Complete Guide For Solar Power British Columbia 2019
Congratulations! You’ve found the ultimate guide for going solar in British Columbia!
British Columbia is currently ranked the #7 province in the country for installing a solar power system, scoring as one of the best provinces for installation costs and for access to solar power.
This page contains all available information about installing solar in BC including solar incentives, regional geography, electrical utilities, and access to solar, as of 2019.
You can read from top to bottom, or skip to your preferred section by clicking on it below:
Overall Solar Rating
We’ve ranked British Columbia as being Canada’s 7th best province for solar power in 2019. British Columbia scores higher than most provinces because it has the second lowest installation costs in the country, a high penetration of high quality installation companies, and several energy incentive and financing programs.
Curious to see how and why we rank the provinces the way we do? Check out the Solar Rankings Page to find out more.
Basic System Information
When thinking about solar power, the first questions that often come to a person’s mind are:
- “How big does my solar system need to be?”
- “Can I completely offset my electricity usage?”
- “How much will it cost?”
This section is intended to answer these basic questions before going into the details about installing solar in British Columbia.
Sizing Your System
Determining the size of system you need is as simple as knowing how much energy you use during the course of a year. Your monthly BC Hydro Bill will show your usage (in kWh) similar to the photo below:
You’ll need to figure out how much energy you use in a year by adding up the amount shown for 12 consecutive months. Note that taking one month and multiplying by 12 won’t work because energy use fluctuates depending on the season.
After you know how much energy you use, you can easily calculate the size of the solar power system that you’ll need by using the following equation:
Size of system needed (in kW) = yearly energy use (in kWh) / 1,004h
(where 1,004h equals the annual average equivalent of full sunlight hours in British Columbia)
So let’s pretend you added up your hydro bills and determined that you use 10,000kWh over the course of a year, you would then do the above calculation and determine that you need a 9.96kW solar panel system!
10,000kWh / 1,004h = 9.96kW
Now that you know the size of your system, you’ll want to determine the best place to put it. Most residential homeowners in BC put the solar panels on their roof, while most rural homeowners put them on the roof of their house, shop, or on the ground in their yard.
If you’re putting solar panels on your roof, you should know:
- A south facing roof is best, east and west facing are good, north facing is just OK
- Output on panels are guaranteed for 25 years, so you may need to replace your shingles (or entire roof) before installing
- If you’re concerned about snow, know that roof mounted panels are harder to clean off
- Your roof’s pitch (slope) is not the most optimal angle for solar production
If you’re putting solar panels on the ground, you should know:
- These systems are more expensive upfront due to piling requirements, mounting materials, and power line trenching…
- … But are cheaper in the long term because they are more efficient (see next point)
- They can be easily placed to avoid shading, to the optimal direction (south), and to the optimal angle (~45°)
- Systems can be much larger than roof mounted ones
Cost of Installation
The last piece of basic information that you’ll want to know is an approximation of how much your system will cost. To calculate this you’ll need to know the size of the system you plan to install (see previous section).
The rough calculation is simple. Just take the size of your system and multiply it by the $2.64/Watt (the average cost of installing a solar system in British Columbia). Using the example from the sizing section, we can see that a 9.96kW system would cost approximately $22,658 to install.
System cost = size needed x cost per installed watt
= 9,960Watts x $2.64/Watt
Please note that the exact price of the system depends on several factors including the system size, the quality of equipment used, and the complexity of the job. Even the range in the chart above is just for the average – installation prices can easily go as high as $3.30/Watt for premium equipment installed by the highest quality installers.
Major Program: PST Exemption
British Columbia has relatively little solar energy rebates at the provincial level, however it does have several energy efficiency and electric vehicle rebate programs. This section briefly covers the energy incentives available to homeowners, a more in-depth explanation of each can be found on the British Columbia Incentives Page.
One important thing to keep in mind:
- Application. Rebate applications, including all paperwork, should be handled entirely by your installation company. We’ve vetted our installation partners to ensure they are capable of doing this for you.
