Solar PV - Frequently Asked Questions
- How is the microFIT Program different from the FIT Program?
- What if I sell my house while under a microFIT contract?
- What does the "streamlined" microFIT process include?
- Will applications for the microFIT Program have to be approved by the OPA before receiving a contract?
- How long will microFIT contracts run?
- What projects are eligible for a microFIT contract?
- How do I apply to the microFIT Program?
- Are there any fees for applying to the microFIT Program?
- If I install rooftop Solar panels, does that mean I'll never have to pay another electricity bill?
- Is the definition of Solar PV limited to rooftop panels only?
- Will my property taxes go up if I install a microFIT project on my property?
- I have signed a contract with an electricity retailer. Will I be able to participate in the microFIT Program? Will I have to pay an exit penalty?
- When do I receive a microFIT contract?
- What price will I receive?
- Is there a penalty if I decide I no longer want to participate in the microFIT Program?
- What is an incremental microFIT project?
- How is the connection date determined for a microFIT project?
- What is the start date for my microFIT contract payments?
- How are microFIT payments calculated?
- Can I terminate a microFIT contract?
- How do I find a reputable Solar equipment supplier and installer?
- Do I need special insurance to cover Solar panels?
- Do I need a building permit to install Solar panels?
- What are the best physical attributes for a home if I am installing Solar panels?
- What is the average cost for a Solar installation for a home?
- What is the average payback period for an average-sized Solar PV home installation of 3 kW?
- How many kilowatts can I generate in a typical year with an average-sized Solar PV home installation of three kW?
How is the microFIT Program different from the FIT Program?
The microFIT Program is a "stream" or component of the FIT Program, designed specifically to encourage the development of micro-scale renewable energy projects, such as residential Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations and small wind power facilities. These are often referred to as "micro-generators".
The main differences are in the eligibility criteria, the contracting process and the rules. Projects eligible for microFIT must have a generating capacity of 10 kW or less. The contracting and application process is streamlined and the contract is simplified.
Projects with a generating capacity greater than 10 kW must apply to the FIT Program.
What if I sell my house while under a microFIT contract?
The OPA anticipates that sellers would include their renewable energy systems as part of the sale of their homes. In this case, the microFIT contract can be assigned to the purchaser. The new contract holder would receive payments in accordance with the microFIT contract for the remainder of the contract term. If you wish to take your project with you to your new residence, your contract will be terminated when your local distribution company account is closed and your connection agreement with your local distribution company is terminated. You have the option of applying for a new contract once the project is connected at your new residence.
What does the "streamlined" microFIT process include?
The OPA has worked with local utilities, known as local electricity distribution companies or LDCs, to develop a contracting process that complements the current connection processes of LDCs for micro-generators and is simplified for homeowners and small businesses.
The steps of the process include:
- registering to set up your own "My microFIT home page"
- submitting an application for your project online
- receiving a conditional offer of contract from the OPA
- submitting a connection request to your LDC
- installing your system
- finalizing your connection with your LDC
- accepting your OPA microFIT contract online.
Will applications for the microFIT Program have to be approved by the OPA before receiving a contract?
All applications will be reviewed by the OPA for the microFIT Program. If an application meets the program eligibility requirements, the OPA will send the applicant a conditional offer of microFIT contract. The OPA aims to complete the approval of applications within 30 days of receiving complete applications and any clarification that might have been requested by the OPA.
Applicants are responsible for contacting their local electricity distribution company about getting connected and must install the renewable energy system. It is also the responsibility of the applicants to ensure they have all the necessary building permits, environmental approvals and electricity inspections related to the size and type of their project.
For eligibility rules and application information for microFIT, please click here.
How long will microFIT contracts run?
Similar to the FIT Program, the contract term for microFIT projects is 20 years; 40 years for waterpower.
What projets are eligible for a microFIT contract?
The microFIT Program is available to very small renewable energy projects located in Ontario. Projects must have a generating capacity of 10 kW or less. Additions to existing facilities (incremental projects) may be eligible as long as they use the same renewable fuel and the combined capacity does not exceed 10 kW. Only the additional capacity will be eligible for microFIT prices.
A project must be connected to the province's electricity distribution system through the local distribution company and must be separately metered for data gathering and payment purposes. The project must not have a RESOP contract. To see all eligibility requirements please click here.
