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A Buyer’s Guide

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Photovoltaic Systems: A Buyer’s Guide

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Les systèmes photovoltaïques : Guide de l’acheteur
Table of Contents
About This Guide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

1. What Is a Solar Electric or Photovoltaic (PV) System? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

What Is PV? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
How Does It Work? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
The Three Types of PV Power Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2. What Photovoltaics Can Do for You . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
The Advantages of PV Power Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
The Limitations of PV Power Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
3. Photovoltaics at Work in Canada . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Cottages and Residences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Power for Remote Lodges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Mobile and Recreational Applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Photovoltaics in Agriculture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
A PV System to Suit Your Particular Power Requirements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
4. Buying Your Photovoltaic System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Be Prepared . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Where to Find PV Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Choosing a Dealer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Making a Decision . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
5. Installing and Maintaining Your Photovoltaic System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Installation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Mounting the PV Array . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Housing the Batteries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
6. Estimating Your Needs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Step 1. Estimate Your Power and Energy Needs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Step 2. Make a Rough Evaluation of PV System Size . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
7. Sizing Worksheet Examples . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Example 1. Summer Cabin Power System – The Smiths . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Example 2. Year-Round Remote Residential Power System – The Wongs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
8. Technical Information on Photovoltaic System Components . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
PV Technology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
The Electric Characteristics of PV Modules: The Current-Voltage (I-V) Curve . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Other Components in PV Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37

Appendix A: Worksheet to Evaluate System Size . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40

Step 1. Estimate Your Power and Energy Needs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Step 2. Make a Rough Evaluation of PV System Size . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Appendix B: Typical Loads . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Typical Power Ratings of Some Common Appliances . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Appendix C: Energy-Efficient Lighting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Comparison of Typical Lighting Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Learn More About Solar Energy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
Reader Survey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

About this Guide

The information in the following Each section of this guide is

pages is for prospective buyers of divided into short, easy-to-read
photovoltaic (PV) systems for use subsections. This format allows
in the following: you to browse by topic or read
• remote cottages and the guide from cover to cover.
residences; Several forms are included to
help you estimate your power
• recreational and mobile and energy needs.
Once you have read this guide,
• agricultural applications; you should know enough about
• remote lodges; and PV systems to consult dealers and,
with them, evaluate the best PV
• remote lighting applications.
configuration to meet your needs
The purpose of this guide is to – now and for the future. This
help you determine whether a PV guide provides only estimates and
system is a suitable option for you is not intended to replace the
in providing electrical power for technical expertise required for
one or more of the above uses. It the detailed design and installa-
describes typical and innovative tion of a PV system. Nowhere
PV systems, provides examples of should you construe that this
successful Canadian installations guide recommends or promotes
and answers some of the ques- any specific products.
tions you should ask yourself
before approaching a PV dealer
(as well as questions a dealer
should be able to answer).

1. What Is a Solar Electric or Photovoltaic (PV) System?

What Is PV? How Does to be freed from their atoms.

Once freed, they can move
The term “photovoltaic,” com-
monly referred to as PV, is derived
It Work? through the material and carry an
PV cells are normally fabricated electric current. The current flows
from a combination of “photo,” using special semiconductor in one direction (like a battery),
the Greek word for light, and materials that allow electrons, and thus the electricity generated
“Volta,” the name of the Italian which are energized when the is termed direct current (DC).
physicist, Alessandro Volta, who material is exposed to sunlight,
invented the chemical battery in
1800. The PV effect is the direct
conversion of solar energy into
electricity. This process does not
generate heat like solar domestic
hot water or solar pool heating
systems do. It also differs from
the process used in solar thermal
power plants, where concentrated
solar energy is used to produce
steam that activates a turbine
connected to an electric genera-
tor. PV power systems do not
have any moving parts. They are
reliable, require little mainte-
nance and generate no noise
or pollutants. PV systems are ▲ A PV module converts sunlight directly into electricity.
modular – the building blocks
(modules) come in a wide range
of power capabilities, from a
fraction of a watt (e.g. solar
watches and pocket calculators)
to more that 300 W. Modules
can be connected to achieve
the power that your application
requires. Some demonstration
PV power plants have several
megawatts of power, although
most installed PV systems are
much smaller.

▲ For applications that require electricity during overcast periods, batteries ensure
that the PV system is autonomous.

The energy generated by PV
modules can be used immediately
The Three Types or in periods of low solar radia-
tion. Alternatively, they may
or stored in batteries for later of PV Power power the application entirely,
use. Normally, the excess energy Systems with no need for batteries
generated in autonomous PV The three typical configurations of (e.g. water pumping). In general,
systems during sunny periods is PV power systems are autonomous, autonomous PV systems are the
stored in batteries. The batteries hybrid and grid-connected. most cost-effective source of
then provide electricity at night Autonomous and hybrid power electrical power. You may,
or when there is not enough solar systems are used in stand-alone however, decide to choose a
radiation. For these applications, applications. They are not con- hybrid PV system because of
the number of watts in the array nected to the main utility grid the environment in which it
and the capacity of the batteries and are often used in remote areas. will operate or because you
are carefully sized to give opti- need a system that operates
mum performance. Autonomous independently and reliably.
Some autonomous applications, Autonomous systems rely exclu-
such as water pumping, often sively on solar energy to meet a
have no need for batteries. Water need for electricity. As mentioned
is pumped when the sun shines in the preceding, they may
and is stored directly in a reser- incorporate batteries – which
voir or a tank that is installed store energy from the PV modules
at a higher level for later use during the day – for use at night
by gravity feed.
Other PV systems convert the
electricity into alternating current
(AC), feed excess electricity into Autonomous PV Systems Hybrid PV System
the grid and draw out electricity
at night or when the solar radia-
tion is low. These systems are
referred to as grid-connected,
grid-tied or net-metered.

▲ Autonomous ▲ Autonomous ▲ Hybrid PV system.

PV system PV system
without batteries. with batteries.

Hybrid systems, also used in
stand-alone systems, consist of PV
modules and a wind and/or fuel-
fired generator. A hybrid system is
a good option for larger systems
that need a steady power supply,
when there is not enough sun at
certain times of the year, or if you ▲ Water oxygenation compressors ▲ Remote residences or cottages can
want to lower your capital invest- and water pumps are examples have access to electricity without
of PV systems that function with- extending the grid. Photo courtesy
ment in PV modules and storage
out batteries. Photo courtesy of of Solener Inc.
batteries. Environergie Québec Inc.

Grid-Connected If PV output exceeds the load acts like a limitless battery bank.
Grid-connected PV power systems consumption, the meter turns In most parts of Canada, permis-
are part of the movement toward backward, and a credit is accumu- sion from the local utility is
a decentralized electrical network. lated. This credit can be drawn required in order to back feed
Power is generated closer to out of the utility when the sun is power into the grid.
where it is needed – not solely by not shining. In essence, the grid
central power stations and major
hydro stations. Over time, such
systems will reduce the need to
increase the capacity of trans-
portation and distribution lines.
Grid-Connected PV Systems
A “grid-connected” system gener-
ates its own electricity and feeds
its excess power into the utility
grid for later use. This does away
with buying and maintaining a
battery bank. You can still use
battery banks to provide backup
power when the grid goes down,
but they are not required.
Smaller systems have a box –
a small grid synchronous inverter
– mounted on the back of each
panel. Larger systems have one
large inverter, which can handle
many panels (as in a stand-alone
system). Both types convert DC
power output into AC power. Then
they synchronize this output with
the grid to slow down the electri-
cal meter. They can even turn the
meter backward. If the PV output
is less than the load consumption, ▲ Centralized and distributed grid-connected PV systems.
the meter slows down.

A large portion of the cost of
a grid-connected PV system is
manufacturing the PV modules
themselves. Significant decreases
in manufacturing costs have
occurred in recent years, with
further decreases expected in the
future. This kind of PV system is
thus becoming more affordable.
In some urban areas in warm cli-
mates, the cost per kilowatt-hour
of electricity from grid-connected
PV systems is competitive with
that of other electricity-generating
systems. In areas with less solar
radiation, the cost-effectiveness
of this type of PV system is still
marginal. But there is a potential ▲ This house in Edmonton, Alberta, is equipped with a 2.3-kW system that is
for peak power savings in areas connected to the local power utility. About 2500 kWh are produced each year.
The investment cost in 1995 was $28,000.
where air conditioning causes a
power peak in the summer. There
are also system savings where To install a PV system, you must
the PV modules can replace the pay the capital cost of the system
traditional roofing materials for and amortize this cost over time.
buildings or the cladding material In contrast, where there is a utility
that is normally used in building grid, you pay for the electricity
façades. These material savings used and not a lump sum for the
are making the costs per kilowatt- generating facility. The costs of
hour from grid-connected PV the PV system may appear to be
systems increasingly competitive. a burden because the electricity
Decentralized small home systems that the system generates may cost
also hold some potential for more per kilowatt-hour than what
grid-connected PV systems, but a utility charges. But using a PV
the costs will have to be reduced system may also be considered a
further in order to compete with lifestyle choice, similar to choos-
the low electricity rates now avail- ing between a fuel-efficient car or
able in most parts of Canada. a gas-guzzling sport utility vehicle.
Note, however, that PV electricity
is “green” energy and, as such, is
worth a premium. Even though
this value is subjective, it should
be expressed in numbers by the
PV system’s designer. For exam-
ple, how much is the avoided
pollution of conventional sources
worth and how much is the
avoided distribution cost worth?

2. What Photovoltaics Can Do for You

Perhaps you need reliable Among other things, you can use
power in a location that is PV energy to:
The Advantages
not connected to an electrical
• supply power for lights,
of PV Power
grid. In this case, photovoltaics
radios, televisions, pumps and Systems
may be the best and most Users of PV power systems
other appliances in cottages
cost-effective solution. Many appreciate their quiet, low-
and residences;
locations in Canada that have a maintenance, pollution-free, safe
dry continental climate have the • power electric fences, water
and reliable operation, as well as
same number of daylight hours pumps and other devices in
the degree of independence they
as some Mediterranean countries. agricultural operations;
provide. Why else should you
A photovoltaic (PV) system used • run water-pumping and circu- consider buying a PV system?
during the summer in Canada lation systems in game fishing If you are some distance from an
can take advantage of substantial and aquaculture facilities; electrical grid, it may be cheaper
daily amounts of solar energy. to generate your own power
• provide reliable electric power
Contrary to what many people rather than pay to extend
for wilderness lodges and
think, PV systems convert transmission lines from the
hunting and fishing camps;
sunlight into electricity more grid. Diesel, gasoline or propane
efficiently at lower temperatures. • recharge or maintain charge generators are the conventional
However, the winter months in of batteries for recreational alternatives, but many people
Canada provide half the hours applications such as recre- find them noisy, polluting and
of sunlight as in summer. Much ational vehicles and sailboats; costly to run and maintain. It
of Canada experiences high • power portable devices also makes little sense to turn on
winds in the winter, which can such as laptop computers; a 5-kW generator to power a few
make a wind generator a logical 100-W light bulbs. PV systems
addition to the system. Fuel- • power exterior lighting;
reduce the negative aspects of
fired generators are then used • provide reliable power generators by using them only
only for backup. for many commercial as a backup.
applications; and
When capital cost is an issue, or
• lower your monthly when photovoltaics alone are
utility bills. not enough to replace an existing
generator, you can use a wind
generator as part of a hybrid PV
system, thus reducing the use of
the generator. Such an intermit-
tent charge system is more efficient
than a generator running continu-
ously at low load. In addition to
saving fuel and lowering mainte-
nance costs, you will increase the
generator’s life span. Also, since
the PV panels and battery banks
are modular, you can expand the
PV system gradually as your
budget or needs increase.

