If you’ve never considered going solar in Ontario, it’s probably because you haven’t heard about the province’s MicroFIT program. Combined with other solar-friendly laws, buying a system can be a seriously attractive upgrade to your home— some people might actually qualify for a system completely free of charge. In addition to all the excess energy you can generate over the next 20 years, solar panels also immediately increase the value and street appeal of your home. Do yourself (and the environment) a favor by seriously considering whether going solar is right for you.
But how does one decide? There are plenty of factors to consider before making a purchase — factors that we already spent hours investigating just for you. It’s our mission to provide you with a clear explanation of your options, the MicroFIT program, extra incentives, and an example of just how much money you could save with as little as 5 to ten panels.
Freshome’s Top Two Solar Panel Installers in Ontario
Choosing the right local company to install your solar panels is absolutely critical. If you don’t, you can be sure that many headaches and problems await. After all, your solar company won’t just install your system; it will be the liaison between you, the government (the MicroFIT program), and your utility company. Choosing a quality installer that provides great customer service and excellent products is the best way to ensure you don’t miss out on savings or buy lackluster equipment.
We spent hours pouring over each company’s website, corresponding with each via email, and talking with representatives from the companies. The result? We found two incredibly reputable companies that are pretty competitive options.
Grasshopper Solar has been in business since 2008 and primarily installs Canadian Solar modules (which happens to be one of Freshome’s top manufacturers). On top of the 25 year manufacturer warranty on the solar panels themselves, the company offers its own 2-year warranty on parts and labor. The company does offer solar leases, which could mean that you’re eligible to get a system with no upfront cost.
It took us a few tries to get connected with a representative from Grasshopper Solar who could help us, once we were able to reach the correct person, we were completely blown away by our experience. We were struck by the sincerity and depth of knowledge that was evident throughout our conversations. We were left with the impression that Grasshopper Solar became the region’s top installer of solar panels (it installed roughly 80 percent of all solar panels in Ontario last year) due to their commitment to world class customer service. Since we had such an incredible, above average experience with Grasshopper Solar, we think you will too.
The Hayter Group
The Hayter Group started out as a HVAC company in 1952, but 10 years ago they decided to get into the solar panel business. While we had some difficulty connecting with representatives from this company, our experience was pleasant overall and quite informative.
The company sources their solar panels primarily from Hanwha and Canadian Solar, which each come with warranties from the manufacturer. Hayter’s workmanship is warrantied for 3 years covering miscellaneous parts and labor. Although it will work with the MicroFIT program, it does not offer solar leases due to the legal complexities of third party leases.
Finding the best solar panels in Ontario
Buying solar panels should be an investment. That’s why it’s important not to settle for the cheapest systems out there. Panels can break, and if you have a cut-rate warranty, you will be left in the dark. Since you are depending on your panels to maintain efficiency for at least 25 years, you really don’t want to cut corners. We recommend only considering solar panels that meet these three standards: a minimum efficiency rating of 16.5, a minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25 year warranty.
After doing research into the top brands on the market we narrowed down our search for the best solar panels to the following four companies with Solar World winning top marks. When choosing a local installer it’s worth your while to make sure they offer one of these brands:
Solar Power in Ontario
Although Ontario closed its rebate program in 2012, the addition of theMicroFIT program more than makes up for the lack of federal and provincial incentives. The program single-handedly makes buying solar panels in Ontario a smart investment for almost everyone by paying a homeowner with a 10 kW (or less) solar panel system a tariff for all the energy their panels produce.
Here’s how it works: After making sure that your home is a good candidate for solar panels (usually a local installer will come out and do a no-cost home assessment), you can apply for admission into the MicroFIT program. If accepted you will enter into a 20-year contract to be paid a specific amount for all the energy that you produce. That energy will then be piped directly into the grid.
This program (and programs like these) make more and more sense due to the decreasing cost of solar panels. Currently the MicroFIT program pays out a whopping 38 cents per kWh. (The ISEO is currently in the process of updating the rates for those purchasing a 6 kW or smaller system. Go here for a current schedule of rates.) As a point of comparison, the cost of electricity is currently about 12 cents per kWh. And considering that Ontario receives about 1200 harvestable kWh per year, that money can easily add up. Take a look at the image below for an conservative estimate of how much power you could product in one year.
According to a local installer, most people can expect to get around $250 a year after paying the payments on the system. Once your loan is payed off in 10-15 years, you will start to make some serious money as you can see from the table above. Once your 20 year contract with the Ontario government is up, your solar panels will revert to the Net Metering Policy (more on that below) and since energy costs are only going up, you can expect to be making money for the next 5 to fifteen years after your contract is up. When it’s all said and done, you can conservatively expect around a 12 percent return on your investment.
