Tool helps Calgary homeowners see if solar is a smart financial decision

Companies that install solar power systems are seeing a steady increase in interest as energy prices and awareness sway the market.

Installers see steady increase in interest as energy prices and awareness sway market

Solar panels installed on a house in northern Alberta. Demand for solar installations is surging across Canada, according to the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, an industry group that represents 300 companies involved in wind, solar and energy storage. (Submitted by Tera Born)

Soaring utility prices and public awareness have turned some Calgarians' attention to solar. 

The City of Calgary recently revamped a free tool that can help homeowners better decide if installing panels on their house is worth it. 

The residential solar calculator uses satellite imagery to assess homes. It details how much available productive roof area a home may have. It can even tell the orientation and pitch of the roof, along with any obstructions or shadows that might impact solar potential. 

With that information, the city uses the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's PVWatts tool to estimate how much electricity, per solar panel, a resident's roof can produce per year. 

"Within 30 seconds, one minute, you can have a pretty good overview of, you know, how much solar you could generate, how much it would cost, and your environmental impact of doing so," said Lewis Percy, who is with the city's climate team. 

Percy said the calculator is a starting point for residents as they consider investing in solar. And it also helps point people to resources and grants that might help them make the most of their investment. 

Interest in solar has doubled every year for the last three years, according to one Calgary-based business. 

Alex Tyndale with Solar YYC says demand for solar panels has surged for his company during the pandemic. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Solar YYC owner Alex Tyndale used to have to solicit business, but now customers come to him. He says the federal government's greener homes program rebate has helped raise the profile, along with significant solar builds by companies like Cadillac Fairview Chinook Centre.

The city's calculator, he adds, helps spread the word that Calgary has enough sunlight to make solar a return on investment.

"We can tell people that as a private company," Tyndale said. "But to have a municipality or a third party tell people that solar is a decent investment means a lot more. Yeah, it just adds credibility to what we're trying to do."

The technology has come a long way, Tyndale said, and so has the public's understanding of solar. Calgary hasn't reached full adoption yet, but give it a few years and he believes it will reach market maturity. 

More financing tools coming to help pay for panels 

Years ago, his typical early-adopter customer was a retired doctor or an engineer passionate about the new tech. Now, younger generations and people at different stages of life are interested. 

"We're very close to being mainstream, and that's just judging by the increase in a multitude of neighbourhoods that are asking for quotes," Tyndale said. "It's a variety of neighbourhoods, variety of people with different incomes." 

The city is developing a clean energy improvement program for residents. It would add another option to help finance solar panels and other green home upgrades on top of existing rebates. 

Percy said the team will bring a new climate mitigation plan for councillors to review in June. 


Helen Pike


Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.


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