How do I apply to the microFIT Program?
First you must register your intention to participate in the microFIT Program through the OPA microFIT website at microFIT.powerauthority.on.ca. Once you have completed an online registration and established your "My microFIT home page", you can complete an online application for your microFIT project (or projects). The application(s) will require basic information about your project(s) including:
- type of renewable fuel (e.g., Solar PV, wind)
- size of the project (i.e., nameplate capacity in kW).
Full details for applying to the microFIT Program are outlined on the microFIT website at microFIT.powerauthority.on.ca. Your application must be submitted online using the form provided on the website.
Are there any fees for applying to the microFIT Program?
No, there are no fees for applying to the microFIT Program.
If I install rooftop Solar panels, does that mean I'll never have to pay another electricity bill?
No. You will continue to pay for all of the electricity that you consume in your house or business. You will be paid for all of the electricity produced from your Solar panels. Power generated under the microFIT and FIT Program is to be metered and accounted for separately from any electricity consumed by the owner of the project.
Are rooftop Solar panels eligible for the federal Home Renovation Tax Credit?
The home renovation tax credit (HRTC) is available for eligible expenses incurred between January 27, 2007 and February 1, 2010. According to Canada Revenue Agency's (CRA) website, Solar panels and Solar panel trackers are eligible expenses under the HRTC. However, CRA's website also advises that if you earn business income from part of an eligible dwelling, you can only claim the HRTC for expenses incurred for the personal-use areas of the dwelling. Revenue from FIT and microFIT contracts may be considered as business income by the CRA; you are therefore strongly advised to review the rules of the HRTC to determine the eligibility of your project based on your individual circumstances.
Is the definition of Solar PV limited to rooftop panels only?
No, any Solar PV project 10 kW or less in size will be eligible for the microFIT Program, regardless of whether it is mounted on a roof or on the ground. All eligible Solar PV projects will receive the same price for electricity produced.
Will my property taxes go up if I install a microFIT project on my property?
As the microFIT Program is a new way of generating renewable energy in the province, there is little experience with respect to its effects on property taxes. We encourage you to contact your local municipality to discuss your project in the context of local taxation.
I have signed a contract with an electricity retailer. Will I be able to participate in the microFIT Program? Will I have to pay an exit penalty?
You will be eligible to participate in the microFIT Program. However, we strongly advise you to contact your electricity retailer to ensure that by entering into a microFIT contract you will not be violating the terms and conditions of your retailer's contract.
When do I receive a microFIT contract?
You will receive a conditional offer of microFIT contract once your application has been approved by the OPA. This conditional offer will guarantee you a microFIT contract provided that you comply with the microFIT Rules.
You will receive a microFIT contract offer notice after your local distribution company has connected your project and provided the OPA with certain information about your connection request and connection agreement. Your microFIT contract will be finalized once you have accepted the contract offer online on the OPA website.
What price will I receive?
The price that you will receive will be consistent with the FIT price schedule at the time the conditional offer of microFIT contract was made (i.e. at the time your microFIT application was approved).
If your project is not connected within 12 months of receiving a conditional offer of micro FIT contract, the conditional offer will expire and you will have to re-apply to the microFIT Program.
To view the current price schedule, please click here.
Is there a penalty if I decide I no longer want to participate in the microFIT Program?
A microFIT contract holder may terminate a contract with the consent of the OPA. There are no fees or penalties for terminating your contract; however, you will no longer receive payments for power generated from your renewable energy system following termination. Also note that if your connection agreement with your local distribution company is terminated, your microFIT contract is terminated automatically.
What is an incremental microFIT project?
An incremental microFIT project is an expansion of an existing project. The incremental project must make use of the existing project metering and connection and must use the same technology as the existing project. To receive a contract for an incremental microFIT project, you must be the owner of the existing project and the incremental project.
Can my microFIT project be connected to a battery backup system?
Battery backup systems cannot be located behind the generation meter. For more information, please refer to the microFIT Rules.
How is the connection date determined for a microFIT project?
The connection date is the date the project is physically connected to the local distribution company's distribution system or the load customer with metering configurations appropriate for microFIT settlements.
What is the start date for my microFIT contract payments?
