Complete Guide For Solar Power British Columbia 2020
Congratulations! You’ve found the ultimate guide for going solar in British Columbia!
British Columbia is currently ranked the #7 province in the country for installing a solar power system, scoring as one of the best provinces for installation costs and utility-related factors.
This page contains all relevant information about installing solar in BC including utility policies, system financing, solar incentives, and natural factors – updated as of May 1st, 2020.
This guide is sponsored by Empower Energy, a residential and commercial solar developer serving all of British Columbia. Click here to visit their website and to get a free cost estimate.
The guide begins by answering the two most common questions about solar systems, then it explores each solar ranking factor.
You can read from top to bottom, or skip to your preferred section by clicking on it below:
Common Solar Questions
When thinking about solar power, the first two questions that often come to a person’s mind are:
- “How big does my system need to be?”
- “How much will it cost?”
You can answer these questions in three basic steps:
1. Sizing Your System
To determine the size of system that you need, you only need to know how much energy you use during the course of a year. Your monthly BC Hydro Bill will show your usage (in kWh) similar to the photo below:
You can calculate your annual energy by adding up the amount shown for 12 consecutive months. Don’t make the mistake of multiplying a single month by 12 – usage fluctuates greatly depending on the season.
You can calculate the size of the solar power system that you’ll need with the following equation:
Size of system needed (kW) = yearly energy use (kWh) / annual equivalent full sunlight hours (h)
(annual average ‘equivalent full sunlight hours’ in British Columbia = 1,004h)
For example, let’s pretend that you added up your power bills and determined that you use 10,000kWh over the course of a year. You would then do the above calculation and determine that you need a 9.96kW solar panel system!
10,000kWh / 1,004h = 9.96kW
2. Physical Sizing
Now that you know the size of your system in units of kW, you can determine how much space the system will require by converting it to units of sqft.
The average solar panel is approximately 18sqft in size (including some buffer room for racking and spacing) and produces about 300watts of power.
The equation to calculate the space that your solar system require is again simple:
Physical space required = size of system needed (in kW) / size of panel (in kW) * physical size of panel (in sqft)
(average size of panel = 0.3kW, average physical panel size = 18sqft)
Let’s continue from the previous section and assume that you need a 9.96kW system. You would do the above calculation and determine that you need 598sqft of space to install your system!
9.96kW / 0.3kW * 18sqft = 598sqft
(note that 300watts equals 0.3kW)
If you’re putting solar panels on your roof, you should know that:
- A south facing roof is best, east and west facing are good, but north is not great
- You may need to replace your shingles (or entire roof) before installing – because panels are guaranteed for 25 years!
If you’re putting solar panels on the ground, you should know that:
- These systems are more expensive upfront due to piling, mounting , and trenching requirements
- They are more efficiency because they can be easily placed to the optimal direction (south), the optimal angle (~45°), and to avoid shading
- Thus, these systems are more efficient and have better lifetime IRRs and NPVs.
Most residential homeowners in British Columbia put solar panels on their roof. Rural property owners put systems on the roof of their house or shop – or on the ground in their yard.
3. System Costs
The last piece of basic information that you’ll want to know is an approximation of how much your system will cost. To calculate this, you just need to know the size of the system in units of kW.
The rough calculation is simple. Just take the size of your system and multiply it by the $2.56/watt – the average cost of installing a solar system in British Columbia.
You can calculate your total system costs with the following equation:
System cost = size of system needed x cost per installed watt
Continuing with our previous example, we can see that a 9.96kW system would cost approximately $25,498 to install.
= 9,960watts x $2.56watt
Note that the exact price of the system depends on several factors including the system size, the quality of equipment used, and the complexity of the job.
Even the range in the chart above is just an average – installation prices can easily go as high as $3.00+/watt for premium equipment and high quality installers.
Ready to get started? Then visit Empower Energy’s website to get a free estimate:
Every year, we score every province and territory in Canada on the relative feasibility of installing a solar power system. This year, British Columbia scores #7, receiving a total score of 68/100.
The remainder of this guide explores each ranking factor individually, while also providing important information about installing solar in British Columbia.
