The solar units on Stephen Gilbert’s property allow him to sell power back into the power grid.

Powered by the sun

Metchosin family converts home to solar and profits from the experience

Stephen Gilbert recalled the moment he decided it was time to make a change in the way he powered his life.

“Last September, after a succession of huge hydro bills that were consistently more than $1,500, I realized that this was money that was gone forever. I knew there had to be a better way,” Gilbert said.

He explained how he went online to look for alternatives for his Ferncliffe Place home and realized he could convert his residence with a sustainable solar generating system — one that would pay for itself in the long run.

But his move to sustainable energy wasn’t without challenges.

“When I first went for quotes the amount was quite high so I went back online and found a company in Ontario that was able to deliver the material I needed to Victoria at a considerably lower price than I’d been quoted locally. I’m guessing that competition in Ontario has resulted in lower prices,” Gilbert said.

When the solar units were delivered, Gilbert did much of the installation himself, opting for a ground level system augmented by some rooftop units on the awnings of his house. He built metal racking and did much of the 146-solar panel installation himself, even though he has no training in construction or installation.

In the first year his 35 kilowatt system has generated more than $6,000 in electrical power and Gilbert is able to benefit from the power he produces, not only by reducing his power bill to virtually nothing but also by selling his surplus power back into the power grid for a cash benefit.

“The economics makes sense and it’s really not as hard as you might think. There are all kinds of videos on YouTube that show you what to do. I guess I went to the University of YouTube to learn how to do it,” said Gilbert with a laugh.

A licensed electrician was required to do the final hook-up to the electrical grid, but even with outside help, Gilbert’s final cost for converting his home to solar power was a little more than $43,000.

“I know that it’s a big ticket item, but you have to figure out that the system will pay for itself in less than 10 years and after that, I will never have to pay for electricity again. In fact it (the pay back period) may be a lot less than that since I’ve just purchased electric vehicles and will be powering them from my system,” explained Gilbert.

“When you factor in that I won’t be paying for gas or hydro, and I am actually selling power into the grid so BC Hydro pays me, the break-even point could be exponentially less than 10 years.”

Gilbert’s last hydro bill showed a credit of $698 – a far cry from the quadruple figure bills he used to receive.

Another factor that Gilbert points out involves taxation.

“When you buy power from BC Hydro, you’re doing it with after tax dollars. Factor in that when you produce your own power and sell onto the grid, you are doing it with before tax dollars. It all contributes to making the decision to go solar.”

Gilbert admits that his wife and four children initially thought he was “crazy.”

“I’m 50 years old now and I grew up during a time when you had no options and no one was thinking this way; a time when muscle cars where normal and generating your own electricity like this would have been impossible, even illegal. My solar units are guaranteed for 25 years, and when it’s time to replace them, just think about what technology we might have,” Gilbert said

“We don’t have to wait for the future to make this change. The future is right now.”

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