The Limitations generally more cost-effective and
convenient to use a stove that
of PV Power operates on propane or natural
Systems gas rather than solar electricity.
It is important to realize that PV Autonomous PV-powered homes
power systems are capital inten- and cottages often rely on wood
sive from the buyer’s perspective cookstoves for cooking and space
and are expensive when com- heating. Refrigerators are becom-
pared with the low price of utility ing more energy efficient, so the
power in Canada. You should cost of operating them with PV
therefore reserve the electric power is now feasible. Extremely
power produced by PV modules, energy-efficient refrigerators and
an inverter and a storage system freezers are, unfortunately, still
for your most energy-efficient expensive, however, they can be
appliances, tools, lights, etc. had through PV dealers.

Although it is technically possi- From an economic point of view,

ble, heating with photovoltaics is first consider investing in energy-
generally not recommended. You efficient electric appliances, and
can easily and more efficiently then size your PV system based
collect heat with a solar thermal on actual consumption. For
system. A solar water heater gen- example, using compact fluores-
erates more hot water with less cent lights will reduce your
initial cost than any PV-powered electrical consumption for
heater.1 Also, for cooking, it is lighting by 80 percent.

1 For more information, obtain a free copy of Solar Water Heating Systems: A Buyer’s Guide from Natural Resources Canada.
Call 1 800 387-2000 toll-free, or visit the Web site at

3. Photovoltaics at Work in Canada

The use of photovoltaic (PV)

technology is increasing rapidly
Myth: “Photovoltaics Cottages and
in developed and developing
is not a proven
countries. Although the Canadian Increasingly, Canadian homeown-
PV industry has also expanded ers are using PV systems to power
significantly over the past decade,
Myth: “PV systems are lights and appliances in remote
too expensive.” cottages and residences that are
the use of photovoltaics in
Canada is still relatively limited. not connected to a utility grid.
This is partly because of Canada’s Thousands of PV systems in Like these homeowners, you’ll
low utility rates, but the following myriad applications throughout appreciate the quiet, low-mainte-
commonly held myths are also Canada and millions throughout nance, safe and pollution-free
responsible: the world today have debunked operation of a PV system, as well
these myths. Although conditions as its versatility and reliability.
in Canada pose a special chal- In general, PV systems are cost-
Myth: “There is not lenge to the use of photovoltaics, competitive for cottages and
enough sunlight an appropriately designed PV residences that are more than
in Canada.” system can give you reliable several hundred metres from the
power to most remote sites. In electricity grid. But they are not
Myth: “Solar electric the following pages, examples yet a cost-competitive alternative
technology is not of actual, cost-effective PV in locations that have direct access
efficient in a installations across the country to power from the grid.
cold climate.” will demonstrate what photo-
voltaics can do for you.

Example 1. A Typical A cottage, located away from the • a bank of batteries; and
Autonomous PV Application power grid, uses photovoltaics to
• a second PV system that
for a Remote Cottage power several fluorescent direct
powers a small, exterior DC
current (DC) lights, some halogen
light with an 8-W panel and
lights and a DC water pump,
an independent battery.
which supplies water to the resi-
dents. A stove and a refrigerator The cottage is used primarily on
run on propane fuel. No inverter is weekends and during vacations,
needed, but one can be included which explains the large battery
any time if alternating current (AC) capacity compared with the total
loads are added. area of PV modules. This allows
The cottage is equipped with more energy to be available
a PV system that consists of during two days of occupancy,
the following: and the PV modules recharge the
batteries over the remaining five
• two 75-W solar modules days of the week. This system
(150 W of photovoltaics); has been functioning maintenance-
▲ Photo courtesy of Cimat enr. • a 20-A (ampere) regulator; free since 1997.
• a load/fuse panel;

Example 2. An Autonomous to Canadian Coast Guard regula- • a 1595-Ah (ampere-hour),
PV System Powers a Summer tions, the new overhead line would 12-VDC battery bank.
Residence on an Island on have to be at least 10–15 m higher
the St. Lawrence River near than the one previously installed. The batteries offer seven-day
Montréal, Quebec And it would have been expensive autonomy when the sun is not
for Hydro-Québec to install a shining, based on the expected
submerged cable, given the high daily load. However, the home-
levels of polychlorinated biphenyls owner knows about the need to
(PCBs) in sediments of the monitor the use of electricity when
St. Lawrence River. In November overcast or rainy conditions are
1997, Hydro-Québec decided to forecast. Therefore, a meter was
evaluate alternative options. A PV installed to provide instant infor-
stand-alone system was preferred mation on the reserve capacity
to a wind generator, due to the remaining in the battery bank
potential for low winds in the (based on current load consump-
Major power-line damages in
Montréal region in the summer. tion) and on the charge rate from
Quebec have occurred twice in five
the PV array.
years, the most recent being the Finally, a solar-only PV system
severe ice storm of 1998. For one was chosen because the electricity Hydro-Québec financed the instal-
of its customers that has an island needs in the winter were about lation of the PV system, even
summer cottage, Hydro-Québec a quarter of those in the summer. though the cost of solar electricity
decided to provide a stand-alone This would avoid the trouble of produced was more than 10 times
PV system instead of maintaining maintaining a fuel-fired generator. the regular cost charged by the
a 200-m power line between the The solar-only PV system consists utility (about 60¢ per kWh versus
island and the mainland. of the following: 6¢ per kWh). The savings on
electric-line maintenance justify
The average amount of electricity • twelve 90-W PV modules, with a the cost. Hydro-Québec also
needed to run this cottage is total capacity of just over 1 kW in planned funds for replacing system
5.5 kWh/d (very low by Canadian 12 VDC (volt direct current); components after their lifetime
standards), mainly during the sum-
• the existing Hydro-Québec pole (e.g. 25 years for the PV modules).
mer. The load consists of lights,
used for the support structure; After two seasons of use, both
household appliances, power tools,
water and pool pumps, an alarm • a separate, ventilated outbuilding Hydro-Québec and the home-
system, etc. This load is expected provided by the owner for the owner are satisfied with the
to be 75 percent less during the batteries and system components performance of the PV system.
winter, when only exterior lighting (not always necessary); It can handle the heavy use of
and the alarm system are active. a washing machine, a toaster,
• a 40-A solar controller;
lights, pumps, etc., during week-
Three possible solutions were • a 2.5-kW, 120-VAC (volt alternat- ends when all five bedrooms are
analysed: the replacement of the ing current) pure sine-wave filled by up to all 16 members
overhead power line, a submerged inverter with a surge capacity of the family.
cable and renewable energy. Due of 8 kW; and

Power for high cost of diesel generation at effective, simple and reliable.
Remote Lodges remote sites often prompts the During periods of little sunshine,
Owners of remote fishing lodges owners to look for alternatives, the use of the diesel generator can
may find that a properly designed namely, renewable energy tech- be reduced by drawing power from
PV hybrid system is economically nologies. In many instances, a a bank of batteries and by running
attractive, be it PV-diesel, PV-wind PV-diesel hybrid system proves the generator only when the
or a combination of the two. The attractive because it is cost- batteries are low.

Example 3. A Solar-Diesel pump, installed timers on the exte- the end of the charging cycle,
Hybrid System at Tarryall rior lights and moved their freezer thereby extending battery life and
Resort, Catherine Lake outdoors in the winter. Using more increasing the system’s efficiency.
(Near Keewatin), Ontario efficient lights, in particular, has Because the diesel generator is
had a significant impact on daily used more efficiently in the hybrid
energy consumption. system configuration than it would
be on its own, it needs fewer oil
The resort’s electrical generating
changes and less frequent major
system consisted of two diesel
overhauls and repairs. Also, the life
generators (a 7.5-kW main genera-
span of the generator is extended.
tor running 24 hours a day and
During its first year alone, savings
a 3.0-kW backup generator). The
in fuel and maintenance charges
high cost of diesel prompted the
totalled about $7,000.
owners to investigate a solar-diesel
hybrid system. Despite the high up-front cost
Tarryall Resort operates from April ($36,000 in 1986), the hybrid
In 1986 the owners installed a
to October. The resort consists of system paid for itself within
hybrid system that included the
seven cottages and a main house six years. Tarryall’s owners are
that can accommodate up to a pleased with their PV system and
dozen people. The cottages are • a 564-W PV array; particularly enjoy the quiet, clean
equipped with propane-powered • a bank of 24 two-volt, operation – a major improvement
appliances and lighting. Electricity deep-cycle batteries; and over the constant noise of a diesel
is used year-round in the main generator. They have since added
lodge to power a full range of • the existing 7.5-kW diesel
four PV modules, increasing the
appliances, including a clothes generator.
capacity to 752 W. This further
washer, a large freezer, a water The resort’s diesel consumption reduced the need for diesel-
pump, televisions, lights and has been considerably reduced generated electricity. The original
power tools. since the PV-diesel hybrid system lead-acid batteries were still being
The resort is located six kilometres was installed. The generator is used in 2000, after 14 years of
from the electrical grid. In 1980 used once every three or four days service. Tarryall’s owners were
the owners considered connecting for about 10 hours to recharge the so satisfied with photovoltaics
to the utility grid, but the cost was batteries. Previously, it had con- that they also equipped each
estimated at more than $80,000. sumed fuel continuously, while of the seven cottages with an
supplying only about one quarter autonomous PV lighting kit
The owners instead decided to (one module with one deep-
of its nominal capacity. The PV
improve the resort’s energy effi- cycle battery).
panels contribute about 15 percent
ciency. They switched to more
of the lodge’s energy require-
efficient 12-V fluorescent lights,
ments. They also permit a gentle
put a smaller motor in the water
trickle charge of the batteries at

Example 4. A Hybrid PV
System at the Warden Station
on Huxley Island, Gwaii
Haanas Marine Conservation
Area National Park Reserve
Located in the Moresby Island
archipelago in British Columbia,
Huxley Island serves as a registra-
tion office for visitors to Gwaii
Haanas Marine Conservation Area
National Park Reserve. These
include scientists visiting the area,
which is dedicated to environmen-
tal conservation. The camp has a
▲ Photo courtesy of Soltek Solar Energy Ltd.
75-m2 building with a full kitchen,
bunks for four people and an office • a 38-kWh lead-acid installed on an interior wall of the
equipped with a satellite tele- battery bank; and building for the convenience of
phone, VHF radios and computers. park staff.
To meet these electricity needs, • a 5.0-kW gasoline
park administrators chose a hybrid generator. The integrated power system is
stand-alone PV system. Its advan- completely automated. The system
To make installation easier, all provides the bulk of the power
tages over a continuously operated electrical components were
generator include less engine to the loads, with the generator
pre-assembled and wired on a available for backup. In the event
maintenance, a lower need for 1.3-m2 board before shipment.
refuelling and reduced noise. of poor weather or excessive loads,
The distributor also provided a the generator is programmed
A power system installed in 1996 waterproof aluminum outdoor to start when the battery bank
consists of the following: cabinet for the batteries and reaches 50 percent of its nominal
power equipment. It was installed capacity. This way, the batteries
• a 600-W solar array using eight
directly behind the living quarters. are charged before a potentially
75-W modules;
A state-of-charge battery display damaging low-battery condition
• a 4.0-kW sine-wave inverter; and a remote control for the is reached.
inverter and generator were

People working in the field with

Mobile and portable computers appreciate
Recreational the autonomy that PV offers.
Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun
Applications Energy Ltd.
Chances are that you are already
relying on PV technology to help
you keep track of time, balance
your budget or enliven your leisure
hours. Many products such as
watches, calculators and toys have
been PV-powered in an inexpen-
sive, reliable and convenient way
for many years. Equipped with
tiny PV cells that produce power
even in dim lighting, these
consumer products eliminate
the need for costly batteries that
need to be frequently replaced.
Nowadays, versatile PV power
packs are also used to power
larger consumer products. They
are available in a range of sizes,
from fractions of a watt to over
100 W. Power packs can also be
hooked up in series or parallel
connections to serve various
power needs. They can be used
as either a direct power source
or as a battery recharger. These
convenient PV systems power
everything from radios, cassette
recorders and cameras to lawn
ornaments, walkway lights and
batteries for sailboats and gliders.
The clean and noiseless opera- ▲ Many owners of recreational vehicles are already using PV technology.
tion of PV systems for many Photo courtesy of Rozon Batteries Inc.
recreational applications is a
significant benefit.
In recreational vehicles and
electric-powered boats, PV panels
can help recharge batteries. The
main advantage of a PV system is
that it will, at the least, maintain
the state of charge of batteries on
board – even during extended
periods of time when you are
not using the equipment.

