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Don Pettit: Confessions of a solar geek

Did you know that enough solar energy strikes the Earth every hour to power our whole worldwide civilization for a year?
Don-Pettit-Solar
Installers here are finishing a 5-kilowatt grid-tied array in 2019 at Don Pettit's home near Dawson Creek. At right is a much older solar array that partly powers his home but also charges a battery bank for emergency power should the grid go down. "Some of the solar panels in this older array are 30 years young and doing just fine," Pettit says.

donI will admit it. I am a solar geek.

I have three fairly large solar arrays on my rural home near Dawson Creek, and one on my rental building in town. Heck, my wristwatch is solar powered, and I look forward to the day (soon!) when I’ll be powering my cool electric pickup truck with my own solar energy too.

I think it is just amazing that we know how to generate electricity from crystals. That’s the active ingredient in solar panels: thin sheets of crystalline silicon, a crazy-abundant metal found all over the surface of our planet. Seal the crystals behind tempered glass in an aluminum frame, and you have a tough electrical generator that will sit in the sun and generate electricity for 50 years plus, silently without pollution, no moving parts, fully recyclable into more solar panels when it finally does wear out.

Solar saves money

Sure, there’s an up-front expense to install solar, but it turns out to be one of the best financial investments you can make, both for your pocket book and for our beloved little blue planet.

I installed a 5,000-watt grid-tied solar array on my business building in Dawson Creek seven years ago, and have paid exactly zero dollars for electricity since. The return on my $15,000 solar investment? About 6% per year, increasing year after year as the cost of grid electricity has continued to rise.

And for the planet, there is no greener electricity than the pollution-free solar power you make yourself on your own property to be used right then and there.

Solar is huge

Global solar is doubling every three years, with no end in sight. Solar will be the largest single source of energy on the planet in just 15 or 20 years. Wow.

Solar technology is new to western Canada. In B.C., for instance, there are only about 3,000 rooftop solar arrays powering homes and businesses. In Japan there are over two million, Australia more than three million. China? I’ve lost count, but it is by far the world leader in solar, with some 10,000 new solar homes installed every day!

And now with a new and wee bit more progressive administration south of the border, the U.S. is poised to catch up with China in just a few years. We’re talking jobs here.

Solar is cheap

Did you know that enough solar energy strikes the Earth every hour to power our whole worldwide civilization for a year?

And did you know that the cost of solar power has dropped by 80% since about 2010?

Yep, solar power has become the fastest growing and cheapest energy source the world has ever seen. Around the world, solar is now achieving “grid parity” meaning it can compete with all other sources of energy, without subsidies.

How is this possible? Massive upscale in automated manufacturing, and continuous improvements in solar panel efficiency. Extremely low maintenance, very high reliability and very long life (50 years plus). And a “fuel” that just keeps pouring out of the sky, free for the harvesting.

Grid-tied solar

OK, but how do I power my solar-powered home at night, or in the winter when the solar panels are covered with snow? Do I need batteries or something to store the electricity?

Nope.

Attaching the solar array to the electrical grid – a “grid-tied” system, has neatly solved the problem. With grid-tie, (a system readily available in most provinces including BC and Alberta) your solar array first powers your home or business then feeds extra power (power you don’t need right now) into the grid, which builds up as a credit on your account. This credit can then be used up at night and all winter long. Works perfectly, and can result in reduced or zero electrical bills year after year.

I know, because I’ve done it, and I know lots of other folks who have done it too.

If you’re interested in solar, Peace Energy Cooperative, a renewable energy co-op based in Dawson Creek, and Peace River, Alberta, holds evening solar webinars every few weeks. Check out their website, peaceenergy.ca, to register for their next “Save With Solar” webinar. It’s free.


Don Pettit is a community columnist living in Dawson Creek and Executive Director of the Peace Energy Cooperative.