Solar evangelist moves his panels to increase efficiency

By on November 18, 2015
Roger Huber (left) and Richard Steuble of Swiss Solar Tech position solar panels on a pole behind Paul McCavour’s house. There McCavour will be able to angle them according to the season to capture the most sunlight. The panels were previously on the ground where they were often shaded after 2 p.m. McCavour preaches the merits of solar power to reduce electricity bills over the longer term and contribute to a greener planet. (Richard McGuire photo)

Roger Huber (left) and Richard Steuble of Swiss Solar Tech position solar panels on a pole behind Paul McCavour’s house. There McCavour will be able to angle them according to the season to capture the most sunlight. The panels were previously on the ground where they were often shaded after 2 p.m. McCavour preaches the merits of solar power to reduce electricity bills over the longer term and contribute to a greener planet. (Richard McGuire photo)

A tall crane lifted a wall of solar panels to a new position at the home of solar energy evangelist Paul McCavour recently.

Wearing a hard hat, McCavour kept an eye on the operation, helping when he could, as Roger Huber of Swiss Solar Tech Ltd. of Summerland carried out the operation.

McCavour and his wife Julie Turner originally installed 24 panels at their home on La Costa Lane above the golf course in June 2014. They wanted not only to cut their electricity bills, but also to contribute to a greener planet.

“A lot of people, including myself at times, take better care of our car or house than we do the environment,” said McCavour. “We tend to forget it because it’s always there. That’s one of the main reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

McCavour is not adding to the total of 40 panels he now has since adding 16 rooftop panels last summer – he is simply relocating the original ones on the ground that didn’t get enough sun.

He did the original 24-panel installation himself since he hadn’t yet connected with Huber, who has been in the solar energy business for more than 30 years in Switzerland and Canada.

But by doing the work himself, he made mistakes in the way he placed the panels on the hillside behind his house.

“When I first put them in, I was a novice,” said McCavour. “I didn’t have any experience with this at all. Now that I also have them on the roof, I can see the huge difference in the amount of solar energy I get, because the ones on the ground were just not as efficient as they could have been.”

Huber moved the panels that were on the ground earlier this month to a new position on a thick pole behind the house where they can be manually rotated according to the angle of the sun with each season.

In total, McCavour said he has invested more than $40,000 in solar energy at his home, money that he believes will be more than paid back in energy savings over the years. The cost to move the panels, he said, is around $6,000.

While solar panels are a large up-front cost, once installed they require very little maintenance and they last for decades. Many panels these days carry a 25-year warranty.

McCavour stays connected to the electricity grid of FortisBC, buying electricity from the utility when his panels aren’t producing enough power and selling his surplus back to the utility at the same price when his panels are harvesting the sunshine.

As utilities keep raising electricity rates and as panel prices come down, the economics of photovoltaic (PV) solar energy become more and more attractive.

Calculating the payback time from solar is tricky because the efficiency of panels depends, as McCavour discovered, on their positioning.

It also varies greatly from location to location. Although the Okanagan is well known for its warm summer sunshine, many areas of southern Alberta actually receive substantially more hours of sunshine over the course of a year.

Panels do lose their efficiency over the decades, but most last at least 25 to 30 years.

Finally, government programs, utility rates and even the method used by utilities to set prices have an impact on the payback period.

Some utilities bill customers according to time of day, charging more for electricity during peak demand during the daytime. This would be an advantage to customers selling solar power back to the grid because they would be paid at a higher rate when the sun is shining.

McCavour said it’s difficult to calculate his own savings since installing the panels because the original panels weren’t in the best position and because he has since removed his natural gas and gone to electric heating.

Nonetheless, he said his total energy bill from March to September of 2013, before installing any panels, was $998.17. For the same period in 2015, his energy bill was just $190.30 – a savings of $807.87, he said.

By moving the panels, he believes he will see even more savings. His ground panels were sometimes in shade by 2 p.m., depending on the time of year, while his rooftop panels saw an extra four or five hours of sunlight.

“I expect even better results next year,” said McCavour.

The solar energy evangelist has convinced several neighbours to add solar panels and he says they’ve been happy with the results.

“They are very happy and they are thinking of putting on more,” he said.

He also hopes to convince the town to install panels on buildings such as the Sonora Community Centre.

McCavour said he’s hopeful that solar energy will get more support as a result of the recent change of the federal government.

