Calgary company uses solar solutions to heat homes

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Calgary company uses solar SOLUTIONS to heat homes

We normally hear about solar panels powering up our lights or recharging batteries, but a company in Calgary is using solar energy to heat homes and businesses, providing clean solutions, while helping them save money long-term.

“There is an amazing return of investment on thermal,” said Brad Sargeant, head of sales and marketing at Off Grid Heating, which started designing and installing solar systems in Calgary nearly a decade ago. “It pays for itself quickly because of its efficiency.”

According to Sargeant, while Off Grid Heating does a variety of solar electric installations, it’s their solar thermal systems that set them apart – they are just one of a handful of solar thermal companies in Alberta.

Homeowners or businesses that install a solar thermal system will typically see a return on their investment within five to seven years, compared to the seven to ten of a solar electrical system.

Solar thermal systems are a cost-effective and energy-efficient heating solution that can be used to heat household water systems or integrated with in-floor heating. Off Grid Heating’s solar thermal systems function by heating water that is circulated through the system, which in turn heats a home’s hot water tank or in-floor heating system.

Sargeant said their system is optimized for Canadian winters because of the high-performance solar tubes, which are insulated to ensure the outside temperature does not transfer to the inside of the tubes and affect the solar heating process.

About 30 per cent of Off Grid Heating’s clients opt for a solar thermal system installation. Often, Sargeant said they will install hybrid systems – both solar thermal and electrical systems.

“We are finding that with the cost of power and energy increasing, people would rather be independent and self-sufficient,” said Sargeant, adding that it is especially true in remote areas where it may cost significantly more to for heating and electricity.

Off Grid Heating’s biggest client base comes from farmers, and those involved in the agricultural space, because they are high users of power and energy who are in search of more efficient and cost-effective solutions.

But the company also installs many residential solar systems, for individuals looking to cut costs with a more sustainable energy and heating solution.

“It’s about helping people have that peace of mind.”
— Brad Sargeant, Head of Sales and Marketing

Even though the up-front installation price for a solar system – electrical or thermal – has seen a significant decrease in the last decade or so, Sargeant said that cost is still the number one barrier to installing a solar system.

“An average solar electrical system [for a residential installation] is 5,000 watts,” said Sargeant. “At three dollars a watt, it’s going to cost around $15,000.” 

But currently, he said, residents who install a solar electrical system of that size should get about one-third of that amount back in government rebates.

By contrast, a simple thermal system, which would supplement an average home’s domestic hot water requirements, would cost $8,000. Installing a thermal system that would supplement an entire home’s heat through an in-floor heating system or a hydronic baseboard system would run about $12,000.

Homeowners and businesses must also consider space restrictions and potential tree shading on the property before installing a solar system, but since Off Grid Heating also designs the system being installed, they are able to adapt to the size and space available – by increasing the wattage of each panel for a smaller home, for example – to create a suitable system for each property.  

“We help people get set up with solar systems from start to finish,” he said.

Sargeant said they are looking at working with battery back-up systems in the future, but for now, Off Grid Heating is glad to help people find a green and cost-effective way to heat and power their homes.

“We know that there is going to be a demand on gas, and the price is going to go up, so it’s going to cost a lot for people to heat their homes in the future,” said Sargeant. “It’s about helping people have that peace of mind.”