ANTIGONISH: In preparation for their fourth annual bulk purchase of solar panels, Antigonish Community Energy Co-op hosted their “Seeing-Is-Believing,” solar home tour on January 19 to showcase what is being done on making the switch to solar electricity.

The tour, which featured two houses on Bantry Lane in Antigonish, looked at the house’s electrical panel, solar panels, the two-way meter – which shows total consumed power and how much has been sent back to the grid – and the online portal, where everything from the annual report, to the hourly production rate, is stored.

One of the two stops on the tour was Patrick Yancey’s house, giving people an opportunity to see how solar works with their own eyes and chat with a resident who has taken the plunge. His 10-kilowatt photovoltaic solar system was installed in late 2017, was turned on last January, and has been in production for approximately a full year.

“If the house is using power, the washing machine, the dryer, the dishwasher is on, and the lights – then it uses that power from the solar I’m making right then and there, but if I’m not using enough power, then it feeds it back onto the grid,” Yancey said, who is also the marketing and communications coordinator for the co-op. “Some of our members are attracted to solar for the savings on power, others out of concern over the climate crisis, and many for both. For us, it was mostly the latter, but we will also save a great deal on power over the lifetime of the system.”

The Town of Antigonish is the first municipal electric utility in the history of the province to connect residential solar power systems. Their policy allows the system owner to build up credits during the summer when they’re overproducing, which they can then use during the winter.

Yancey moved into his home five-years ago from a geothermal home and planned on converting it to renewable energy as soon as they could. He indicates his home is not net-zero or self-sufficient – yet – as his family currently uses a bit more power than they produce, and they still rely on the grid in the winter, but he will look into adding a few more panels down the road to become 100 per cent net-zero.

His micro-inverter system includes 38, 330-watt photovoltaic solar panels that are all located on the south facing roof. Since installation, the system has produced approximately 11,000 kWh – 3,500 of which they consumed and the remaining 7,500 was fed back onto the grid.

Producing north of 11,000 kWh in its first year indicates incredible savings. Nova Scotia Power customers, under a rate of around 15-cents per kWh, accumulate approximiately $1,700 in savings. Because Yancey is on the town electrical utility, his family’s rate is around 12-cents per kWh, and they saved around $1,400 in 2018.

Yancey said they turned the system on during a time when the panels were not fully producing at capacity but as they entered the summer months, their electric bill diminished to just the $25 base charge.

“Since then, we’ve largely been using the credits we banked in the summer,” he advised. “If your system is sized right for your home, your summer credits will last you through the winter, and you will essentially have no power bill other than the base charge.”

The solar panels produce DC power but homes and everything in them require AC power, so an inverter is used to change it. There are two types of inverters used for solar systems, string inverters; one big inverter used for a whole row of panels, and micro-inverters; one little inverter for every single panel.

“A few of my panels are covered in snow right now but I have micro-inverters, so the ones that aren’t covered will still be producing at full capacity,” Yancey said as he explained the solar panels on his roof. “I have micro-inverters, they are a bit more expensive but the advantage is, if one panel is covered, then it doesn’t lower the production for all the other ones, they’re still producing at full power.”

A family of four, using an average amount of power – typically a 10-kilowatt system having 35-40 panels – would meet all their energy needs and would run around $20,000 – $25,000. For two people in a bungalow, a 5-kilowatt system would be recommended and that has a price tag of around $10,000 – $12,000.

Guaranteed for 25-years before working at 80 per cent of their original efficiency, typically, a solar system will pay for itself after 12-years, but with new rebates from the provincial and federal governments, it’s now more of an eight-year window, leading to even more years of savings.

In addition with the 33 per cent rebates, the Co-op’s group-buy, which will close on February 28, will save another 10 to 12 per cent, resulting in a total discount of up to 45 per cent off the price of a system.

Yancey highlights it as an incredible opportunity to make a shift to a greener method, if someone can afford the upfront costs or is able to achieve funding. Financing is available as the Co-op is partnered with the East Coast Credit Union who offers eco-loans to all of their members at prime-plus-one.

Anybody interested in or looking at making the switch to solar, can become a lifetime member of the Co-op by paying the $5 fee to join; which allows for a free site assessment from one of their certified installers; Appleseed Energy or Nova Sun Power.

“There is still ample time to get your assessment and join the 2019 group-buy to take advantage of the 33 per cent rebates currently available,” Yancey said.

The Co-op will be hosting two information sessions for the public to obtain more information. The first is on January 29 at 7 p.m., in the Bloomfied Centre at StFX University, the second will take place at the Port Hawkesbury Library on February 5 at 5:30 p.m.

People can join and request a site assessment on the Antigonish Community Energy Co-op Web site