Example 5. Photovoltaics for a South Pole Expedition
Explorers Bernard Voyer and Thierry Petry were the first North Americans
to reach the South Pole by ski unassisted. Each had to pull a 170-kg pulka
(a toboggan-like sled) over an uneven surface of stratified ice swells. Sunlight
was available 24 hours a day during their expedition; however, the usable
sunlight hours per day was between two and nine hours (or 5.5 hours per
day on average).

Electricity Need
The explorers used a PV system to power a satellite telephone under the
extreme climatic conditions. This system also served as a backup for the ▲ Photo courtesy of Bernard Voyer
lithium batteries for a video camera. The PV system was designed to power Explorateur Inc.
the following equipment:
Converted to Wh per day
• satellite telephone: 60 W (8 min/d) 60 W x 8/60 8 Wh/d
• portable computer: 42 W (15 min/d) 42 W x 15/60 10.5 Wh/d
• positioning system: 0.5 W (24 h/d) 0.5 W x 24 12 Wh/d
• video camera: 20 W (12 min/d) 20 W x 12/60 4 Wh/d
Average total daily demand: 34.5 Wh/d

As mentioned above, sunshine was usable for 5.5 hours a day on average,
so the team needed 6.3-W worth of PV modules (34.5 Wh/d ÷ 5.5 h/d) daily.

The Power System • installed PV power: 2 x 5.5 W

As 5.5-W panels are common, • storage capacity: Lead-acid 12 V, 9 Ah
the team needed at least two Nickel-cadmium 12 V, 5 Ah
panels, which provided extra • total weight: 5 kg
power to compensate for bad
The conditions of operation were as follows:
weather or additional loads. The
• average temperature: -15°C to -33°C (December/January)
PV system had the following
characteristics: The system cost $600.

Main Advantages of the PV System Another alternative would have a cold environment would be
Primary lithium batteries are been to carry a small gasoline difficult. The team rejected this
generally used for this kind of generator. The smallest, lightest alternative as impractical.
expedition. An estimated twenty generator available was a 300-W PV energy represented the most
10-Ah lithium batteries would have generator that weighed 18 kg. economical, reliable, practical
been needed, for a total cost of Apart from its weight, fuel would and environmentally friendly way
$6,000 and a weight of 12.5 kg. have had to be carried and han- to generate electricity for such an
This alternative was rejected due dled. Also, fumes and noise from expedition – not to mention
to its cost and weight. the generator would be unpleas- the lightest.
ant, and starting the engine in

Photovoltaics weather is hot and dry, precisely
when the most solar energy is
in Agriculture available. Simple non-storage
PV systems are particularly well types of PV systems are ideal
suited where a small amount of for many irrigation applications
energy in remote locations is where crops can do without water
needed for agricultural applica- when the sun is not shining.
tions, such as electric fencing, In situations where irrigation is
water pumping for irrigation or ▲ PV-powered electric fencing saves needed independent of weather,
stock watering, pond aeration, etc. both time and money for ranchers
and farmers. Photo courtesy of power stored in the form of
the Agricultural Technology Centre pumped water, rather than in
Electric Fencing (formerly the Alberta Farm costly storage batteries, makes
PV-powered electric fencing is Machinery Research Centre).
PV-powered irrigation systems
popular in Canada’s western economically attractive.
provinces, chiefly in northern farmers in Canada are finding
pastures where land is open for Today, several million hectares
that PV systems, which can run
cattle. Several cattle ranchers of remote grazing land in Canada
all summer with no need for ser-
in northern Alberta and British are not being used because the
vicing, are a practical alternative
Columbia have installed PV mod- costs of pumping water for stock
for their remote fencing needs.
ules to charge the batteries of watering by conventional meth-
standard electric fencing. These Water Pumping for Stock ods outweigh the grazing benefits.
batteries will never run down. Watering and Irrigation For many Canadian ranchers and
PV-powered electric fencing not Water pumping is one of the farmers, PV-powered pumping
only eliminates the cost and most attractive uses for PV sys- systems offer a cost-effective
inconvenience of regular visits to tems. In agriculture, the demand solution.
check batteries, but also costs less for water is greatest when the
than barbed wire fencing, which
is the other alternative to con-
ventionally powered electric
fencing. More and more
ranchers and

▲ Stock watering using a PV-powered water

pumping system from a pond to prevent
contamination of the source. Photo courtesy
of Sunmotor International.

A PV System
to Suit Your
Particular Power
Standardized PV systems are
becoming more and more com-
mon. However, many PV systems
in Canada are custom-designed to
take into account the particular
needs of the user and the charac-
teristics of the site. Therefore, you
should not necessarily expect to
▲ This PV-powered aquaculture facility is
on an island off Canada’s west coast.
buy such a system “off the shelf”
as you would a diesel or gasoline
generator. Rather, you will
probably have to consult PV ▲ A small PV module is used to
equipment suppliers for a system power a trail indicator at night at
Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. Photo
that is right for your needs. courtesy of TN conseil inc.
The telecommunications industry
and the Canadian Coast Guard Early Uses for PV in Commercial Applications
used PV power systems early
on for remote telecommunica-
tions repeater stations, beacons
and navigational aid systems.
Their expectations for reliability
helped the PV industry develop
quality products and improve
design tools.
Small PV lighting packages
are available from dealers. For ▲ The limited power
needs of remote
ski hills, lighthouses, isolated monitoring systems
stretches of highway and off-grid are easily met by
communities and businesses, ▲ Due to the remoteness small PV systems.
of repeater stations, This example
PV-powered lighting provides
telecommunications shows a gas
a practical, affordable solution has been one of the wellhead.
to remote lighting problems. first – and remains
one of the most popu-
lar – applications
for PV systems.
▲ The Canadian Coast Photo courtesy of
Guard has been using Northwestel Inc.
thousands of PV-
powered buoys along
coasts for many years.

4. Buying Your Photovoltaic System

Be Prepared A first step in any design or cost

evaluation is to assess your load:
Where to Find
Before approaching a dealer,
you should consider your power
i.e. what do you expect the PV PV Systems
system to power? Section 6, Apart from some specific con-
requirements and the type of
“Estimating Your Needs” (page sumer products or special sales,
photovoltaic (PV) system that will
24) is intended to help you evalu- PV power systems are just begin-
suit your needs and your budget.
ate the options. A worksheet is ning to be widely available in
The following are typical provided in Appendix A (page 40) hardware or department store
questions that you should ask to help you estimate and choose chains. Dealers of recreational
yourself. Be prepared to supply a suitable PV system. This work- vehicles, boats and electric
the following information as sheet is intended to guide you in fences may sometimes offer PV
precisely and clearly as possible: estimating your power and energy solutions adapted to their prod-
needs, evaluating the PV array ucts. However, for most custom
• What is the application?
size and estimating the battery applications, you will need to
• What needs to be powered? find a PV dealer. Generally, this
capacity that you require.
• Are my loads as efficient as gives you the advantage of better
Note that this exercise is optional.
possible? service, since such dealers should
However, you should at least
have a good understanding of
• How much power (wattage) prepare a list of all appliances
the technology and can help you
and/or energy (watt-hours and other electrical equipment
select, size and design the system
per day) is required? that the PV system might power
that best suits your needs. There
• What is the energy-usage and estimate their time of use
are many distributors and dealers
pattern (e.g. hour per day, (see Step 1 in the worksheet
of PV systems in Canada, and
days per week, seasonal use)? provided in Appendix A). The
the industry network is growing.
more detailed and accurate
• Do I need battery storage? Some of these companies special-
the list, the easier the sizing
ize in different types of systems,
• Do I want an autonomous, of your PV system will be for
e.g. communications, home
hybrid or grid-connected you or your dealer.
energy systems, consumer
system? products, agricultural and
• Do I want to start small and unique design.
add modules in the future? To find PV distributors or dealers,
contact the Canadian Solar
Industries Association, Natural
Resources Canada (see “Learn
More About Solar Energy” on
page 46) or consult the Yellow
Pages™. You may also wish to
obtain a referral from a satisfied

Choosing The PV dealer should offer a
warranty on parts and labour.
Making a
a Dealer The warranty for PV modules Decision
A PV system should be designed can now be as much as 25 years, Of course, cost is always impor-
for the best efficiency and cost- depending on the type of mod- tant in any purchase decision.
effectiveness. It is wise to consult ules and manufacturers’ policies. The economics of PV systems
a professional at the design stage. Most modules will perform are often quite site-specific. In
Most dealers offer design and reliably for a longer period. general, conventional energy
consultation services as well as PV Check which warranties the sources tend to have low initial
modules and “balance of system” dealer offers on the other compo- capital costs but have high oper-
components such as batteries nents (electrical and mechanical) ating and maintenance costs. In
and inverters. Some companies and on the labour. Moreover, comparison, PV systems have
concentrate on industrial applica- check on follow-up service avail- higher initial capital costs but
tions; others specialize in able from the dealer. In general, have lower maintenance and
residential and commercial sys- take the same sort of precautions operating costs. Thus, to evaluate
tems. Make certain that the dealer when buying a PV system that the economics of a PV system,
you select has proven experience you would when buying a new you must consider the total
in designing and installing the appliance. costs of competing alternatives –
type of system you want. Ask including capital costs, fuel costs
Following is a list of items to
to see some systems that have and maintenance and operating
consider in evaluating a dealer’s
already been installed, or talk costs over the life of the system.
product and service. Use it when
to someone who has bought a
choosing a dealer. For off-grid commercial opera-
system that is similar to what tions that have labour and
you want. • design/sales experience
maintenance costs, PV systems
A responsible dealer will ask • knowledge of energy can often be economical. For
you questions about your power efficiency individual homeowners, who
consumption, lifestyle and needs • area of expertise usually do not count their
before designing your PV system. own labour for operation and
If you cannot afford as many PV • product quality maintenance as a cost of running
modules as you would like but • product warranty a generator, the initial cost of a
intend to add to the system later, PV system may appear to be
• installation service
make sure that the system high. However, for many home
designer knows this. • follow-up service and cottage owners, the non-
• price economic benefits of PV systems –
in particular, their reliability and
quiet, non-polluting operation –
far outweigh the extra costs.
Especially in summer, owners of
PV systems appreciate that they
can enjoy the sounds and smells
of nature without interference
from their power system.

