by your home insurance policy.  Contact your insurance provider for details.

What happens in winter?

Solar energy varies throughout the year.  Typically, the average roof angle combined with the short days of winter makes production low in the winter but optimal during the summer. Snow cover typically slides off or melts off once the sun shines again.  Net metering takes advantage of the high summer production to offset the much lower production in the winter.

 

Grid-Tied Systems

 

What does the Rebate include?

The rebate applies to the equipment, installation and design costs for a solar power system that   is connected to the electrical utility company.  The rebate, to a maximum of $20,000, is  available for customers of SaskPower, Saskatoon Light and Power and the City of Swift Current.

What happens during a power outage?

During a power outage, your solar power system will not continue to produce. Your system must shut down automatically so that the problems with the electrical utility system can be safely repaired.  When utility power is restored, your solar system will automatically restart and again produce power for your home.

What are the options for backup power?

If you have critical loads or frequent power outages, battery backup can be added to your grid-tied system or you can use a backup generator.  Costs vary depending on how much backup you want.

How do I read the bilateral meter?

Solar Saskatchewan Meter - received from customer

rEC – Received from you and credited to your account

When your solar power system starts producing, a bilateral meter will be installed to replace your regular meter.  This will record the excess power you feed back so that your account can be credited.  Reading the bilateral meter can be confusing.

The bilateral meter has 3 rotating displays.  Display 1 is a series of ‘8′s.  Display 2 is ‘dEL’ followed by the number of kWh that SaskPower has delivered to you.  Display 3 is ‘rEC’ and the number of kWh that SaskPower has received from you for your excess solar production.  This number will be credited on your utility bill at the current rate.

Get a Quote for a Grid-tied Solar Power System:

Call toll free: 1-877-441-2355 or email

Keeping Pests and Debris away from your Solar Panels

A Problem with Pests

As it turns out, pigeons and squirrels love to nest under roof-mounted solar arrays. Squirrels, in particular, can do serious damage to the wires hooking up your inverters to your solar panels. These damaged wires then become a fire hazard. The detritus from nests (as well as dried leaves that can accumulate under panels) can cause damage to your roof and lead to roof rot. Beyond all the mess and the hazards, there is the issue of noise that pigeons cause. All that to say, unprotected arrays can cause you serious problems and headaches.

Prevention

Because of the fire hazard caused by damaged wires of string inverters*, it is now code that all systems using string inverters must have some kind of protection around the panels to keep pests out. For our solution to this problem, we use a beautifully designed aluminum trim created by SolaTrim.  SolaTrim has several advantages over a simple wire mesh. It is a strong product made of lightweight aluminum with an aviation grade adhesive tape that seals it thoroughly to your solar panels. It is extreme temperature tested and comes with a 25 year warranty. We like that it is designed to be a permanent solution that will last the lifetime of the panels. We also chose this solution because we wanted to use a trim that didn’t detract from the beauty of your home. SolaTrim adds curb appeal to your house by providing a clean and elegant finish to the array.

Suncatcher Solar System on Triangular Roof

Roof-mounted solar Array with SolaTrim around the panels to keep out debris and pests.

*Systems using either SolarEdge or Micro Inverters are designed to shut down automatically if there is damage to the wires. For this reason they don’t present a fire hazard, and installers are not required by code to install any sort of mesh protection. However, we always install trim, regardless of the type of inverter, to avoid the noise and protect your system and your roof.

 

Off-Grid or Grid-Tied – What’s the Difference?

Solar Power Array on the Experimental HouseSolar Power Center“I want to go off-grid and use solar instead of bringing in SaskPower!”

The desire for independance prompts many a call to Suncatcher Solar from people who want to be self sufficient and hope that solar power holds the answer to that dream.  But what does that really mean? What’s the difference between “off-grid” and “grid-tied” and what kind of lifestyle does each one entail?

What Does it Mean to Go Off-Grid?

Going off -grid means going it on your own. You have to produce and store all your own power and if you run out you start up the backup generator. There is no power utility to fall back on. On the other hand, neither is there a power bill.

