Frequently asked questions about solar PV

Solar FAQ

How does solar work?
What is Solar Energy?

We can harness radiant light from the sun to produce clean, renewable energy. A broad spectrum of evolving technology exists to transform the sun’s energy and heat for our homes, from solar thermal energy (heating water or air) to solar photovoltaics (creating electricity). While we’re still discovering new ways to use the sun for heat and electricity, it’s important to remember that these solar technologies are very different. Solar thermal stores energy, and later uses this for heating systems. Solar panels use photovoltaics (or PV) technology to convert sunlight directly into electricity. SolarAssist was created to help Nova Scotians harness the power of solar photovoltaics for their home electricity needs.

Why go solar?

If solar photovoltaics (PV) makes sense for your home, you could save on your power bills and reduce your vulnerability to rising electricity rates in the future. Renewable energy sources also have a positive impact on our health and the environment. Going solar reduces greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in fewer air pollutants.

And with new rebates and lower PV installation costs, the time has never been better to invest in solar.

Does Nova Scotia get enough sunshine for solar?

It's a common misconception that Nova Scotia doesn't get enough sun to warrant the installation of solar panels. According to Environment Canada's 1981-2010 Climate Normals & Averages, the province experiences about 1790 hours of sunlight on average a year. Some regions get more sunlight than others, and while your panels might get up to 7 hours of daylight on sunny days, the average peak sun-hours (when your panels are at their most efficient) may actually be closer to 3 or 4 hours. But you don't always need complete and direct sunlight to power solar technology, even on cloudy, overcast or foggy days, your solar system will continue to generate solar energy, though it will be at a reduced rate compared to sunny days. Fun fact: Nova Scotia receives more solar energy over the course of a typical year than Germany — a country considered to be the world leader in solar adoption!

How do solar panels work?

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels absorb sunlight and transform it into electricity. A single, standard PV panel is typically made up of a series of individual solar cells — the more solar cells working in tandem, the more power a panel can create. Solar panel electricity output is expressed in units of watts representing the panel’s potential power production in direct sunlight. A single standard solar panel can have an output between 250 and 400 Watts.

The average surface size of a single home solar panel you might see on a roof in Nova Scotia is approximately 1.6 metres by 1 metre, and the average weight can range from 18 to 22 kilograms or 40 to 50 pounds — but size, weight (and wattage) can vary by manufacturer. In the last year alone, solar panel technology has reached new milestones in efficiency, expected lifespan and overall cost. It’s best to discuss panel options with your solar installer to find the right solution for your home and budget.

Can I produce as much solar as possible to sell back to my power company?

Customers of Nova Scotia Power – including homeowners and business – can generate their own electricity (through renewable sources such as wind and solar) while still being able to draw from the provincial power grid when needed. This arrangement is known as "enhanced net metering."

If you produce more energy than you use at any one time, the extra electricity will flow into the local grid for others to use. If you don’t generate as much energy as you need, you can still draw from the grid to make up the difference. Net metering customers continue to pay a monthly base charge as normal, and receive credit for the energy they create — up to a limit. However, the energy generation capacity of your solar or wind turbine must be comparable to the amount of electricity used by your home or business, and can’t produce more than 100 kilowatts of power.

Can I go “off-grid”?

It’s possible to go “off-grid” with a solar PV system that has substantial battery storage, but the return is not always worth the high expense of this type of installation for most homeowners. It’s best to discuss panel options with your solar installer to find the right solution for your home and budget. The design process for an off-grid system requires a complete analysis to size the system components including batteries, charge controller, solar array, etc.

Am I a good candidate for solar power?
Will solar work for me?

Solar panels need unobstructed access to the sun for most of the day. The ideal location for a solar array is south-facing (but east and west-facing will work too), without obstructions from potential sources of shade like trees or other buildings. If your only available roof or yard space for solar panels is north-facing, and mostly or entirely shaded by trees or other buildings, you may not be a good candidate for solar.

Talk to a solar installer to get the best advice.

I live in an apartment, can I install solar?

If you live in an apartment or condo, you’ll need to consult with your landlord and/or condo board before exploring your home’s solar potential. The decision to install solar PV to create power for a multi-unit building will involve more people in the decision.

Can I get solar for my business or organization?

In 2015, the province launched a Solar for Community Buildings Pilot Program to support community participation in renewable energy generation and to help Nova Scotia continue its transition toward cleaner energy. The program is designed to help Municipalities, Mi’kmaq First Nations, Academic Institutions and Non-profit Organizations install solar panels to generate electricity that can be sold to the power utility. The program will reopen for applications in the spring of 2019.

