You have seen the projects CED Co-op members own on our projects page, but what does it take to design and install a solar system that generates clean, green energy as part of Ontario’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program?
To answer that question, we spoke with Mike Kraus, electrical designer at Vigor Clean Tech. Vigor Clean Tech engineers and develops solar systems. As a trusted partner of CED Co-op they have built many of our projects now generating power for Ontario, and profits for our members.
Mike, can you walk us through how a solar system gets from contract to generation?
Actually, setting up a solar system starts long before you even have a contract. There is a lot of important background work that we do to ensure everything goes smoothly.
The first step, as you know, is finding a building or location for the system. CED Co-op does a great job of partnering with local businesses who want to support clean energy, and generate revenue. Once you have a partner and a building we work out how many panels will fit on the roof, and how much power we can generate. After a small mountain of paperwork and an application to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), we can get awarded a FIT contract!
When it’s time to start building there are two tasks we have to accomplish (and truthfully we have been working on and thinking through these since day one): electrical and physical design.
To create the electrical layout, we review the building’s current set up and consult the Local Distribution Company (LDC) to ensure we can connect the system to the grid. They take our electrical schematic and model the project to assess how the added generation is going to affect the balance of supply and demand on that section of the grid. The LDC may give us guidelines and requirements like real time reporting, or a transfer trip in order for the project to be considered safe to connect.
At the same time, we’re confirming our building measurements and checking the roof for obstructions – anything that could prevent the energy from the sun from hitting our solar panels. Things like vents, awnings, or heating and air conditioning units all present challenges to design around. This is also when we get a structural engineering review and building permit.
It’s a lot of visits to the site, but we want to make sure we check every detail before we start modelling the layout of our solar panels.
You mean you haven’t modelled the system yet?
We have certainly thought about it, and done conservative estimates, but until you have the early paperwork done, there is no sense in spending time on the nuts and bolts of system design. Now that we have the connection and dimensions confirmed, we can try different configurations of panels and racking. The more power we can produce the better, so we use solar modelling software to try different tilts, orientations, panels, and racking. The software shows us how much power would be produced as we tweak the layout.
How would you change the layout? It seems simple to me – put up as many south facing panels as you can and tilt them toward the sun!
Sometimes that’s the best answer, but not always. South facing panels are ideal, but not if you can get more panels on a roof by lining them up differently. Tilting panels increases production, but they cast shade on each other and need more space per panel. Sometimes we use both sides of a peaked roof, or add an awning to get a few extra panels to the system. It’s a balancing act between a number of factors to get the most power production from a roof.
I can imagine. With each building being a little different it’s a new challenge for you every project. Tell us about installing the panels, now that you have a layout.
Vigor Clean Tech designs the systems, then we work with trusted installers – sub-contractors who have worked with us on a number of projects. These guys know solar! We have a great relationship with them, and trust them to take care of the panels and do top notch work. Of course our project manager visits the site regularly to ensure everything is going according to plan.
Once the system is designed and we have sourced the parts, installers can put up a system in a matter of weeks.
All right. The panels are up; it must be time to let the sun shine!
Not quite, remember all of those organizations who wanted to check our work before we started? They have final sign-off before we start generating power. The Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) will check the system, then give us Authorization to Connect. Once the LDC sees the Authorization from the ESA we commission the system, doing tests to show the LDC it functions properly and safely. A third party engineer ensures that we have built the system as we described it in the contract.
Finally, we are given the go-ahead and receive commercial operation. Now we can let the sun do it’s work and generate clean energy for your investors!
As you can see, it’s not as simple as slapping panels on a roof and walking away. There is a lot of behind the scenes work to make sure your system is safe and efficient.