As Canada fights climate change by electrifying residential heating, pairing upgrades with solar energy can help protect households from higher costs and further enhance GHG reductions.

About this Project

30 kW AC net metered residential grid-tied solar energy system, installed on an existing country property, allowing for net-zero energy usage.

  • Modules: 72 X Canadian Solar 405 W = 29.16 kW DC
  • Inverters: 2 X Fronius Primo 15 kW, smart meter and Fronius Solar.Web monitoring
  • Racking: Bifacial ground mount racking by Opsun
  • Payback: 8 – 10 years
  • Started generating: February 2021


Solar takes the sting out of electric heating bills

Two years ago, Ross and Monika Hurford retired to their dream home, a gorgeous brick Tudor on the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario, Canada. Built in 1987, the 4,600 square foot house sits on former farmland, surrounded by fields on one side and forest on the other.

But the couple found out that love, especially real estate love, can be blind.


Jaw-Dropping Energy Bills


“When we purchased the home, it was a quick purchase. We loved it right away and didn’t ask for the utility bill,” Monika said. Once the deal had closed, they realized that their equalized electricity bill was a whopping $900 a month, primarily due to the house’s electric heating.

To put their energy bill into perspective, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office (FAO) calculated that the average household spent $2,165 on home energy in 2019, which included both electricity and natural gas. The Hurford’s annual energy costs were 500% higher than the provincial average.

“We were quite shocked because that seemed pretty high compared to what we were used to. So we started looking into ways to reduce that,” she said.

So they got to work making energy efficiency upgrades. They installed a new washer and dryer, well pump, LED light bulbs, and windows.

They had limited choices when it came to the main culprit – their heating system. Their house is situated in a low-density area too far away from the main natural gas pipeline for the utility to be able to economically install a residential line to their house. They rejected propane because “it’s an ugly-looking tank that just sits by the side of the house and plus it’s not a green answer,” Ross said.

The house was heated using a forced-air electric furnace combined with a heat pump, which they replaced with a heat pump system. During temperate weather, the cost-efficient heat pump performs most of the work, but at sub-zero temperatures, the electric resistance heat has to kick in, which becomes costly.

With all of these improvements, they were able to successfully reduce their monthly hydro bill from $900 down to $600 per month. But it still wasn’t enough.


Electrification of Residential Heating in Canada


Under The Pan-Canadian Framework, the federal and provincial governments have set a long-term goal that all space heating technology available for sale in Canada must have an energy performance rating of more than 100% by 2035 in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Electrical Business magazine forecasts that because electric heating systems can range from 100% to 300% in efficiency, “it’s likely these systems will become more popular in the coming years.”

Electrifying residential heating has surprisingly large implications for reducing carbon emissions because our frigid climate means two-thirds of household energy use is used for space heating.

Firstly, there’s lots of room for improvement. In 2017, 80% of Ontario single-family homes used natural gas heating, while only 11% used electricity.

And secondly, the results could be impressive. A Canadian Gas Association study examined several complex scenarios and scenario four, which included converting all residential and commercial fuel-burning space and water heating systems to electric air-source heat pumps (with fossil fuel back up) could save 279 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050. That’s a 47% emissions reduction!

“The only fuel that we can truly make 100 percent carbon neutral is electricity,” Fin MacDonald, program manager for the Canada Green Building Council, told CBC News.

In provinces like Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. – whose electricity is generated by predominantly low-carbon sources like renewables, hydro, or nuclear – “replacing a gas-burning furnace with an electrical heating system can nearly eliminate a home’s emissions.”

But frustratingly for homeowners in other provinces, switching from fossil fuels to using electricity generated from fossil fuels won’t get them very far. Instead, the CBC article recommended that in order “to cut heating emissions [homeowners] need to go beyond electrification and also install green power generation, such as solar panels.”

For Ross and Monika, their next step was also installing solar energy. “We were hoping to reduce our monthly costs by drawing on solar power, but we also wanted to work with more green energy sources and to become more self-sufficient at the same time,” Monika said.


Better Solar Technology Leads to Higher Performance


Together with Jeremy Day of Rechargeables, they decided on a 30 kW ground mounted solar system installed in their adjoining field using Canadian Solar 405 W bifacial modules, and a Fronius inverter and smart meter system.

The system is sized to offset the energy consumption of the house, hot tub, and swimming pool. Any excess electricity the solar power system produces is sold back to the grid, earning them credits they can use against their own electricity consumption, matched kWh for kWh.

Ross was particularly impressed with some of the recent improvements in solar energy technology, like the bifacial modules. “Our panels are state of the art – double-sided – so we’re getting up to 30% more energy from the backside of the panel,” he said. The panels have lived up to these high-performance expectations, with Monika noting that “even on days that would be considered overcast, we’re still generating a significant amount of energy.”

The inverter works in conjunction with a special bi-directional smart meter and online energy monitoring app so the Hurfords can track energy generation, usage, and grid export in real-time. For Ross, “there’s nothing better than to watch the Solar.web app.” He is able to see how many air miles or trees have been saved since the system was first installed. “It certainly is satisfying to see that we’re doing our part in trying to save the planet.”

Meanwhile, Monika is looking forward to getting her first $0 energy bill in the mail. “It’s going to be pretty exciting.”

To date, “the energy production that we’re getting is exactly what Jeremy had indicated from his calculations,” Ross said. “He was wonderful. He provided us with more than enough information as to what we can expect and our system’s working very well.”

“It’s important to him that we are as happy as possible and he certainly has a passion for this field,” Monika added.