The start date or effective date for microFIT contract payments is either:
- the connection date, if you accept the contract offer within 15 business days of the contract offer notice, or
- the later of the connection date and the first day of the local distribution company settlement period in which the contract was accepted, if you accept the contract after 15 business days of the contract offer notice.
How are microFIT payments calculated?
Generators will be paid for all of the electricity produced by their project, whether it is connected directly to the distribution system or load embedded. The load customer (i.e., the consumer of electricity such as a home) will be billed separately for all of the power consumed. Therefore, payment equals electricity production (kWh) multiplied by the microFIT contract price.
Note that you will be responsible for paying for all ongoing account fees that are associated with your local distribution company and your generator account.
Can I terminate a microFIT contract?
Yes, you can terminate your microFIT contract with OPA consent. Also, you should note that you microFIT contract will terminate automatically if you terminate your connection agreement with your local distribution company. You will need to provide the OPA with 30 days' notice.
How do I find a reputable Solar equipment supplier and installer?
The Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) has an industry directory of Solar companies that operate in Ontario and throughout Canada. You can visit their website at www.cansia.ca.
CanSIA also suggests asking the following questions when selecting a supplier/installer:
Does the company have proper credentials/training?
Solar systems in Canada usually require the services of a professional tradesman: an electrician for Solar PV systems. However, as many electricians may not be familiar with Solar technologies, it is important to ensure that they also have training in Solar installations. While there is still limited formal training of Solar installers in Canada, this is becoming more popular as the market increases. CanSIA is working closely with post-secondary educational institutions to provide Solar training. Check to see if your supplier has installers that have undergone Solar training through a trades training college, or a course provided by the Solar product's manufacturer. CanSIA members who offer installation services have their qualifications listed in the industry directory.
How much experience do they have installing the Solar product?
More experience usually means a better system. Experienced installers should be familiar with new technologies and the latest Building Code issues. Since each Solar installation is different, experience with the system being proposed will result in a more professional installation and will likely result in fewer problems. Request a list of past customers who can provide references.
What types of products do they carry?
Choose a company that has experience installing the type of system you want. Do they provide after sales services and maintenance? Many types of Solar systems exist, some of which may be better suited to your needs than others.
Do they carry quality products?
Along with the importance of choosing the right type of system, you also need to be sure of the quality of the equipment supplied by the company. Ensure that the products they are selling carry an approval seal from the Canadian Standards Association. In some cases, standards are not yet available for Solar products in Canada. If the product is imported check to see if it carries an international safety label such as UL (certification from Underwriters Laboratories Standards for Safety) or the CE marking (certifying a product has met European Union consumer safety, health or environmental requirements).
Do they offer guarantees on their services/products?
Check the product warranties and the installer's warranty policies, as well as its service agreements. Product warranties often do not include labour costs. Does the installer offer a labour warranty? Be certain that you understand the full terms of agreement, including which services are covered, their duration and what fraction of the repair costs the company is accountable for.
Has anyone submitted a complaint against the company?
The company should be a member of an organization such as the Better Business Bureau or CanSIA in order to determine any complaints made against them, as well as to ensure that any objections were properly investigated. Members of CanSIA are required to sign a code of ethics. CanSIA ensures that all submitted complaints about its corporate members are properly explored and recorded. It is also a good idea to check with Industry Canada's Consumer Affairs Office at
Do I need special insurance to cover Solar panels?
You should check with your home insurance company to determine whether insurance is required to cover your Solar panels. As a homeowner, you likely will be required to get additional insurance. If this is the case, you should have your Solar installation company discuss your project with your insurance company to ensure that they are properly educated about the technology.
Do I need a building permit to install Solar panels?
Municipal building permit requirements vary. Check with your municipal building permitting office to find out if a permit is required for installing Solar panels.
Are there any bylaws that may prevent the installation of Solar panels?
Municipal bylaw requirements vary. Check with your municipal bylaw office to find out if any bylaws affect the installation of Solar panels.
What are the best physical attributes for a home if I am installing Solar panels?
Solar PV panels work best when installed at approximately a 30 to 45 degree angle in a south-facing direction with no obstructions such as trees or other buildings. Roof racks and other mounting equipment can be used to ensure the panels meet the proper slope on your roof or can be placed on a mounting system that is positioned on the ground.
