Ask the Expert: Renewable energy expert Alex Waters talks solar

With the implementation of the FIT and Micro-fit programs in Ontario, the interest in solar energy, especially photovoltaics, has dramatically increased.

The CaGBC meets this market demand by offering the Solar Energy: Best Practices for Residential Buildings course, which is a great way to learn more about this growing industry. We spoke to one of the course instructors, Alex Waters, about what business and homeowners need to know about this evolving technology.

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background

I have a Graduate of Environmental Science from University of Waterloo and Bachelor of Education for University of Toronto. I have been designing renewable energy systems and energy education programs for 28 years.

During this time I have been responsible for designing and building some of Canada's most innovative renewable energy demonstrations and green buildings. Some of these include: Canada’s first roof mounted grid connect PV system, Canada’s first solar shingle installation, and one of Canada’s most sustainable homes, The Archetype Sustainable Demonstration Home.

2. Why is solar energy an important component of green building?

Green buildings are an integral solution to more sustainable communities. After designers have maximized energy savings, then renewables are the next strategy to reducing a building’s carbon footprint. The average home has enough roof space for approximately 3kw of PV panels. In an energy efficient home, 3kw can produce a significant amount of a home’s electricity. In some provinces incentives have made the decision around including more renewables in buildings even easier.

3. Can you briefly explain what people will learn in the solar energy course? What does it cover?

This workshop is targeted at people in the building industry where there are numerous practical and profitable opportunities to implement photovoltaics on commercial and residential properties. Participants will learn about: Residential Energy and Renewable Energy options; Solar Energy Systems; and Building Solar into Your Building Business. For more detailed information on what is taught in the course, you can read the course flyer here.

4. Why should a business owner consider taking this course? What benefits will he/she receive from it?

Depending on the business and the motivation there is a great opportunity for business to benefit from specifically a solar PV installation. If the business wants to reduce their carbon footprint then solar is a great technology to achieve that goal. A roof top solar PV installation, whether it is an ownership or lease model can bring in significant return on investment. In fact, commercial PV solar has demonstrated to be a larger market then residential. Typical return for past installations has been between 8-11 percent.

Business owners will likely also be interested to know that commercial buildings are actually a better application than residential roofs because many of the commercial roofs are large and flat, which eliminates orientation problems and improves investment return, due to the economies of scale. As I mentioned above, a building owner can get involved either through an ownership or lease model. If the owner is unsure of the costs of ownership maintenance requirements there are companies that will lease the roof. On the leasing option, the owner gets less revenue but does not have to front the installation or deal with any maintenance issues. It is a win-win situation.

 5. There is some debate about public perception of solar panels and how they might not be the best technology to capture sunlight for energy. What is your opinion on this?

When it comes to Photovoltaic panels you could not ask for a more perfect technology for producing electricity.

  • Panels will last 40 years – my company, Kortright has solar panels that are 28 years old and they are still producing within 6 percent of their original output.
  • Most warranties are around 25 years – name another product that has a 25 year warranty.
  • Most of the materials that make up the panel are inert and can be completely recycled at the end of their life.
  • They can be used for small and large installations.
  • It takes two-three years for a panel to generate the amount of energy it took to manufacture it.
  • Panels have no moving parts, they are quiet and non intrusive.
  • They produce electricity when we mostly need it. It perfectly matches high electrical use for air conditioning.
  • With the use of other technologies such as wind, batteries, and combined heat and power systems the cycle nature of solar can be overcome.

The next Solar Energy course being offered through CaGBC takes place in Toronto on March 19, 2012. For more information on this course, or future dates, visit our Workshop Calendar here.