Peter Nix makes a case for using garden space as a source of solar energy

Peter Nix makes a case for using garden space as a source of solar energy

Harvest your garden’s energy

More solar energy falls on earth in a single hour than all the fossil fuel energy used globally in an entire year

  • Jan. 25, 2016 7:00 a.m.

Peter NixSpecial to the Chronicle

In my ‘solar garden’, I harvest raw energy in the form of electricity.

More solar energy falls on earth in a single hour than all the fossil fuel energy used globally in an entire year, and harvesting that energy offers one of the best solutions to climate change. For instance, on June 9, 2014, Germany produced a record 50 per cent of its electricity direct from solar, even though it gets fewer sunny days than we in the Cowichan Valley.

You and I should use the sun’s abundant photons to electrify our lives – electric cars for transport, electric heat pumps for homes, and electric machines for industry.

In the Cowichan Valley citizens will spend over one billion dollars on energy over the next decade. So I encourage you to take the next big step towards sustainability. Consider installing solar panels in your  garden, or on your roof top, to convert the sun’s energy into renewable electricity. Then use that electricity to replace fossil fuels.

There’s a side benefit. BC Hydro’s net metering system allows you to sell any excess electricity you produce and make a profit. Solar energy is compatible with BC Hydro’s electrical grid system.

But many people are not in a position to make solar electricity on their own. Perhaps they have no suitable rooftop or backyard space, or lack money to make that initial investment. What to do?

We are forming a group called Solar Cowichan which would allow members to invest as much as they can into solar panels, to be installed on residential or commercial sites: the group would then share the earnings from the sale of the electricity generated.

To test the economics of this concept I installed 192 solar panels on a 35 x 25 metre plot on my property – about one-tenth of a hectare. That installation will produce about 50,000 kwh of energy per year, roughly three to five times the amount most homes consume.

The cost of that project was about $145,000, which I transferred from my pension fund. I will save about $2,000 per year on my electric bill, and BC Hydro will pay me about $3,500 per year for my excess electricity – at a rate of a 9.9 cents per kwh. Combining this saving and revenue nets me $5,500 per year, and because I save dollars already taxed, I project about a 4 per cent return in the first year, increasing over time as BC Hydro rates increase.

It’s a good deal, considering the poor and volatile returns on my pension fund, and better than investing in low interest GICs or bonds. And it may get better. A similar project on Salt Spring Island produced 10 per cent more energy than anticipated. As well, I have a 25 year warranty on my solar panels.

So step up and invest in solar energy to provide the non-carbon renewable energy needed to replace fossil fuels. And if you haven’t got the money or the space, then think about investing in a solar co-op. If you’re interested email cowichancarbonbusters@shaw.ca.