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High performance homes, solar panel installation

High Performance Homes: Solar Panel Installation and Integration with your Home and the Power Grid

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As the world seeks to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power systems are becoming increasingly popular. Solar energy, in particular, is a clean, abundant, and reliable source of power. Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) panels, are the key component in a home solar energy system. Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity that can be used to power your home, a home-based office or business, and electric vehicles.

Installing a solar panel system on your high-performance home helps to reduce energy costs while promoting sustainable living. It is a renewable resource that does not produce greenhouse gas emissions or other pollutants, which makes it a clean and sustainable source of power.

Solar panels can be installed on rooftops or in other locations on your property without taking up valuable land or causing significant disruption to the surrounding environment. Solar energy can help to reduce your reliance on non-renewable energy sources, such as fossil fuels, which are finite and contribute to climate change.

Types of solar panels

There are three main types of solar panels available on the market. Each has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Your choice of panels will depend on factors such as cost, efficiency, and available mounting space.

The primary difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels is in the crystal purity of the panel cells.

Monocrystalline solar panels

Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single crystal of silicon. They are the most efficient type of solar panel, but also the most expensive. The crystalline purity of the cells of monocrystalline solar panels is much higher than that of polycrystalline solar panels. They are dark in colour and have a uniform appearance.

Polycrystalline solar panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are made from multiple crystals of silicon that have been fused together. They are less efficient than monocrystalline panels but are also less expensive. Polycrystalline panels have a blueish colour and a speckled appearance.

Thin-film solar panels

Thin-film solar panels are made from layers of photovoltaic material that are printed onto a substrate. They are the least efficient type of solar panel but also the least expensive. Thin-film panels are flexible which can make them useful for applying to curved and irregular surfaces.

Factors to consider before installing solar panels

The first step in planning your installation is determining the best location for the solar panels. This decision depends on several factors, including the angle and orientation of the roof, the amount of shade, and the geographical location of the house.

The best location for solar panels is a south-facing roof with no shading. However, in some cases, other roof orientations and locations may be suitable. Sheds, barns, garages, carports and patio covers all provide alternatives to traditional home rooftop panel placement. Ground-mounted solar panels can be located anywhere on your property and are oriented to maximize solar energy.

Shading can have a significant impact on the performance of your solar panels, as even partial shading of one panel can reduce the output of the entire system. This is because solar panels are typically wired in series, which means that the current flows through each panel in sequence. When a panel is shaded, it can’t generate as much power, which can lead to a bottleneck in the system and reduce the overall power output. To minimize the impact of shading, it’s important to carefully consider the placement of solar panels and avoid any areas that are likely to be shaded by trees, buildings, or other objects.

The condition of your roof is another important factor to consider when placing solar panels. A structurally sound roof is crucial to ensure the safe installation and long-term durability of the solar panels. An old or damaged roof may need repairs or replacement before solar panel installation, which can add to the overall cost of the project.

Designing your solar panel system

An energy assessment must be made to determine the size of the system required. This calculation is based on the amount of energy consumed by your household, as well as the energy production capacity of the solar panels. An experienced solar panel installer can help determine the optimal size of the system for the home’s energy needs.

If your solar panel system is a component in a deep energy retrofit, your design-build contractor will have made all the calculations during the design process and will work directly with the solar panel installers. Designing a solar panel system that can meet net zero requirements involves several considerations.

  1. The system should be sized to generate enough energy to meet the building’s total annual energy consumption. This requires careful analysis of the building’s energy use, taking into account factors such as the number of occupants, their energy usage patterns, and the energy efficiency of the building envelope.
  2. The solar panels should be installed in a location that maximizes their exposure to sunlight throughout the year. This requires careful consideration of the building’s orientation, shading, and roof slope.
  3. The system should be designed with an energy storage solution. One option is batteries that store excess energy produced during the day so it can be used at night or during periods of low sunlight. The other is BC Hydro’s net metering. When your system produces excess energy, you feed it back to the power grid and receive a generation credit towards your future electricity use. When you don’t generate enough to meet your needs, you buy power from BC Hydro.

A building permit is required for solar panel installation in British Columbia municipalities to install solar panels on existing buildings, as part of a photovoltaic (PV) system or solar hot water (SHW) system.

Structural drawings of the solar panel loads and anchoring details, signed and sealed by a Registered Professional will usually be required along with electrical drawings of the solar panel installations to demonstrate compliance with the Canadian Electrical Code. The City and BC Hydro require a compliant design to ensure acceptable components are installed and to ensure there is no possibility of feedback into the grid. Your solar system installer or the design-build contractor handling your retrofit should be able to take care of the necessary permits and approvals.

Integration of a solar system into your high-performance home

High-performance buildings that meet Passive House and/or Net Zero Ready certified standards are recognized as pathways to achieving the BC Energy Step Code Step 5 and corresponding local city/municipal by-law energy requirements. Achieving Step 5 on the BC Energy Step Code staircase indicates your home has been constructed as Net Zero Ready.

Net Zero Ready homes are built to the very same standards of efficiency as Net Zero homes. The only difference is that the solar panel renewable energy source has not yet been installed. Net zero detractors have argued that all that’s needed to make a home “net zero” is bolting enough solar panels onto the roofs. While that may be true in theory, high-performance home designers focus on keeping energy consumption low so that your solar panel system can reliably generate enough power to meet your needs.

A sealed building envelope, along with super-insulation and high-efficiency doors and windows, plays a crucial role in reducing energy consumption and enhancing the effectiveness of a solar power system. By minimizing air leakage and heat transfer, a sealed building envelope prevents the loss of conditioned air and the infiltration of outside air, which can result in energy waste. Super-insulation, often achieved through materials with high R-values, helps to further reduce heat transfer through the walls, roof, and foundation of your home.

High-efficiency windows and doors are designed to minimize heat loss and gain, enhancing the thermal performance of the building envelope. They often feature multiple glazing layers, low-emissivity coatings, and insulated frames to provide superior insulation and reduce energy transfer.

A Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) system is an integral component of a high-performance home, ensuring proper ventilation while minimizing energy loss. An HRV system captures and transfers heat energy from the outgoing stale air to the incoming fresh air, effectively pre-conditioning the incoming air and reducing the need for additional heating or cooling. This balanced ventilation system not only improves indoor air quality but also helps to maintain a consistent and comfortable indoor environment while minimizing energy waste.

When combined, these energy-efficient measures significantly reduce your home’s heating and cooling loads, making it easier for a solar power system to meet the home’s energy needs.

Installing your solar panel system

Once the size and particulars of the solar system have been determined, a system that will meet your home’s requirements has been designed, and the necessary permit(s) have been secured, the solar panels can be installed on the roof of your house. This process involves mounting the panels onto the roof and connecting them to the inverter, which converts the DC power produced by the panels into AC power, which can be used to power the home.

When considering the installation of a solar panel system, it is important to work with an experienced installer who understands the unique needs of your high-performance home. If your solar panel system is part of a deep energy retrofit project, your designer-builder will take care of everything: the design, permits, sealing of the building envelope, insulation, windows and doors, HVAC and renewable energy.

The takeaway

The installation and integration of a solar panel system into a high-performance home is an essential step towards sustainable living. When properly designed and installed, a solar panel system can significantly reduce energy costs while promoting energy efficiency. By connecting the system to the power grid, excess energy can be shared with the community, creating a more sustainable energy system for all.

Reid Madiuk

Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Whistler and Squamish builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.

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