Free Solar Systems
Chances are good you will be offered a free solar system at some point, through marketing materials, commercials, or sales calls. While we can’t say whether all of these offers are legit, there actually is a way to get a free solar panel system for your roof. All you have to do is contact a trusted local installer, like Grasshopper Solar, and see if your roof qualifies. If it does, then the local installer will get all the energy produced by the panels and the microFIT benefits from the government, while you get a little extra spending money (in the neighborhood of $200 – $300 a year). The panels are completely insured and maintained by the solar company with no risk to you. If you decide to sell, the contract is tied to your property.
Here’s where it really gets good: Come year 21, the solar panels belong to you. At very minimum, the panels are going to be warrantied for 25 years, so you have an extra 5 years of income to draw on, and potentially many more. Because of the developments in technology and the increase in quality of solar panels, you may be able to get 10-15 extra years out of your panels after the 20 year mark. With a spiffy 8-10 kW system on your roof that you payed nothing for at all, you will be able to take advantage of the Net Metering program to offset most, if not all, of the energy your home produces. With energy prices ever on the rise, in 20 years you will be saving some serious money.
Net Metering basically refers to the policy set in place by Ontario law-makers to regulate how much utility companies are obligated to pay grid-connected homes for the power they produce. Basically this policy gives you 11 months to use any extra power, which results in you only paying for the total amount of energy minus the energy you produced in a year. This is great since you might produce more energy than you use in the summer, and vise versa in the winter. Since energy prices are soaring higher and higher every year, the Net Metering program is becoming more and more attractive. While many think that Ontario is still a few years off from Net Metering becoming a more attractive arrangement than the MicroFIT program, it is comforting to know that if you do sign a 20 year contract selling your power to the government under the MicroFIT, on year 21 when that power becomes yours again, there’s a great way for your panels to continue to provide you with a ton of savings.
Property Tax Exemption
A great policy worth mentioning, the property tax exemption policy in Ontario helps to make going solar that much more attractive. Since installing solar panels on your home instantly adds a ton of value (in the neighborhood of $30,000 depending on it’s size), you would hate to see a huge jump in your property taxes. Thankfully, your home’s value won’t be re-assessed when purchasing a roof-top system, which means your property taxes will stay the same.
How do solar panels work?
Every residential solar system is made up of two basic parts: The solar panels themselves (made up of photovoltaic cells with “photo” meaning “light” and “voltaic” meaning “electricity”) and an inverter. Here’s what happens: The sun strikes the pv (photovoltaic) cells which excites the electrons and causes electrical flow. The inverter then converts the DC (direct current) into AC (alternating current) at which point the electricity is either stored in batteries or sent to the grid.
What are my financing options?
Since you wouldn’t have to pay any interest, the way to get the greatest investment return would always be to plunk down $30,000 of your own money to purchase your solar panels. However, most people don’t have that kind of cash laying around, so financing is going to be a huge concern. If you have good credit and around $30,000 of equity in your home, securing a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) will usually be the best way to get a low interest rate, without having to put money down.
If you don’t have that kind of equity or suffer from sub-par credit, then you may be able to get an unsecured loan with a little money down, that will still pay off in the long run. Also an option would be to look into a solar lease option. In that situation, a company would pay you to use your roof while they payed you an agreed upon amount for 20 years, at which point the panels would become yours to keep.
What’s the installation process like?
The actual installation of solar panels on your home is actually pretty quick and painless, it’s the permit process that pushes turnaround time for solar projects in Ontario to between 3 and 4 months. Picking your solar panels and choosing a local installer is the easy part (but no less important). Providing you pick the right company to do business with, it will be a huge asset in helping you apply for the MicroFIT program and keeping you appraised of the permit process which varies because of the 80 or so different utility companies throughout Ontario.
Does color matter?
In short, color doesn’t really matter, as the differences in efficiencies are fairly minor. However the style and beauty of your solar panels definitely matters. Think about it – this is an investment in your home that will last 25+ years, so you are going to want solar panels that will add to the street appeal of your home. Besides, if you ever have to sell your house, you won’t want your solar panels to be a turn-off to those interested in your home. The good news is that there are plenty of solar panels that combine beauty and functionality. (Go here to see some Ontario homes that have been beautified by the addition of solar panels.) All of that aside, we here at Freshome firmly believe that anything you sink that much money into should always add to the aesthetic value of your home, not detract from it.
With energy prices on the rise, and solar panel costs decreasing, going solar in Ontario is becoming more and more attractive every day. If you own your home and have adequate roof space, there’s no good reason to omit getting quote from one of our local recommendations. Take a few minutes and give one of them a call, the environment and your future bank account will thank you.