Frequently Asked Questions
Common terms and concepts. There are no stupid questions!
There are three main components of a solar system: modules (or solar panels), inverter(s) and racking. The inverter is the workhorse of the system and there are three main types:
1) micro-inverters that are attached to each solar module with no corresponding inverter unit, e.g. Enphase,
2) optimizers that are attached to each solar module with a corresponding inverter unit (also referred to as hybrid inverters, e.g. SolarEdge), and
3) string inverters with no module level production, inverter unit only (also referred to as centralized production, e.g. SMA, Fronius).
For most residential installations, our inverter of choice is SolarEdge. It can be installed on an exterior wall, or in your garage or basement/utility room. The power optimizers allow for per module energy production. Thus, if one section of the system is snow covered or shaded, it does not affect the performance of the rest. This contrasts with a string inverter system in which power production of the string is limited by the lowest performing module. SolarEdge also has inverter models that are integrated with either an electric vehicle charger or the necessary components to add on a battery/storage system.
Modules convert sunlight into direct current (DC) power that is converted to alternating current (AC) power by the inverter for transmission to the service panel and/or electrical grid. The inverter output is measured in AC
When you are quoted a system size, you have to know both the DC and AC values as they can be quite different. Proper systems over-size the DC, and the typical ratio is a factor of 1.2 to 1.4, for example 12 to 14 kW DC (modules) paired with a 10 kW AC inverter.
Over-sizing is a better system design as it maximizes energy production both throughout the day and on an annual cycle, i.e. you will produce more usable power. Sites with shade issues should have higher DC over-sizing. This is a very important aspect when comparing quotes from solar companies.
A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is a unit of energy. When you buy electricity from your utility, they charge you by the kWh. When you use one kilowatt for one hour, this is a kWh. For example, a 75-watt light bulb that is turned on for one hour uses 75-watt hours of electricity, or 0.075 kWh.
Net metering is simply an agreement with your electricity provider (e.g. Hydro One, Westario). Your current electricity meter is replaced with a bi-directional one and you use the energy you produce, receive credits for any extra power, and purchase power if needed. In essence, the public grid acts as your battery storage unit – and at a much lower cost than purchasing your own.
Because the grid is full in some areas and net metering is not feasible, Blackline Power also installs zero export solar systems. These systems have specific technology to ensure that excess power is never exported to the public grid. Like net metering, solar power is still consumed on site as it is produced, but any unused electricity is either dumped or stored in a battery. As the majority of our clients do not install a battery or storage system (though they may decide to add one in the future), it is important to properly size zero export systems to minimize waste.
These systems are becoming increasingly popular. People want to take control of their energy production, yet still enjoy the advantages of being connected to the grid.
No. The current bi-directional meters in Ontario cannot measure time-of-use, thus, you switch to two-tier pricing. This means you are charged one rate for the first batch of energy you use (usually between 600 to 1,000 kWh) and a slightly higher rate for any power consumed above this threshold. It also means that it does not matter when you use power; feel free to do your laundry whenever convenient!
In addition to offsetting the price per kWh of electricity, you also offset a portion of the delivery and regulatory charges when you net meter. This makes a substantial difference for some clients as delivery charges can be almost the same cost as the kWh electricity rates.
Solar production is greatest on a south-facing roof and this works best for net metering systems. We also install on east and west-facing roof planes (which may work best for zero export systems), but rarely on those facing north.
An even more important consideration is shade. Solar production requires sunshine and the more your solar system can access that sunshine, the better your investment will be. Note that dormers, chimneys, skylights and vents can also have an impact on solar design and energy generation.
You may have to consider installing a ground mount system if your rooftops are not suitable. All of these factors (and several others) are why it is important for the solar company to come on site before providing a final system layout and price.
Solar modules are capable of producing power in all types of weather, but the amount can vary widely. On a cloudy day, systems typically perform at 10-25% of their capacity. While it’s true that panels can still produce power if they are covered lightly in snow, if your roof has a heavy layer of snow on it, the system will not produce – and potentially not for weeks. In southern Ontario, solar systems tend to produce the most power between April and October. Your system could produce more than 10 times as much energy in July versus January, so please keep this in mind when evaluating your electricity bills. If you can net meter, the public grid acts as your battery or storage system. Our goal is to design a system that produces enough power to cover your annual needs, i.e. bank enough credits in the summer to cover the winter, or on a finer level, to bank enough credits on a sunny day to compensate for your use own cloudy days and at night. If you have a zero export system where you can’t send additional power to the grid, you have to buy electricity when needed unless you have a battery/storage system.
