Successful Solar Structure on Heritage Home
For over 20 years I have lived in homes run solely on electricity. For years the gasp of words… “that must be so expensive!” would come so quickly out of people’s mouths. As an architect that specializes in energy efficient building envelopes, I always figured these expressions of concern were misguided and definitely under considered. Any home that has poor insulation, a leaky envelope, and old windows will always be upwards of 75%-90% more inefficient and therefore more expensive and use more fossil fuels than any house I have renovated. Oh, and the other great thing going without gas… is I only get one bill.
My decision to go all electric was always based on the reduction of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. I did not want to be beholden to the whims of the oil cartels. In the end I could always produce my own electricity when it made sense. Until now, it was something I just thought about with grand plans for someday.
The first thing I did was start working with a good solar company that does everything for you including permits. Guelph Solar was given to me by my mechanical engineer Zon Engineering who did all my solar and low energy hvac designs. Zon said that hiring an engineering company for a home was probably overkill. The solar company prepared initial off-site analysis using the digital tools available online to come up with a 20-page presentation. This document shows where the optimal location of the solar panels would be and the cost and a handy future looking calculator of cost savings over the life of the solar panels. The industry standard lifespan of solar panels is 25-30 years. A 2012 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that, on average, solar panel output falls by 0.8 percent each year. So, choosing the highest quality products with the lowest degradation over time is important.
On my heritage house, the front roof would have been awesome for solar panels. For less panels, I could have produced more energy than by avoiding this front façade. But I was not prepared to fight Preservation Services and drag this out longer than it needed to be. This added about $6000 to the cost and kept the front façade free from panels. Honestly, I am happy that the front façade is clear, I like the way my house looks. There are other options for more integrated panels and maybe someday… Tesla will actually make them available. The main issue I have with fully integrated solar panels is that the roof is going to last longer than the panels integrated to it. “Do you throw out the whole roof when it’s still keeping the rian off?” Amorphic panels are another option if you have a standing seam roof. These are long rolls of peel and stick solar panels that are easily installed. But I don’t think standing seam is considered heritage in North Rosedale, despite the fact asphalt shingles are. I chose an aluminum roof system that has a 50+ lifespan and is designed to take solar panels. The roof is designed to look like a slate or can emulate cedar. The colour of the roof is dark grey but is considered a light reflecting roof based on some space age coating in the paint. This should reduce heat in the house and under the panels and make everything more efficient.
Once the panels are erected this Spring, the panels will send the electrons directly to the grid for use, probably by me and my neighbours. My panel will reverse the kWhs when the sun shines and moves forward and night. Based on the calculations from the solar company 60%-70% of my electric bill will be covered.
I decided against having a bank of batteries for an off-grid situation mainly due to costs for the large and not so environmental batteries. The chatter in the industry is that our batteries in the future will be our cars. Literally moving batteries. When the power goes out, you can plug into your future electric car to keep the lights on. Maybe, like the Tesla solar roof, this is just a dream… but it’s a good one.
In a world where those that have fossil fuels, use it to hold those that don't hostage, I choose the energy source with a billion years reliability, no ownership and in charge of sunny days.