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High among the priorities for Canada’s Greenest Home is the attempt to make the house a net zero energy building. To reach this goal, we began by designing the most efficient home we possibly could, making energy reduction a major factor in every decision we made during the design and construction process. But this house will use energy, and to offset its consumption we have installed a 5 kilowatt photovoltaic (PV, or “solar panel”) system on the roof. These panels generate electrical power that should, over the course of a year, equal the annual energy consumption of the building.

The PV system installed on the south-facing roof

Sean Flanagan and the excellent team at Flanagan and Sun came and installed the system on our roof this past week. It was exciting to have our first mechanical installation done. PV installations are quite straightforward and fast compared to many mechanical systems. The racking, panels and inverter were all put together in a couple days.

Here in Ontario, the MicroFIT program is run by the provincial government to encourage the addition of small scale renewable energy sources to the overall electricity grid. Homeowners can apply for a MicroFIT contract for systems under 10 kilowatts of peak production power. The government guarantees a sale rate for all such generated electricity for a 20 year contract. The program has been very successful in creating a lot of renewable energy on the grid and helping to reduce costs for system components by making it an attractive investment.

People in Ontario may have heard that the MicroFIT rates were recently reduced from 80 cents per kilowatt hour to 54.9 cents. While this may seem like a disincentive to pursue a MicroFIT contract, in reality the rate reflects the fact that the program’s success has brought down the price of a PV system so dramatically that the rate of return on a system today is similar to that under the higher rate a few years ago. For Canada’s Greenest Home, a MicroFIT contract is an excellent way to meet our net zero targets and create a home which actually pays the owner (around $4,000 annually) while erasing all utility bills. We compare the PV system to building a rental apartment in the house, except that the tenant is completely quiet, always pays up on time and doesn’t add any wear and tear to the house or the owners!

The MicroFIT program in Ontario is one of the best renewable energy incentive programs in the world, and a bright spot in an otherwise dismal landscape for government support of sustainable housing. Seeing the panels on our roof is a point of pride and a look at what all houses could be doing in the future.

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