Power your home with solar and sell the excess

BC Hydro's net metering program can save electrical costs while helping the environment

by Elizabeth James
Man standing in the door of his home that has solar panels on the roof.

More than 500 property owners in B.C. use solar power in conjunction with BC Hydro's grid. — Photos by Don Pettit, Peace Energy Cooperative

As I write this, Mother Nature continues to warn British Columbians they can no longer take for granted their benign relationship with weather patterns, pristine waters and thousands of hectares of wilderness and productive farmlands.

While many have enjoyed a summer on the lake, unrelenting sunshine has led to drought-like conditions, unprecedented water-use restrictions and dead or dying crops in the Fraser Valley. These converging events suggest now is the time to pause and take stock of present and future energy resources.

How best do we and our governments deploy scarce funding and natural resources in order to provide reliable and affordable power?

I spent much of my summer in the shade wrestling with these questions and the more I read, the more elusive the answers seem to be. And then a miracle happened.

On July 28, 2015, Kerry Adler, president and CEO of SkyPower Global, announced the company had signed a US $2.2-billion agreement with the government of Kenya to develop a gigawatt of solar projects in that country.

“As part of this historic moment for Kenya, SkyPower is pleased to announce it will be gifting two million home solar kits to the people of Kenya.”

Barely two years earlier, India’s newly-elected prime minister Narendra Modi also promised to end his country’s rolling blackouts by “putting a solar panel on every home” thus bringing clean energy—and jobs—to 400 million people in his country.

So where does British Columbia fit in this picture?

Homeowners and small commercial operators unfamiliar with solar photovoltaic energy and BC Hydro’s net-metering technology may be surprised to learn the utility has an incentive program. A consumer who rack-mounts a solar array and completes the installation with breaker switches and an inverter that converts DC power to alternating current (AC) for the home, can transmit any excess power to the BC Hydro transmission grid.

In turn, Hydro will continue to supply the homeowner with power during those times when solar energy is insufficient for the home or business. Energy is automatically swapped back and forth as required until the year-end reconciliation of the consumer’s usage. If Hydro has received more power than it delivered, it pays the consumer 9.9 cents per kilowatt for the excess. If the balance is the other way round, the consumer offsets the amount owing at Hydro’s going rate. Depending on power usage in the home or business and the size of the solar installation, some consumers can offset up to 100 per cent of their Hydro bill, while others pay less overall for their energy needs.

In 2014 close to 500 net-metering consumers were contributing to BC Hydro’s energy needs.

By re-evaluating current and future plans for energy production and working with British Columbians and experienced solar corporations like SkyPower and Tesla Powerwall, could BC Hydro and our governments produce all the power we need, on the smallest of all possible footprints, by using solar power for most non-industrial installations?

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