The size of your solar system depends on your annual electricity usage. Most residential solar systems are at least 6 kW AC unless the house and occupants are extremely energy efficient. A 10 kW AC system is the maximum size currently allowed for small-scale net metering and it typically requires between ~800-1,000 sq. ft. of roof space.
Solar has a very low distributed load and as long as the building is built to code, the structure should be sufficient. That said, we have installed on a wide variety of garages, drivesheds and even century-old barns. Every rooftop system we build is assessed and stamped by a structural engineer. They take into account multiple factors and one of which is climate data for your area.
Actually, the panels help to protect your roof from the sun, rain, wind and snow. They can also assist in keeping your roof cooler in the summer.
Before installing solar, evaluate your roof. If the shingles are near the end of their life expectancy, it’s likely best to replace them first. If they are midway, you have a decision to make.
Do you feel that the benefits of having solar now outweigh the costs of an R&R (removal and re-installation) in 5-10 years? How long do you expect to live at the property?
If you decide to replace your roof, we highly recommend you consider steel. Like solar systems, steel roofs should last for over 30 years, and unlike asphalt, steel is 100% recyclable. We prefer traditional sheet steel such as VicWest or standing seam. If you like a fancier steel product, contact us first to confirm that we can install on it properly and that the roof attachments will be in your price range.
Typically yes, unless you have standing seam steel (with ribs to attach to) or a flat roof (where we often use ballast/concrete). For steel roofs, the screws we use to attach the racking are similar to those that were used to install the steel. They have rubber gaskets that seal and prevent leaks.
For asphalt roofs, we install what is called flashing to provide a waterproof seal. It is installed at all the points where the solar racking attaches to the roof. A metal plate is slid underneath the shingles to redirect any water flow away from the roof penetration. When you choose a solar contractor, ensure that they are highly experienced and don’t cut corners when it comes to protecting your roof! Blackline Power has never had a roof leak and we’ve installed hundreds of systems since 2010.
The solar system automatically disconnects from the grid (your utility mandates this for worker safety) and it automatically connects once the grid is live again. Thus, you will not have power unless you have a battery/storage unit. There is specific isolating equipment that both allows the battery to function and enables it to be replenished with energy from your solar system.
We can’t provide a firm price until we come out and analyze your site. System cost depends on several factors including the quality and number of components, your electrical infrastructure (for e.g., does your service panel need to be upgraded?), how steep your roof is (do we need a lift to work safely?), etc. We will provide options to meet your goals and budget.
This varies considerably based on system size and components, your electricity usage, and the cost of power. The more electricity rates increase, the better your investment. At some point in the near future, we are going to have to address that we do not pay the true cost of power.
The on-peak rate is now 20.8 cents. In summer 2019, it was 13.4 cents. To decrease the shock value of the rate increases and to try to keep bills relatively constant, the government increased the value of the Ontario Energy Rebate (OEB) to 20-30% of your bill depending on service classification and other factors. Take a look at your most recent bill to see this.
Here in the Blackline Power office, we consumed 878 kWh in February 2020 for a total bill amount of $145.91. Our OEB was $57.14. Without this, the bill would have been ~$200.
We regularly see bills from our commercial clients who are receiving rebates of up to $2,000/month. How can this be sustainable? Solar will buffer you from increasing electricity costs for decades.
There are three main solar system types. In order of increasing maintenance, they are: rooftop, fixed ground and tracking ground.
Residential rooftop systems are virtually maintenance-free and fixed ground mounts are a close second (just keep the grass/vegetation down around the system and clear off the snow if desired). Because they have moving parts, trackers require annual greasing and inspection, and this should be done by a professional. In our climate, we rarely have to worry about cleaning modules; we have enough precipitation to do an adequate job. As for snow, we only recommend clearing off snow if you can do so safely with a soft-bristled broom.
The majority of our clients never touch their solar system. The MOST important task you can do is to log in to your monitoring at least once a week to ensure that the system is operating.
Most manufacturers guarantee that their panels will still produce 80% of their power in their 25th year. Evidence from Germany and other jurisdictions indicate that a solar system should run well for 30-40 years.
