Solar panels become an affordable choice for new builds on P.E.I.

·4 min read
Solar panels become an affordable choice for new builds on P.E.I.
Josh Silver, a carpenter and instructor at Holland College in Charlottetown, says solar panels have become an affordable choice for new builds on P.E.I.   (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Josh Silver, a carpenter and instructor at Holland College in Charlottetown, says solar panels have become an affordable choice for new builds on P.E.I. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

Josh Silver says Prince Edward Islanders should let the sun shine in — literally.

The carpenter and instructor at Holland College says financial incentives for solar panels are making them an affordable choice for Prince Edward Islanders who are building new homes.

Silver has been taking CBC P.E.I. along on his personal quest to make improvements at his 12-year-old Charlottetown home to save energy and money.

This summer, he is looking beyond his own home and focusing on the construction of new houses.

Silver is encouraging Islanders to look to the sun to reduce their utility costs, especially in new construction.

Silver took CBC P.E.I. to a new energy-efficient neighbourhood not far from his home, called Enderis Lane.

The neighbourhood features 32 townhouses, with several more under construction, built using some of the technologies that Silver has outlined in the New Build series, including ICF foundation, solar panels and triple pane windows and doors.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

Shaun Callaghan of Hansen Solar Energy worked with developer Peter Ixkes to install the five-kilowatt solar energy systems on Enderis Lane.

"The developer wanted to do an energy-efficient neighborhood," Callaghan said. "We worked together planning the kilowatts per townhouse based on roof capacity and surface size."

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

He added: "Customers are saving quite a bit, in the winter months maybe a little bit less. But May to October, November, it's quite a bit of savings.

"We're hoping that they can max out their electrical with the five kilowatts on the roof. We're hoping no utility bill."

Callaghan said he expects to see even more interest in solar energy over the next five years.

"I just feel with the rebate programs put in effect, it's actually affordable for the customer."

'Free' electricity

Silver said the energy efficiency comes from more than just the solar panels.

"Part of why these solar panels are so efficient is because the home is so efficient," he said. "The home has been built with an excess of insulation, minimal heating units. And so that's requiring less electricity as a start. And then it's also being provided 'free' electricity from the solar panels."

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

"The beauty is, the solar panels with five kilowatts of solar panel energy production, we're reducing the energy need for each unit, each house by about a third," Silver said. "So that's pretty significant for an Island that's trying to get off the grid."

Silver said he's excited to see projects like Enderis Lane, with its roofs filled with solar panels.

"There was a lot of research and development, a lot of decades of getting us to this point. Now, it's cost-effective," he said. "It makes sense if you invest in this with an interest-free loan, you would absolutely save money."

The beauty is we will be a greener Island, if not a completely green Island, and better for the environment.
— Josh Silver

Pre-planning pays off

To wrap up the New Builds series, Silver invited CBC P.E.I. to a Stratford home built with almost all of the energy-efficient technologies outlined in the series.

Aaron Hansen and his family moved into the home almost three years ago, and worked on planning it for almost a year before that, crunching the numbers on every decision around energy efficiency.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

"That meant having drawings of the home, and then having it modelled in a computer. And you can change different building materials, and it'll spit out your efficiency at the other end," Hansen said.

"So it's information to make decisions on what's worth investing in, and maybe what you leave to the side."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Hansen said the pre-planning was worth it.

"I always have had an eye towards energy efficiency, even in our previous homes. I was doing the the upgrades on an existing home, kind of like Josh is doing," Hansen said.

"But now that we were going down the road of building new, I was able to be way out in front of it, and make those long-term decisions."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Retrofit versus new build

When Silver crunched the numbers, his energy costs, even after his retrofits, were still much higher than those of Aaron Hansen.

"My home is about 2,000 square feet. I have four residents in the home, including myself," Silver said.

"I spend about $4,000 in oil a year and about $1,800 in electricity."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Hansen's results were about half that amount.

"Our home is 3,600 square feet finished, and we have six residents in the home," Hansen said.

"There's no furnace, there's no oil, anything. It's just 100-per-cent electric. And the total annual electricity bill was $2,700."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Hansen has also recently installed a 15-kilowatt solar array on the roof of the home.

He said it's satisfying to see the upfront investments starting to pay off.

"The costs are overwhelming. It always seems like, 'This is crazy. What am I doing?' But then three or four years later, you look back and say, 'Hey, that wasn't so bad, actually, if you look at the costs now,'" Hansen said.

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