Riverside Energy Systems Shows BC’s Solar Potential

By Roy L Hales

According to Dave Egles’ study, the Potential for Solar Power in British Columbia: 2007 to 2025, BC’s climate is much more amenable to solar than either Germany’s or Japan’s. The average production of a PV solar array in Kamloops, for example, is 1160 kWh/kW of PV installed. Even Vancouver (1009) has much more solar potential than Tokyo (885) or Berlin (only 848).  One of our readers has provided more recent data that shows the last two figures are probably too low (see comments, below), but it is obvious BC has a great deal of untapped potential.

Ben Giudici (l) and Paul Fletcher, the Principals of Riverside Energy Systems
Ben Giudici (l) and Paul Fletcher, the Principals of Riverside Energy Systems

“I believe a modestly equipped sustainable home, utilizing solar to produce 50% or more of it’s own operating electricity, can be built with little or no increase to the building budget if the owner and builder base key construction details on reduction of energy consumption, and are willing to trade off some aesthetics for renewable energy equipment,” said Giudici.

“Construction practices and results in our building industry suggest BC residents are more inclined to equip their homes with granite counter tops, hot tubs, swimming pools, cobblestone driveways and/or other features devoid of monetary pay back, than with grid-connected solar arrays which do offer a return on investment,” he added.

Riverside was founded in 1995 and will have completed more than 20 grid-connected solar PV installations by the end of this year. They also provide off-grid solar, Wind and Micro-Hydro systems.

Kamloops home that provided 75% of its energy in year one
Kamloops home that self provided 75% of its energy in year one

In 2010, Riverside designed and installed the solar PV system for what was meant to be a zero net energy home.  Though PV produced almost exactly as expected, the building’s other operating systems consumed more than estimated and solar-hot water production fell short of projections.

“During the year CMHC monitored the home, it self produced about 75% of the energy it consumed,” Guidici said. “That is about 25% short of the net zero target.”

The design of a net-zero home begins with an ultra insulated and very air tight building envelope. Every construction detail revolves around the goal of reducing energy consumption. After everything else – every electrical, heating and cooling need – is reduced as much as possible, “then and only then are renewables such as solar PV, solar thermal, etc added.”

“The design and building process is arduous requiring builders and homeowners to be very committed to the process and the desired net-zero outcome,” he said.  “Zero net energy homes, like many other high performance systems, are dependent on their owners to reach full potential.  eg. a Ferrari will reach safely reach much higher speeds with a professional driver at the wheel than if I were driving. Thankfully sustainable building practices do not need to be ‘net-zero or nothing’ in order to have significant impact.”

Jim and Cathy Brown agree. They are retired teachers who purchased a 5.8 kW system from Riverside in 2012. This provides more than 100% of their energy needs during the summer months, but not nearly enough from November through February. Cathy estimated it supplies 1/3 of their power needs. They intend to purchase another 5.8 kW array and try to get that up to 2/3.

Cathy Brown removing snow from their solar array in Coldstream BC
Cathy Brown removing snow from their solar array in Coldstream BC

“You wouldn’t get anything near this rate of return if you left your money sitting in a bank account,” Cathy said. “And it makes you feel good to know you are doing something to help the environment.”

Guidici emphasized the fact it is all about choice. If a new homeowner decided to live with a a $30,000 kitchen instead of a $45,000 kitchen, and chose an asphalt driveway instead of cobblestone, “… renewable energy systems would soon be paid for.”

“If all else fails, construction and operating costs can be reduced by making the home a little smaller.  This is a paradigm shift which may not come naturally for many of us, but fading perceptions of ‘forever cheap’ electricity in BC seem to be moving more people in this direction.”

The potential for solar in BC is enormous, even better than Germany – which still leads the World in per capita installations.

14 thoughts on “Riverside Energy Systems Shows BC’s Solar Potential”

  1. Well written article Roy. Bens take on the industry is really thought provoking and I am happy to see him put it out there. It is sad to hear negative comments about the solar thermal though, as in general the product is considered far more efficient than PV. Given the same insolation as the well-performing PV, a good quality solar thermal system should be providing about 2/3’s of the homes yearly hot water demand. I hope readers will not be tainted by what may be an isolated case of over-prediction or inferior system or a poorly-set-up good quality system.

