How Your Future Home Might Be Powered

The winter season was a relatively mild one this year, and I doubt many Torontonians were complaining about the near Spring-like weather we received for most of the month. Despite the unseasonably high temperatures, there’s a good chance your energy bills for the season were also unseasonably high. Was this the case in your home? If so, Toronto Hydro has a checklist you can read that might explain why your jaw nearly dropped to the floor when you opened last month’s bill.

If your winter bill seems higher than expected, consider the following:

  • How do you heat your home?
  • Electric heating can account for over 50% of a home’s power consumption during the winter.
  • Gas furnaces need electricity to run too. Due to the extreme cold, on average furnace fans will run 280 hours longer this winter than last winter (November to February) and will consume approximately an extra 130KWh of electricity (or around an additional $20 on your electricity bill)[1].
  • Is your equipment working properly? Inefficient furnaces and other appliances will consume much more power than newer, more efficient models.
  • Do you live in an older home? Is there proper insulation in the walls, basement and attic?
  • Did you use a significant amount of electricity during the on-peak price period?

Perhaps Toronto Hydro is asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “How do you heat your home?”, the question should be, “how are you powering your home?” The advent of cheap solar panel technology and improved battery storage systems have made it possible, for the first time in history, to create what are called “energy positive” homes – those that create more power than they use. Not only can you save money on your electricity bills by turning to green alternatives, but here’s the kicker. If your home or business can produce more power than it needs, it can actually turn a profit, since some local utility companies can buy the excess electricity from you and feed it into the grid for others to use.

The easiest way to outfit your home so that it can generate and store its own power, is to install solar panels that connect to a large battery. Thereby allowing you to save solar energy during the day that can be used after it gets dark outside. Solar panels will soon become a ubiquitous feature of most homes. Especially when you consider that, in Canada, you can go to Costco to purchase solar panels. For $899 you can purchase the Coleman 300 Watt Solar Panel Kit with Charge Controller and Inverter, which comes with three 100 Watt crystalline solar panels, a 30 amp digital charge controller, and a 300 Watt modified sine wave inverter with USB port. IKEA (http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/campaigns/solar-panels.html) also appears to be getting into the game, announcing that it will have a widely available solar panel offering by some point this year.

When it comes to battery technology for energy positive homes, right now, there’s no real competitor for the Tesla PowerWall. PowerWall is a home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels, or when utility rates are low, and powers your home in the evening. Tesla claims that with the right number of solar panels, and the intelligence of the technology that runs the battery, it is entirely possible to go completely off the grid. The only downsides at the moment is that the PowerWall is not available in Canada at the moment, although the CBC reports that sales and distribution of the tech will arrive later this year. Also, the unit itself requires a trained and licensed technician to install, which means do-it-yourselfers are out of luck.

Jason Quintal | February 18, 2016

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