Alberta wins geographic lottery with solar

It has been impossible to ignore the topic of solar energy these last few weeks. News outlets have been reporting on the BRIGHT future of the industry, the spotlight has been SHINING on the topic of renewable energy, and Tesla’s announcement of new solar roof tiles has POWERED the topic even more.

All puns aside, it’s been pretty hard to ignore the fact that solar power has become an important part of Alberta’s electricity market.

“Solar has become a viable way of producing electricity for your home,” said David Dodge, Producer of Green Energy Futures and newly appointed Chair of Energy Efficiency Alberta. "We just need to develop the market. We need to develop the knowledge level of consumers and the ability for companies to provide quality products and services.”

Companies like SOLARMAX Power are working on doing just that.

“There are three pillars needed for a successful solar market,” said Kyle Kasawski, Managing Director of SOLARMAX Power. “Education for consumers, incentive which we are trying to create with our program and promotions, and financing. So far, we have tried to get these three pieces of the puzzle together without any support from the government and it is working pretty well for us.”

SOLARMAX sells electricity and natural gas at discounted rates. The revenue generated from these sales is dedicated to lowering the cost of the installation of solar panels for homeowners. Their latest promotion gives customers $1,000 off their solar panel installation when they sign up for energy from SOLARMAX.

Working with a number of well-known home builders such as Landmark Homes, Mattamy Homes, Jayman MASTERBuilt, Habitat Studio and Design, and more, SOLARMAX has installed over 350 solar panel packages in the last four years. And the price tag for these projects isn't as scary as many expect.

The savings you see from your solar energy pays for the incremental costs associated with your mortgage. The system really pays for itself.

An entry level package, which includes eight solar panels is just under $5,000. The cost for a Net Zero home? Just over $29,000.

“One of the biggest misconceptions consumers have about solar panel systems is the cost,” said Kasawski. “Most people assume it is going to be upwards of $50,000. When we tell them that the average system sells for $12,000, they are pretty surprised. It is still a significant investment, but it's pretty approachable in terms of numbers.”

The Light Up Alberta program, funded by Green Alberta Energy, is paying a premium on electricity shipped back onto the grid produced by PV Solar Micro Generators. This is not a government subsidy, but rather an investment made through a private trust that UTILITYnet and Green Alberta Energy set up to help support micro-generation customers.

“When you work the solar package into your mortgage, the savings you see from your solar energy pays for the incremental costs associated with your mortgage," said Kasawski. "The system really pays for itself.”

Solar Power: Weather Dependent?

But what about snow? We all know the realities of living in the prairies because we tend to get a lot of the fluffy white stuff. So, how does this affect the performance of panels?

“Solar panels need direct sunlight,” said Kasawski. “When they are covered with snow, they aren’t producing any power. But because you are connected to the grid, you have to look at the annual production of your system. You overproduce in the summer and get a credit on your micro-generation. During the winter, you use those credits to pay for the additional power you need.”

Students at NAIT had a similar question and decided to perform a study. After installing solar panels at five different roof pitches, snow was cleared off one section of panels whenever it snowed; the others were left covered. The improvement on the system that was cleared of snow was less than 5% on an annual basis, showing that snow isn’t really a big problem for this part of the world. We have an abundance of sunlight in the summer to make up for the short winter days.

The panels can also withstand other forms of severe weather such as hail. They are made of a robust building material and are tested to withstand the impact from 1-inch diameter ice balls traveling at 50 mph. They aren’t indestructible, but have been developed to handle the challenging prairie weather.

Can Solar Panels be Aesthetically Pleasing?

Ok, so they are affordable and well designed, but how will they LOOK?

“Aesthetics are really important to us with installation,” said Kasawski. “We are very focused on this. Our panels are mounted parallel with the roof surface for an attractive finished look and are largely black framed with black roof mounting equipment.”

Tesla made headlines earlier this week with the unveiling of its new solar roof tiles, which made a memorable fashion statement. But affordable? Maybe not, as Daniel DiClerico mentions in his article which dives a little deeper into the numbers.

“Tesla’s announcement is interesting and the idea of replacing panels with a product like this is exciting,” said Kasawski. “If you are already going to go for a high-end roof, adding trendy products like building integrated solar makes sense. But if you were going to opt for an asphalt roof, standard solar panels are the way to go.”

“Elon Musk is amazing and is a great promoter. He is going to do great things for the whole industry.”

The Cost of Solar is Coming Down

At the end of the day, it comes down to affordability.

“Rich people can build net zero homes no problem, and that has always been the case,” said Dodge. “Homebuilders like Landmark Homes are building energy efficient homes for you and me, average Albertans.”

Even the City of Calgary seems to realize the potential for Solar Panels in Alberta, as they developed a “Solar Potential Map” showing the yield for solar power for every building in Calgary. Which is pretty high no matter where in the city you live, according to Kasawski.

“We won the geographic lottery when it comes to solar power,” he said. “Solar panels work facing any direction except towards the ground in Alberta. The City’s tool helps people see that South is the best, but East and West facing roofs are also very productive. I always tell people that East and West in Alberta is better than South in Germany where they have more solar panels installed than anywhere else in the world.”

For more information on solar power or becoming a micro-generator visit

Deanna McArthur | November 14, 2016