Thinking about installing solar for your home or business?
Here are some tips & tricks to help your search for the right solar contractor:
Get Multiple Quotations
Speak to at least 3 different solar companies to ensure you are getting the proper system for your home or office. Every design is unique, and an efficient design requires the appropriate tools, software, and knowledge. Use the sourcing process as a learning experience for yourself; the more proposals you review, the more knowledgeable you will become.
Rocky Mountain Solar Co. does not engage in door-to-door sales or other high pressure sales tactics. Be aware of companies that do, and ensure you properly vet their organization if you plan to select them as your contractor. The Governments of Canada and Alberta have some fantastic programs available for businesses and homeowners, but they have also increased the number of organizations looking to take advantage of home and business owners.
In most cases we will not ask for a deposit until we are approximately one week from your installation date. Be leery of any contractor who is asking for a significant deposit many weeks, or months, in advance.
Cost Per Watt
When comparing quotes, it is always helpful to look at the “Price Per Watt” For example:
Quote 1) $15,000 total price, system size 5kW (5,000w), Price Per Watt = $3.00/watt
Quote 2) $20,000 total price, system size 8kW (8,000w), Price Per Watt = $2.50/watt
Despite being $5,000 more than Quote 1, Quote 2 is significantly less expensive on a $/watt basis. This does not mean you should automatically select Quote 2 (there are many factors to consider), however, cost per watt is the best way to compare the value of different solar proposals.
Ask About Racking
Customers are mostly concerned about the solar equipment (solar modules, inverters, etc.) and, because of this, racking often gets overlooked. The truth is, you are more likely to have an issue with your roof after your install than the actual solar equipment. Rocky Mountain Solar Co. is the only solar installer with on-staff roofing professionals, and we only use the most robust racking systems available.
When other solar contractors are looking to cut costs, racking is usually the first place they look. Ask them why they selected the racking they are proposing: “Everyone uses the same racking” is not an appropriate answer.
All of our installers are full-time employees of Rocky Mountain Solar Co. They are fully-trained, are paid Living Wages, and receive a benefits package. We take pride in our work knowing, if we make a mistake, it is our responsibility to make it right. We do not use third-party installers, and you should not select a contractor that does.
Total Solar Resource Fraction
Calculating the Solar Resource of your roof is extremely important. The first number to look at is the Annual TOF; this is the Tilt Orientation Factor. TOF measures how much sun your roof will get based on its tilt/slope and orientation. TOF is expressed as a percentage of a roof with ideal tilt and orientation.
The next thing to look at is Solar Access. This is the shading factor that the roof faces from nearby trees, buildings, mountains etc.
If you combine the TOF and the Solar Access, you get the TSRF or Total Solar Resource Fraction. In general, it is not worth installing a solar system on a roof face that has a TSRF less than 75%. For the most part these are North facing slopes in Canada, but they can also be heavily shaded East & West slopes. Be sure your contractor is not installing panels in areas with low TSRF.
Beware of Financing
Beware of any providers that offer financing. Financing can be extremely helpful, but it should be provided by a third-party (government entity, financial institution, etc.), not your solar contractor. The Canada Greener Homes Grant is a 10-Year program offering 0% interest. There is no reason to use any other financing product for your solar energy system.
Ask your contractor how much they are considering for losses. Losses can occur from things like snow, dirt/dust, wire/connection losses, and system availability. The question is: How much loss should be considered? In Alberta, it is safe to assume that this value should be between 10% & 15%. Ask your contractor what they have considered, and why.
Your roof should be in good condition prior to installing solar; our roofing experts will help evaluate the condition of your existing roof. If you need a new roof, or repairs prior to your solar project, we have amazing contacts and partners who can help you out.
The areas of your roof that are under the solar panels will be well protected from the elements, and it is often the other areas without solar that will need replacement first. At this time you will be left with 2 choices:
Replace/upgrade sections without solar only.
Replace/upgrade entire roof.
For option 2, a qualified solar contractor should be contacted to remove/reinstall the solar.
At the end of their 30-40 year useful service life, solar modules will inevitably need to be recycled. Thankfully, solar modules are highly recyclable. A typical silicon-based solar module comprises glass (76%), plastic (10%), aluminum (8%), silicon (5%), and other metals (1%). Of these materials, up to 96% can be reused to make new solar modules. This includes 95% of the glass, 100% of the aluminum, and 85% of the silicon. On top of all this, because you already have all the infrastructure in place (wiring, racking, and electrical capabilities), a new system can be installed at a fraction of the cost of similar sized systems built from scratch.
RMSC currently provides solar module recycling services through one of our strategic partners. Please contact us directly if you have any modules that need recycling.
Hail damage is a common concern for solar users. There is no denying that solar panels can be damaged by hail (particularly during some of Alberta’s worst storms), however, it is highly unlikely. Modules are manufactured using a tempered glass layer, and come with a minimum direct impact rating of 1” hailstone travelling at 80km/hr. Take a look at this video showing a 2.5” ice ball striking a panel at over 120 km/hr.
Thankfully there are insurance options to protect yourself against potential risks such as hail, and the premiums are extremely low.
A legitimate concern when considering the purchase of ANY technology is that a new, better version is right around the corner.
Does the same hold true for solar panels?