Of course, the cost of a PV system Improvements in PV cells, batter- to power a few essential appliances
depends on what it includes. A ies and other system components and upgrade it as your finances
simple autonomous system for a and in system design are resulting allow. Because PV systems last
cottage or cabin, suitable for pow- in lower prices for PV systems. 25 years or more, they represent a
ering a few lights, a water pump solid investment. By the way, the
One of the most attractive fea-
and radios (e.g. 40–100 W) can price for used panels is not much
tures of PV systems is that they
cost from $700 to $2,000. Larger, less than that for new panels
come in modules. The PV compo-
hybrid systems that are suitable because they remain in perfect
nent of a hybrid system can be
for year-round residences or condition for years.
sized to suit your budget: as prices
lodges (200–1500 W) can cost decline and/or your savings The following form will help
from $5,000 to $30,000. increase, you can add more PV you compare the advantages and
In considering the economics of panels and decrease your reliance disadvantages of an autonomous
PV systems, it is important to on the backup generator. If you or hybrid PV system with conven-
realize that the costs of these sys- do not already have a generator tional diesel, gasoline or propane
tems are steadily declining. The and are considering a solar-only alternatives.
PV industry, like the computer system for a cottage or sailboat,
industry, is continually evolving. you can start with a small system

PV System – Purchase Decision Factors

Decision Factors Option A: Autonomous Option B: Hybrid PV Option C:
PV System System Conventional System
(diesel, gasoline or
propane generator)

Capital Costs

Operating Costs

Maintenance Costs

Other Factors
(e.g. noise, pollution,
reliability, flexibility for
expansion, refuelling
needs, your time)

5. Installing and Maintaining Your Photovoltaic System

One major advantage of photo- • ensure that the system is

voltaic (PV) systems is that they properly grounded and pro-
are relatively simple to install and tected against lightning; and
maintain. For large or complex • include switches between all
systems, PV companies usually components of the system 35°
help with installation and that need to be isolated for
maintenance. any reason.
Installation Mounting the and Fall
Your supplier should give you
any relevant system documents. PV Array
PV modules are designed to be 45°
Carefully read all of the manufac-
turer’s recommendations. As with installed outdoors without addi-
any electrical system, safety is tional protection. A mounting
important. You must obtain any structure must be constructed to Winter
necessary building and electrical support the modules in all weather
permits and ensure that the sys- conditions. Many manufacturers
tem is installed according to code. sell support frames designed to 60°
Qualified people should install hold their modules; you may
the system. If you have a grid- decide to build your own.
connected system, installation Factors to be considered in mount-
▲ Array orientations showing
suggested tilt angles for summer,
will involve the local utility. ing the array include orientation, spring and fall and winter use
safety, structural integrity and in southern Canada.
Wiring must be properly installed
to avoid shocks, fires and other local codes. The PV array should
Select a site where the array
hazards. The main consideration be mounted so as to take full
will not be shaded at any point
is the type and size of wire. For advantage of the sunlight. In the
during the day. A shadow on the
example, the array wiring must northern hemisphere, it should
array can substantially cut power
be suited for outdoor use and be face south; true south is best, but
output. If possible, ask your neigh-
sized properly in order to carry a deviation of 15 degrees east or
bours if they plan to add trees or
the peak current. As a result, you west will not affect performance
buildings adjacent to your prop-
will normally need larger wires very much. Very large installations
erty. Easements and restrictive
for low-voltage systems (12 V can be mounted to track the sun
covenants (for definitions, see
compared with 120 V) to prevent either automatically or manually
the glossary on page 44) are
overheating and voltage loss in (see “Technical Information on
two types of legal instruments.
the wires. Consult a professional Photovoltaic System Components”
When used for solar applications,
designer or installer to select the on page 35). In most cases, the
they provide certain guarantees
proper wires. You will also need mounting is fixed at one angle
to property owners about their
the services of a professional (a right angle to the sun at noon),
access to sunlight. If access to
installer to: but can be adjusted according to
sunlight concerns you, such
the season.
• properly fuse the system a written agreement may be
for protection against short worthwhile.
circuits in the wiring or

Depending on the array size and For many residences and cottages,
the particulars of the site, the PV roof mounting is an attractive
array can be mounted on a roof, option, particularly if the building
a pole or the ground. In general, is under construction. The mod-
the large surface areas of the mod- ules should be mounted a short
ules create high wind loads on distance above the pitched roof
the mounting structure, so the and tilted to the optimum angle.
structure must be designed Since PV modules work better
accordingly. Due to these high when the ambient air tempera-
wind loads, ground-mounted ture is lower, the free circulation
installations require proper of air around them will improve
foundations. For small, ground- their performance. Elevating the
mounted installations, array will also prevent the
buildup of moisture and debris
behind the modules. This buildup
could rot the roof and deteriorate
the electrical connections. For
residences and cottages with a
chimney, the array should be
mounted in such a way that shad-
ing from the smoke is avoided.
Wherever you choose to mount
the array, unless shading is a con-
cern, try to locate it as close as
▲ Ensure that your PV array will not possible to the battery bank or to
be shaded by neighbouring trees or the load (if there are no batteries).
other sources of shade.
This will lower wiring distances
and resultant power losses.

foundations can be posts sunk ▲ Ground- and roof-mounted PV arrays.

into the ground to anchor the
array support frame. The support
frame itself may be made of metal
or wood. Modules are mounted
so that the bottom of the array is Is Magnetic South Truly South?
above the highest depth of snow
Using a compass to help you orient your PV array so that it faces
likely to fall. Make sure that there
south means that you will be relying on magnetic south instead of
is no bottom lip on the array so
true south. It is better to use true south. In some parts of Canada, the
that snow can slide off freely.
deviation of true south from magnetic south can be large enough to
You can use pole mounting for affect the performance of your PV array. If your array is fixed (i.e. it
small systems (one to 12 modules) will not be tracking the sun) and you are unfamiliar with the devia-
to ensure proper orientation or to tion of the compass needle from true south at your location, ask an
lift them above potential sources experienced local dealer or installer for assistance.
of shade, such as buildings or
trees. The main advantages are no
snow buildup to shade the array
and the potential to track the sun.

Housing the In addition, other electrical
components, which can also be a
cottages, keep batteries full of
charge to prevent freezing in
Batteries source of spark, should be kept the off-season.
Your choice of battery location separately from the battery hous-
should comply with the Canadian ing. Do not locate batteries near Outside Locations
Electrical Code, whether you sources of heat or possible sources Batteries located outside of the
install the batteries inside or out- of open flame or spark. Finally, living space should be housed in
side. The location should also be read all of the manufacturer’s a box or shed. In a very cold loca-
designed to keep the batteries recommendations and warnings tion, you can house the batteries
warm (25°C is best), because their about the safe and proper use in a buried container for better
capacity decreases at temperatures and handling of batteries. temperature control. In all cases,
below 25°C. This means that if batteries should be well protected
you choose to locate your batter- Inside Locations from the elements and be well
ies in an unheated space, you will Batteries located inside the living vented to the outside.
need to insulate the area properly. space should be properly vented
You will also need greater battery to the outside. For small cottage
capacity to compensate for the systems with, for example, two
losses at lower temperatures. 12-VDC (volt direct current) bat-
Make sure that your supplier teries, you need a vent that is at
knows about the planned location least 2.5 cm (1 in.) in diameter.
of your batteries. Keep batteries separate from the
The batteries and other equip- living space by housing them in
ment should be accessible for special battery cases (with ventila-
maintenance and inspection, but tion to the outside). For summer
safety must also be considered.
Batteries may give off hydrogen
gas during charging and can be
a source of electric shock, so the
room or area where they are
housed should be properly vented
to the outside and kept locked.


Battery Battery
Shed Charge



▲ Battery housed in a shed.

An important advantage of PV
systems is that they require little
maintenance. The arrays them-
selves are durable and reliable and
need little attention. The follow-
ing summarizes the principal
maintenance that your system
will need, but you may wish to
ask your dealer for a maintenance
schedule that is adapted to your
particular system and location.
▲ Battery maintenance varies with
the type used. Basic maintenance
includes visually checking the elec-
trolyte levels and regularly verifying
the specific gravity of your batteries ▲ Keep track of any maintenance or
with a hydrometer. Add distilled modification made to the system
water as necessary, and clean and (date and action). This will help
tighten battery posts (only the latter you remember when your last
are required for maintenance-free maintenance routine was carried
batteries). Also, check for any leaks out and may ease troubleshooting
or physical damage to batteries. should a problem occur.
Follow battery and charge regulator
instructions for annual equalization
charges that help cure the batteries
from plate fouling due to corrosion.

▲ Unless you live in an extremely

dusty area or have severe problems
with ice storms, you need to inspect
the wiring and general panel appear-
ance only occasionally. If your
system has an adjustable mounting,
you can carry out this routine main-
tenance check at the same time as
you adjust the tilt angle of the array.
When you adjust the angle of the ▲ Generator maintenance for hybrid
array for winter operation, snow systems is simpler and easier than
loading is not a problem because using a generator to produce all
the array is tilted steeply. If the your power. Change the oil as
array becomes dusty, clean it with recommended (which will be less
a mild soap or plain water and a frequently than for a continuously
soft cloth. Do not use solvents or operating generator).
strong detergents.

