When the going gets hot it’s time to think of solar

Open house demonstrates the economics of solar power

  • Jul. 15, 2015 3:00 p.m.

If you push him, Jon Lefebure will go down to the bottom line when it comes to solar power.

Yes, you will save some on your hydro bills, and that factor is likely to grow over the coming years. Yes, as investments go, your home improvement will probably pay off better than many stocks, bonds or other instruments you could hope to cash in on. Yes, it does trend you toward being ‘off the grid’…

But when you get right down to it, installing solar panels on your roof, like he has done on the garage of his Beach Avenue home in Chemainus, is an investment in the future. And if this summer is any indication – not to mention the 13 other hot ones since the turn of the century – the world needs trend-setters like North Cowichan’s mayor.

At an open house June 28 he showed a crowd of interested guests the ins and outs of installing solar panels, and presented his carefully kept tally of the benefits of tapping directly into the sun’s energy, rather than drawing power from the grid.

He installed 17 panels on the south facing slope of his garage roof. The project cost him $10,000 – which he said could be reduced by as much as 25 percent by joining in on bulk buying strategies.

For Lefebure buying the panels and a monitoring system, so he could effectively measure his usage and savings, were his main – in fact, almost his only costs.

A designer and home builder, he installed the system on his own. “I had never done an installation before and it took me three days,” he said. “I could probably do it in half the time now.”

Calculating your return on that investment is not so easy, though, if you’re looking only at the dollars and cents of it. From May 2014 to May 2015 Lefebure estimates he saved about $600 in power costs by replacing power from the grid with his home generated source, which generated 5,000 kilowatt hours.

That’s a 5.5 percent return on his investment. He points out, adding that the figures will only get better as electricity rates go up. In the meantime, “I was very happy to get that kind of a return, putting it on my roof,” he said.

Still, he thinks there’s room for BC Hydro to up the incentives a bit. “If BC Hydro wanted to encourage these things, they would add a few cents return and they would really take off,” he predicted.

The investment also gets better because solar panels need almost no maintenance and they come with a 25 year warranty. After 25 years their output may diminish, but they would still be producing free power, he said.

“Even if it was at half the efficiency, you would still be getting free power,” he said. “You would leave the first unit up and look for another spot for a second unit.”

How much power can the panels generate. Lefebure estimates his installation could power an electric commuter vehicle year-round. With improvements to the technology he figures the day will eventually come when going completely off grid is an option.

But for now there’s still the biggest payoff of all. “I start with the environmental motivation, but I’m really interested in the financial, because that’s what’s really going to motivate a lot of people,” he said.

“Yes, it’s going to make a return, but let’s look for the day when we’re not using gas or oil anymore, cause that’s the real payoff.”