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Solar project about more than just power

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

solar project 1 (web)

Arnin and Valerie Vogel are the first in Oshawa to have their home outfitted with the OPUC’s new solar energy system. (Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express)

When the Vogels first noticed an ad calling for participants in a solar energy project in Oshawa, there were a few different things that when through their minds.

“They had me at free,” jokes Arnin Vogel.

“I was really excited about it from the whole reducing our carbon footprint, (and) thinking about the future that we’re leaving for our children,” says Valerie Vogel.

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The solar panels gather energy which can be stored in a battery inside the home, sold back to the OPUC’s grid for a credit or used during a blackout to power the house for up to three days. (Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express)

With that in mind, the husband and wife, along with three young children, opened their doors for the launch of the new solar energy system in their home.

The panels and generating system are part of a pilot project by the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation (OPUC). The program, in partnership with Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), is looking to outfit 30 homes in Oshawa with the groundbreaking system.  Currently, two are completed, including the Vogels. There is another six currently under construction.

While the source of gathering power – through solar panels affixed to the home’s roof – is hardly groundbreaking, it’s how the energy is used that makes the program different than others seen in the city.

The acquired energy can either be stored in a battery for later use, or sold back to the OPUC’s grid. A particularly sunny day could see the home generate more electricity than it uses, and this surplus is applied as a credit on the home’s electric bill. The system can also pull power from the grid during off-peak hours to cut costs and the battery can supply backup power, at minimum usage, for up to three days in the event of a blackout.

“It’s very dynamic, and very live,” says Jayesh Shah, director of asset management and new initiatives with the OPUC.

Shah explained the system allows users to monitor every aspect of its operation, including how much energy the solar panels are generating, how much is being stored in the battery and even how much the system is selling back to the grid.

“I think what this is doing is brining a lot of technologies together,” Arnin says. “Certainly, the solar panels have been around for quite a while, they’re proven technologies, but now we’re incorporating a back-up battery system and some software to drive and coordinate the whole thing that allows us to both generate our own energy, feed it back to the grid and also store it for peak times or whenever the grid goes down.”

While the system is estimated to save the family approximately 70 per cent on their energy bill, Valerie says it’s the added security for her family that makes the system attractive, especially in the event of a repeat of 2013’s ice storm.

“After the last ice storm when a lot of people were without power for days, you start to realize that the entire house doesn’t function,” she says. “We were without heat, we were without power, so when we had the opportunity to not only generate our own power and feed it back into the grid, but you have a little bit of comfort knowing that the next time there is some sort of extreme weather or unforeseen power outage, it’s nice to know that our house could keep going.”

The pilot project was launched in July following the signing of an memorandum of understanding between the city, the OPUC and NEDO on the terms of the project. The ceremony, which took place at city hall, included representatives from the Japanese consulate.