Basic-Solar-Power-System1-e1318386617230

Off-Grid Solar and Wind Power System

An off-grid system needs a storage system for the electricity that you produce so that it will be available for times when there is no source of electricity. This storage system is one of the main features that distinguish an off-grid system from a grid-tied system. The other is a backup generator for long periods of cloud or calm.

The figure at the right shows the basic components for an off-grid system. A solar array and an optional wind turbine provide electricity to run the appliances in your home. Whatever you don’t need immediately is stored in the battery bank. Since you are completely reliant on your own resources the battery bank must be large enough to see you through at least 3 days without any solar or wind charging. This typically means very large battery cells forming a bank that requires a space that is a minimum of 2′ wide by 4′ long and 3′ high.

Remote Solar Power System

Remote Solar Power System

You will need to plan your energy use using a load analysis so that the charging system and battery bank is large enough to meet your needs. Heating your home in a cold climate will present some challenges. Some heating systems are difficult or prohibitively expensive to operate with an off-grid system. For example, you cannot run a geothermal system with off-grid power – the power requirements for the pumps are too large. Passive solar design and an in floor heating system are usually the best options for off-grid systems.

What is a Grid-tied Solar Power System?

Grid-tied Solar Power System

Grid-tied Solar Power System

A grid-tied system is connected to your electrical utility company’s power “grid”. The utility is now your backup generator. There is a basic monthly cost for a grid connection (usually around $25) but this is much less expensive than the $6000 or more for a generator and the fuel that the generator uses.  You can see the utility meter and subpanel for the large solar array shown in the photo on the right.

Grid-tied Solar Array

Grid-tied Solar Array

A grid-tied system often includes a net metering agreement. This means that when you produce extra power you can feed it back to the grid and receive a credit on your power bills for those times when you use more than you produce. Some utility companies may also pay you for your excess power, or buy power from you at higher than the going rate (this is called a Feed-In Tariff ).

Grid-tied solar power system

Grid-tied Solar and Wind Power System

The grid now also becomes, in a sense, your battery bank. Because you feed back your excess power for a credit, it is effectively “stored” for you until you need it. Usually this means that you feed back extra power in the summer and then use the credits in the winter when you need the power for your heating system. This is much less expensive than buying and maintaining a battery bank.

Looking at the figure on the left you can see that the grid-tied system is the same as the off-grid system but without the battery bank and its charge controller and without the emergency generator.

A Cost Comparison

This means that it is much less expensive to set up and maintain a grid-tied system. It also means that most of your money is going to what you really wanted to buy in the first place – solar and/or wind power. The inverter system, which converts the DC solar power to normal household AC power, is the only other expense for materials. Installation is also less expensive if there is no battery bank, charge controller and generator to install.

This typically makes a residential grid-tied system at least $15,000 less than an off-grid system. So why would you want to invest in an off-grid system?

Off-grid systems are still cost competitive if you live sufficiently far from the closest grid connection. If you need to have power brought in it may cost you at least as much or more to connect to the grid as to pay for the batteries and generator required for an off-grid system. If it will cost you $20,000 or more to bring in power, for example, the off-grid system quickly pays for itself, especially since there will be no ongoing power bills.

A Benefits Comparison

Off-grid System Pros and Cons:

Off-grid Battery Bank

Off-grid Battery Bank

Pros:

– ideal for more remote situations where power is expensive to bring in.
– no power bills.
– no power outages.
– self sufficiency on a clean, renewable energy source.

Cons:

– batteries and generator are expensive and require maintenance.
– lifetime for the batteries and generator(10 – 15 years) is less than for the solar array (35+ years) and wind turbine (20-25 years).
– no seasonal storage. Batteries can only store power for a few days and have a maximum capacity. When they are full, the rest of the power is wasted unless you can find an immediate use for it.
– power use must be carefully planned.

Grid-tied System Pros and Cons:

Pros:

– easy backup from grid power.
– eliminates need for expensive batteries and generator (which also requires fuel).
– provides seasonal storage if a net metering or Feed-in Tariff program is available.
– maintenance free for a solar power system (wind requires some maintenance and repair).
– internet monitoring available with inverters designed to be used for individual solar panels (Example).
– you are providing clean energy to the grid.

