Energy, Mines and Resources

Energy Branch / Energy Solutions Centre

Harnessing solar energy for electricity in Whitehorse

One residence’s illuminating case

In 2014, retired engineer and long-time energy sector professional John Maissan installed a 5 kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) solar array system to generate electricity. He installed the 20 solar modules on the roof of his Whitehorse home with each module capable of generating 250 watts.


John Maissan’s Whitehorse home with the 20 modules of his 5 kilowatt photovoltaic solar array system. Photo credit: John Maissan

Maissan tracked the system’s performance and optimized it over the course of a year and a half to maximize the system’s efficiency. 

The system outperformed his original estimates. It produces enough electricity to cover the majority of the household’s annual electrical needs and allows Maissan to sell unused excess electricity to the utility through the Yukon government’s Micro-generation program.

Maissan also received a Good Energy rebate offered by the Energy Solutions Centre for the installation of his renewable energy system.

Thanks to the support of these two programs, Maissan is on track to recuperate his costs for the solar array system within a reasonable timeline.


Project profile

Maissan’s home is a one-storey bungalow with a south-facing back yard and a relatively low roofline. The residence is bordered by neighbouring mature trees to the south and adjacent two-storey buildings to the south, east and west. These impede the sun’s rays from shining on Maissan’s solar PV system depending on the time of day and year.

The Energy Solutions Centre conducted a shading analysis of the residence. The analysis was done to ensure that the site gets enough sun during the right times of year to make the solar array feasible. Based on the shading analysis, the residence is only significantly obstructed from generating electricity when there is an available solar resource 3.8% of the time from March to September. See the table below and note that the sun is high enough in February and October to allow sufficient generation of electricity for the residence.

Month

Average percentage of time that PV modules are obstructed
when there is available sunlight

January

67%

February

26%

March

8%

April

3%

May

3%

June

3%

July

3%

August

3%

September

4%

October

15%

November

54%

December

71%

Total

10%

Here are key specifications and characteristics of Maissan’s residence and his solar array installation.

Specification Details
Number of solar modules

20

Wattage of each module 250 watts
Total system size 5 kilowatts
Cost per watt installed $4.25
Total equipment and installation costs $21,250 (includes cost of roof reinforcement materials but not labour for roof reinforcement or system installation which was an in-kind contribution).
Adjustable PV setup mounts Yes, winter and summer settings adjusted with jack mounted base. The panels are 12 inches above roofline to prevent snow accumulation.
Estimated payback time 18 years (does not include deferred utility costs).
Incentives from Energy Solutions Centre for solar PV equipment $3,300 (20% of pre-tax purchase costs of eligible materials).
Micro-generation program's surplus export to grid $788.34 reimbursement for first full fiscal year recorded (2015-16), exported at $0.21/kWh.
Approximate annual household electrical cost savings $950
Annual kWh production 5,000 kWh (2015-16 targeted);
5,200 kWh (2015-16) actual!
Square footage of house 1,600 square feet; 2X6 construction
Number of storeys 1 (bungalow)
EnerGuide rating EnerGuide 80 (estimated)
The home is built to a standard of an early Copper Ridge home, with added attic insulation to R-80. 

During the system’s first year in operation, the Maissan household determined that their solar array system produced on average 75 to 80 per cent of their electrical consumption. From October through February, when there was less sunlight available, the Maissan household used more electricity than it produced and supplemented its needs with electricity from the grid as necessary. Whereas during the sunlight-rich summer months, the household was able to export excess unused solar electricity.

To date, Maissan’s solar PV array had its highest generation in the month of May at about 725 kWh and its lowest generation in the month of December at about 50 kWh.


Project benefits

  • Reduced household electrical costs: Maissan was able to reduce his household’s electrical costs saving $950 per year.
  • Government incentive programs help lower front-end costs: Maissan’s setup and installation costs for the 20 solar array modules was $21,250 or about $4.24 per watt installed. Maissan’s solar PV qualified for and receive $3,300 rebate from the Good Energy renewable energy system  incentive.
  • Generating income with unused, excess electricity: From January 2015 to 2016, Maissan exported a total of 3,754 kWh of unused electricity to the grid.  Through the Energy Branch’s Micro-generation program, participants receive $0.21 per kilowatt hour for energy exported to the grid.  Maissan collected $788.34 in his first full year of participation in the Micro-generation program. 
  • Shortened timelines for recuperating costs: In the past, solar PV systems were expensive and recuperating setup and installation costs took many decades. However, thanks to the Yukon government’s renewable energy incentive and Micro-generation program, Yukoners are able to shorten their payback period significantly. Maissan estimates being able to recuperate his costs within 18 years. 


Lessons learned

  • Solar PV setups can be productive in many locations: While Maissan’s residence is somewhat obstructed by trees and some taller neighbouring homes, the solar PV system is a relatively high performer, capable of generating 5,000 kWh throughout the year.  This demonstrates that while some buildings may be shaded some of the time or not oriented in a direct southern orientation, they may be able to generate sufficient electricity to meet the household’s needs.
  • The roof’s structural integrity is necessary for solar PV system to be successful: Maissan had a structural assessment completed on his roof. Although his roof was deemed strong enough, Maissan preferred not to take any chances. He fortified the roof by adding the necessary supports into the attic space to provide added structural support for the weight of the 20 modules.
  • Adjusting the modules’ angle is key to optimize generating capacity: Out of Maissan’s 20 modules, four modules were initially set to 28 degrees, eight at 45 degrees, and the remaining eight at 50 degrees. During the winter months, snow accumulated more quickly and tended to remain for longer durations on the 28 degree tilted modules. This was mostly likely due to the pitch being too horizontal. Following his data gathering and observations, Maissan decided to adjust the tilt of the modules on a seasonal schedule. The 28 degree tilt is advantageous in the summer months when the sun’s trajectory is broad and far higher in the sky.  For the winter months, Maissan adjusts his modules to a 60 to 70 degree tilt to optimize generation with the sun’s lower trajectory across the south horizon. Maissan’s home-made panel jack-mounts have allowed for the twice-a-year ritual to be done fairly easily.
  • Planning ahead for removing snow from modules pays off: During the winter months, snow covering the solar PV modules presents the biggest challenges to most PV system owners.  While adjusting the modules’ tilt to a 60 to 70 degree range prevents snow from collecting on the modules, Maissan also strongly recommends providing sufficient elevation from the roof line. Elevating the modules about a foot in height above the roofline encourages winds to naturally clear a great extent of the snow away. During the winter months, when potential for solar gain is modest, these types of strategies can make the difference between some or no generation.  
  • Budget accordingly: December’s lower sunlight availability means Maissan’s solar array system is at its lowest generation at about 50 kWh. Maissan budgets accordingly for his household’s electrical needs.


Project outcome

Maissan’s system proves that a medium-sized residential installation on a relatively low roofline can generate enough electricity to adequately meet the household’s needs. 

Having worked many of the bugs out of his solar PV array setup during its first year of operation, Maissan will continue to monitor the system closely to optimize the generating potential. 

Please see the micro-generation program and the Good Energy renewable energy incentive for more information on renewable energy generation or energy efficiency in residential and commercial settings.