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Regional energy groups look to make solar more accessible

The power to reduce energy consumption and energy costs is in the sun mixed with a healthy dose of conservation.

This will be the subject of Out Of The Dark: A Solar Information Night which will be held Aug. 13 at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex.

Organized by Community Renewable Energy Waterloo (CREW), a non-profit group, and the Residential Energy Efficiency Project (REEP), the session will teach homeowners how they can harvest free energy from the sun. Visitors will learn about the Solar Initiative for Distributed Energy (SIDE), a program which includes a bulk purchase of solar technology options which generate domestic hot water or electricity, subsequently reducing energy costs paid by homeowners.

Crucial to the program is the fact that the installations of the solar technology are made easy and seamless, with all permits and incentive applications managed by CREW’s preferred installers.

All homeowners need to do is review a contract and sign up.

The idea is to make the purchasing process as simple as buying a car. The difference, of course, resides in the fact that solar panels provide a return on investment, last for decades and reduce air pollution.

“It makes buying a solar energy system for your house as simple as buying a car,” said Ted Sherk, coordinator of the SIDE initiative.

“It’s basically about reducing all the barriers and making it easier and getting you the best possible price. … Our mission is to provide affordable and environmentally friendly solar energy.”

Targeting residential homeowners, small businesses, faith groups and cooperatives, the SIDE project offers a number of options which will be addressed and explored at the information session on Aug. 13. Solar installers will be on-hand to give demonstrations and answer questions regarding these technologies, and various solar technologies will be discussed, including solar panels that generate electricity (photovoltaic or “PV”) and others that heat water (solar thermal).

The event will also feature guest speakers including Jed Goldberg, president of Earth Day Canada, who will speak about community solar bulk purchases and how homeowners, churches and small businesses in the region can work together towards a future that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. In commemoration of the great blackout of 2003, the event will underscore the importance of energy consumption in homes and provide information on grants available through energy-saving renovations and upgrades.

Visitors to the event will get a chance to learn how feeding electricity generated through solar power into the grid can help save on energy costs through the province’s Green Energy Act. While electricity typically costs homeowners 6¢ per kWh, the provincial government currently pays 42 ¢ per kWh to homeowners who produce electricity with their solar photovoltaic (or “PV”) panels and feed it into the grid.

Soon, under the Green Energy Act, this rate is expected to double to a rate of 80.2¢ per kWh, dramatically  reducing the time it should take homeowners to pay back the initial investment in the system to only 10-12 years, with a return on investment of eight to 11 per cent.

Although solar panels play an important role in the shift towards the production of clean energy and the reduction of energy costs, people must also play a crucial role.

“Solar power and conservation should always be used together – installing a solar system is like the crowning achievement that you can do after you’ve done as much as you can to conserve,” said Sherk, noting that most homes can achieve at least a 25 per cent reduction of energy consumption through home energy audits and basic efficiency upgrades such as installing energy-efficient light bulbs.

“The cheapest kilowatt hour is the kilowatt hour saved … it’s cheaper to turn off the lights rather than buy a solar energy system to generate electricity,” said Sherk.

For more information, visit www.crewzone.ca and www.reepwaterlooregion.ca.

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