Nova Scotians also have the opportunity to use renewable energy technologies to help create the power they need for their homes or businesses. For-profit businesses are eligible to enter into an ‘enhanced net metering’ agreement with Nova Scotia Power to offset all or part of their electricity use while still being able to draw from the provincial power grid when needed.

What’s the difference between a roof-mounted system and a ground-mounted system?

Deciding between a roof-mounted solar system and ground-mounted one is a key consideration. Ground-mounted solar panels can be placed anywhere on your property, whereas panels suitable for a roof must be attached solely to your roof. Both options have advantages, but it's important to choose the one that best fits your property's features and your energy needs.

Ground mounted systems can be an ideal option if your lawn or yard is large, but your roof is small, very shaded or faces due east or west (or all of the above!). With available yard space, a solar system can be oriented to produce the maximum amount of energy, and your solar panels can be more easily accessed for cleaning, repairs or snow removal.

But — many variables go in to the construction of ground-mounted solar systems, which means they could be more costly or take longer to install. Ground-mounted systems require additional installation materials to create a strong base, to tilt them upward to the correct angle, and to wire them to your home. Most homeowners will contract a specialized installer with experience in ground mounted systems. Some rural homeowners with experience building their own infrastructure may find they're able to prepare their property more thoroughly for a ground mounted system. Whatever direction you choose with your ground mounted system, remember that only installations by solar contractors on the Efficiency Trade Network will be eligible for the Efficiency Nova Scotia SolarHomes rebate.

Roof-mounted solar systems are most common. They're easier, more cost-efficient and quicker to install. However, if your roof is more than 10 to 15 years old, you may have to replace it during the lifespan of your roof-mounted solar system. Removing and reinstalling roof-mounted solar systems can be costly, so if you have an older roof, you might want to consider replacing the shingles before installing solar. Roof-mounted solar installations can be more aesthetically pleasing than ground-mounts arrays, but you are limited in how large a system you can install by the available space on your rooftop. The cost of installing a roof-mounted solar system will also be affected by your roof's pitch, direction, materials and the shade it gets throughout the day. A professional solar installer can help you decide which arrangement will be best for your home energy needs.

Is my roof good for solar?

Your roof might be the most important factor in your home’s solar potential. Your roof can affect the cost and effectiveness of your installation in a few ways:

Roof Age: Roof-mounted solar electricity systems are typically guaranteed with a warranty for up to 25 years, and they can be costly to remove or reinstall. Most roofs have a useful life of anywhere from 20 to 30 years, which complements the typically roof-mounted solar system warranty. If you need to replace your roof, it’s a good idea to install your new roof before considering solar. A solar system can also help extend the lifespan of a new roof.

Roof Material: Some roof materials aren’t great for solar installations. Wood or slate-based roofing materials can be brittle and break easily. Installing solar panels on these roof types requires special equipment, and can make the price of your installation more expensive than average. Composite or asphalt shingles or metal standing seam roofs are ideal for solar.

Roof Pitch: If you have a peaked or multi-sided roof, it’s important to consider your roof’s pitch. The ideal slope angle to make the most of the sun’s position here in Nova Scotia is between 20 and 35 degrees. A flat roof will work for solar, but mounting solar panels on a flat roof (or in your yard) requires a special mounting system to tilt it to the correct angle, which could make your installation more costly. A solar professional can help assess your roof’s pitch to determine what type of installation you’ll need to consider to get the optimal output.

Roof Direction, Size and Shape: For Nova Scotians, solar panels will work best on a broad, south-facing roof. If you have a peaked roof, an easy way to determine whether your roof faces in an ideal direction is to use our calculator. If you have a multi-sided roof, Google Maps can help you determine whether one side of your roof faces the ideal direction. Look up your property and use the tool grid to find true south, then compare your roof. A large square or rectangular space is best, and things like chimneys and skylights can reduce or offset your available space. If a portion of your roof faces southeast or southwest rather than true south, you can still produce a significant amount of electricity. If your roof mainly faces due east and west, you might want to consider mounting your panels in your yard or on another building like your shed, barn or garage. Keep in mind that there are special considerations for a yard-mounted system, which might make this type of system more expensive.

How much shade is too much shade?

Your solar panels will work best when they have clear, unobstructed access to the sun’s radiation and rays, so too much shade can be a bad thing. Shade — from other buildings, trees or even your own chimney or house (when mounting your system in your yard) — can pose a serious threat to the overall effectiveness of a solar PV installation. Simply walking around your home and observing your roof at different times of the day should give you a good idea how much shade your roof or yard gets and where it’s concentrated. It may not be possible to reduce shade created by buildings or other immovable structures, but you may be able to reduce shade from trees by removing or trimming them from your property. A trained solar installer can help you assess your property and give you the best advice.