We recommend that you contact the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) at www.cansia.ca as they will be able to assist you with whom to contact in order to assess your home and roof for Solar readiness.
What is the average cost for a Solar installation for a home?
An Ontario homeowner might install a residential-scale Solar PV project of about three kilowatts (which would typically equal about one-third of the home's electricity consumption). The cost would be around $30,000 (the general "rule of thumb" cost for PV panels is $10 per watt). This investment could result in microFIT Program payments of about $7 per day, or about $2,500 per year for the homeowner.
What is the average payback period for an average-sized Solar PV home installation of 3 kW?
A three kW Solar PV installation could pay for itself in about 12 years, leaving about eight years of "above-cost" payments, for a very reasonable rate of return over the 20-year term of the contract. For a more accurate estimate of the payback period, we recommend using the RETScreen tool: www.retscreen.net.
How many kilowatts can I generate in a typical year with an average-sized Solar PV home installation of three kW?
The average yearly output for your microFIT project will vary based on your location and exposure to the sun. A typical 3 kW Solar PV system could produce approximately 3400 kWh per year. For a more accurate estimate of your project's expected output, we recommend using the RETScreen tool: www.retscreen.net.
By Green Living Tips | Originall Published 05/6/2009 | Edited for Local use.
Beginners guide to solar panels
This is a single 130 watt 14 kg (about 30lb) panel. This panel here should continue to function for at least the next 25 years. All this from a combination of silicon, glass, aluminium and wiring - no moving parts or heavy maintenance.
Solar panel magic
When you start to seriously look into finally buying a solar panel, you should try to get a better idea of how they actually work. At first it can seem a little complicated and the wiring can sometimes leave you wondering if you require a university degree in a relevant area to understand how it all works.
A solar panel is made up of photovoltaic cells, usually 36, varying in size depending upon the watt/amp rating of the panel. These cells are made from two very thin silicon wafers approximately 1 mm thick; one with a positive charge and the other negatively charged.
When exposed to the sun's rays, electron activity is generated which is captured by a grid of very fine finger-like electrical contacts distributed across the panel. This is then channeled through the junction box on the back of the panel and emerges as DC (direct current) electricity.
Closeup of a polycrystalline cell showing the fingers of conductor material
Covering the silicon wafers is a layer of toughened glass, usually around 3mm thick. It has to be strong enough to withstand hail, extreme temperatures and a degree of flexing, but thin enough not to filter out or reflect appreciable amounts of light.
As silicon (which is made from sand) is also reflective; it requires a thin layer of anti-reflective material.
The back of the solar panel is made from aluminium and the panel is set into an aluminium frame.
Cabling is critical
Once the energy exits the panels, it travels along cabling. The size/diameter of cabling is of critical importance. If it's too thin for the panel's output and distance to be covered, it's a little like trying to pour a large volume of water through a small opening. There will be a loss of electricity as it will convert to heat along the cable to the point the cabling can burn out.
This handy DC cabling size tool can tell you what diameter cable you'll need for amp rating of the panel you buy and the distance there will be between the panel and the solar regulator or inverter.
Makes it all sound relatively simple doesn't it? I'm still in awe that sun shining on silicon and a bit of wiring can generate electricity though, but each time I try to delve further into how panels work, my brain says "let's go check out the latest Dilbert comic strip instead"
Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline (Multicrystalline)
Rigid solar panels cell are usually made up of either monocrystalline or polycrystalline (aka multicrystalline) cells. Monocrystalline cells are cut from a chunk of silicon that has been grown from a single crystal. These are used in the more expensive types of solar panels and are more efficient in converting the sun's rays to electricity.
A polycrystalline cell is cut from multifaceted silicon crystal. More surface area is required due to inherent flaws and these panels are less efficient in converting the sun's rays. However, polycrystalline technology has closed up the performance gap in recent years.
Also, a 120 watt rated monocrystalline solar panel and a 120 watt molycrystalline panel are essentially the same. - they generate the same amount of electricity.
The easiest way to visually identify the difference between a monocrystalline and polycrystalline panel is the polycrystalline has a shattered glass look as shown in the image above. Monocrystalline cells tend to be uniform in appearance.
Thin film solar panels
Thin film panels are created by the application of a thin layer of silicon directly onto various materials. It's applied in such a way that flexible panels can be made. The need for less silicon will reduce manufacturing costs significantly in the time ahead.
