* Solar Meter helps you evaluate microFIT financials
  * Works with iPhone and iPad 4.2 and above
  * Allows you to set location, orientation, and angle of panels
  * Add number of panels you see fitting on your property
  * Solar Meter shows potential output, profit, annual return on investment
  Features weather data from Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, London, Windsor, Sudbury, and Thunder Bay

Latest Posts

I haven’t been writing here for a while now – my system, generally speaking, has not been giving me any issues to write about. It’s shaping up to be a boring, predictable, steady income stream. (Yes even Toronto Hydro checks have been coming in more consistently). Without snow-related adventures this winter, the only thing I was musing about is effect of not having enough cold days when voltage spikes and maxes out all 16 panels on my roof. On that subject, I did notice slightly lower production this winter, and not too many days when my array is approaching its maximum output.

But let me get to the point of this post… It’s out there in the news all over the place now. The new microFIT rate for residential solar projects is 54.9 cents per kWh, which is 31.5% lower than the previous 80.2 cents.

It was all over news yesterday, though

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On November 18 2011 my microfit system turned 1 year old. After keeping track of actual real-world microfit performance for 12 months, my observation is that solar panels perform a little better than expected.  This may be due to better-than-average solar radiation we received this year, or it may be due to microinverters outperforming in cloudy weather. Either way, quick facts about my system setup:

16 SolarWorld panels, 14 rated at 235 WDC, 2 rated at 230 WDC
Total installed capacity is 3750 WDC
16 Enphase M190 microinverters which top out at 199 WAC
8 panels are tilted at 30 degrees
8 panels are tilted at 15 degrees
Entire system is 15 degrees off South with eastern bias
My real-time system configuration and performance is here

My microfit solar panel system

Here’s what happened in the last 12 months:

Enphase Envoy monitoring device registered 4770 kwh total energy generation
Toronto Hydro meter registered 4653 kwh supplied into the grid
This translates

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I got this email from OPA today:

Ontario is moving forward with its commitment to review the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) Program. This includes the microFIT Program stream.

The review will consider a range of issues, including but not limited to:

microFIT price reduction
ensuring the long-term sustainability of clean energy procurement
continuing to build on the success of Ontario-based manufacturing and clean energy job creation
consideration of new technologies and fuel sources
local consultations and the renewable approval process (REA).

As a result of this review, new prices and rules will be carefully developed to balance the interests of ratepayers with the need to encourage investments in new clean energy in Ontario.

Ontarians can provide feedback by answering an online survey or making a written submission at www.Ontario.ca/FITreview

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I received an interesting email this morning from the people calling themselves TREC/SolarShare. For those who have not done their own solar panel installations due to upfront costs, but are considering dipping toe into this “green energy” movement, this might be an easy way to do it.

For the record, I am not a financial adviser and I don’t know how good this offer is nor do I recommend it. I am just passing along the information, which if interested, you must evaluate yourself. From my uninformed point of view (and based on the fact that this bond has a 5-year term and not a 20-year term) I would speculate that TREC is using this vehicle to get access to funding outside of the banking industry. 5% is likely much less than they would pay to the bank, and it is also less than their return from microFIT/FIT payments.

Anyway, I thought this was

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Bloomberg reported today that Europe officially lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over illegal subsidies paid to FIT and microFIT operators. Apparently linking subsidies to domestic content requirement is the problem.

This follows news that Japan lodged a similar suit against Canada, about a month ago.

Even if Conservatives don’t win the election this October, or if they win and are persuaded to keep the program, seems that Green Energy Act is in genuine trouble. This looks like a battle Ontario won’t win.

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I wrote about this in the past, but this summer season I am almost ready to become officially annoyed with Toronto Hydro.

Here are the payments that I collected so far:

$206.39 (February 2011)
$125.48 (February 2011)
$264.49 (March 2011)
$505.09 (April 2011)
$441.84 (May 2011)
$163.42 (June 2011)
$619.89 (July 2011)

Do these payments look like they are made with predictability of an income stream coming from the government? Not to me.

I was told – repeatedly – by the lady who processes microFIT payments at Toronto Hydro (apparently it is one person) that they have street walkers who pass by every microFIT meter on or roughly around the last day of each calendar month.

