Boyle McCauley News

Since 1979 • April-May 2024 • Circulation 5000


Switching to Solar Energy

Solar panels need inverters AND storage batteries to help reduce power bills.

On a sunny day, these panels will shed the snow as it melts off the glass of the panels. As they are half-covered in snow and ice, they will only produce half the energy of panels that are clear. Joanne McNeal

When the City of Edmonton announced in 2010 that they were offering an experimental solar energy pilot project for houses and businesses in the city, I was the first to sign up and 12 solar panels were installed in December of 2010. Basically, solar panels produce solar energy only when it is sunny and light outside, not when it is dark or cloudy or if they are covered with snow.

The solar panels and inverters (parts one and two of a solar system) had to come from California and Germany because none were made in Canada at that time. Also, the storage batteries (part three) which hold the power until needed, were not well developed, so they could not be installed with my system. To be most effective, solar panels need inverters to convert solar energy to electrical power and a storage system, such as batteries, to hold power until it is needed at night.

In the long days of summer, my solar panels provide all the energy my house needs. What my house does not use goes back to the EPCOR City grid. In the spring and fall when there is less sun and light, they produce somewhat less power. The extra power created on my roof, called micro-generation, is outside the Edmonton City grid. People ask how much credit EPCOR gives me for the solar power my system generates. Very little, but they still charge me full fees for delivery, distribution, administration, and transmission. If my solar system had storage batteries I could almost get off the grid entirely, except for the shortest days of winter.

For ordinary older houses, one of the key factors in solar effectiveness is to ensure adequate insulation is in the walls, ceilings, and floors. My 110-year-old house has plaster walls and no insulation, so I had to add insulation to make the solar energy effective.

It will be a long while before a solar power system is cost effective and offsets the initial cost of installation. Still, it is the right thing to do, and as technologies are developed, the costs will continue to come down.

Dr. Joanne McNeal is a McCauley homeowner who is still working to retrofit her house and make her solar power system most effective.

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