6. Estimating Your Needs

To further investigate which kind includes using energy-efficient To estimate your power needs,
of system will meet your power appliances and using electricity first list all the loads you want
needs, this section will help you only for appliances that really to power, note whether they are
estimate your energy require- require it. For example, it is not AC or DC, and obtain their rated
ments and then estimate the practical to use a PV system to wattage and the number of hours
system size that your application power an electric range or heating per day they will be used (see
will require (a blank worksheet is system. Rather, meet your heating Step 1 of the worksheet in
provided in Appendix A, page 40). and cooking needs with a more Appendix A).
Two examples have also been fitting energy source, such as If available, use the rating
worked out in the next section. wood or propane. A solar water indicated on the label of the
Once you have followed this heater may also meet your hot appliance or tool you need to
process, you should be more water needs (contact Natural power. Also use the typical values
comfortable discussing different Resources Canada for Solar Water given in Appendices B (page 42)
options with a dealer. Heating Systems: A Buyer’s Guide2). and C (page 43) for common
If you are involved in the design appliances and lighting.
of power systems, a more detailed
About Efficient Lighting Next, for each load, multiply
sizing and design guide called the power rating (using actual
Photovoltaic Systems Design Manual For lighting, consider AC
or typical values) by the number
is available from Natural Resources or DC compact fluorescent
of hours of estimated daily usage
Canada (see “Learn More About lights instead of incandescent
to obtain the total watt-hours
Solar Energy” on page 46). bulbs. They give four times
of power needed per day. If con-
more light per watt of elec-
sumption is already given in
tricity and last 10 times
Step 1. Estimate longer. Consult a specialized
watt-hours per day (or kilowatt-
hours per year, as on EnerGuide
Your Power and supplier for information on
labels), you can skip columns A
high-efficiency lighting for
Energy Needs outdoor applications.
and B in Step 1 of the worksheet
To work out how much power and and simply fill in column C using
energy you need, you must know the watt-hours per day.
what loads you want to power,
how much power they use (includ-
ing stand-by consumption) and
how often they are used. For sin-
gle-purpose applications, such as
powering a water pump, this is
fairly simple to calculate. However,
if you want a system that will run
several appliances in your home
or business, you must estimate the
usage pattern of each load.
The more energy you need, the 60W ➜ 15W 10  1000h = 10 000h
larger and more expensive the
system – especially if you want
an autonomous one. Therefore,
decrease your energy require-
▲ Fluorescent lights use one quarter the energy of incandescent bulbs and last 10
times longer.
ments as much as possible. This

2 For your copy of Solar Water Heating Systems: A Buyer’s Guide, call Natural Resources Canada at 1 800 387-2000 toll-free, or visit the Web site

EnerGuide Labels If you use the value on an Always keep in mind that your
If there is an EnerGuide label on EnerGuide label, convert the kilo- energy requirement has a direct
your appliance, you can use the watt-hours per year (kWh/a) into impact on the following:
electrical consumption rating (in watt-hours per day (Wh/d) for
• the area of PV modules
kilowatt-hours per year) given on inclusion in column C of the
needed to power the load
the label for your worksheet. Note worksheet in Appendix A. To
or recharge the batteries;
that the EnerGuide ratings for make this conversion, multiply
clothes washers and dishwashers by 1000 and then divide by 365. • the capacity of the batteries
include the electricity consumed required to meet your needs
Finally, fill in the subtotal(s),
in heating the water used in those without running a generator
calculate the adjusted AC loads
appliances. These ratings are less at night or on cloudy days;
(for inverter losses) using 0.90 as
useful to you if, as we recom- and
your initial conversion efficiency,
mend, you heat your water with and fill in the “total daily load” • the amount of fuel used by
solar water heaters, propane or value at the bottom of the first a generator or the size of a
wood (instead of PV-generated side of the worksheet. wind generator.
Smaller, efficient appliances
will require less PV equipment. Watch Out For
Some PV dealers also carry “Phantom” Loads!
high-efficiency appliances A growing number of elec-
and lighting. tronic appliances draw power
even when they are turned
off. Examples are a TV or
VCR that maintains program
memory, runs its clock and
keeps the remote-control
receiver active. The stand-by
power required can appear to
be negligible, and it is often
not even mentioned in appli-
ance owner’s manuals. But it
may represent a substantial
amount of energy because
power is drawn 24 hours a
day. For example, the stand-by
power for a remote-controlled
portable TV may be as low as
5 W, but it will still require
120 Wh/d (5 W x 24 h). This
represents the same amount
of energy as using this TV
(60 W) for two hours a day
▲ EnerGuide labels provide energy consumption (120 Wh/d)!
ratings (in kilowatt-hours per year) for major
home appliances.

Power or Energy? Step 2. Make a
The following two terms are used to characterize electricity usage: Rough Evaluation
• the power or “instantaneous power required”; and
• the energy or “energy consumption over a period of time.”
of PV System Size
2.1 Evaluate Which
Power Stand-Alone System
Is More Suitable:
The power you need (the wattage) is the instantaneous intensity of
Autonomous or
electricity that is required to power the appliances you use. The
more appliances used at the same time, the more power required.
Stand-alone PV systems can be
Power is expressed in watts (W). A watt is a convenient SI unit in
electricity because it is simply the product of the current – in either autonomous (with or with-
amperes (A) – and the voltage – in volts (V). out storage batteries), relying only
on solar energy, or hybrid. Hybrid
systems combine PV with one or
This simple formula indicates, for example, that a 12-W compact more other electrical generating
fluorescent light will require 1 A when connected to a 12-VDC (volt sources and normally include
direct current) power source. storage batteries. Factors that
influence the type of system
include the following: total and
Energy depends not only on the power required by your appliances, peak power requirements; when
but also on how long and how often you use them. Energy is power is needed; required power
expressed in watt-hours (Wh) for a given period of time (per day, reliability; whether the applica-
month or year). It is defined as the power times the number of tion is seasonal or year-round;
hours the equipment is used over this time.
and whether the system will be
1 Wh = 1 W  1 h easily accessible or installed in
a remote location.

For example, using a 1650-W hair Autonomous Systems

dryer for eight minutes draws the
same amount of energy as using As the name suggests, autonomous
five efficient lights (11 W each) systems are self-sufficient and not
for four hours: about the amount backed up by another generating
that one 50-W PV module pro- source. They normally include
duces in an average day. battery storage. Some applica-
tions, such as irrigation, pumping
Hair dryer: or greenhouse ventilation, require
1650 W x 8/60 = 220 Wh power only when the sun is shin-
Fluorescent lights: ing. Therefore, an autonomous
5 x 11 W x 4 = 220 Wh system without storage would be
suitable in such cases. In most
cases, however, power is needed
whether the sun is shining or
not, so the system includes
battery storage.

▲ The autonomous PV system in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, supplies

electricity for the amphitheatre projector and recharges the batteries of a golf cart
that the staff uses to collect camping fees. Photo courtesy of Sovran Energy Inc.

In Canada, about twice as much 2.2

sunlight is available in summer 2.

than in winter. To guarantee
power year-round using a solar-
only system, a significantly larger

200 0 200 400 600


(and hence more costly) array and

battery system is needed. Such
systems are practical for applica-
tions in remote, unattended sites,
which are difficult and expensive 3
to visit, and where the capital
costs are rapidly offset by avoid- 3.9

ing costs for maintenance and 4.4

fuelling visits. Thus, solar-only 5.0 3.9

systems with storage are used for 5.6

electric fencing in remote areas, 5.6 4.4 4.4

5.0 4.4
and in communications, marking
and warning signs, monitoring 4.4
4.4 4.4
sites and other situations where
reliability and low maintenance
▲ Average daily number of peak sunlight hours in September (use for seasonal
are critical. summer autonomous systems). Source: Environment Canada.
Autonomous systems are also
appropriate for summer vacation CANADA
properties, sailboats and other

applications where the period of


use corresponds to the period of 200 0 200 400 600


greatest available sunlight. If you 0.

6 HT

consider power a luxury instead PO


of a necessity and can tolerate the

odd occasion when the system 0.6

cannot meet your loads, an

autonomous system may be 1.1
suitable at a reasonable price. 1.7
However, if you want guaranteed
power on a year-round basis and
can easily access the site, some
sort of hybrid system will likely
1.7 2.8 2.2
be more affordable. 2.2
2.2 2.2


▲ Average daily number of peak sunlight hours in December (use for year-
round-operated autonomous systems). Source: Environment Canada.

Hybrid Systems periods. The generator operates December map, and insert this
at nearly full capacity, and this value under Step 2 of the work-
Hybrid systems use a combination
results in a better generator duty sheet in Appendix A.
of PV and other power sources.
cycle, more efficient fuel use,
Usually, hybrid systems use a In the summer, September has
lower maintenance costs and
wind generator with a diesel, the fewest hours of peak sunlight.
longer generator life. Applications
propane or gasoline generator as Overall, December has the fewest
that involve both solar and wind
backup. Hybrid systems may be hours of peak sunlight. To esti-
equipment often do not need
suited for applications such as mate the available sunlight design
a gas or diesel generator.
residences and commercial build- value for a seasonal (summer)
ings that are not connected to autonomous system, use the
2.2 Estimate the
the grid. If you need more than values from the September map.
Available Sunlight
2.5 kWh of energy per day To estimate the available sunlight
Knowing the solar resources
year-round and already have design value for a year-round
available is key to the design
a generator, or if you live in an autonomous system, use the
of an efficient and affordable
area that has poor sunlight for values from the December map.
PV system. The maps on page 27
long periods, a hybrid system is show the average daily values For a PV-diesel hybrid system,
probably a good choice. of peak sunlight hours that strike you may choose December
Hybrid systems generally include south-facing, fixed PV arrays values or average the two values
battery storage; the load draws in various parts of Canada in (September and December). This
power from the batteries. When September and December. is described in the case study
there is enough sunshine, the PV These values assume that the on pages 33 and 34.
array keeps the batteries charged. arrays are tilted at right angles
If a wind generator is incorpo- to the sun at noon. Alternatively,
rated, it charges the batteries you can get weather and solar
during windy periods, which are radiation values for selected sites
often when it is overcast or at from Environment Canada’s
night. For this reason, wind and Meteorological Service of Canada
solar equipment are a perfect or from RETScreen® International
complement to one another. software (see “Learn More About
The diesel or gasoline generator Solar Energy” on page 46).
is needed only once in a while Choose a value for your location
to charge the batteries during from either the September or
extended overcast and calm

Parks Canada’s remote camp located

in the far north on Ellesmere Island,

Nunavut, is powered by a PV array
(on a tracker) combined with a wind
generator and a gasoline generator.

Technical Note: Definition of Units Used to Describe a PV System and
Some Orders of Magnitude

Full (peak) sunlight: 1000 W/m2 of energy density (about the intensity of the sun at noon on a bright
sunny day)

1 hour of peak sunlight: 1000 Wh/m2, the equivalent of 1000 W/m2 during one hour (e.g. 2 h at 500 W/m2 or
1 h at 600 W/m2 and 2 h at 200 W/m2)

100-W PV module: Power capacity of a PV module able to produce 100 W of electricity when maintained
at 25°C and exposed to full peak sunlight (1000 W/m2)

100 W (PV) exposed to 1 h of peak sunlight = 100 Wh of electricity

Rule of thumb: Typical annual radiation in Canada is 1500 h of peak sunlight (range of 1100–1700 h).
100 W installed = potential of 150 kWh/a.

Due to system losses and other causes of inefficiency, the energy production of
PV systems is often estimated as follows:

100 W installed ≈ 100 kWh/a

2.3 Estimate maximum power point tracker After you determine the array
the Required (MPPT) (see the glossary on page size (in watts), estimate the num-
PV Array Size 44). Typically, an MPPT is used ber of modules required. To do
The next step is to size the PV only for medium to large systems this, divide the array size by the
array. This takes into account when benefits related to energy power rating of the module you
power losses in battery charging gains are greater than the cost of intend to use in your installation
(Effbat of 75 to 90 percent) and this feature. Additional losses due (normally 20 W to 100 W).
regulator efficiency (Effreg of 80 to dust or snow accumulation on
to 90 percent), especially if the modules are likely, but they are
controller does not include a relatively low.

Power, Voltage and Current Ratings of Typical PV Modules

Module Rated Power (W) Nominal Voltage (V) Nominal Current (A)
Kyocera KC 120 120 16.9 7.1
Siemens SM100 100 17.0/34.0 5.9/2.95
Solarex SX-85 85 17.1 4.97
BP Solar BP-275 75 17 4.45
CANROM-65 65 16.5 4.2
Photowatt PWX500 50 17 2.8
UNI-SOLAR® US-21 21 21 1.27

Note: The above modules are examples of those available on the market. Each manufacturer provides a complete line of modules
that have different sizes and power ratings. This list is not an endorsement of these products.