(First off, is it me alone who sees the problem with the government first requiring us to pay for state of the art smart meters which can be not just read, but even managed remotely, only to then be told by LDC that it’s all

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Today I saw something interesting (no I am not referring to +50 C degrees “feels like” temperature in Toronto). My solar panels went offline at 15:30 EDT with a “AC Voltage Out Of Range” error condition. I got an email from Enphase’s monitoring site as follows:

Additional Alert Details

Description

The microinverter reports that the AC voltage coming from the utility is either too low or too high as specified by applicable regional standards.

When the microinverter detects a voltage out of range condition, it must remain offline until the utility has been within acceptable limits a short period of time (several minutes, varies by region). If during that time the utility again exceeds or falls short of acceptable limits, the five-minute timer must restart and the microinverter may not begin producing power for an additional short period following the last out-of-bounds condition.

Evidently the load on the grid was probably so

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Looking at June and July solar power production curves, I can’t ignore the fact that these curves, as fat and juicy as they are, just don’t go as high as they used to during spring or even in February.

During colder months, even when the sun was not nearly as high around noon, solar power output would reach maximum capacity of inverters, and stay at that ceiling for a noticeable period of time – several hours in some cases.

Since my panels are rated at 235 W DC, but inverters can’t push past 199 W AC, you’d think that there is enough buffer in this capping that increased heat would not make any significant impact on output.

But it does. In May and earlier it was not unusual to see a straight line on my performance charts, at 3184 W AC (maximum cumulative output of all 16 inverters). This week, with Ontario hitting

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OPA is seeking comments on draft proposal to allow concentrated photovoltaics under the FIT and microFIT programs, and essentially expand domestic content requirements to treat CPV much like plain solar panels.

Dear FIT Suppliers,

The OPA and the MEI are seeking further comments on the following Domestic Content draft interpretations.

Please click here to view the proposed draft interpretations and for instructions on how to submit comments.

We look forward to your comments.

The irony of this announcement is that both FIT as well as OPA have a good chance of being discontinued later this year. So what is the point of this work, right now, is not obvious.

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Provincial conservatives appear to be in a guaranteed majority area, if polls can be trusted. I am getting an impression that it is such a foregone conclusion in the minds of Ontario residents and business, that we are starting to think of the Green Energy Act as a done deal. Is the window of opportunity really closing?

In the last few days I stumbled into a few interesting news bits. First, CBC News reported on a study that showed, that scrapping Green Energy Act subsidies has no chance of stopping or even reducing coming energy hikes.

Then yesterday I was watching CBC News again, and they ran a story on a company that set up solar panel manufacturing plant in Ontario in May 2011, to cater specifically to solar projects that have 60% domestic content requirement, which is now laying off more than 50% of staff based on expectation that Green Energy

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The quarter started with the rainiest April and May in a while, and production numbers were lower than in March. April and May had 20-25% less sun than average. But June was pretty spectacular and compensated a little bit for the earlier losses (of opportunity) this quarter.

My system capacity is 3.75 kW DC, 3.18 kW AC
Azimuth is 345 degrees, almost due South with a minor Eastern bias
The system is in downtown Toronto, on a flat roof, with a 22.5 degree tilt (half the system is at 15 degrees, half the system is at 30)

To throw a few quick facts out:

603 kWh production in June
$483.60 in the “brightest” month of the year
1,481 kWh generated this quarter
panels kick in before 6 AM and keep working past 9 PM
on hot days, especially when there is no wind, it is fairly obvious that output is not staying at the peak for as long as

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Jun 19, 2011

Google, in addition to covering its own HQ roofs with a massive solar panel installation, is active in funding all sorts of alternative energy startups. Reuters ran a story a few days ago about Google placing $280 million with SolarCity, a company that among other things offers to install solar panels for free, the way I understand it, conditional upon the homeowner entering into a contract to buy produced electricity from the same installation, at below-utility prices. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

The story says that $280 million will be enough to launch between 7,000 and 9,000 solar panel installations. Taking the average of that estimate, each installation might cost around $35,000.  Not knowing anything about the electricity market and solar exposure in California, let’s say 1 kW installation produces 1,500 kWh per year (1,150 in Ontario). Let’s say each installation that costs $35,000 in California will be 10 kW ($65,000

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Interesting news article in the Globe and Mail.