Solar Rebates & Tax Credits
Although BC does not currently have an solar rebates at the provincial level, it is the only province with a PST exemption for all solar panels. The Alternative Energy Sources PST Exemption also covers solar thermal, as well as any necessary equipment needed for installation including wiring, controllers, inverters, pumps, and tubing.
Here is what the savings would look like if we used the same size system from the sizing section:
$26,294 x 7% PST = $1,840
The average British Columbia resident can offset their power consumption with a 9.96kW system and save $1,840 on their purchase.
Other Energy Incentives
British Columbia also has a number of other energy incentives available to homeowners:
- Nanaimo & Lantzville Renewable Energy Systems Program
- For Nanaimo & Lantzville residents
- Rebate of $250-$400 for solar pv, solar thermal, geothermal, or wind system
- Home Renovation Rebate and EfficiencyBC Program
- For BC Hydro and FortisBC customers
- Rebate from $50 to $5,500 on home energy efficiency upgrades
- Clean Energy Vehicle Program
- For BC residents
- Rebate of $5,000 for battery electric vehicles purchase
- North Cowichan & Duncan Tap by Tap Program
- For North Cowichan & Duncan residents
- Free energy and water saving kits
- City of Nelson EcoSave Program
- For City of Nelson Residents
- Free energy audit, thermal imaging, and rebates
- Utility Energy Incentives
Businesses can now use the Federal Tax Provision for Clean Energy Equipment to fully expense their solar system. This means a CCA rate of 100% and the abolishment of the first year rule.
Remember, energyhub.org also has a special solar incentive. It’s not huge, but it’s easy to claim – just send us a picture of your installation or purchase agreement with one of our certified energy installers. Full details on the energyhub.org Cash Incentive Page.
Production Efficiency: 1004Wh/kW/yr
Average Energy Use: 80GJ/yr
In terms of available natural resources and homeowner energy demand, British Columbia is on the lower end for provinces in the Canada. This section briefly covers the amount of sunlight that BC receives (solar irradiation) as well as energy demand from homeowners.
British Columbia has the 11th highest potential to produce solar energy in all of Canada, receiving less solar irradiation most other provinces and territories except for Newfoundland and Labrador and the Yukon Territories.
According to data from National Resources Canada, the average solar system in British Columbia can produce 1004kWh of electricity per kW of solar panels per year.
Here is how much an average solar system can produce each month, as well as the solar irradiation potential map for BC:
This yearly average decreases as you move north and west in the province and increases as you move south and east. For example:
- A 1kW solar system in Vancouver would produce about 1,007 kWh/yr
- A 1kW solar system in Surrey would produce about 996 kWh/yr
- A 1kW solar system in Burnaby would produce about 991 kWh/yr
- A 1kW solar system in Richmond would produce about 1,027 kWh/yr
- A 1kW solar system in Abbotsford would produce 996 kWh/yr
Total Energy Demand
The average household in British Columbia uses 118GJ of energy per year – that’s the equivalent of 22,200 kWh of electricity! And although most homes only use about a third of that (because of gas heating), the number still demonstrates a reasonable need for energy generation and energy efficiency technologies.
In sum, at least for the average homeowner, it is completely possible to offset one’s yearly hydro bill with a solar system system.
Variable Costs: $0.09/kWh
Fixed Costs: $11/mo
Setup Fees: None
British Columbia is one of the best provinces in the country to switch to solar power in terms of utility related factors. This section covers how the costs of electricity as well as solar setup fees affect of the feasibility of solar in BC.
Variable Electricity Costs
Variable electricity rates determine the maximal amount of money that can be saved by switching to solar – ie. they represent the portion of your hydro bill that goes to zero when you don’t use any energy. Thus the relatively low rates in BC ($0.09/Watt) means that the average homeowner will save only a moderate amount of money.
Fixed Electricity Costs
On the other hand, fixed electricity costs are not so good because they don’t disappear even if you switch to solar power – you’ll pay them as long as you remain connected to the grid. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – $11/mo is a small price to pay for using the grid as your energy back-up and virtual energy storage device (and much lower than most other provinces).