My roof isn’t ideal, but I still want to install solar, what should I do?

If you’ve assessed your roof’s solar potential with a professional installer and your roof isn’t ideal, you have other solar options! You can consider mounting your panels in your yard or on another building like your shed, barn or garage. You can also consider building a solar panel car shelter or carport. These options may deliver the same savings as a roof mounted system, but keep in mind that there are special considerations for these less-common installations, which can take up space, and be more expensive upfront.

What about winter?

Since solar panels use the sun’s rays to produce electricity, they’ll continue to work as long as they can absorb energy from the sun. This means your panels will produce electricity even during the dark winter months. They may produce less power when the days or shorter, or be less effective under sunless winter skies, but on sunny winter days, the cold temperatures can can actually improve solar panel output.

White snow can also reflect light, improving solar panel performance. However, if a Nova Scotian snowstorm covers your panels with snow, they’ll stop producing power while they’re snow covered. Most standard panel installations can withstand the weight of a typical Nova Scotian snowfall, and are tilted at an angle encouraging the snow to slide off on its own. You can also purchase special solar rakes to remove snow without damaging your installation. Remember that while you might generate slightly less power in the winter, you’ll be able to use credits from all the extra power you produce during the summer months with net metering.

What steps should I take before installing solar?
How do I prepare my home for solar electricity?

There are a few key things to consider as you prepare for your solar home. Roof-mounted solar electricity systems are typically guaranteed for up to 25 years, and they can be costly to remove or reinstall. If you need to replace your roof, it’s a good idea to install your new roof before considering solar. Solar panels can also be installed on a ground-mounted array in your yard, but yard installations could be more costly. When you install solar on your property, you’ll still be connected to the utility grid, so you can power your home when your system isn’t producing enough electricity, and send power back to the grid when you produce more electricity than you use.

To manage your new solar power feed to and from the grid, you may need to upgrade your home’s electrical panel. A panel's total amperage is printed near or on the main circuit breaker. Most breaker boxes are 100, 150, 200 amps or higher — a minimum of 200 amps is needed for a home solar conversion. Remember that it’s also a good idea to contact your home insurance provider to see if there will be any changes to your policy or coverage before you plan your solar installation.

How do I choose a solar installer?

All Nova Scotians can participate in the SolarHomes program which provides rebates for solar PV system installations. To be eligible for the SolarHomes rebate, you must meet the program criteria and be pre-approved by Efficiency Nova Scotia. Your solar installer also needs to be pre-approved by Efficiency Nova Scotia. Only solar PV systems installed by an Approved Solar Installer on the Efficiency Trade Network will be eligible for rebates under the program. After you review the program details, it’s a good idea to reach out to at least 3 solar installers to compare price estimates before you get started.

How long does an installation take?

Just like any major home upgrade, a solar PV system can take longer than expected to install from start to finish. After you’ve fully assessed your property and compared quotes from solar installers, you’ll need to get pre-approval to participate in Efficiency Nova Scotia’s SolarHomes rebate program (or financing programs) before taking the next step. This initial planning process can take as long as a month or more. Once contracted, your professional solar installer will work with you to design your system, then help you prepare the paperwork needed to ensure you have the appropriate approvals and permits to begin your solar installation upgrade. This can take an additional month or more. Once your permits and approvals are ready to go, your solar installation can take as little as 1 to 5 days, but the final step — inspecting your system, negotiating your utility contract and connecting to the grid — can take several more weeks. The entire process can take anywhere between 2 to 4 months on average, but your satisfaction is likely to last as long as you own your home.

Can I store my solar power?

Yes, you can store solar power. You’ll need a solar system that includes a home battery. Adding batteries to your solar PV system provides a secure backup source for your home, and ensures you’re the end user of all the solar energy you produce. Most regions within Nova Scotia are eligible for Nova Scotia Power’s enhanced net metering arrangement, making home energy storage unnecessary. With net metering, home storage is less advantageous, because you’ll be credited for solar energy you don’t use at the same rate you’re charged for regular electricity. However, please note there is a limit to how much electricity you can produce.

How long will my system last?

Solar PV systems generally last more than 25 years when properly installed and maintained. (Solar systems do require some periodic cleaning when dirt, bird droppings, etc. collect on the panels.) Other components to the system will have varying lifespans — your solar installer can tell you more.

How can I save with solar?
How does a solar installation save me money?

You’ll be harnessing the power of the sun for your home energy needs — and since you’ll be helping to power your home with the sun, you’ll save money on your electric bills as long as the sun is shining! Our calculator can help you find out how much you might save on your energy bills based on your chosen installation size, the average amount of sunshine in Nova Scotia, our provincial net metering rules, and the typical electricity production of a standard solar panel. However, there are many additional key factors that can affect both your upfront cost and your home’s overall solar energy production. We recommend you speak to a certified professional to fully assess your home’s solar potential. Our calculator is a general guide only.

