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Rob Dumont

posted Sep 7, 2010, 9:29 AM by ASHRAE Saskatoon   [ updated Sep 7, 2010, 9:47 AM ]
Will site-generated photovoltaic energy ever be price competitive with grid electricity in Canada?


The trend in pricing is encouraging, with declining prices for PV and increasing prices for grid based electricity, particularly in those provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia) where a large part of the electricity is generated by fossil fuels, primarily coal.

In my province of Saskatchewan, the utility is predicting a doubling in the retail price of electricity over the next decade from the current price of about $0.11 per kilowatt hour.

The cost of photovoltaic generated energy, however, continues to decline. Prices are being tracked by a web site called Solarbuzz.com.  

As of May 2010, the Solarbuzz web site says that in the United States, residential PV has a cost of $0.35 US per kWh and industrial PV has a price of $0.19 per kWh. Back in 2000, the residential price of PV was $0.40 per kWh.  There are not many commodities that are cheaper now than 10 years ago. PV is an exception.

One of the encouraging trends with PV systems is a rule of thumb used in manufacturing. Every time that you double the volume of production of a product, you can reduce the unit cost by about 10%.

According to the Wikipedia web site, the worldwide volume of production of PV has been increasing by 48% a year since 2002. As of 2008, the worldwide cumulative installations of PV were 15,200 megawatts. 

The current world use of all forms of electricity is 15 Terawatts, or 15,000,000 megawatts.  With the current PV installations at about 15, 200 megawatts, PV still provides far less than 0.1% of the world’s electricity supply.  The potential for growth is enormous.

Have you seen any recent Canadian installations of PV?

In May this year I visited a friend’s acreage near Ottawa. He had just connected up his 10 kilowatt peak system to the Ontario Grid. A picture of the installation is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. A 10 kilowatt peak photovoltaic installation near Ottawa

The system is ground mounted, as there was insufficient room on the roof or walls of his house. The system cost will be paid back in about 6 years assuming there are no equipment problems. In Ontario, the owner of a small system will receive a price of 80.5 cents per kilowatt hour that is generated.  Ontario is offering these incentives as a means of kick-starting a PV industry.

The modules are facing due south at a tilt angle of 37 degrees. Ottawa is located at 45 degrees latitude.  The 37 degree tilt angle was based on the optimum fixed angle for year round production according to the RETSCREEN computer program. In winter there will be times when the snow must be manually removed from the panels.

Have you seen any larger PV installations in Canada?

While in the Ottawa area, I visited the very large PV installation in Galetta, near Arnprior. This system, developed by EdF-EN has a peak production of 23,400 kilowatts located on a 200 acre farmsite. This is apparently the largest PV installation in Canada. The panels use thin film technology. On these larger systems, the owner gets a reduced price of 42 cents per kilowatt hour on a 20 year contract. A photo of some of the panels is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Part of the largest PV installation in Canada. The Arnprior  Solar Installation.
A web site, http://rimstar.org/renewnrg/sp_arnprior_solar_farm.htm has more information on the project.

What implications do these projects have for house design?
1. Solar PV will, over the life of most houses in Canada, become one of the least cost electricity sources.
2. All new residences should be designed to be solar ready with a south facing roof or wall surface that has unobstructed access to the sun for about 4 hours on either side of solar noon.
3. All new subdivisions should be laid out so that solar access is possible for all dwellings.
4. Solar rights legislation is needed to prevent neighbouring homeowners obstructing one’s solar panels by growing trees or otherwise obstructing the access to the sun’s rays. Japan has legislated solar rights.
5. Let’s get on with it.