2.4 Estimate Battery during three to five overcast Use the blank worksheet to help
Capacity for days. (Battery capacity for hybrid size your stand-alone PV system.
Autonomous Systems systems is usually enough for Now that you have estimated
The size of battery you need only one or two days). A battery the size of the PV array and the
depends on whether you require should not be completely dis- amount of battery storage you
uninterrupted power and how charged, so as not to shorten its require, you are in a position to
much you are prepared to pay life. Thus the available capacity approach a dealer. Discuss costs
for that privilege. For a weekend of a battery is less than the name- and make decisions on what is
cabin or cottage, you may not plate rating. A “maximum depth best for your particular situation.
really mind if the power fails of discharge” factor is already
occasionally during an extended included in the equation in the
overcast period. On the other worksheet (see Step 2 in Appendix
hand, uninterrupted power A on page 41). It ensures that
may be a necessity for some the battery charge never drops
applications. below 50 percent of full charge.
For most applications, a good rule This value depends on the type
of thumb is to provide enough of battery you select. Consult
battery storage to supply power your dealer.

Technical Note: Battery Capacity Rating

Watts may be expressed in Wh (volts x amps). Likewise, energy may be
expressed in Ah (amperes x hours) at a given voltage. This is often used
in the battery industry to express battery capacity. For example, a battery
with 960 Wh of capacity is generally referred to as a 12-V, 80-Ah battery
(12V x 80 Ah = 960 Wh).

Wh = V  Ah

7. Sizing Worksheet Examples

In the following examples, two hypothetical case pollution of the city, and they would prefer a quiet,
studies show how the worksheets can be used. The non-polluting power source. They are particularly
Smiths, for example, are interested in PV power for a interested in a PV system because it is durable and
remote vacation cabin. The Wongs, meanwhile, want requires low maintenance.
a system that will provide reliable power year-round The Smiths’ main priority is to keep costs at a mini-
for their home and business. Both families are inter- mum, and they are willing to sacrifice power availability
ested in renewable energy and want to know if a PV to do this. After all, they do not have power now, and
system would be appropriate for them. the thought of the odd blackout does not bother them.
They have a propane-powered refrigerator, and they
Example 1. Summer Cabin are willing to switch to fluorescent lighting and make
Power System – The Smiths do with a minimum of appliances to keep their power
The Smiths own a small vacation cabin where they needs low. For their needs, a system that is small, solar-
spend most summer weekends and holidays, as well only and is stand-alone appears to be a good solution.
as the occasional weekend in the winter. The cabin has Working through the worksheet, the Smiths find that
no electricity or running water and is far from the grid. roughly a 120-W (watt) system and about 211 Ah
After several years of filling oil lamps and hauling water, (ampere-hours) of batteries could meet their needs
the Smiths would like to enjoy the benefits of electricity. at a price they can afford.
However, the cabin is their escape from the noise and

Worksheet: The Smiths (Summer Cabin)

Step 1. Estimate Your Power and Energy Needs (watt-hours per day)
AC or DC (A) Rated Wattage (B) Hours (C) Watt-Hours Per Day
(check one) (actual or Used (A) x (B)
Appliance Load AC DC typical values) Per Day AC DC

Kitchen lights (2) ✓ (12 V) 15 1 h (x 2) = 2 30

Bedroom lights (2) ✓ (12 V) 15 1 h (x 2) = 2 30
Living-room lights (2) ✓ (12 V) 15 4 h (x 2) = 8 120
Water pump ✓ (12 V) 90 1h 90
Stereo ✓ (12 V) 6 4h 24
TV (black and white) ✓ (12 V) 20 3h 60
Subtotal: AC: N/A Wh/d DC: 354 Wh/d

DC to AC inverter efficiency (Effdc ac) ranges from 80 to 95 percent (0.80 to 0.95). To help you with your first
calculation, 0.90 has been inserted in italics. Adjust the efficiency figure, if necessary, once you have chosen the
inverter for your system and have read the manufacturer’s ratings.
The Smiths do not need an inverter because all their loads are 12 VDC (volt direct current). They can add one at
any time.

Adjust AC loads for inverter losses: AC load = 0 Wh/d: 0

Effdc ac 0.90
Total daily load: DC loads + adjusted AC loads = 354 Wh/d

Worksheet: The Smiths (Summer Cabin)

Step 2. Make a Rough Evaluation of PV-System Size

2.1. Evaluate Which Stand-Alone System Is More Suitable: Autonomous or Hybrid

This summer cottage will be equipped with an autonomous PV system.
■ ■ Hybrid
• seasonal use (summer mainly) • year-round operation and
energy requirements > 2.5 kWh/d
• year-round operation with
low energy requirements (< 1 kWh/d)
higher latitudes
low requirements for power availability • already have a generator
• limited/expensive access to the site • very high requirements for power availability
• maintenance is an issue

2.2. Estimate the Available Sunlight 2.4. Estimate the Required Battery Capacity
Sunlight: 3.9 h/d (Consult maps on page 27 or (ampere-hours)
see “Learn More About Solar Energy” on page 46.) Nominal voltage of battery: (Vbat): 12 VDC
(typically 12, 24 or 48 volts)
Number of days of battery
2.3. Estimate the Required PV Array Size (W)
storage needed (a good rule of
Array size (W) = Total daily load (Wh/d) thumb is three days for an
Peak sunlight hours x 0.77* autonomous system): 3d
= 354 Wh/d
3.9 h/d x 0.77 Battery capacity (Ah):

= 118 W** Total daily load (Wh/d) x days of storage

Battery voltage (Vbat) x 0.42***
* The factor 0.77 assumes a 90-percent battery charge
regulator efficiency and an 85-percent battery efficiency.
= 354 Wh/d x 3 d
** Based on rated power output of PV modules if an MPPT 12 V x 0.42
controller is used (see the glossary on page 44). If an MPPT
controller is not used, further losses should be accounted = 211 Ah at 12 V
for, resulting in an increased power capacity of
15–25 percent. Consult your dealer. *** The factor 0.42 assumes an 85-percent battery efficiency
and a 50-percent maximum depth of discharge. If the
battery is used at temperatures lower than 25°C, its
capacity (ampere-hours) will decrease. Consult your
PV system supplier.

Example 2. Year-Round stove run on propane. (Running large loads on propane
greatly reduces the up-front cost of a PV system.)
Remote Residential After filling out the worksheet, the Wongs find that
Power System – meeting their needs with an autonomous system would
The Wongs be too expensive. They figure that they can currently
The Wongs are a young couple who have been living afford only a small fraction of the PV panels required,
beside a small lake for several years, away from the but they may be able to add more panels in a few
electric grid. They run a small handicrafts business, years. In the meantime, they decide to combine their
manufacturing woven goods. The Wongs use a existing propane generator with PV panels to make a
propane generator to provide power for their home hybrid PV system that offers the potential to reduce
and studio. But they have grown tired of constant noise the aggravation and costs linked with using a genera-
and pollution, increasingly high fuel bills and frequent tor. Based on their current resources, this appears to
maintenance requirements. Their electrical consump- be their best option. Knowing this, they are now in a
tion is low despite many loads because the fridge and better position to talk to a PV dealer about the type
of system they want.

Worksheet: The Wongs (Year-Round Residence)

Step 1. Estimate Your Power and Energy Needs (watt-hours per day)
AC or DC (A) Rated Wattage (B) Hours (C) Watt-Hours Per Day
(check one) (actual or Used (A) x (B)
Appliance Load AC DC typical values) Per Day AC DC
Kitchen lights (2) ✓ 15 3h x 2 lights 90
Living-room lights (2) ✓ 15 5 (x 2) 150
Bedroom lights (2) ✓ 11 2 (x 2) 44
Basement, bathroom
and hall lights (4) ✓ 15 1 (x 4) 60
Freezer (very efficient) ✓ 600
Water pump ✓ (12 V) 90 2 180
Outdoor lights (2) ✓ 15 8 (x 2) 240
Clothes washer (front load) ✓ 160 1 (1 load) 160
Furnace fan ✓ 250 4 1000
Workshop lights (4) ✓ 15 7 (x 4) 420
Radio (in workshop) ✓ 5 7 35
Colour TV (no remote control) ✓ (12 V) 60 3 180
Vacuum cleaner ✓ 800 0.25 200
Intermittent loads ✓ 1000 (estimate) 1 1000
(e.g. coffee-maker, iron, small
power tools, block heater, etc.)

Subtotal: AC: 3999 Wh/d DC: 360 Wh/d

DC to AC inverter efficiency (Effdc ac) ranges from 80 to 95 percent (0.80 to 0.95). To help you with your first
calculation, 0.90 has been inserted in italics. Adjust the efficiency figure, if necessary, once you have chosen the
inverter for your system and have read the manufacturer’s ratings.
Adjust AC loads for inverter losses: AC load = 3999 Wh/d: 4443
Effdc ac 0.90
Total daily load: DC loads + adjusted AC loads = 4803 Wh/d

Worksheet: The Wongs (Year-Round Residence)

Step 2. Make a Rough Evaluation of PV-System Size

2.1. Evaluate Which Stand-Alone System Is More Suitable: Autonomous or Hybrid

This summer cottage will be equipped with a hybrid PV system.
■ Autonomous ✓Hybrid

• seasonal use (summer mainly) • year-round operation and
energy requirements > 2.5 kWh/d
• year-round operation with
low energy requirements (< 1 kWh/d)
higher latitudes
low requirements for power availability • already have a generator
• limited/expensive access to the site • very high requirements for power availability
• maintenance is an issue

2.2. Estimate the Available Sunlight 2.4. Estimate the Required Battery Capacity
Sunlight: 3.4 h/d (consult the maps on page 27 or
see “Learn More About Solar Energy” on page 46.) Nominal voltage of battery: (Vbat): 24 VDC
(typically 12, 24 or 48 volts)

2.3. Estimate the Required PV Array Size (W) Number of days of battery
storage needed (a good rule of
Array size (W) = Total daily load (Wh/d)
thumb is two days for a
Peak sunlight hours x 0.77*
hybrid system): 2d
= 4803 Wh/d
3.4 h/d x 0.77
Battery capacity (Ah):
= 1835 W**
Total daily load (Wh/d) x days of storage
* The factor 0.77 assumes a 90-percent battery charge Battery voltage (Vbat) x 0.42***
regulator efficiency and an 85-percent battery efficiency.
** Based on rated power output of PV modules if an MPPT = 4803 Wh/d x 2 d
controller is used (see the glossary on page 44). If an MPPT 24 V x 0.42
controller is not used, further losses should be accounted
for, resulting in a required power capacity increase of = 953 Ah at 24 V
15–25 percent. Consult your dealer.
*** The factor 0.42 assumes an 85-percent battery efficiency
and a 50-percent maximum depth of discharge. If the
battery is used at temperatures lower than 25°C, its
capacity (ampere-hours) will decrease. Consult your
PV system supplier.