The only way to completely remove your fixed costs are to go off the grid, something most homeowners don’t do due to the large price and maintenance costs of battery storage. Plus, disconnecting from the grid means you won’t be able to participate in a net metering program.
Net Metering Policy
Net Metering is one of the most important policy mechanisms that makes solar a feasible energy generation option. Net Metering essentially means that you can send the excess energy that you produce (during the day and summer) back to the electricity grid and earn credits for that energy at the same retail rate that you buy it for.
These credits can then be used to offset your energy usage during times when your solar system doesn’t produce as much energy as is needed (during the night and winter). Without this mechanism, you would need to purchase an extremely costly set of batteries.
BC’s Net Metering Policies allow for systems up to 100kW in size to be connected to the grid for net metering, however it’s very important to note that credits in BC expire yearly, thus you’ll want to work closely with your installer to make sure your system perfectly matches your energy usage.
Solar Setup Fees
BC’s currently policies also ensure that you don’t need to pay for an interconnection study or a bi-directional meter when you switch to solar power. This is opposed to many provinces like New Brunswick and Nova Scotia where interconnection and bi-directional meter fees exceed $500!
Access To Solar
Upfront Cost: $2.64/Watt
Installer Access: High
A completely new section to this year’s British Columbia solar guide, Access to Solar explores the major accessibility factors in the province.
Cost of Installation
The upfront cost of installation is obviously one of the largest factors that determines whether or not a person is going to switch to solar. The current prices in BC range from $2.25-$3.35 with the average price being somewhere around $2.64.
The price changes depending on a variety of factors:
- The size of system required (larger systems are cheaper on a per Watt basis)
- The complexity and/or specific requirements of the job
- The type and quality of equipment used
- The quality of the installation company
Remember, you can easily calculate the total estimated cost of your system in the Basics Section at the top of this page.
In general, aiming for the cheapest price shouldn’t be your goal. Remember that the energy output on solar equipment is guaranteed for 25 years, so you want to make sure that your installation job is good enough to support that. You’ll also want to be sure that the company you choose will be around in 5 to 10 years from now in case you need service or warranty work done.
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is an innovative financing option that allows you to cover the entire upfront cost of your solar system (or energy efficiency upgrades) with a $0 down, long amortization period, low interest ‘loan’.
However, unlike a typical loan, this loan is attached to your property (not you) and is paid back alongside your property tax bill as a Local Improvement Charge (LIC). And while BC does not have a major PACE legislation, there are two communities that currently offer PACE and PACE-like financing.
The first is the City of Nelson’s On-Bill Financing Program which allows homeowners to borrow up to $16,000 for home energy upgrades and pay it back through their Nelson Hydro electric bill. Loans are approved based purely on payment history and property verification – no personal income or credit information is needed!
The second program is the Penticton Home Energy Loan Program which grants loans up t $10,000 to be paid back through your Penticton Electric Utility bill. However, this is not a true PACE program as the loan is dependent on your personal credit history.
Other Financing Options
Obviously though, PACE is not the only way to finance a solar system. Systems can be financed by cash, bank loans, installer financing, home equity loans, a home equity line of credit, a mortgages (for new builds), or through energy loans.
Several options exists for BC homeowners:
- Vanacity Home Energy Loan (energy loan)
- As low as prime +1%
- Up to 15 years amortization
- Vanacity contact number: 604-877-7000
- RBC Energy Saver Loan (energy loan)
- Up to 10 years amortization
- RBC contact number: 1-800-769-2511
- TD Bank (various options)
- TD contact number: 1-866-389-8888
- CMHC Mortgage Loan Premium Rebate
Access to Installers
The final category that we ranked for this year’s British Columbia solar guide is the access to reputable and high quality solar installers. And fortunately, BC has no shortage of them.
Solar Power British Columbia: Summary
British Columbia has a great PST exemption on solar panels, low installation costs, and an abundance of reputable solar companies, however we still rank BC as being the #7 province in the country for switching to solar power.
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