“There’s more people all the time calling me and interested in doing something,” he said. “They’re waiting for the government to come out with some grants. I believe the Liberal government will be starting a green grant program, so maybe things are going to move in that direction. The Harper government was more interested in oil, gas and coal.”

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

A crane is prepared to lift a wall of solar panels to a pole on the hill behind Paul McCavour's house. There McCavour will be able to angle them according to the season to capture the most sunlight. McCavour preaches the merits of solar power to reduce electricity bills over the longer term and contribute to a greener planet. (Richard McGuire photo)

A crane is prepared to lift a wall of solar panels to a pole on the hill behind Paul McCavour’s house. There McCavour will be able to angle them according to the season to capture the most sunlight. McCavour preaches the merits of solar power to reduce electricity bills over the longer term and contribute to a greener planet. (Richard McGuire photo)

Paul McCavour shows off some of the 24 solar panels above his house that provide electricity to his home. (Richard McGuire photo)

Paul McCavour shows off some of the 24 solar panels above his house when he first installed them at his home in June 2014. (Richard McGuire file photo)

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5 Comments

  1. Bruce

    November 27, 2015 at 9:21 am

    So even if he saw that savings over winter (which he won’t) it’s going to take him nearly 40 years to see his ROI. As a consumer I need to see a return sooner than that. Solar can be affordable but not when you get into this type of setup. Good on him though, he does set a good example.

  2. really?

    November 30, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Instead of spending $6000 to move his existing solar system from a roof to a tracker and made his system a little bit more efficient why would he have not just spent that $6000 and added more solar (probably another 2000 watts) and really increased his output? All my research says trackers are expensive, need regular maintenance, look ugly and not worth the extra bit of efficiency. Sounds like this fellow has more money than brains.

    • Julie

      February 3, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      In response to Bruce’s comments, we believe our return on investment will be roughly 15 years, give or take. By taking the natural gas out of our home, we have decreased our total energy costs and are no longer slaves to a gas carbon tax. Here’s a fact most people don’t understand: if you look at your gas bill, you’ll notice the cost of gas is very small compared to the total yearly bill. Our total yearly gas bill was almost $1,200 but the cost of gas was only $300; where’s the bargain in that? Couple this with ever-increasing utility costs, averaging 3% per year, and our solar investment proves to be worthwhile. The future utility increases, and all associated taxes + fees (carbon taxes, GST, etc.) makes solar the only investment that will pay the consumer back over time. The sun’s costs never increase. Our total cost of energy in 2013 (the last year before we had any solar panels) was $3,100, and with annual increases, this would have brought our 2015 total cost of energy to $3,500. We calculated our 2015 actual total costs and they are less than $1,000 – a saving of $2,500 in one year. Add in an electric car, this will further accelerate our savings and decrease our costs. Sure beats any investment in a bank and it’s tax-free.

      As to the comment from “Really?” – the solar panels now on our tracker were not on our roof but were on an under-performing ground installation. We would have loved to have installed more solar panels on the roof but we have to pause because our electrical entrance won’t handle any more than the 40 panels we currently have. As for the solar “tracker”, ours is not electrically-driven but can be manually adjusted. Because we are on a mountainside, we are limited as to where we can angle our solar array. We saved a lot of money by having a manual tracker installed, and there’s no mechanism to break down or maintain, eliminating those costs. We feel that a solar tracker is a thing of beauty, especially when compared to the oil sands! And it isn’t always “just about the money”; it’s about the environment and a healthier future for our children and grandchildren.

  3. Residential Solar Energy Systems Las Vegas

    December 1, 2015 at 3:02 am

    Adding solar panel to your home can bring in monthly savings of well above $100 in many states extend this to two decades. Less than the length of a typical solar panel warranty and thus translate over $30.000.

  4. John

    April 17, 2016 at 1:47 am

    Here in the UK we have 2000 Wp on the house roof professionally installed last year ($3750), plus an older 400 Wp on the conservatory roof ($1200). Along with an ESSENTIAL solar water heater ($1500, fitted by me), which gives almost free hot water from April to November we have dramatic reductions in electricity consumption (the 7kW electric shower was removed).

    This year it looks like we will generate as much electricity as we use.

    Everyone living in a non-solar house is wasting a ridiculous amount of money (and CO2) over their lifetime.

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