8. Technical Information on Photovoltaic System Components

PV Technology production techniques led to the

manufacture of “multi-junction”
The most common photovoltaic
amorphous cells, which contain
(PV) cell material is silicon. It
two or three layers of semicon-
is one of the most abundant
ductor. Because of the lower
elements on earth: sand from
efficiency, modules that are
the beach is an oxide of silicon.
physically larger are needed in
The first commercial PV cells
order to generate a given amount
were monocrystalline silicon.
of power.
Other manufacturing techniques
resulted in polycrystalline Other thin-film technologies
silicon cells. A monocrystalline have been developed – such as
cell is made of a single crystal; cadmium telluride and copper
a polycrystalline cell contains indium diselenide – and are
many crystals. Commercial beginning to appear on the market.
polycrystalline cells are only
slightly less efficient than
monocrystalline cells and are,
therefore, widely used because
their cost-performance ratio
is similar.
The development of thin-film
technologies reduces costs further
by decreasing the amount of
material needed to make a cell.
Amorphous silicon modules
require only a thin layer of silicon
and can be mass produced. New

▲ Monocrystalline, polycrystalline
and flexible amorphous silicon cells.
Photos courtesy of Siemens Solar
Industries, Photowatt International
S.A. and United Solar Systems
Corp., respectively.

The Electric I = Isc Maximum Power
Point Pmax = Ip x Vp
of PV Modules: Ip
The Current- Current
Voltage (I)

(I-V) Curve
The PV module can be operated Vp
at any combination of current Voltage
and voltage found on its “I-V Voc
curve.” But in reality it operates
at only one combination at a ▲ Important points that characterize a PV module.
given time. This favoured combi-
nation is chosen not by the
modules, but rather by the elec- Model ABC Serial number 123456789
tric characteristics of the circuit
Manufacturer XYZ
that is connected to the modules.
Made in WZC
The voltage that occurs when
Performance at 1999 W/m2 solar irradiance and 25°C cell temperature
current is zero is known as the
Max. power Short circuit current Rated current
open-circuit voltage (Voc). On
the other hand, the current when 48 Wp 3.35 A 3.02 A

the voltage is zero is referred to Max. syst. open circuit voltage Open circuit voltage Rated voltage
as the short-circuit current (Isc). 600 V 19.8 V 15.9 V
While current and voltage are at Fire rating Series fuse Field wiring
their highest under short-circuit copper only, 14 A WG min.
Class C 5A
and open-circuit conditions, insulated for 75°C min.

respectively, the power at these

points is zero. In practice, a
system operates at a combination ▲ Typical information found on a PV module label.
of current and voltage at which
a reasonable amount of power is You should find all of these
produced. The best point is the electric characteristics (Voc, Isc,
maximum power point (MPP). MPP, Vp, Ip) on the label of a
Corresponding voltage and good-quality PV module (note
current are called Vp (nominal that the Vp and Ip values are also
voltage) and Ip (nominal called nominal or rated voltage
current), respectively. This point and current). Do not expect to
of operation (MPP) is used to get the rated power from your
define the nominal rating and installed system – it is impossible
efficiency of a module. for a fixed system to operate at
the highest power point at all
times. Temperature variations
alone will change the amount
of power your system generates.

Other Most PV systems use lead-acid
batteries such as deep-discharge
Technical Note:
Selecting Batteries for
Components lead-calcium or lead-antimony PV Systems – Points
in PV Systems batteries. Do not use car batteries to Consider
as they are not designed for
Batteries repeated deep discharges. Nickel- • voltage and current
Most off-grid PV systems use cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries are characteristics;
batteries to store power for use rarely used in residential applica- • storage capacity is quoted at
during periods of low or no tions. Although they can be a certain discharge rate. If
sunlight. Certain specialized deeply discharged many times the discharge rate (the rate at
applications (e.g. some pumping without harm and are less which power is being drawn
and ventilation systems and cal- affected by temperature changes out) is less than what the
culators) do not require storage than lead-acid batteries, Ni-Cd manufacturer quotes, the
because power is needed only batteries are more expensive and battery’s capacity is greater.
during periods of light. Some very expensive to recycle. As a The opposite is also true;
pumping applications use result, their use is primarily
pumped water as the storage • maximum depth of
restricted to applications where
medium rather than electricity. discharge (different for
their increased reliability and
However, most PV systems in each type of battery);
low maintenance are worth the
Canada use batteries. premium price. • operating temperature range
Your choice of battery size and and how temperature affects
Battery storage capacity is gener-
type is an important design performance;
ally rated in ampere-hours (Ah).
consideration, particularly for This is the amount of current that • battery lifetime: the number
systems that have no backup a battery will deliver over a given of times the battery can be
power source. The batteries alone number of hours at its normal charged and discharged
can represent 25 to 50 percent of voltage and at a temperature of before it has to be replaced.
total system cost, so it is essential 25°C. The rated capacity of any This number depends on the
to select the right type. You can battery drops with temperature. depth of discharge of cycle.
use different types of rechargeable The size of battery you require is The less discharged the bat-
batteries, depending on the sys- determined by the total antici- tery is at each cycle, the
tem’s requirements. Batteries with pated drain on the battery. You more cycles it can sustain;
a long expected life have higher can calculate this if you know the • maintenance requirements:
initial costs but should cost less following information: the volt- some batteries are almost
in the long run. Several batteries age of the battery, the wattage of maintenance-free;
on the market are designed for the load, the length of time the
use with renewable energy sys- • energy density: the amount
load is operated and the ambient
tems, such as PV and wind of usable energy a battery
temperature of the batteries.
systems. Deep-discharge marine, can produce over a given
golf cart or recreational vehicle For example, to run a 25-W bulb time relative to its weight
(RV) batteries may also be suitable for eight hours from a 12-V battery and volume;
and are generally more affordable that is maintained at 25°C, you
• cost; and
up front. An experienced PV would need a battery with a capac-
ity of at least 16.7 Ah (200 Wh • warranty.
dealer can advise on what type
of battery is best for your needs. at 12 V). If the battery must
operate at temperatures as low as

PV battery systems are usually (100–1000 W) are suitable for
designed to provide several days small systems (e.g. power for
110 of storage in the absence of lights). They are available with
Percent of 25°C Discharge Capacity Delivered

100 sunlight. In cases where longer 12- or 24-volt direct current

overcast periods are anticipated, (VDC) input voltages and
such as in the Far North, it is usu- 120-volt alternating current
ally wiser to use a hybrid system (VAC) output. Larger inverters
rather than trying to provide (1000–4000 W) are available,
enough battery storage. In this mainly with 12, 24 and 48 VDC
and many other cases, your most input and 120 or 240 VAC output.
40 practical approach may be to use For high-start power surges
30 a combination of backup power (e.g. from large electric motors),
-30 -20 -10 0 10 20 30 40
and batteries. heavy-duty inverters are needed.
Discharge Temperature (°C)

Low-cost inverters produce a

▲ Operating batteries at temperatures Equipment modified square wave, which
below 25°C implies that you will is not as good as utility power.
Power-conditioning equipment
need more nominal capacity. (This Roughly a dozen electrical loads
will vary, according to the type of modifies the power from the PV
do not run well on this type of
batteries and rate of discharge array to make it more usable.
applied.) inverter. Your dealer can help
Two power-conditioning devices –
you overcome most of these load
inverters and battery charge
problems by choosing proper
0°C, then at least a 20-Ah battery regulators – are described in
appliances, tools, etc. Sine-wave
would be required for the same the following.
inverters generally produce power
load. But in practice, to protect
Inverters that is similar to the quality of
the battery against accelerated
utility power.
aging, a larger capacity is used to PV cells generate direct current
avoid a complete discharge. For (DC), and batteries store electric- Some PV modules even come
deep discharge batteries, do not ity as DC, but most common with built-in inverters. Such mod-
use more than 80 percent of appliances require alternating ules are called AC modules. You
their nominal capacity. Also, car current (AC). In cases where you can build up a complete AC sys-
batteries start to be damaged if need AC power, an inverter is tem, AC module by AC module,
discharged more than 20 percent used to change low-voltage DC increasing the capacity with each
of their nominal capacity; there- (12, 24, 32, 36, 48, 96, 120) to addition. (These inverters are used
fore, they are not well suited for higher voltage AC (120 or 240). only for grid-connected systems.)
this type of application. Some power is lost in the conver- Many of today’s inverters also
In the sizing worksheet examples sion as inverters are, on average, come equipped with the follow-
in Section 7 (Step 2.4), an average about 80- to 95-percent efficient. ing features:
value of 50 percent was chosen AC wiring, components and
1) Metering: a display to
for the depths of discharge (the appliances are more available and
provide volts input/output,
portion of battery nominal generally less expensive than sim-
frequency output, voltage
capacity used) so that the recom- ilar DC products. Consequently,
and frequency of a fuel-fired
mended sizes for the examples inverters are convenient for
above would be 40 to 50 Ah, many systems.
depending on the temperature 2) Fuel-fired generator start
Inverters cover a wide range of
at which the battery is operated. capability: Extra relays are
power capacity, and the type
provided to auto-start a gener-
needed depends on the applica-
ator if the batteries reach a
tion. Light-duty inverters
programmed state of low

capacity. Some can even be Different types of controllers pros and cons of manual and
programmed to keep the gen- exist: the on-off and the pulse- automatic trackers that are
erator from starting during width modulation controls are currently on the market.
the night (to avoid the noise), the most common types. More
When considering the use of a
unless the batteries reach a sophisticated controllers are
tracker, remember that it will not
second programmed low, in more efficient, but you and your
significantly increase the perfor-
which case the generator will dealer should evaluate whether
mance of the PV system during
start regardless. their performance justifies the
the winter in Canada. The use of
investment. For example, some
3) Grid-connected capability: a tracker is more cost-effective for
controllers include a maximum
The inverter can convert applications operating from the
power point tracker (MPPT)
the DC output from the spring to the fall, especially those
feature. It allows a PV module
array to AC power that can located at higher-latitude sites.
or array to work at its highest
be synchronized with the
power point depending on solar Because automatic trackers make
grid (utility). This feature
intensity, even if the battery is the system more complex, they
makes it possible to reduce
recharged at a constant voltage. are rarely used for applications
or even eliminate monthly
This feature provides about where no one is present for
utility bills.
10 percent more power in the extended periods of time, such
4) Charging capability: summer and roughly 30 percent as telecommunications.
Inverters can draw power more in the winter. These gains
from either the grid or a are generally higher for panels
fuel-fired generator to charge with high voltage peak (Vp) values.
the battery bank while, at
the same time, continuing to PV Trackers
pass that power through to The sun “tracks” across the sky
the electrical loads in your every day. To get maximum out-
house. Some inverters vary put from your PV array, a tracker
the charge rate and voltage to can be a cost-effective feature.
certain types of batteries and The main issue is economics.
their current temperature. Does the increased output from a
5) Stacking: Some inverters can reduced number of tracked panels
be linked together, either to outweigh the cost of the extra
produce twice the output or panels bought for a fixed array?
to produce power that is out Generally speaking, the larger the
of phase from inverter to array, the more cost-effective the
inverter in order to produce tracker. Remember, a fixed array
240-VAC power. must be mounted on a structure,
so the true cost of a tracker is the
Battery Charge Regulators difference between its cost and
the cost of a fixed array mounting
Battery charge regulators control
the amount of current entering
the battery and protect it from Trackers are usually mounted
overcharging and from com- 3 m (10 ft.) off the ground,
pletely discharging. They can also avoiding the need to drill through
measure battery voltage to detect a roof. Less snow and ice accumu-
the state of charge. Regulators lates out in the open and off the
range from 2 to 300 A for voltages ground, compared with a roof.
from 12 to 48 volts DC. Ask your dealer to explain the

Appendix A: Worksheet to Evaluate System Size

This worksheet will help you get a technical design and expertise Note: Figures in the equations
rough estimate of the size of your required for a proper system. If below must be expressed as
PV system. For this level of you wish to undertake such a fractions, not percentages.
design, you need only choose a technical design, consider order- For example, an efficiency
nominal battery voltage and col- ing Photovoltaic Systems Design of 90 percent should be written
lect the information on the Manual from Natural Resources as 0.90 in your calculations.
available hours of peak sunlight Canada (for contact information,
in your area. The results that you see “Learn More About Solar
will obtain below are only esti- Energy” on page 46).
mates and do not replace the

Step 1. Estimate Your Power and Energy Needs (watt-hours per day)
AC or DC (A) Rated Wattage (B) Hours (C) Watt-Hours Per Day
(check one) (actual or Used (A) x (B)
Appliance Load AC DC typical values) Per Day AC DC

Subtotal: AC: Wh/d DC: Wh/d

DC to AC inverter efficiency (Effdc ac) ranges from 80 to 95 percent (0.80 to 0.95). To help you with your first
calculation, 0.90 has been inserted in italics. Adjust the efficiency value, if necessary, once you have chosen the
inverter for your system and have read the manufacturer’s ratings.

