House of the rising sun

Jean-Paul Pinard Special to the News When the price of oil goes up, the price of everything else rises too. But renewable energy can shelter us from those rising prices because it has no fuelling costs.

When the price of oil goes up, the price of everything else rises too. But renewable energy can shelter us from those rising prices because it has no fuelling costs.

The Yukon needs to build more local renewable energy sources so we can have a more secure economy.

One way to reduce our fossil fuel dependency is to install solar-electric or photovoltaic systems that produce electricity on all of our buildings.

It’s relatively easy to do and many households and companies can install a solar-electric system on their buildings. The Yukon government is proposing a net-metering policy for private electricity generators and this is currently out for public consultation.

No prices have been suggested yet for how much the government is willing to pay to help you install your solar photovoltaic installation, or how much the utilities are willing to pay for the electricity produced. Currently, the net-metering policy is offering to displace your annual electricity needs.

So let’s help our government with setting the price for solar electricity. Let us calculate how much a solar-electric system installed at home will cost.

Today’s solar-electric systems are about $7,000 per kilowatt installed in Whitehorse. So, for $14,000 you should be able to have a two-kilowatt grid-connected solar photovoltaic system on the roof of your house.

According to Ottawa’s RETScreen software energy tool, a two-kilowatt solar system in Whitehorse will produce about 1,800 kilowatt hours per year. That is typically about one-fifth of your annual household (nonheating) electricity use.

Using Yukon Housing Corporation’s estimates, the electricity price for a residence is roughly 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour (including riders taxes and the government subsidy for usage under 1,000 kilowatt hours per month).

A two-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on your roof will save you about $170 per year.

Given these savings, you’ll pay off your system in 82 years. If you include a two per cent inflation on the electricity price, the period reduces to about 50 years.

Is this an attractive investment?

So the question becomes, “What is a fair price for solar electricity from your solar photovoltaic system paid from your own pocket?”

You’re taking all of the financial and installation risks on your solar photovoltaic system, and you’re helping Yukon Energy by adding more renewable energy to the Yukon grid (they need more new energy to feed the new mines and a growing population).

Let’s say that the Yukon government was prepared to pay you 30 cents per kilowatt hour for all of your solar-generated electricity (note this is no longer a net-metering policy, but a direct-feed policy as you’d find in Ontario). This is approximately what diesel electricity costs Yukon Energy. And it is also the true cost of Yukon Energy’s last hydro project, Mayo B, when the subsidies are not included.

At 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, that 1,800 kilowatt hours of annual electricity will now provide you with $540 annual revenue. Now, here we’re assuming a direct-feed policy, with your solar-electric system connected directly to the grid with a separate meter. With this new revenue you are now able to see your system paid back in about 26 years (or 21 years with inflation included).

Does this still seem a bit long?

Let us ask the Yukon government to be as bold as the Ontario government by offering to pay 80 cents per kilowatt hour for all your solar electricity. This will now give you an income of $1,440 per year. Now you will see your system pay for itself in 10 years (nine years with 2 per cent inflation). This starts to look more reasonable for someone who is taking the risk to help the Yukon become less dependent on running its diesel-electric generators.

The deadline for feedback on the Yukon governments’ net-metering policy is April 29.

On April 14 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. the Energy Solution Centre is having an open house at its office on the draft net-metering policy.

Using the above information you can provide input to help shape the final policy.

Oh, and ask for the “net-metering” part to be changed to “direct-feed.”

Jean-Paul Pinard is a Whitehorse-based engineer with an interest in renewable energy.