Cons:

– power outages. When utility power goes out your system also goes out unless you invest in a battery bank. This is a requirement by the utility company and is for the safety of those repairing the system.
– you still have to pay the basic utility bill, just not for whatever power you’ve produced.
– you are still using non-renewable resources when there is no solar or wind.

Making the Choice

Choosing the power system that’s right for you depends on your building site and the lifestyle that you prefer to live.

Contact us and discuss the options with us.

Solar Power Mounting Options

Solar panels take space – 400 to 1200 square feet or more, depending on how much solar electricity you want to generate. If you want to get top solar production in Saskatchewan, the panels should face due south and at an angle to best capture the sunlight.  But what, exactly, is that angle?  The sun moves across the sky during the day, constantly changing position.  It is also much higher in the sky during the summer than it is during the winter.

1.  Solar Trackers

Solar Trackers

Solar Trackers

A system that tracks the sun would be an ideal solution.  However, a tracking system needs a massive mount to accommodate all the panels and a complex control system to make the tracking automatic.  This makes the system expensive and the moving parts will require maintenance.

Solar panels have come down in cost so much that it is far cheaper to buy more solar panels and put them on a mount that is fixed at an angle that provides a good compromise.  Typically, for the 30% extra power production that you can get from a tracker, you could easily buy 50% more solar panels if you have the room for them.

Solar trackers do make economic sense if you are short of space or if there is a reason to squeeze maximum production out of a fixed size of solar power system.  This is the case, for example, in Ontario, Canada where the feed-in tariff pays a premium rate for systems up to 10 kW.

2. Roof Mounts

Solar Power on House Roof

A roof clear of obstructions is best for mounting solar panels

The least expensive way to mount your system is directly on your roof.  The mounting system fastens to the roof trusses and provides rails on which to mount the panels.  The rails keep the panels a bit above the roof itself to provide ventilation for the panels.  Solar panels are more efficient at lower temperatures, so ventilation is important.

A simple roof mount is the way to go if you have enough south facing roof space at an angle approximately equal to your latitude.  If this is a grid-tied system a lower angle can also work well since you usually produce a lot more power in the summer when the sun is higher in the sky.  With grid-tied systems you can usually feed that extra power back for credits in the winter or sell it back to the utility.

Ballasted Solar Mount for a flat roof

Ballasted Solar Mount for a flat roof

If your roof is flat, or just doesn’t have  a steep enough slope, the roof mount angle can be adjusted to compensate for that.  This adds some expense, but can significantly improve the production.  Ballasted roof mounts, that don’t require any roof penetrations, are also available for flat commercial roofs where the possibility of leaks is a big concern.

Keep in mind that you also want your solar array to be free of any shading.  Watch for dormers or trees or a roof on a more southerly part of the house that might shade your panels.

3. Ground Mounts

Ground mounted Solar Array

Ground mounted Solar Array

Perhaps you have no suitable roof space but lots of room on the ground.  This is often the case on acreages and farms.  A ground mounted array is the second most economical choice.

A rack for the panels is set up at a suitable angle and mounted high enough above the ground to account for snow cover.   The racks require more material than a sloped roof mount, so this adds some expense, as does the screw pile foundations.

Ground mounted arrays have their advantages.  You can more easily choose a good location with minimal shading.  The array is also easily accessible for cleaning and clearing off any snow cover that accumulates on the panels.

4. Pole Mounts

Solar Panels on a Pole Mount

Solar Panels on a Pole Mount

Another alternative for smaller solar power systems is one or more pole mounts.   These are like a tracking mount but without the expense and complexity of the tracking system.  Pole mounts are more expensive than ground mounts but can be manually adjusted for seasonal angles.   It is also easier to select a good location for a pole mounted array.

The limitation with a pole mount is that you don’t want to mount too many panels on one pole.  The array of panels is like a sail in the wind, so the larger the number of panels you mount on a pole, the more massive the pole and foundation will need to be.  The other alternative is simply to use more pole mounts but each mount will need a pole and concrete foundation, with its attendant costs.

Contact Us for help in choosing the best solar mounting system for your home.