(if you want to learn how we score each factor, please visit our Provincial Solar Rankings page)
Major Program: PST Exemption
British Columbia is one of the most abundant provinces in the country when it comes to energy efficiency incentives, and has a provincial tax exemption for clean energy equipment.
These factors are important because they reduce the upfront system costs. We’ve scored British Columbia 8/20 for this section.
Rebates & Tax Breaks
Although BC does not currently have any solar rebates at the provincial level, it is the only province with a PST exemption for solar power.
The Alternative Energy Sources PST Exemption also covers solar thermal, as well as any necessary equipment needed for installation including wiring, controllers, inverters, pumps, and tubing.
Here is what the savings would look like for a 9.96kW system:
$25,498 x 7% PST = $1,785
Thus, the on the cost of a 9.96kW system, you would just need to pay approximately $25,498 and avoid $1,785 in PST. Go back to the Common Solar Questions section if you’re not sure where these numbers are coming from!
Other Energy Incentives
British Columbia also has a number of other energy incentives available to homeowners:
- Nanaimo & Lantzville Renewable Energy Systems Program
- For Nanaimo & Lantzville residents
- Rebate of $250-$400 for solar pv, solar thermal, geothermal, or wind system
- Home Renovation Rebate and EfficiencyBC Program
- For BC Hydro and FortisBC customers
- Rebate from $50 to $5,500 on home energy efficiency upgrades
- Clean Energy Vehicle Program
- For BC residents
- Rebate of $5,000 for battery electric vehicles purchase
- City of Nelson EcoSave Program
- For City of Nelson Residents
- Free energy audit, thermal imaging, and rebates
- Utility Energy Incentives
- Other EV Programs with limited funding:
Businesses can now use the Federal Tax Provision for Clean Energy Equipment to fully expense their solar system. This means a CCA rate of 100% and the abolishment of the first year rule.
Production Potential: 1004kWh per kW per year
British Columbia is one of the worst provinces in terms of the natural factors that influence the maximal amount of energy that a system can produce. We’ve scored British Columbia 15/20 for this section.
British Columbia has the 11th highest potential to produce solar energy in all of Canada, receiving less solar irradiation than most other provinces and territories except for the Yukon Territories and Newfoundland and Labrador.
According to data from Natural Resources Canada, the average solar system in British Columbia can produce 1004kWh of electricity per kW of solar panels per year.
Here is how much an average solar system can produce each month, as well as the solar irradiance potential map for British Columbia:
This yearly average decreases as you move north and west in the province and increases as you move south and east. For example, a 1kW solar system in:
- Vancouver would produce about 1,007 kWh/yr
- Surrey would produce about 996 kWh/yr
- Burnaby would produce about 991 kWh/yr
- Richmond would produce about 1,027 kWh/yr
- Abbotsford would produce 996 kWh/yr
Recall that this is the number we used in the System Sizing section!
(maps and solar irradiance data for all other provinces and territories can be found on our Solar Maps page.)
Connection Policy: Net Metering
Rate Design: $0.126/kWh, Tiered
British Columbia scores in front of most provinces when it comes to utility-related factors.
Utility factors determine how much money your utility will pay you for the power you produce, along with how much money you will save on your power bill by reducing your usage. We’ve scored British Columbia 25.5/30 for this section.
Net Metering is one of the most important policy mechanisms that makes solar a feasible energy generation option.
Net Metering essentially means that you earn credits for the excess energy that you produce, which can then be used at a later time. It’s common to produce excess energy during the day and summer but not enough at night and during the winter – so this policy is important!
Good net metering policy allows you to earn full credits for your excess energy which can be carried month-to-month. Bad net metering policy allows you to earn only partial credits for excess energy and credits can’t be carried forward month-to-month.
Disconnecting from the grid also means that you won’t be able to participate in your utility’s net metering program.
BC’s Net Metering Policies fall in the “good” category for net metering policies. It allows for systems up to 100kW in size to be connected to the grid and credits can be carried forward month-to-month.
However, it’s important to note that net-metering credits in BC expire annually on your system’s anniversary date. Thus, you’ll want to work closely with your installer to make sure your system perfectly matches your energy usage.