Thin film panels are also less efficient that polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels, so a larger surface area is required. Again, peformance in thin film technology is constantly improving in the area of efficiency. Given the processes to create thin film, cheaper alternatives to silicon can also be used, such as cadmium telluride; although cadmium is frowned upon by many as it's a heavy metal.
The sun and geography
Sunlight isn't the same around the world. Even without cloud cover, different places on Earth receive varying levels of solar radiation. When calculating the size and number of solar panels you'll need; kilowatts-hours per square metre (kwH/m2), or more commonly known as solar "peak hours" need to be taken into account. This is the number of hours a day when the sun has maximum punch in relation to potential for electricity generation.
These peak hours are also measured against average winter sun; the time of the year when you'll have the least sunlight. For example, where I'm located, during winter we get around 1.94 (GTA) peak hours a day on average. In some parts of Canada during the same time of the year, they get 2.53 (Swift Current) and in other places, as little as .62 (Whitehorse) - so you can see it's important to know how much peak sun your part of the world gets when calculating how many panels you'll need.
You can get an idea of how many peak hours of sunlight in your area by using using this solar panel calculator - the figure to look for once you type in your area is the "Solar Irradiation:" Whatever the kW/m2/d figure is, that's your peak sun hours.
Solar panel orientation and angle
Again, this is dependent upon where you are in the world and also greatly varies with the season.
During summer, the sun sits a lot higher in the sky that during winter, so it's best to "chase the sun" so you can to get the maximum oomph from your panels. However, this is difficult to achieve if the panels are sitting on your roof, so a happy medium is usually found. Basically, if you have the angle good enough to get you through the winter months, you'll have no problems during the summer.
The general guidelines are:
- Solar panels should face South in the Northern Hemisphere and North in the Southern Hemisphere
- A solar panel's angle should be set to the equivalent of your your latitude plus 15 degrees during winter, or minus 15 degrees in summer.
Solar panels and shade
Solar panels and shade simply don't mix. While some panels claim to be shade tolerant, you will lose substantial charging power even if only a partial area of the panels is affected by shade. If one quarter of the panel cell area is shaded, the energy generated will be virtually nil.
Solar panel care
One of the wonderful thing about solar panels is there's no moving parts, therefore next to no maintenance! A wipe/brush down occasionally will help prevent buildup of dust and grime that can impact on effectiveness; but usually the rain will also take care of this. Other than that, a visual inspection of frame seals and wiring from the junction box is all that's really needed.
Solar panel costs
Costs vary widely depending upon the type, wattage and brand of panel. Additionally, the margins that stockists apply to their panels can differ tremendously.
You can pick up panels from places like ebay, but given the size of the investment this can be risky if the merchant suddenly disappears. Trust a Renewable Energy Dealer such as Btek R.E. Products to provide peace of mind. You'll be investing sums of money and you'll want to ensure the person/business you're buying from are renewable energy experts and in it for the long haul.
Prices are now under $4 a watt for solar in Canada.
Calculating how many solar panels you'll need
This is one of the most asked questions and there's no set answer - it's all down to your electricity consumption, geography and other elements of your system - for example, if you have a stand alone power system as opposed to grid connect system, the capacity of your deep cycle batteries play a major role.
Here's a quick and dirty formula. It's based on watts rather than amps (amps would be more accurate) for the sake of convenience.
- Jot down all the appliances you use
- Next to each, record their wattage
- Also next to each, record the numbers of hours of use
- Get a total for each and add those figures up
- Using the solar peak hours chart, gauge how many peak sun hours you get a day
- Divide the total wattage by the peak sun hours
- You'll have a very rough guesstimate of the total wattage of panels you'll need
To gain a more accurate idea, SMA inverters offers a detailed solar panel calculators that will take into account issues like your geography and other elements of the system; e.g. whether you'll have a grid connect or stand alone system and how much of your electricity you wish to generate via solar power.
Solar panels still aren't dirt cheap, so if you're switching to solar it's a great time to also carefully
Evaluate your electricity use. The less juice you need, the fewer panels you'll need and you'll save a ton of cash. Don't forget that many governments around the world also offer substantial solar panel rebates which can really help remove the financial sting from your purchase!