How cost and misconceptions are holding some Canadians back from going solar

How cost and misconceptions are holding some Canadians back from going solar
How cost and misconceptions are holding some Canadians back from going solar

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Nola Daly always planned to install solar panels on her first home.

“It's very much something, values-wise, I want to do to reduce my carbon footprint. And, it's a financial thing. It would be nice to have less of an electricity bill every month,” she told The Weather Network.

Solar power is more accessible than ever in Canada and the upfront cost to install panels has fallen by more than 55 per cent in the last decade. In Alberta, renewables accounted for 14 per cent of energy production in 2021, up from less than three per cent in 2001. Yet, only around 43,000 buildings in the country have rooftop solar panels installed, according to the Canadian Renewable Energy Association.

The slow uptake is partly because solar energy funding varies province-to-province, and the overall cost is still out of the range of many homeowners and businesses. Some consumers and experts are calling for governments to be more proactive in encouraging the transition through subsidies. There are also still numerous misconceptions around solar, though there are folks out looking to change that narrative.

Daly had hoped to be part of a growing movement of homeowners adding to the number of solar users. So, when she and her husband finally picked up the keys to their two-storey property in northwest Calgary five years ago, they were ready to go green — but quickly realized more urgent renovations were needed first.

“We found other issues in the house and we wound up having to put the money there,” she said. By the time the couple had finished with renovations and were ready to return to their solar dream, they’d hoped to count on two sources of funding — Canada's federal Greener Homes Grant, which covers up to $5,000 for eligible solar panel installations as well as a $40,000 interest-free loan, and Alberta's former provincial rebate system, which covered up to 35 per cent of the cost of home solar installation.

But, the latter rebate was cut in 2019 after a more conservative government took power in Alberta, leaving Daly and her husband back to square one. “We're hoping those rebates will be reinstated because it's still something we very much want to get for the house,” she explained.


Solar panel installation. (Kindel Media/ Pexels)

ROI challenges

David Clark also hoped to go solar — and he thought he and his wife had purchased the perfect home for it. His property in Calgary’s Winston Heights neighbourhood has a separate suite over the garage where his mother lives, so there’s plenty of rooftop space to utilize. And, as the manager of an HVAC company, he felt well-placed to research the financial benefits of green heating systems.

"With separate suites, we have heavy utility consumption. I wanted the ability to lower my footprint. So, I did an investigation," Clark told The Weather Network.

But, what Clark found was disheartening. He received quotes from several different contractors, and learned he'd need to invest $35,000 to install solar panels on both roofs — 55 per cent upward of the country’s average residential solar cost of $22,500 — and while he would be eligible for the loan, he still felt the project would be too expensive.

"For me, it didn't make any sense. I'm a practical person,” he said, pointing to research that indicates that the average homeowner stays in their property for around 13 years, or potentially longer than the panels’ expected ROI.

Clark said he’d be more interested if additional rebates greatly shortened the length of time to see a return on that investment. But, what he’d be even more delighted to see would be government policies mandating green energy upgrades like solar or heat pumps on new builds — something he’s familiar with, thanks to how legislation transformed the furnace industry’s energy efficiency years ago.

"I think energy efficiency has to come from the top down. When you're looking at retrofitting an existing home ... I think [the cost] is going to drive some people away,” Clark said.

While the cost of installing solar can be unrealistic for some homeowners, for others, government funding and the placement and size of their home’s roof mean they will make their investment back in a reasonable amount of time. That’s even more likely with rising energy bills — thanks to increasing natural gas costs, some Canadian homes could see those bills rise as much as 300 per cent this winter.

The federal government loan program has already supported 3,200 homeowners to afford energy upgrades, and 92 per cent of those applicants received the $40,000 within 40 business days (roughly two months) of submitting all the documents in their application. Payouts for the grant have been slower. It kicked off with strong demand at a time when pandemic home renovations were already booming. More than 250,000 grant applications have been submitted, but just nine per cent of homeowners who completed the application have received their rebate.

But, while some people grapple with crunching the numbers on a solar investment, there are hundreds of misconceptions that prevent other homeowners from even considering solar as an option.

Watch more: Residents generate own power in off-grid community

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Tips on TikTok

Jordan Kruhlak would know — he spends a good chunk of his time tearing down those myths, on TikTok.

Kruhlak’s Edmonton-based business, Glean, provides a one-stop shop for home and business owners to gather quotes from contractors on solar installations. And, by speaking to many, sometimes hesitant, customers, he quickly realized how many myths are out there. So, he took to social media to address some of those concerns, and have conversations with people who may never have considered solar as an option.

No, Kruhlak says, solar doesn’t require batteries. No, snow isn’t going to destroy solar’s energy production (summer production matters more, anyway). No, panels are not going to make your roof leak. And yes, you can sell excess power back to the grid.

"There's a lot of misconceptions out there, especially around price. But the grant that's out there right now, it's $5,000. It's a lot — and you can finance the rest interest-free,” Kruhlak told The Weather Network. “I would always like to see more funding, but [for many people] I think these grants are adequate. And now is a good time to take advantage of them — in this high interest-rate environment an interest-free loan is pretty good.”

Kruhlak has one recommendation for homeowners, whether they're annoyed with their current energy costs or interested in a greener lifestyle — don't make assumptions about solar. "At least look into it and see if it's a worthwhile investment for you,” he added.

Solar success story

Doing just that kind of research is what helped cinch the deal for Farkhod Fayzullaev.

When Fayzullaev bought a home in south Calgary, he knew he, his wife, and three young kids planned to stay in the community for a while. So he immediately began considering options to reduce costs and improve their property, in order to maximize the investment and save money for his kids’ future.

After successive summer heat waves, the family installed air conditioning. The spike in energy use quickly brought one home upgrade to mind — anything that would reduce those utility costs. But, with lots of conflicting information out there, it took reading about other homeowners’ personal experiences with solar to help Fayzullaev and his wife make up their minds.

"There were a couple of posts on Reddit about people installing solar and sharing their experiences and their calculations, and it made a lot of sense financially — it's an interest-free loan," he told The Weather Network. "According to my understanding, we'll break even in around seven to nine years."

The family was approved for a solar grant last year, and are waiting on loan approval before starting installation.

"We'll have green energy as my kids grow. And, even if we sell the house, the next owner will benefit from it greatly,” Fayzullaev said. “My advice is to get a quote because getting a quote is free. And I think it's a pretty good deal.”

Thumbnail image: Kindel Media/Pexels.