Solar power cheaper than NSPI

If you enjoy decent sun exposure, you can install solar electric panels on your house and begin earning a profit the next month while making a big-time reduction in your carbon footprint.

solar-pv-flower-scaledThere’s no magic to this, no rebates are required, and the math is easy.

The average Nova Scotia home consumes about 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, or kWh. Each kWh, taxes-in, costs around $0.155 when you buy it from Nova Scotia Power. That works out to $1,550 per year.

Let’s say you install enough solar photovoltaic panels, known as solar PV or just PV, to generate the full 10,000 kWh. In Halifax, that would require panels with a generating capacity of about 9,300 kW (known to solar nerds as kWp).

It’s hard to get an online estimate of the cost in Nova Scotia, but there’s a company in P.E.I. that will install that — for Islanders —  for about $19,500. (Actually, P.E.I., gets more sun, so it might cost Islanders as little as $15,700. Maybe you, too, if you live in a sunny spot.)

Seems high, right? But what if you mortgaged $19,500 at 4.54% with a 25-year amortization, terms I picked at random from Canadian Banks? The answer is annual mortgage payments of $1,301, including principal. That’s $250 less than you’re paying now for electricity.

Each year you pay in $1,301 and you get back $250 for your trouble. Presto! A profit.

At Turpin Laboratories, we have access to credit at 2.89%, so our annual cost would be $1,094.

It works out to $0.11 per kWh versus the $0.155 per kWh from NSPI. By the way, this is not so different from what power utilities do: they borrow money to build massive power plants and pay it back, plus interest, over the life of the equipment. The nice thing about PV panels is they require almost no maintenance, are guaranteed for 25 years and could last as long as 40 years.

And here’s the best part: based on NSPI figures, you would be reducing your GHG emissions by 6,520 kg (carbon equivalent). This is the equivalent of taking 1.3 passenger cars off the road, or not burning 3,159 kg of coal

But, you ask, the sun doesn’t shine 24/7, so what do I do when it’s dark?

Well, in Nova Scotia we have a thing called net metering for households. In a nutshell, it means NSPI has to buy any excess electricity your panels produce at the same price they charge you for their electricity. So, to over-simplify, they pay you for excess generation during the day and you pay them for their electricity at night. Periodically, you and the company do the math: you subtract what they sold you from what they purchased from you and settle the bill. At Turpin Labs, it means NSPI would cut us a cheque for $450 at the end of the year.

And this works for any number of PV panels. (Two to four thousand watts (Wp) is common.) Add more for your electric vehicle and —wow — you are star at saving humans from climate change. Plus, your electricity and auto fuel bills total zero.

It’s important to shop around and do your homework. This a new industry, so ask tough questions — there’s plenty of info available on the web.

If you can’t get a reasonable forecast about your generation potential, then move on to another installer. If someone is offering you panels than generate much more than 1.1 kWh annually per kWp of panel capacity (kWh/kWp  now that you know the lingo), start asking questions. Natural resources Canada has detailed and relevant local data here.

But you can’t go crazy and actually compete with the power company. The amount of solar capacity you install has to be consistent with your needs.

Has Turpin Labs done this? No, because we’re reluctant to take on new debt in the Lab’s development, despite the rock-solid logic of the proposition. It’s just psychology. This is where a rebate from, say, Efficiency Nova Scotia, could make a difference in combatting climate change.

“Wow, Turpin Labs,” you say. “This is great! Why aren’t the government and NSPI promoting the heck out of this to help fight climate change?”

Well, at a certain point residential generation becomes a problem for power utilities and that’s a problem for governments, even ones that campaigned on putting the powerco in its place.

More on that in a future post.


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