Whitehorse resident takes solar energy to the bank

When driving by Gerald Steinhagen’s country residence, you can’t help but notice a large array of solar panels in his front yard.

He has made a big investment in solar panels — to the tune of $85,000.  He said he was told by his installer that he now has the largest private solar panel array north of 60, with two 30-metre double-stacked rows of solar panels in his yard. They were installed in June.

It’s all because Yukon has one of the best solar rebate programs in the country.

“I’d been looking into this for a while, researching it and, of course, with the smaller lots in the city you need to put the panels on the roof, which was a good option there,” said Steinhagen.

“But because … I was able to spread it out over the land and then use cheaper panels as well — they didn’t have to be as efficient — I could use more area for it.”

He said he went for more solar panels because the payback in investment would be faster.

Steinhagen admits that in the month of January he isn’t producing much solar energy: only 60 watts; especially because the solar panels are covered in snow.  

Gerald Steinhagen removes snow from his solar array. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

But in the summer, his system can produce up to 45 kilowatts, even on cloudy days. An inverter limits his actual output to 30 kilowatts of electricity to match transformer capacity.

He says in the summer, he sells excess power back to Yukon Energy, and that’s his savings for the winter months when he isn’t generating a lot of electricity.

Steinhagen said he used 20 kilowatts of electricity last year. Half the total energy he produces will be sold back to Yukon Energy.

‘Generous’ solar program

Sean MacKinnon, senior energy adviser with the Yukon government, said the micro-generation program in Yukon has a moderate payback rate and a generous system limit.

“We seem to be gaining a reputation for one of the most generous and easily accessible programs in Canada, if not North America,” MacKinnon said.

For Steinhagen, that means it’ll only take eight years to pay off his investment.

An inverter limits Gerald Steinhagen’s solar array’s output to 30 kW. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Then, it’s cash in the bank. He has an app on his smartphone that shows him how much electricity he has saved with his new large-scale solar installation.

“This app is actually from the inverters and it’s showing me that I saved 16,000 tons of carbon in the air, the equivalent of 410 trees and I saved the equivalent of 106,000 kilometres of driving from the power I have generated through solar,” Steinhagen said.

“I like looking at the money one, though: it says so far, I have made $4,520.”

He said looking at the app, and seeing the electricity making money, makes his day.

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