Solar Setup Fees
BC’s current policies also ensure that you don’t need to pay for an interconnection study or a bi-directional meter when you switch to solar power.
British Columbia enjoys some of the lowest electricity prices in the country – but lower prices mean lower savings potential when you switch to solar.
Based on a monthly usage of 1,000kWh, the average total cost of electricity in British Columbia is $0.126/kWh (this number includes both fixed and variable costs).
This number is higher than the Canadian average of $0.138/kWh (excluding the territories), meaning that property owners in British Columbia have moderate savings potential!
(methodology and data on other provinces and territories can be found on our Electricity Prices page.)
Utility Bill Rate Design
Good electricity rate design allows you to save money when you save energy. This might sound intuitive – but not all provinces are same. Superior designs have low fixed monthly fees and tiered electricity rates. Inferior designs have high fixed fees and flat electricity rates.
British Columbia scores in the front of the pack when it comes to these factors – having tiered rates and fixed monthly fees of $12.
Note that fixed monthly fees don’t disappear even if you switch to solar – you’ll pay them as long as you remain connected to the grid. But this isn’t a bad thing – $12/mo is a small price to pay for using the grid as your back-up energy source!
(methodology on our Electricity Prices page.)
The only way to completely remove your fixed costs is to go off the grid, something most homeowners in British Columbia don’t do because of high battery costs.
Disconnecting from the grid also means that you won’t be able to participate in your utility’s net metering program.
Upfront Cost: $2.56/watt
Financing: Energy Loan
British Columbia scores in the middle when it comes to financial factors because of low up-front costs and incoming PACE financing options. We’ve scored British Columbia 19.5/30 for this section.
Cost of Installation
The upfront cost of installation is obviously one of the largest factors that determine whether or not a person is going to switch to solar. The current average price range in British Columbia is about $2.54-$2.69/kWh.
(not sure what this number means or how to use it? Jump back up to the Common Questions section.)
However, the price can easily be higher or lower depending on the size of the system, the complexity of the job, the type of equipment used, and even on the quality of your installation company.
In general, aiming for the cheapest price shouldn’t be your goal. Most solar panels are guaranteed to last for 25 years, so you want to make sure that your installation job is good enough to support that.
You’ll also want to be sure that the company you choose will be around in 5 to 10 years from now in case you need service or warranty work done. If you get a quote through us, we’ll connect you with a pre-vetted installer!
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is an innovative financing option that allows you to cover the entire upfront cost of your solar system (or energy efficiency upgrades) with a $0 down, long amortization period, low interest ‘loan’.
However, unlike a typical loan, this loan is attached to your property (not you) and is paid back on your property tax bill as a Local Improvement Charge (LIC). The only eligibility is that you need to own a certain portion of your home.
BC does not have any PACE programs for solar, but two similar programs exist for energy efficiency upgrades:
The first is the City of Nelson’s On-Bill Financing Program which allows homeowners to borrow up to $16,000 for home energy upgrades and pay it back through their Nelson Hydro electric bill. Loans are approved based purely on payment history and property verification – no personal income or credit information is needed!
The second program is the Penticton Home Energy Loan Program which grants loans up to $10,000 to be paid back through your Penticton Electric Utility bill. However, this is not a true PACE program as the loan is dependent on your personal credit history.
Other Energy Financing
Obviously though, PACE is not the only way to finance a solar system. Systems can be financed by cash, bank loans, installer financing, home equity loans, a home equity line of credit, a mortgages (for new builds), or through energy loans.
Several options exists for BC homeowners:
- Vancity Home Energy Loan (energy loan)
- As low as prime +1%
- Up to 15 years amortization
- Vancity contact number: 604-877-7000
- RBC Energy Saver Loan (energy loan)
- Up to 10 years amortization
- RBC contact number: 1-800-769-2511
- TD Bank (various options)
- TD contact number: 1-866-389-8888
Solar Power British Columbia
Because of British Columbia’s PST exemption on solar panels and low installation costs – we rank BC as being the #7 best province in the country for switching to solar power.
Ready to get started? Then visit Empower Energy’s website to request a free estimate:
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