  2. The numbers in this article are far too low for Tokyo. According to the data I am looking at on the Solar Clinic reports, systems in Tokyo typically get 1400+ kWh per kW per year. This includes some older systems. Solar Clinic has thousands of solar rooftop owners in Japan reporting their production each month.

    BTW, my system in Nagano got 1629 kWh per kw in 2013. The place I live in Nagano has slightly better insolation than Tokyo.

    1. Would you have numbers for BC as well? That was a 2007 study and it is possible that many of the numbers need to be revised.

      1. According to the BC Sustainable Energy Association:

        “In coastal BC, a 1 kW solar panel will generate around 1,100 kWh a year. In sunny Kamloops and Kelowna it will generate 1,200 kWh. ”

        1200 kWh per kW per year is not bad, but it is far less than what is doable in Tokyo. This is natural as Vancouver is far further north than Tokyo.

        1. The numbers is Egles (2007) report are close, for BC (from graph 1):
          Cranbook – 1227
          Dawson Creek – 1168
          Fort Nelson – 1066
          Kamloops – 1160
          Kelowna – 1133
          Penticton – 1134
          Prince George – 1057
          Vancouver – 1009
          Victoria – 1091
          Whistler – 1001
          BC Average – 1100

          This is the segment most in question (from graph 3):
          Toronto 1161
          San Francisco 1410
          Newark, NJ 1220
          TOKYO 885
          Berlin 848

          If Tokyo is incorrect, as you lead me to suspect it is, that would make me wonder about Berlin. I am going to correct my article.

  3. Thank you Kevin Meyerson for replies to this article and in particular for questioning the kWh/kw/ year solar PV harvests for Tokyo Japan.

    The cited Egles report prepared for the BC government indeed show Toyko as 885 and Berlin as 848. I can only assume Mr. Egles used the best information available to him at the time.

    Various computer modelling tools are used by solar professionals to project annual harvests for PV project locations around the world. These are based on decades of climatological measurement by reputable sources including airports, military, and government agencies from around the world. Interpreted properly, these tools can provide very helpful results.

    I routinely use RETScreen International for modelling PV systems in my part of the world (British Columbia, Canada). I have found RETScreen useful and reasonably accurate compared to actual system performance provided system losses and the effects of shading are carefully incorporated.

    Intrigued by Mr. Meyerson’s point regarding Tokyo, I checked the RETScreen data base and discovered more than one climate database entry for Tokyo yielding very different results. Comparative modelling using typical PV system losses with a 1 kW system give the following RETScreen projections for some of the cities mentioned in the article and subsequent replies:

    Tokyo – 874 kWh/year
    Tokyo Intl. Airport – 1174 kWh/year
    Nagano – 1219 kWh/year
    Berlin – 892 kWh/year
    Kamloops Airport – 1206 kWh/year
    Vancouver Intl. Airport – 1038 kWh/year

    I am puzzled by the large difference between the two Tokyo results using different data bases. Are there errors in the data or large local insolation variations in in the Tokyo region? Perhaps there are others out there who could shed light on this? If Tokyo’s solar potential is better than reported in the Egles report, then this is good news for all concerned.

    The RETScreen Nagano result agrees well with Mr. Meyerson’s experience. Also systems in the Kamloops area of BC have been known to produce well over 1200 kWh/kW/year.

    Getting back to the article. My point is certainly not to devalue the solar PV potential of any country or city in the world. Rather, I am seeking to clarify the common misconception that British Columbia has poor solar potential. In my experience, BC has much higher capacity for harvesting energy from the sun than most British Columbians realize.

    Ben Giudici

    1. I am intrigued by the range of differences in the data for solar potential, but the article’s essential message is that BC has a LOT more solar potential than most of us realize. The references to Berlin and Tokyo used to draw attention to this.

    2. Hi Ben,

      As BC has much higher capacity for harvesting solar energy than most British Columbians realize. So, maybe most people like to off-grid solar home system. This All-in-One ESS become a good choice.

      Am I right?



      1. Good morning Allan.

        Thank you for your note. Had you meant to attach a link to the All-in-One ESS system you are asking about? Any further information you can provide will help me answer your question more thoroughly.

        Best regards

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