Today, the “green” electrical energy is more expensive to produce than the traditional methods. That’s mainly because it requires huge upfront capital costs for building the new facilities, which can be recovered only after a long time, usually measured in decades. But faced with the need to reduce the pollution generated by the traditional power plants and the foreseeable decrease in available supplies of fuel, the governments all over the world are trying to find methods of making the solar and wind energy production more palatable.
Almost a year ago I first read about a new “green energy” program launched by the Ontario Government. The main program is known as FIT (Feed-In Tariff) and is targeted towards companies. But what interested me more was that it had a little brother, named microFIT, which is intended to be used by families and individuals who want to produce energy on a small scale using sun, wind, water or biomass.
Unfortunately, as a city dweller, wind, water and biomass power are either unavailable or impractical for me to tap. But solar power is relatively easy for me to harness, since my roof has an almost perfect southern exposure. I previously considered installing Photo-Voltaic panels (aka solar panels, or PV panels), so the microFIT announcement was an unexpected chance to look again into the possibility to recheck the viability of one of my old abandoned project.
Prior to microFIT, the only possibility was something called “net metering”. Under this method, all the electricity your PV panels generate will compensate your own consumption, and if there is any excess, it will be injected back into the electrical grid. At such moments, you may see you meter spinning backwards, which is really cool :-). Anyway, you end up paying only the difference between your total consumption (lightbulbs, TV, diswasher, etc) and your total production (solar panels), hence the “net metering” name. However, after receiving a couple of quotes and making a few simple calculation, it was obvious that at the current electricity price, the payback is around 20 long years. Even so, there were a few pioneers which installed such systems. Hats off to them! But for me, there’s no way I would sink $25k only to get them back in 20+ years…
The good news is that microFIT works differently than net metering. All the electricity your panels generate is injected into the power grid, and the utility company (usually known as Hydro in my part of Canada) will pay 80.2 cents for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of production. At the same time, you only pay the regular price, around 10 cent/kWh, for everything you are consuming! This imbalance is meant to be an incentive for regular people to get into green energy production, and considering the 17000 applications received by the Ontario Power Authority in less than one year, we may say it proved interesting for a lot of folks!
So now I have some thinking to do: does microFIT change the numbers so that it is reasonable to install my own solar panels?