Renewables In Your BackYard: On-line Tools Show Solar & Wind Potential

Is it worth it?  Figuring out if your home, office, or the public pool down the street is suitable for solar or wind power isn't a straightforward process.  Decentralized renewable energy is expanding rapidly and will be a taken for granted part of tomorrow's smart energy systems.  Thankfully a series of on-line tools exists to help you figure out what you and your community's place can be in that future.

There are two basic questions when it comes to renewables:  First, how suitable is your site – how much sun does your roof really get?  Second, how do the costs pencil out and what subsidies and incentives are available to make it more affordable?

In Your Backyard
For Americans,  “In My Backyard” (IMBY) produced by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is an excellent tool.  Working in googlemaps you pinpoint your roof, draw on the size and location of the solar or wind installation you have in mind and hit “enter”.  The system then uses meterological data, local electricity rates and information on state and federal incentives, to calculate how much power you would produce and how long it will take for your installation to pay for itself at currents rates.  (I confess that there is something strangely addictive about drawing solar panels all over your neighbours' roofs.)  

IMBY doesn't work north of the 49th Parallel, but Canadians (and Americans) can use SolarRating.ca.  SolarRating goes a step further than IMBY, letting you get more accurate estimates by adding the slope of your roof, and trees or other buildings that may shade your panels.  A quick login is necessary at the end to see the report for your location.

Of Desire and Tax Incentives
While costs of solar have come down by more than a quarter since 2002, subsidies and incentives are still key to level the playing field with conventional energy sources.  Incentive programs are being managed by a variety of different government agencies and non-profits.  Cumulatively they can cover up to 80% of costs in some areas, but keeping track of them can be difficult.  In the U.S.  the aptly named DSIRE database, has federal, state and local incentives all sorted by state. 

The route is less direct for Canadians.  This past March the federal government cancelled their ecoEnergy program, effectively halving the amount of available subsidies.  Thankfully, many provinces and municipalities offer their own incentives.  Natural Resources Canada hosts a directory of those programs.  The Canadian Solar Industries Association also offers a good listing of solar incentives. A variety of non-profits, like B.C. and Ontario's Sustainable Energy Association, also offer support that is not listed there.

Canada Trailing
Putting together this information, I was surprised by the difference between what is available North and South of the Canada/US border.  A homeowner in Oregon can qualify for cash rebates and tax credits that can halve the cost of a $40,000 home solar electric system. In Canada, only the Northwest Territories offers direct incentives and they are caped at $5,000 for individuals (although it rises to $50,000 for communities).  Ontario's generous feed-in tariff's also act as an incentive for local renewables (recent events aside).  But in the rest of the country only solar air and water heating systems qualify for rebates, and in most cases they are under $5,000.

Until that imbalance gets addressed, Canadians are going to be trailing their US cousins when it comes to small scale renewables.

(photo CANSIA)

Comments

1 Response to "Renewables In Your BackYard: On-line Tools Show Solar & Wind Potential"

Blogger said... 1 December 2016 at 18:32

You might be qualified for a new solar rebate program.
Click here and find out if you qualify now!

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.