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How Solar Works

At Glean our goal is to make solar easier for you! We know that solar can be confusing, especially with all the (mis)information out there! So to make solar easier for you, we’ve created this page to show the basics of how solar works as well as a list of the most common questions we get. If one of your questions didn’t make the cut, let us know! Click here if you want to know more about how Glean can help you with solar.

How solar electricity flows:

A rooftop solar array is a collection of solar panels installed on the roof of a building. Each solar panel consists of cells that convert sunlight into D/C electricity. Inverters then convert D/C electricity into usable A/C electricity which flows into your electrical panel and then either out to the grid or to the electrical loads of your home. Your electricity meter will monitor and record the flow of electricity into and out of your home so your electricity bill is accurate.

The following shows how solar power flows in a home with a grid-connected solar array depending on the time of day. See our anatomy of a rooftop solar array blog for more info.

During the day, when the solar array is producing electricity and you are using electricity, the solar electricity will first get used in your home. The solar electricity replaces grid electricity, which reduces your electricity bill cost. In this situation, you also avoid variable transmission and distribution costs which provides additional financial benefit.

Solar electricity is sold to the grid

You sell electricity to the grid when the amount of electricity produced by the solar array is greater than the amount you are using inside your home. This occurs on sunny days when you are using less electricity than your solar array is producing.

Your electricity meter measures how much electricity you are exporting so you can receive a credit on your electricity bill. You won’t end up making money on your bill however if your credit grows large enough, you carry it over into subsequent months.

Grid electricity is used in your home

On cloudy days or at night, the solar array won’t produce enough electricity to meet your electrical needs. In this situation, you import electricity from the grid as you would before getting solar. You are paying for this electricity in the same way as before you had solar. Although your total bill is less due to the two situations above.

The grid is your battery

Since excess electricity is sent to the grid when you don’t need it, and electricity can be imported back from the grid when you do need it, the grid acts as your battery. Many people think that all solar installations need batteries but, because the grid allows you to export and import electricity freely, you don’t need to install expensive batteries.

Solar FAQ

Now that you know a bit about how solar works, you probably have some questions! Here’s a list of our most frequently asked questions:

How is solar electricity generated?

Solar panels convert sunlight into D/C electricity which flows through a device called an inverter that creates usable A/C Electricity. The A/C electricity is then used in your home replacing electricity that you would have otherwise purchased from the grid, which reduces your electricity bill cost.

Can I sell electricity to the grid?

Yes, you will export excess solar electricity to the grid when the amount of electricity produced by the solar array is greater than the amount you are using inside your building. You earn a credit on your electricity bill to be used at night or in the winter. Essentially the grid acts as your battery!

What happens at night?

On cloudy days or at night, the solar panels won’t produce enough electricity to feed your electrical loads. In this situation, you import electricity from the grid as you would before getting solar. You pay for this electricity in the same way as before you had solar.

Do I need batteries?

No! Most solar installations are grid-connected solar. This means that the grid acts as your battery allowing you to send excess electricity to the grid and import electricity from the grid when needed. Batteries are an extra option to power your home during blackouts.

What grants are available?

The Federal Government’s Canada Greener Homes Program provides a solar rebate of $1,000/kW up to a maximum of $5,000. This typically covers 20% – 40% of the cost of an average-sized solar PV system. Check out our grants and incentives page for more info.  

What is the solar club?

The Solar Club is a non-government program that improves cost savings for owners of solar PV in Alberta. Solar Club members can switch between a high electricity rate (approximately $0.25/kWh) and a low electricity rate (approximately $0.07/kWh) depending on seasonal variation in their Solar energy production. Check out our solar club page for more info.  

Are $0 electricity bills possible?

In Alberta the Solar Club allows you to build up a significant credit in the summer months. In some cases, people are able to have $0 electricity bills all year round. This is possible because the solar club credit is a financial credit, so it can be applied to fixed fees. A solar array that covers at least 100% of your annual electricity needs (net-zero) is required to make $0 bills possible.

How many solar panels do I need?

It depends! If possible, solar installers will size your system to cover your annual electricity needs (net-zero electrically). In some cases, you may not have enough roof space to reach net zero. Even a system that doesn’t get you to net-zero electricity production can still be a great financial investment.

What types of solar are there?