Some time ago media outlets reported that the Europeans are really not OK with 60% local content rule for feed-in-tariff programs. The word at the time was that Canada-E.U. free trade agreement, still in the works, will have to deal with Ontario’s protectionism. Now that Conservatives can do things that a government is supposed to be able to do – like you know, pass bills – free trade deal with Europe seems like a sure bet. So, Ontario will probably have to do *something* about local content rule.

Now apparently Japan is coming out with a WTO complaint that takes aim not just at the 60% content rule, but also at “illegal” subsidies. They are upset with Samsung, I imagine.

So if the Japanese are saying that feed-in-tariff in Ontario is illegal, why did they not “sue” Germany and a host of other countries at

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My system is hitting 2 megawatt-hours mark today.

System commissioned on November 18, 2010
March 24 2011 – one megawatt-hour
May 30 2011 – two megawatt-hours

According to Enphase’s live monitoring site, it is enough to power 66 houses for a day. If we take my usage rate into account, my consumption is about 25 kWh per day (judging by most recent bill) – so it’s more like powering 80 houses for a day. In any event, I am happy to see the meter accelerating into the summer months. Even with this crappy weather it looks like I will have no trouble reaching 4 MWh and $3,200+ for the year. Still hoping for 4.5 MWh…

Solar Meter app

This brings me to Solar Meter iPhone App! To help Ontarians estimate potential financial benefits of a microFIT project on their roofs, we put together Solar Meter app that takes complexity out of the process.

Sample solar system financial

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Just noticed this elephant in the room: CBC, Toronto Sun, and the Globe and Mail are all reporting that AMP Solar LP signed a deal with TDSB to install solar panels on 450 schools in Toronto. Not a lot of detail was revealed for obvious reasons (someone is going to be quite a bit richer once this gig is up and running, and I am guessing it is not the TDSB, judging by the comments of TDSB officials in one of the articles regarding “lemons and cherries”… It’s really disturbing how clueless some of these decision makers are, considering that OPA program rules are displayed on a publicly accessible website… but i’ll be quiet now.)

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May 5 was, so far, the best day in terms of total solar energy output. As evidenced on Enphase’s site here, my 3.75 kW/DC system produced 27600 Wh/AC in a single day. That’s a full week of work in November or December, in one day. The system is really kicking the tires now, producing more than twice the amount of energy per day if you compare two perfectly sunny days in January and May.

27,600 Wh = $22.14. (At this daily rate, the system would produce over $8000 per year!)

Operational hours increased from around 9 am to 5 pm in the winter, to 14 hours per day – inverters kick in before 6 am now, and don’t shut off till after 8 pm.

And this brings me to rain… If snow could cause 95% production loss over 12 kWh on a short January production day, rain/clouds that we are getting now result,

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If you have been thinking about setting up solar panels on your Ontario roof, you may want to put in your application now. It takes about 3 months to get it, and applying won’t cost you anything and not create any obligation on your part. You may not be able to do this after the next provincial election…

There’s been more and more talk around Green Energy Act and its longevity lately. This morning I noticed this article in Ottawa Citizen, and decided to chime in / pass along.

With Toronto municipal and federal Canadian elections going to conservative candidates, it seems that it’s only a matter of time before Tim Hudak takes Ontario for conservatives as well. Dalton has an uphill battle to fight following his HST decision – which, for the record, as a small business owner, I find to be a net positive thing (though I won’t vote liberal).

One

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We recently had a fair amount of comments posted on the article that mused about the benefits of running microFIT project under a corporation. This article is dated, and of course now you don’t get to choose how structure your microFIT project – you can only do it as a private person. You can view the article and associated comments here.

Fast forward to April 30, 2011. Many of us who installed microFIT in CY 2010 as private persons filed our tax returns with microFIT claims/income for the first time.  Surely many people were “surprised” to receive an assessment and/or outright rejection of their HST claims. I am watering down the emotional component here as surprised does not quite describe it.

The issue in a nutshell seems to be this. At the time of installation, person pays 100% of HST on the full amount of monies paid for the system – which

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I am going to have a “Megawatt party” at my place around May 14, weather permitting. Snacks, refreshments provided. This would be happening during day hours but on a weekend. Inphase Power will be on site to answer any questions you may have. We can also access the installation to take a closer look at solar panels etc. Stay tuned for more details, I expect to have everything confirmed on or shortly after May 12.

