In January of 2010, Oakville Hydro announced that they had become one of the first businesses in Oakville to install solar panels on the roof of its headquarters at Fourth Line and Wyecroft Road. The 58 panels formed a 10-kilowatt system that would power three residential homes for a year.
Part of the reason the panels were installed was to take part in the provincial government’s feed-in tariff program (micro-FIT) which earns Oakville Hydro 80 cents for every kilowatt hour that is fed back into the grid. While we’ve discussed other aspects of this program on Monster Commercial, Oakville Hydro has given us a great opportunity to look at a system the size of one that would be installed in a small commercial application and examine the process and the results one year later.
Scott Mudie, Vice President -Generation and Energy Services at Oakville Hydro, agreed to answer our questions about the system.
MC: How did Oakville Hydro select the solar solution components, and can you describe the planning stage to us?
SM: The planning was based on a number of considerations. The domestic content rules in the micro-FIT program required that either the panels or the mounting equipment were manufactured in Ontario. In addition, for our own safety and as per the Town of Oakville building department, the racking had to be engineer stamped, wind-tunnel tested since it wasn’t going to be bolted to the roof. This type of system is known as a “ballasted” system.
Because we couldn’t source the racking in Ontario, we sourced the panels in Ontario. Solgate manufacture their panels in Ontario and we purchased our panels from them.
We went with micro-inverters because they allowed us the benefit of monitoring the performance of each individual panel. Our online monitoring system allows us to go in and see how the system is performing, down to the performance of each panel. The web-based tool is created by a company called Enphase based out of California.
We learned through the planning process that there is no one cookie-cutter solution. Each solution is roof-specific, and certain systems have advantages over others for varying roof types. Depending on the building, the roof may not accept the weight of a ballasted system and bolts may be required. There are other considerations as well.
MC: Discuss the considerations that are important to the installation of a solar rooftop system for building owners.
SM: Look at the structure of roof and the load that it can accept. That starts the conversation about design, cost, and size.
Look at the roof surface durability and the possible term of replacement – this is an operating contract for 20 years. If the roof won’t last 5-7 years you’ll need to put a new roof on, and you need to plan if you are going to be doing that now or later.
Look at the drainage on a flat roof. Putting a system up there, you will change patterns of snow, and ice. Make sure you are not creating potentially damaging pools of water.
A micro-FIT contract has a 20 year term, so the system needs to perform for the duration of that term. Understand which components need to be replaced and include those in your financial forecast.
You want to understand who the sub-contractors are. Get their references & experience, ask if they are ESA-approved contractors. Make sure you keep in touch with your local utility like Oakville Hydro, we are there to help with these projects.
Most importantly, ask yourselves what the objectives are of the installation partner or building owner. Is it economic return, is it “green value”, is it corporate responsibility? Is it a combination of all three? The answer to that question will determine the type of system that is installed.
Ours was a pilot project to learn the ropes. We sized it at the maximum allowable size under MicroFIT, but it takes up only 2200 square feet. It is very representative for commercial building owners in Halton and Oakville. If they want to see it, it is there for them to visit.
In Part Two of the interview, Mudie discusses what a building owner should look for in an installation partner, and more. Look for it next week!
By Angela West, Editor, Monster Commercial