Let’s start with the similarities. Similar to other technologies, new and improved solar products are being released each year. Instead of processing power, new solar panels have incremental improvements to their efficiency of converting sunlight into electricity. For example, let’s look at the most commonly sold solar panel technology today: mono-crystalline silicon. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the maximum efficiency of this technology has increased from 14% in 1977, to 26% in 2018. That’s an average of roughly 0.3% per year.
Some technologies are so rapidly eclipsed by advancement that they are rendered useless well before the end of their useful life. This is because, not only is the technology advancing, but the requirements of that technology are advancing too (i.e. software).
In stark contrast, what we want from solar panels (electricity) is not changing. The amount we need and what we use it for may change, but a kWh is identical no matter what produced it. There is zero difference between a kWh of energy from a 30-year-old solar panel, and a brand new one. As long as electricity is useful, and the sun keeps shining, a solar panel will never become obsolete.
Think of solar panels like a chair. A chair has one basic function: for you to sit on it. There are advancements in chair technology each year, but our requirement of them stays the same. Even an ancient chair still performs its intended function. The same can be said for solar panels.
Ensuring your solar energy system is not strictly required, but is a good idea. Although events requiring claims for damaged solar panels are extremely rare, they can happen. Many insurance companies in Canada offer straightforward insurance coverages and low rates to insure your solar energy system. It’s simply a matter of adding the value of the installed hardware to the value of your home or business property as insurance policies deem anything that constitutes a ‘permanent fixture’ as insurable.
As an example, we installed a system in Calgary with equipment valued at $71,000; our customers added it to their insurance policy and their premium increased by approximately $100/year. Most residential systems can be insured for $2-3 per month. As mentioned before, some insurance providers will add solar modules to your insurance policy at no additional cost.
Are solar energy systems really “GREEN”?
Solar is not perfect, and we understand that greenhouse gasses (GHGs) are produced during the manufacturing and transportation of solar equipment. However, when compared with other forms of electricity generation (coal, natural gas) solar is vastly superior.
Let’s compare CO2 emissions per kWh produced of these 3 electricity generators:
Solar = 50g CO2/kWh
Natural Gas = 500g CO2/kWh
Coal = 1,000g CO2/kWh
As you can see, solar is 10 times more efficient than natural gas, and 20 times more efficient than coal. A solar module will pay back the GHGs created during its production & transportation in about 2 years of service. So although it is not perfect, solar is a massive step in the right direction.
Solar modules are comprised of 5 simple ingredients:
Aluminum, for the frame.
Tempered glass, for the face.
Silver (or other highly conductive metal), for the contacts that carry current.
Mylar, for the backer sheet.
Crystalline silicon, which forms the wafer.
Crystalline silicon is a polycrystalline structure that has the atomic structure of a single crystal. Silicon wafers are sliced individually using a circular saw, the inner diameter of which cuts into the rod. The now finished solar cells are encapsulated. This means that they are sealed into silicon rubber or ethylene vinyl acetate.
Solar energy systems operate more like a lightbulb than an engine. There are no moving parts to wear out and no filters or oil to change. Components will eventually wear out, and in rare cases have a defect, but no regular upkeep or maintenance is required for these systems to work as intended.
This means that home/business owners do not require any special training or in-house expertise to operate their solar energy system safely and efficiently. In some cases, occasional removal of tree leaves or other debris is required, however snow removal is not expected (see below). If a component is defective, it is easily detected, and you can count on Rocky Mountain Solar Co. to handle your warranty replacement.
Depending on the geographic location and tilt angle of your solar panels, they may become covered in snow for extended periods of time during the winter. Although sunlight will penetrate a thin layer of snow, anything more than a couple of inches will prevent most potential energy production. This is not cause for concern, however, as demonstrated by a recognized study at the Northern Alberta Institute for Technology (NAIT).
This study placed two sets of solar panels on the roof of an Edmonton campus building at various tilt angles. One set of panels were constantly maintained with snow removal, while the second was left untouched. After gathering 5 years of data, the study concluded that annual energy loss due to snow was between 3-6%.
But how could this be? Some of the panels were covered in snow for multiple weeks or even months!
The answer lies with how and when solar panels produce energy. First, the power from the sun is most intense when it hits at a perpendicular (90 degree) angle. Solar panels, therefore, will produce the most power when sunlight is aimed directly at them. Secondly, the duration of sun exposure will dictate the amount of energy received. The outcome of these two factors means the energy produced by solar panels is maximized when days are long, and the sun is in a high position in the sky (summer).
Alternatively, energy production is minimized when days are short, and the sun is in a low position (winter). Thankfully, this period of minimum energy production is also when snowfall occurs. The result, confirmed by the NAIT data, is that snow coverage affects the already low periods of energy production. In other words, snow coverage takes a big bite out of the smallest slice of the energy pie.
(Note: While minimal, snow losses are explicitly incorporated in our analysis and design.)
Solar panels come with two different warranties: product warranty and power production warranty. The product warranty on solar modules ranges from 10-15 years and covers the integrity of the panel and its construction. This protects you against manufacturing defects, environmental issues, and premature wear and tear.
Additionally, modules come with a 25–30 year power production warranty. This protects you against faster than expected degradation of the panel’s energy output. Although warranties vary, typical power production warranties state that the power output by year 25 shall be no less than 80% of its rated value. This is applied linearly, promising no greater than 0.8% loss per year.
Sophisticated monitoring software makes spotting defects or issues very easy. If you encounter a component failure, simply contact Rocky Mountain Solar Co, and we will complete the warranty replacement at no charge. Even if your warranty has expired, we will continue to support you.