There are many different types of solar panel systems:

  • Grid-connected solar – This is the most common system. Your home remains connected to the grid. You are able to sell electricity to the grid when your solar is overproducing and draw electricity from the grid when your solar is underproducing. The grid acts as your battery!
  • Off-grid solar – This requires batteries or some type of energy storage device. Off-grid solar can be great in situations where a grid electrical connection is extremely expensive or when the grid is unreliable. Batteries are very expensive and rarely make sense from a purely financial perspective.
  • Hybrid system – It is possible to remain connected to the grid and have a battery backup in case the grid goes down. The battery will provide power to “essential loads” during a blackout.
How are solar panels mounted?

There are two main ways that solar panels can be mounted on your property

  • Rooftop solar – This is the most common way to mount solar panels. A racking system is used to mount the solar panels to the roof of a building. Your racking system is designed and stamped by engineers to ensure it is secure and safe.
  • Ground-mounted solar – Solar panels can also be mounted on the ground when roof space is limited and land is available. This is typically 10% – 25% more expensive than mounting solar on your roof due to longer cable runs, increased racking materials and piling costs.
Pros/Cons of ground-mount solar:

Pros:

  • Can be aligned perfectly south to optimize electricity production
  • Not restricted by roof space

Cons:

  • Typically 10-20% more expensive than an equivalently sized rooftop system
  • Uses up valuable land space
What happens when I need to replace my shingles?

The rule of thumb is if your roof has less than 5 years of life left on it, you should replace the shingles before getting solar. Solar will extend the life of the shingles underneath. If you do need to remove the solar for a roof replacement down the road, you could expect to add $2,000 – $4,000 to the cost of your roof replacement. The solar panels will be removed and the roofers will replace the shingles around the racking.

Will solar lower fixed fees on my bill?

Your electricity bill is made up of fixed fees that you cannot change as well as variable fees that are tied to your electricity use and will be reduced by solar. Electric energy and transmission charges are variable. The distribution charge is made up of a variable charge as well as a fixed daily charge. The rest of the fees like administration, balancing pool, rate riders, and franchise fees are all typically smaller charges and are fixed. So a significant portion of your bill is actually made of variable charges despite how your bill makes it appear. 

How much does solar cost?

With no specific information about your home, we typically like to start the conversation at an average installation cost of $15,000 – $30,000 before grants. Having a steep roof, large solar array or rural property are factors that tend to lead to higher total solar installation costs. If you reach out to us we can provide you with a rough cost range based on recent quotes we have seen for properties similar to yours.

How does solar connect to my house?

As shown above in the “how solar works” section, solar panels connect directly to your electrical panel. When solar electricity flows to your panel, it either gets distributed throughout your home or is sent to the grid. 

Can I expand my system later?

Yes, if you think that your usage will increase in the future or you only have a budget to start with a smaller system, we can size the inverter to allow room for more solar panels in the future. However, for cost reasons, it is ideal if you only need to install solar once.

A solar array can be expanded to include battery storage. The wiring of your grid-tied system can be easily changed to feed into your critical loads panel or battery bank, ensuring that you have power during outages. Note that batteries can be very expensive.

Can hail damage my solar panels?

Tier 1 solar panels can withstand hail at over 200 km/h. Typically, any damage caused by extremely large hail would fall under your home insurance for replacement.

Do solar panels need maintenance?

Unlike the engine in your car, solar panels are a very simple technology with no moving parts and don’t require much maintenance. In some cases, a panel may malfunction and need replacement which would fall under the manufacturer’s warranty. With a grid-tied system, you may need to manually remove leaves or other debris that drop on the panels over time.

Do I need to insure my solar panels? 

In the same way, you would insure any other upgrade that adds value to your home, we recommend that you insure your solar system. If your current insurance provider is unwilling to insure your system, there are several insurance companies out there that are happy to cover solar panels. 

What about roof leaks?

All Glean solar installers will offer an installation warranty of 1-5 years that covers roof leak issues. However, if the installation is done properly and by professionals, you don’t need to worry about roof leaks.

Will snow affect solar production?

Yes, but only around 5% a year. Since snow covers solar when there is little sunlight anyway, the effect of snow is relatively small. In the spring, the panels heat up and melt the snow off relatively quickly so there is no need to get on your roof to clean the snow off your panels. 

Will solar affect my home value?

A home with low electricity bills will be more valuable than a home with high electricity bills (all other things equal). Additionally, as the price of grid electricity goes up your home with low electricity bills will increase in value. 

Glean is a broker of solar quotes. We are partnered with more than 15 of the best solar installers in Alberta that we have verified and vetted. We provide you with 3 solar quotes, an easy-to-compare quote summary (that includes a detailed financial analysis) and a quote review call to answer questions. Our service is free because we collect a service fee from the installer whose quote is chosen.

The best way to get the ball rolling is to fill out your information by clicking the button below.