When most people think of cottage (or home) solar energy systems, they picture photovoltaic (PV) panels that harness the sun’s energy and convert it into useable power. But there are also solar thermal panels that can be used to warm water with radiant heat.
Across Canada, you’ll want your panels to be mounted facing south, with a relatively unobstructed view of the sun as it passes across the horizon. If your roof isn’t aligned at the right angle or there are too many trees blocking the view, you could consider an array of ground-mounted PV panels.
Solar panels have a lifespan of 30 years or more, but asphalt shingles only last 20 years or so in our climate. Before you install solar panels, you’d be wise to replace your roof with the best-quality roofing material you can afford. Ask your solar contractor for some advice on different options.
After the panels, there are two other key components to a solar energy system: an inverter and a set of batteries. The inverter converts the DC power generated by the panels to the AC power that your cottage electronics run on. The batteries are used to store excess power for use at night and on cloudy days.
One of the selling features that’s often highlighted as a way to reduce the capital cost of installing solar panels is the concept of “net metering.” That’s where owners who generate more power than they need can sell it back to the local power company. In Ontario, net metering provides owners with credits against future hydro bills that expire if not used within 12 months rather than cash payments. Unless your cottage is used year-round and has a significant power load throughout the year, you may not ever recoup the cost of installing the equipment needed to feed into the grid. (Some other provinces offer more favourable net metering plans.)
Unfortunately, in Ontario there are currently no government rebate programs in place to offset the cost of installing solar panels. Outside of Ontario, some provinces and municipalities do offer rebates. Ask a local installation company if there are any incentive programs in your area.
Other than monitoring your system for anomalies in production, solar energy systems don’t require a lot of DIY maintenance. If you’re in a particularly dusty area, you might need to periodically rinse the panels off to keep them running optimally. And if the pitch of the panels isn’t steep enough, you may need to physically remove accumulated snow for the system to work in winter.