If you’re looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, lower your energy bills, and contribute to green industries your answer may be in the sky…
With 312 days a year of sun in Alberta, it’s as if Mother Nature herself purposefully set us up to enjoy the many benefits of solar micro-generation. What does it mean to be a micro-generator? Basically, it means generating your own power from solar, wind, hydro, fuel cells, or biomass. You’re producing energy on a small scale, hence, you’re a micro-generator! Given Alberta’s sunny (albeit unpredictable) climate, solar generation is by far the most popular option for micro-generation in our province, with more than 6,800 sites so far.
Creating power? Very cool. But do you know how? Let’s break down what it takes to be a micro-generator, and what there is to gain:
How micro are we talking?
Under provincial regulations, there are two different types of micro-generators: small-scale (under 150 kilowatts) and large-scale (between 150 kilowatts and 5 megawatts). Most residential, farm or small business generators are small-scale micro-generators. For some people, that’s enough on some days to power their entire property from solar energy alone, and potentially even sell unneeded energy back to their provider.
Upfront cost, long-term savings:
You become a solar micro-generator by working with professionals to install solar panels, and integrate solar energy into your overall energy plans. Installers are pros at helping you select the right panels for your property, choosing prime locations and using installation techniques to safely secure them for decades to come. They’re even experts in the less fun, paperwork stuff, like city permitting and helping you navigate the requirements of your energy provider and the Alberta Utilities Commission.
Since installations can be costly and relatively permanent investments (the cost to move them if you move is often prohibitive), you’ll want to take into consideration the long-term benefits of this commitment, including, potentially, the increased value and marketability of your home.
Here’s some good news: through Canada’s Greener Homes Grant, you could be reimbursed thousands of dollars on your eligible installation. Make sure you understand what qualifies your project for these savings, and ensure your installation team can comply.
How to get started:
If you’re thinking about becoming a micro-generator through solar panel installation, you’ll need to do some research before soaking up those rays. Follow these straightforward steps, as outlined by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), to make sure your path to cleaner energy is above board:
- Contact your current energy provider and express your interest in becoming a micro-generator. They can help you navigate what the options are for your specific property and location. You’ll be required to sign an “interconnection” agreement with your distribution company since they own the generation system for your home.
- You’ll need to follow the AUC’s guidelines for installation. This can include consulting a professional electrical contractor, getting proper city permits, and preparing a site plan. If you’re working with a professional crew, they’ll know how to pass through all of these requirements with flying colours.
- Once you’ve solidified your plan and your team, you’ll complete an application through the AUC e-filing system.
- Lastly, make sure everything is A-OK with your distribution company, and be sure to complete all necessary applications and filings.
Some sunshine on the bottom line
It’s a glorious feeling when you produce more energy than you require, and it’s even more satisfying when you see your shrinking energy bill. Any excess electricity you produce through your solar panels, above what you need for your own property, will be “credited” back to you by your provider.
How do the credits work? When you set everything up, you’ll be negotiating compensation and billing with your energy retailer, and plans can vary. If you’re an ATCOenergy customer, you’ll be paid the same rate for the energy you feed back into the grid as the rate you pay on your plan.
Be sure that you fully understand your agreed-upon rates to avoid surprises on your energy bills. For example, if you're on a guaranteed rate plan and pay 6.79¢/kWh for the electricity you use, that's what they’ll pay you for the electricity returned to the grid. Pretty great, right?
If you're on a variable or Advantage Rate plan, those rates change daily with the market. The electricity you draw from the grid on Wednesday might be calculated at a different rate than what you return to the grid on Saturday.
You can still expect to see all fees including distribution charges, transmission charges, local access fees, delivery charges and balancing pool allocations to be incorporated in your monthly bill. So you’re not quite “off the grid”, but that’s probably a good thing. It’s difficult to be completely neutral 365 days a year, and staying connected gives you added security for those cloudy days.
What’s in it for you, and your community?
Becoming a micro-generator will reduce energy charges on your electricity bill. You’ll also enjoy the satisfaction of knowing your property’s carbon footprint is reduced, and you’re helping the planet.
You’re also helping your community; excess energy that micro-generators produce and don't use is sent to the electrical power grid for other customers to use, reducing your overall community’s carbon footprint as well. Talk about sharing the wealth. Of course, you’ll receive a credit from your electricity retailer for every kilowatt-hour unused, so we’ll call it a win-win.
When something is good for the environment and good for your purse strings, you can’t go wrong.
To get a quote or explore solar installation options for your home, you’ll want to start with sunny folks at Rümi.