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Find solutions to common inquiries about solar energy. Whether you’re a homeowner, business owner, or just curious, get the information you need to make informed decisions about going solar.

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Solar energy is radiation from the Sun capable of producing heat, causing chemical reactions, or generating electricity. There are a variety of ways in which the sun’s energy can be harnessed, including;

Solar Photovoltaics (PV) generates electricity. Solar panels produce DC (Direct Current) power, which then needs to be inverted to AC (Alternating Current) to be used by your house and the grid or fed directly to a battery bank in the case of an off-grid system. Solar PV is the dominant form of solar technology, and most of these questions are geared towards Solar PV.

Solar Hot Water uses heat from the sun to heat up and circulate water.
Passive Solar is a building practice that utilizes the sun in passive ways. Skylights and sun tunnels are examples of passive solar design. Another example would be large south-facing windows with an overhanging roof such that the house is heated by the sun when it’s lower in the winter and cooled by the overhang when the sun is higher in the sky in the summer.

Solar Energy is a renewable and plentiful resource that has few limitations. Harnessing solar energy is comparatively cheap, and the energy produced can be used directly at the source instead of travelling great distances. The two main limitations are shading from nearby trees (nature’s solar panels), and that the sun is an unreliable generator, meaning solar production/effectiveness is heavily skewed towards summer months. Net-metering, or the current Self-Generation Offset Program, allows a grid-tied home to produce power, which feeds the house first; any excess energy is then sent to the grid, which is recorded by a bi-directional meter. This meter will provide credits that can be used at night, and after a summer’s worth of production, you can offset the winter’s use as well. A Net-Metered Solar PV system uses the grid as an “infinite battery bank,” where your excess summer production can be banked for winter.

The Design process for an on-grid system is very different than that of an off-grid system. An on-grid system typically does not have batteries and certainly does not require batteries except in a grid outage.

An off-grid system requires an in-depth knowledge of the electrical loads and battery maintenance by both the installer and the customer. In general, off-grid systems require more planning, consultation, and industry knowledge; they are also more expensive (mainly due to the cost of the batteries) and often require more existing infrastructure, such as non-electric heat sources or hot water sources.

The design process for a grid-tied system is relatively simple, as the installer does not need to know what the electricity is used for. A grid-tied system also does not need to meet the entire electrical demand of the property.

Most installers use satellite imagery and your historical annual kWh usage (commonly found at the bottom right-hand side of your NSP bill) to determine how many panels can fit on the roof or ground and what the production will be for that size of the system.

Some parts of a solar installation can be done by anyone, but anything involving electricity should be handled by an electrician. On- and off-grid solar PV systems must be installed by a Red Seal electrician and inspected by Nova Scotia Power or local electrical inspectors.

In general, racking and mounting panels, building a ground mount frame (depending on local building code), and trench digging (if required) can all be done by someone with the skills and safety equipment/certifications to do so.

A Solar PV system can produce more power than your property uses in a day, this excess goes back to the grid. During a power outage, you cannot export power to the grid as it could injure line-workers so all grid-tied Solar PV systems are designed and required to shut down automatically as soon as they stop detecting the grid. This is called “anti-islanding”. Additional components can be installed that allow a part or all of a grid-tied solar PV system to operate during an outage, but this typically requires a significant investment and is not trivial.

A Solar PV system will last as long as its component parts do. Solar PV Systems can broadly be broken down into 3 categories, each with varying warranty lengths.

Solar Panels Solar Panels have two types of warranty. Linear Output (a.k.a production warranty) and Product Warranty. Solar Panels degrade over time as they get damaged by the sun, and as they degrade, their output decreases. A typical degradation rate is 15% over 25 years.

A linear output warranty allows for a replacement panel if the panel starts producing less than it’s expected to – most linear output warranties are 25 years. Although rare, a panel ceasing to function entirely would be covered by a product warranty, typically 10+ years.

Although panels degrade over time, a system’s performance should not noticeably decrease over 25 years if the panels have a higher wattage than the inverter(s), which is a fairly standard practice.

Inverters Inverters take DC power produced by solar panels and convert it to AC power to be used by your house and the grid. There are different types (string or central inverters and micro-inverters), each with pros and cons and varying costs and warranty lengths. Efficiency Nova Scotia recommends an inverter warranty of at least 10 years.

Roof Mounted racking is typically aluminum, and most types carry at least a 20-year warranty. Ground-mounted frames are usually galvanized steel or concrete ballast. Generally speaking, roof-mounted racking is rated for higher wind loads than ground-mounted frames because most roof-mounted racking is not tilted up at an angle away from the roof.