How long will it take me to pay off my solar panels?

Solar panels are an attractive investment. A solar electric system can help you save on your electricity bills, and reduce the future impact of rising utility rates. For this reason, solar homeowners are often very satisfied with their solar installations. The ‘payback period’ for your solar installation is how long it will take to see a complete return or “break even” on your upfront solar cost. Try our solar calculator to get an estimate on how long your system will take to pay back. SolarAssist bases this calculation on the size of the system you want to install, and the current average cost of your monthly power bill.

Am I eligible for any rebates or financial programs to help me install solar PV?

Great news! All Nova Scotians are eligible to apply for the SolarHomes rebate, and there are many public and private financial programs to help you become a solar homeowner. Visit our rebates and financing list to learn more.

How do I connect to the Grid?
What can I expect from my utility?

When you install solar panels on your property, you will still be connected to grid. This allows you to draw from your local power grid when your solar system is not producing all of the electricity that you need, and send power back to the grid for credit when you produce more than you use (however, there is a cap to how much power you can sell back to the grid). Unless your solar energy system includes battery storage and you are fully off the grid, you will still receive a power bill. Note that there is a limit to how much electricity you can produce.

What is net metering?

If you’re a Nova Scotia Power customer, net metering is a cost-effective way to generate solar electricity. Nova Scotia Power’s Enhanced Net Metering Program allows you to install a solar system, connect it to the Nova Scotia Power grid, and receive credit for any extra electricity you generate at the same retail rate per kilowatt-hour as you would pay for electricity. (However, there is there is a limit to how much electricity you can produce and send to the grid.)

There are several regional utility companies operating in Nova Scotia in addition to Nova Scotia Power. If you are an Antigonish Electric, Berwick Electric Light, Canso Electric, Lunenburg, Mahone Bay Electric or Riverport Electric customer, your SolarAssist calculator rates and savings might be a little different, or net metering may not be available. We recommend that you reach out to your utility directly to find out more about your utility's solar policies.

After a final inspection of any new solar installation, Nova Scotia Power will deliver and install a new electric meter for your home – a bi-directional “net meter.” This digital meter will measure the energy into and out of your home.

How do I get approved for net metering?

You'll apply for an interconnection agreement with your utility. You can find Nova Scotia Power's application process here. The most important step is to complete and send in your Interconnection Request before you begin your installation. Your solar contractor can help you fill in this application and send it on your behalf. You’ll need to sign this agreement before you can connect to the grid.

Are there financing programs available to help me go solar?

The SolarHomes program offers rebates that are available to all Nova Scotians. However, many people still need financing to pay for the rest of their solar system. Talk to your bank or credit union to see if they offer financing for clean energy upgrades.

Some municipalities offer a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program that pays upfront for energy efficiency and clean energy retrofits. The homeowner then pays the municipality back over time for those home upgrades. PACE programs are designed to help homeowners pay back the clean energy upgrades with the money they save on heating, cooling and electricity costs. Not all PACE programs support solar, but many do. Currently, the PACE programs available in Nova Scotia include:

Halifax - SolarCity

Town of Amherst — Clean Energy Financing program

Bridgewater — Clean Energy Financing program

Cumberland County — Clean Energy Financing program

District of Lunenburg — Clean Energy Financing program

District of Digby — Clean Energy Financing program

District of Barrington — Clean Energy Financing program

Solar Colchester — PACE program

New Glasgow — Clean Energy Financing program

District of Victoria County — Clean Energy Financing program

Switch Wolfville financing program

District of Yarmouth Clean Energy Financing program

Other municipalities are exploring PACE programs, so check back here regularly, or talk to your local municipal representative to find out if they offer an efficiency, solar or clean energy financing program.

For these programs and other private financing for green home upgrades, explore our list of rebates and financing programs for solar.

Where can I find data from real solar installations in Nova Scotia?
Visit Solar Data NS to discover realtime information on solar usage in Nova Scotia!

Solar Data NS empowers Nova Scotians with realtime information about solar energy. The website is part of the Community Solar Database initiative, lead by the Nova Scotia Community College Energy Research Lab, which collects data on solar electricity generation from solar arrays across Nova Scotia, and makes this data available for research and public education. Check out the website here.

Ok, I want to go solar, what’s next?
Check out our step-by-step guide to going solar to get started today!

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SolarAssist is brought to you by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables and Clean Foundation, with help from Solar Nova Scotia, R&G Strategic, and the Halifax Regional Municipality.