Solar is an excellent investment environmentally and economically. As the modules are under warranty for 25 years and the systems should run well for 30-40 years, it is highly likely that you will not be the sole owner of your solar system.
Studies are increasingly proving the added value that solar brings to resale and an increase of 4-6% is common. Thus, a $400,000 home could be worth $425,000 with a solar system. The amount of profit fluctuates with location (some jurisdictions show up to a 10% increase) and in our experience, solar has a higher premium on rural properties.
Also keep in mind that solar is an investment that starts paying for itself from Day 1 and its value increases in concert with rising electricity prices. If your system offsets all or the majority of your consumption (i.e., you have a net zero home), it’s a powerful selling feature to be able to say that your monthly electricity bill is consistently ~$40 or less (the standard fee to connect to the grid) and will be for decades. Solar brings energy independence and security, concepts that are becoming increasingly important in our world.
It is likely better to keep it in place, reap the added resale reward of selling a house with a solar system, and install a new system at your new property. The expense of a removal and re-installation is rarely worth it, plus, removing a system from the roof will leave it more exposed to leaks.
What is involved with installing solar?
- Initial discussion: We want to understand your situation and goals.
- Capacity check: Utility companies (e.g. Hydro One, Westario) have area-specific restrictions on the amount of grid-connected solar that can be installed. We need to determine what size and type of system can be installed on site.
- Electricity consumption: We also would like to know how much power you use monthly throughout the year so we can run a detailed analysis and determine the size of solar system needed.
- Site visit: We measure and assess your rooftops and electrical set-up.
- Solar report: We outline our recommendations and provide pricing.
- Pre-installation: We arrange structural engineering (if required), deal with the relevant authorities, and secure your equipment.
- Installation: This has two parts, installing the racking and modules (mechanical) and installing the inverter, wiring, etc. (electrical). Residential systems typically take 1-3 days for the mechanical installation and one day to install the electrical components.
- Inspection: All systems must meet the requirements of the electrical code and be inspected by the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA).
- Connection: If the system is zero export, the ESA inspection is the last step in the process. If it is net metering, the ESA inspection documents are submitted to your utility (e.g. Hydro One) and then they come on site to swap your current electricity meter for a bi-directional one. As soon as this happens, you have permission to generate power. These final steps can take ~1-4 weeks.
- Monitoring: Once the system is operational, clients set-up a username and password to access the monitoring on their phone, tablet and/or computer.
Yes. If there is no grid-capacity left in your area, you can install a zero export system. These systems have specific technology to ensure that excess power is never exported to the public grid. Like net metering, solar power is still consumed on site as it is produced, but any unused electricity is either dumped or stored in a battery.
As the majority of our clients do not install a battery or storage system (though they may decide to add one in the future), it is important to properly size zero export systems to minimize waste. These systems are becoming increasingly popular. People want to take control of their energy production, yet still enjoy the advantages of being connected to the grid.
Grid capacity can be fluid. It can change when electrical infrastructure upgrades are made or previous solar applicants drop their projects and do not install. Blackline Power checks for grid capacity on an ongoing basis. Zero export systems can easily be converted to net metering if capacity becomes available.
It’s definitely beneficial to plan for incorporating solar before you start building. Visit our New Builds (make a link) page for information and tips.
We primarily focus on Grey-Bruce and areas within a 150 km or 1.5 hour radius of Owen Sound: north through Georgian Bluffs to Wiarton, Lion’s Head, Miller Lake and up to Tobermory; west over to Allenford, Sauble Beach, Southampton, Port Elgin and Kincardine; east to Meaford, Thornbury, Blue Mountains and Collingwood; and south to Chesley, Paisley and Hanover, down Highway 6 to Chatsworth, Durham and Mount Forest, and over to Markdale, Flesherton, Shelburne and Orangeville.
From Guelph south to Simcoe, we also have a number of installations. If you are beyond our typical area and are seriously interested in solar, contact us.
Questions Worth Asking Contractors
Like you, we value transparency. Here’s our answers to questions you should ask when choosing a solar company.
Blackline Power has been installing solar systems in southwestern Ontario since 2010.
Most definitely. To our knowledge, we don’t have any unhappy solar clients. People love generating their own clean power.