In general, a solar PV system is expected to last 25 years and potentially much longer.

Solar Nova Scotia suggests you check out our directory for reputable solar designers and installers in Nova Scotia.

Shingles are damaged mainly by the sun, so anywhere covered with solar panels should extend the lifespan of the shingles underneath indefinitely, however, if your roof needs to be replaced in the next few years, doing it before installing solar panels is an excellent idea.

If installing a metal roof, it’s advisable to use a gauge of steel to withstand the work being performed on it.

If you’re using “penetration free” racking such as S-5! clamps on a standing seam roof, use 26 gauge steel or better as you’re relying on the structural integrity of the steel itself rather than the roof trusses to hold the system down.

PV solar panels absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity. Typically, a standard PV panel comprises multiple solar cells, with the panel’s power output increasing with more cells. Solar panel output is measured in watts, indicating its potential power production in direct sunlight. A standard solar panel can generate between 250 and 400 Watts.

The average size of a home solar panel in Nova Scotia is around 1.6 meters by 1 meter, weighing between 18 to 22 kilograms (40 to 50 pounds). However, dimensions, weight, and wattage may vary by manufacturer. Recent advancements in solar panel technology have led to improvements in efficiency, lifespan, and cost. Consultation with your solar installer is recommended to determine the best panel option for your home and budget.

Many homes are good locations for solar panels, which is one of the strengths of the technology. Ideally, you want a south-facing roof that’s not too architecturally complicated.

Other considerations would be self-imposed shading from the building itself (dormers/second stories) or nearby buildings and shading from trees which can turn a theoretically perfect location into a non-viable one. You know your home better than any contractor so take the time to walk around and look at the roof with a critical eye and think about where you would place the panels to get the most sun.

A Solar System Design Brief, or solar proposal/quote is what a solar installer will provide a potential client. Typically, a proposal will include the number of panels that can fit on a roof in a viable configuration, either done through satellite imagery, drone photos, or physical roof measuring. It will have a calculation for the annual kWh production of the system often compared against an existing power bill. It should list the brands/model numbers of the equipment, particularly panels and inverters.

Solar proposals are often presented as a long-term investment.

The idea is that the amount of power produced should remain roughly the same year to year, but the “escalation rate,” or the rate of power you pay for, will increase over time. Historically, the escalation rate has been 3-3.5% per year over the past 10 years. However, an installer can set whatever escalation rate they think is best for their proposals.

Snow on the panels will partially or completely shut down PV power production until the snow comes off. When the snow comes off, it does so precisely like a metal roof (it slumps), so if you’re filling the roof to the edge with solar panels, a reasonable consideration would be to ensure that there’s nothing below that could be damaged/injured by falling snow or avoid placing panels too close to the edge.

In terms of production, solar power is heavily skewed towards the summer months, so anything you can get out of the panels in the winter is great but not expected.

Like most of North America, Nova Scotia is a good place for solar energy. However, some unique aspects make solar here an excellent investment. Nova Scotia has a culture of environmentalism and strong backing from the provincial government. 

It is also one of the only places where kWh for kWh* (the rate you pay for power is the same rate the utility must pay you for your power)* is provincial law instead of a contract with a utility. We also have some of the highest utility rates in Canada, which means the value of a kWh produced in Nova Scotia is higher than elsewhere.

There are a number of different approaches to solar contractors/installers but in general, it’s a labour-intensive career that will require heavy lifting (panels can weigh up to 70lbs) and being comfortable working on a roof.

Getting fall arrest training and equipment would be the recommended first step.

Other suggestions might be reaching out to existing companies in our directory or taking an educational course like NSCC’s Introduction to Solar Photovoltaic Systems Design.

Generally, we get enough rain in Nova Scotia that you probably won’t ever have to clean your solar panels. However, dirt, pollen, leaves or other obstructions can impact solar production, and if this is the case, you may wish to clean the panels if it is safe.

The optimum tilt or pitch will heavily depend on the panels’ azimuth (compass orientation) and the time of year. Because we’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the ideal location for solar panels is a South facing roof. Anywhere from South East to South West is excellent, and even East or West roofs can be a good spot for panels if the pitch is not too steep.

If we’re talking about a perfect 180-degree south-facing roof, the best pitch in the winter is steeper at around ~45 degrees, while the best pitch in the summer is shallower at around ~25 degrees. This is because the sun is higher in the sky in the winter, and the best “angle” for the sun’s rays to hit the panels is 90 degrees (perpendicular).

If you have any more questions, feel free to contact us using our Contact Form

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