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University of Toronto uploaded February and March data, so I wanted to post updated performance comparison charts, to show what differences I am seeing between RETscreen solar panel performance modeling and my own actual system performance.

For context, see this article.

Weather difference, average vs actual

This chart above shows the difference between average weather (solar insolation) data, used by RETscreen, NRCAN, and what was actually recorded by the good folks at U of T Mississauga.

Overall, the weather looks OK relative to expected average values.

March was practically as sunlit as predicted by RETscreen average weather data. This is important for our comparison, because we did not have a lot of snow in March. So external factors influencing solar power production were minimal, and I can compare for the first time how accurate RETscreen is in predicting output, given my modeling configuration (5% misc loss and 5% inverter loss).

Actual solar power production

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Back in the late 2010 I promised to put together some observations regarding comparing my pre-deployment RETScreen analysis with actual post-deployment system performance. I waited for almost half a year to gather enough data to finally put something together, only to find that I am still missing quite a bit information.

Consider this to be the first attempt, more will follow as we gather more month-end data.

First a few words about our method.

We have very little information to say conclusively that our system is outperforming or underperforming RETscreen. Any statistician will tell you that 5 months of data is hardly an indication when we are looking at a 20-year timeline.
We compared NRCAN data and RETScreen data and we see inconsistencies between two sets of data representing average weather. NRCAN’s source is 1974-1993, while RETscreen source covers 22 years and potentially captures more recent period – I am not sure.
We compared November

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I received this interesting question from one of our readers and I thought I’d write up a quick post with my thoughts on it. It is a question many people should be asking themselves, as we go from early adoption stage of this program to something of an early majority stage, on the adoption curve.

So the question goes like this:

“I read about the losses you predict. All is not the bed of roses the installers predict! I am trying to decide about going ahead with this but I am having my doubts as to the “real” pay-back numbers. Also, it locks up my money tighter than a GIC as I’m never able to cash out the original investment. What do you say?”

Quickest answer is “do it”.

Somewhat quick answer is “you need to do it right to get OK return”.

A more accurate answer is  “it depends”. One thing is clear for

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March is over and what a month it was… Sunshine was plenty and often, and days are getting noticeably longer. My system generated 449 kWh, or 3.86 Wh for each watt DC installed. The system has been reaching its peak production potential pretty much every week since the second week of February. In March though, this is no longer a peak – it’s more of a plateau: the system is at the limit for something like 4-5 hours straight on good days. So this is exciting – we are in the $400/month area now.

Our consumption for March 2011 was 786 kWh. We generated 442 kWh (as delivered to the grid). So we used the sun’s energy to satisfy 56% of our domestic electricity consumption in March. This is exciting (and if I have my way, and my system doubles with construction of a supporting frame to cover 2nd floor patio…

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I was finally able to pin down the discrepancy between Toronto Hydro meter readings and my system’s reported production numbers. Not that it was difficult to do – I just did not attempt it until now.

On March 1 after sundown, we took readings from generation meter and saw that peak output registered on the meter for that day was 3142 WAC. Peak output registered on the Envoy monitoring system on that day was around 3180 – close to the system’s limit of 199 * 16 = 3184 WAC. The difference between these numbers is 1.32% – this is how much power I am losing while generated electricity is running down the wall of my house to meet the meter.

Over the longer term, the meter was showing 1,143 Wh AC generated, while Envoy had this number at 1,162 Wh AC. So again, discrepancy is 1.64%. This number is probably more meaningful,

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Mar 24, 2011

What a beautiful, sunny day today… My 3.75 kW DC downtown Toronto microFIT system hit a milestone today: I supplied my first megawatt-hours into the grid!

Sunshine was a pretty scarce commodity this winter, so it took me a while to reach this mark. The system was connected to the grid on November 18, and reached its first megawatt on March 24. The good news is that I am noticing a couple of expected and very welcome things: my system is hitting its peak production not just for a 5-minute stretch around half past noon, but it stays there literally for hours during clear sunny days. I went from about 12-14 kWh max/day to 22-24 kWh max/day. I am getting into 2000 WDC+ as early as 9 AM and stay above it past 3 PM. Production “bell curve” does not look like a “bell” at all now.

I will have a post

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