Yes. Blackline Power and all of our partners carry proper insurance, are covered by WSIB, and have fall safety certification. Our installation foreman is one of the most experienced in southwestern Ontario and owner Rob Black has the highest level of solar certification (make the last 5 words a link: https://www.nabcep.org/nabcep-professionals/?last_name=&country=CAN&state=undefined&certification_type=PV) in North America. Only ~10 people have achieved this status in Ontario. NABCEP accreditation is not easy to achieve and it is rigorous to maintain. It was established to set a standard for quality and to protect consumers. We are also long-time members of the Canadian Solar Industries Association (make this a link: www.cansia.ca).
While today’s tech-savvy world conveys numerous advantages including the opportunity to view properties and measure rooftops online, Blackline Power solidifies all estimates with a thorough site evaluation where we measure and assess your rooftop and its structure and document your electrical infrastructure. This is also a great time for you to ask questions and learn more about the equipment that we recommend and how and where it will be installed.
If possible, we analyze at least once full year of your electricity usage to determine how much power you require. Unless you plan to increase your consumption in the near future, there is little point to installing a larger system than necessary. If you are net metering, you can only bank credits for 12 months and if unused, they will be lost. If you have a zero export system, you don’t want to be dumping large amounts of unused power.
- applying for and managing the grid connection offer from your utility (e.g. Westario, Hydro One)
- arranging for stamped structural engineering to prove that your rooftop can handle the additional weight of the solar system
- applying for and providing all necessary paperwork for the building permit
- coordinating/scheduling the Electrical Safety Authority inspection
- coordinating/scheduling service disconnects with the utility (if required)
For Current Solar Owners
Whether we installed your system or another company, read on for common questions. p.s. there’s lots of good information here for anyone interested in solar!
There are three main solar system types. In order of increasing maintenance, they are: rooftop, fixed ground and tracking ground. Residential rooftop systems are virtually maintenance-free and fixed ground mounts are a close second (just keep the grass/vegetation down around the system and clear off the snow if desired).
Because they have moving parts, trackers require annual greasing and inspection, and this should be done by a professional. In our climate, we rarely have to worry about cleaning modules; we have enough precipitation to do an adequate job.
As for snow, we only recommend clearing off snow if you can do so safely with a soft-bristled broom. The majority of our clients never touch their solar system. The MOST important task you can do is to log in to your monitoring at least once a week to ensure that the system is operating.
Not frequently/consistently. While we have the ability to keep tabs on all of our systems through our monitoring portal and perform periodic checks, we have installed hundreds of systems and cannot keep an eye on all of them!
Important: for their warranty to be in effect, many inverter manufacturers require that your system must be connected to monitoring. Thus, it is important to ensure it is communicating on a regular basis.
Contact us. We will deal with the manufacturer on your behalf to coordinate the replacement and installation.
Refer to the tips and troubleshooting information we provided after installing your system. Typically, it is simply an internet connection issue and the solar is still producing power. First, check if the inverter is on and the system is producing power. Second, check if any internet connections have been unplugged or if your router needs to be reset. If the issue isn’t rectified, contact us.
Yes. The MicroFIT/FIT Program has ended, i.e. no new contracts are being awarded, but you can install either a net metering or zero export grid-connected system. The system type will depend on whether additional grid capacity is available and if your electrical infrastructure requires upgrades. If you have already been denied more grid-capacity and cannot currently net meter, you can still benefit from solar. Contact us for details.
Your system should work well for at least 30 years. If there is not another solar program available from either the government or utility (electricity provider), you can continue to use the power yourself either with or without batteries/storage.
The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is in charge of the MicroFIT/FIT Program. They presume that sellers would include their renewable energy systems as part of the sale of their property and that the contract be assigned to the purchaser. The new contract holder would receive payments in accordance with the contract for the remainder of the contract term. If the new owner would prefer not to take on the contract and net meter instead, this is likely possible.
You can easily transfer your net metering agreement to the new owner. Remember that unlike a MicroFIT/FIT, net metering is not a 20-year contract, it is simply an agreement with your utility. We advise contacting your electricity provider before you move to ask what paperwork is involved and ensure a smooth transition when you sell.
WE PROVIDE RESIDENTIAL, AGRICULTURAL, COMMERCIAL, ABORIGINAL, MUNICIPAL AND NON-PROFIT SOLAR SOLUTIONS. QUESTIONS?