Adjust AC loads for inverter losses: AC load = Wh/d:

Effdc ac 0.90
Total daily load: DC loads + adjusted AC loads = ________ Wh/d


Step 2. Make a Rough Evaluation of PV System Size

2.1. Evaluate Which Stand-Alone System Is More Suitable: Autonomous or Hybrid

■ Autonomous ■ Hybrid
• seasonal use (summer mainly) • year-round operation and
energy requirements > 2.5 kWh/d
• year-round operation with
low energy requirements (< 1 kWh/d)
higher latitudes
low requirements for power availability • already have a generator
• limited/expensive access to the site • very high requirements for power availability
• maintenance is an issue

2.2. Estimate the Available Sunlight 2.4. Estimate the Required Battery Capacity
Sunlight: h/d (consult the maps on page 27 or
see “Learn More About Solar Energy” on page 46.) Nominal voltage of battery: (Vbat): ____ VDC
(typically 12, 24 or 48 volts)

2.3. Estimate the Required PV Array Size (W) Number of days of battery
storage needed (a good rule
Array size (W) = Total daily load (Wh/d)
of thumb is two days for
Peak sunlight hours x 0.77*
a hybrid system and three days
= Wh/d for an autonomous system): _____ days
h/d x 0.77

= W** Battery capacity (Ah):

Total daily load (Wh/d) x days of storage
* The factor 0.77 assumes a 90-percent battery charge
regulator efficiency and an 85-percent battery efficiency.
Battery voltage (Vbat) x 0.42***

** Based on rated power output of PV modules if an MPPT = Wh/d x days

controller is used (see the glossary on page 44). If an MPPT ____ V x 0.42
controller is not used, further losses should be accounted
for, resulting in a required power capacity increase of
15–25 percent. Consult your dealer. = _______ Ah
*** The factor 0.42 assumes an 85-percent battery efficiency
and a 50-percent maximum depth of discharge. If the
battery is used at temperatures lower than 25°C, its
capacity (ampere-hours) will decrease. Consult your
PV system supplier.

Appendix B: Typical Loads

Typical Power Ratings of Some Common Appliances

Power Rating (watt) Power Rating (watt)

12-V DC loads 120-V AC loads

Auto stereo 6 Block heater 600
CB radio: Clock 2
Receive 4 Clothes washer, excluding hot water 300–500
Transmit 6 Front-loading washer 160
Digital clock (LED) 2 Coffee-maker 900
Coffee-maker 140 Dishwasher, excluding hot water 1300
Drill (3/8 inch) 144 Drill (3/8 inch) 300
Lighting: Fan, portable 115
Incandescent 25 Furnace fan motor (varies greatly) 350
Compact fluorescent 4–20 Hair dryer 1000–1500
Four-foot type (double-ended) 40 Curling iron 25
Portable TV: Iron 1000
Black and white 20 Lighting:
Colour 60 Incandescent 25–100
Vent fan (15-cm blade) 24 Compact fluorescent 4–20
Water pump 50–300 Four-foot type (double-ended) 40
Hair dryer 400 Microwave oven 600–1500
Personal computer:
Desk model 250
Laser printer (while printing/standby) 600/30
Laptop in use 25
Laptop charger 100 (max.)
Radio 5
Saw 400–1000
Radio-telephone (transmitting/idle) 96/12
Single-side band radio (idle) 4
About Electric Motors Stereo 30
Power is often expressed in horsepower (hp) for TV (19 inches):
motors. This refers to the mechanical power output Black and white (in use) 60
of the motor. If you have information on current Colour (in use/standby with
and voltage, always use this information rather remote control) 100/5
than converting hp into watts. A watt (W) is the Remote control (standby) 5
SI unit for power (1 hp ≈ 746 W). However, this may Toaster 1100
differ from the actual electric power requirements, Vacuum cleaner 200–1400
due to the power factor of a motor in AC or other VCR (on/standby) 30/5
sources of inefficiency found in any motor. If Water pump ( 1/2-hp jet) 1000
you intend to power a standard AC motor with Note: These are typical values only. For exact numbers, consult
a PV system, you can use the following formula product literature or supplier.
to estimate your electric power requirement:
1 hp (mechanical output) ≈ 1 kW (electrical input).

Appendix C: Energy-Efficient Lighting

Comparison of Typical Lighting Systems

Incandescent Bulbs
Watts Lumens
25 220
40 495
60 855
75 1170
100 1680

Lights (CFLs) with
Magnetic Ballast
Watts Lumens
5 220
7 400
9 550
13 860
18 1160
CFLs with 26 1700
Electronic Ballast
Watts Lumens
15 900
18 1100
20 1200
25 1750

▲ Source: Energy-Efficient Lighting Products for Your Home

(Natural Resources Canada’s pulication)


Ampere-hour (Ah) Kilowatt (kW) Photovoltaic (PV) array

A current of one ampere running One thousand watts. An interconnected system of PV
for one hour. modules that function as a single
Kilowatt-hour (kWh) electricity-producing unit. The
Autonomous system One kilowatt acting over modules are assembled as a
A stand-alone photovoltaic (PV) one hour. discrete structure with a common
system that has no backup gener- support or mounting. In smaller
ating source and relies only on Load systems, an array can consist
solar energy to meet the needs of Anything in an electrical circuit of two modules plus a support
the load. May or may not include which, when the circuit is turned structure or mounting.
storage batteries. on, draws power from that
circuit (lights, appliances, tools, Photovoltaic (PV) cell
Balance of system pumps, etc.). A device that converts light
The parts of a PV system other directly into electricity. The
than the PV array and batteries. Lumen building block of a PV module.
This may include switches, con- A metric measurement of the
trols, meters, power-conditioning rate at which light is emitted Photovoltaic (PV) module
equipment, trackers and a sup- from a source. A number of PV cells electrically
porting structure for the PV array. interconnected (in either series or
Maximum power point parallel) and mounted together,
Easement tracker (MPPT) usually in a sealed unit of conve-
An oral or written legal agreement Charge controller that continu- nient size to make shipping,
defining an interest in exclusive, ously tracks the maximum power handling and assembly into
common or bipartisan use of pri- point (MPP) of a PV module or arrays easier.
vate property or air/space above array, thus increasing its effi-
that property. A common form of ciency. The MPP is the point Photovoltaic (PV) system
easement is the concept of “right on a current-voltage (I-V) curve A complete set of components for
of way,” as when an electric util- where a PV device produces converting sunlight into electric-
ity has the right of way to extend maximum power. ity by the PV process, including
electrical transmission lines the array and balance of system
across private property. See also Open-circuit voltage components.
“Restrictive covenant.” The voltage across a PV cell in
full sunlight when there is no Power-conditioning
Horsepower (hp) current flowing; the highest equipment
An imperial system unit of power possible voltage. Electrical equipment used to con-
equivalent to 746 W. vert power from a PV array into a
Parallel connection form suitable for subsequent use.
Hybrid PV system A method of interconnecting two A collective term for inverter,
A PV system that includes other or more devices that generate or converter, battery charge regula-
sources of electricity generation, use electricity, such that the volt- tor and blocking diode.
such as a wind or diesel generator. age produced, or required, is not
increased, but the current is the
sum of the two. Opposite of
“series connection” (see entry).

Restrictive covenant Stand-off mounting
A specialized type of easement Technique for mounting a
that can be used to protect access PV array on a sloped roof that
to sunlight or wind flow for solar involves mounting the modules
or wind energy applications. See a short distance above the pitched
also “Easement.” roof and tilting them to the
best angle.
Series connection
A method of interconnecting Telemetry
devices that generate or use elec- The remote measurement of
tricity so that the voltage, but any physical quantity using
not the current, is additive. instruments that convert the
Opposite of “parallel connection” measurement into a transmit-
(see entry). table signal.

Short circuit current Watt-hour (Wh)

The current flowing freely from A quantity of energy. One watt-
a PV cell through an external hour of electricity is consumed
circuit that has no load or when one watt of power is
resistance; the highest current used for one hour.

Stand-alone (PV system)

A photovoltaic system not con-
nected to a main electric grid.
May be solar-only or hybrid. May
or may not have storage batteries,
but most stand-alone systems
require batteries or some other
form of storage (e.g. water
reservoir for pumping).

Learn More About Solar Energy

Natural Resources Canada To order more copies of this pub- Weather and Solar
Renewable and Electrical lication or others on renewable Radiation Data
Energy Division energy and energy efficiency, call Monthly climate data and
Energy Resources Branch 1 800 387-2000 toll-free. You can 1961–1990 normals are available
580 Booth Street, 17th Floor also obtain a copy of this publica- on CD-ROM. To order your
Ottawa ON K1A 0E4 tion by visiting Natural Resources copy, visit Environment
Fax: (613) 995-0087 Canada’s (NRCan’s) Canadian Canada’s Web site at
Web site: Renewable Energy Network (CanREN) Web site at climate/products_services/ climate_products/
or climate_data_e.cfm.
Free Software to Help
You in Your Decision Some data is available
Natural Resources Canada About Medium and directly on-line at
CANMET Energy Diversification Large Projects
Research Laboratory Renewable energy technologies – climate/climate_normals/
1615 Lionel Boulet Boulevard such as photovoltaic systems, index_e.cfm.
PO Box 4800 wind farms, solar ventilation You can also find some of
Varennes QC J3X 1S6 air- heating or solar water-heating that data in the RETScreen®
Fax: (450) 652-5177 systems – can be a smart invest- International software
Web site: ment. RETScreen® International previously mentioned. just made it easier. RETScreen®
International is a standardized,
renewable energy project analysis
Canadian Solar Industries
software program that will
Association (CanSIA)
help you determine whether a
2415 Holly Lane, Suite 250
photovoltaic system is a good
Ottawa ON K1V 7P2
investment for you. The software
Tel.: (613) 736-9077
uses Microsoft® Excel spreadsheets
Fax: (613) 736-8938
and comes with a comprehensive
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user’s manual and supporting
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Énergie Solaire Québec You can download the software
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Fax: (514) 392-0952 your request to (450) 652-5177.
Web site:

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