First Outage Since Solar

Yesterday we had our first major hydro outage. A short but severe storm blew through our neighbourhood with recorded gust of up to 125 km/h winds. This just makes category 1 hurricane speed. This occurred in the early afternoon before 3pm and then the power immediately cut out after that. A photo taken from one of our neighbours clearly showed down power lines.

Downed hydro poles near our house (compliments from our neighbour)

We had a few flickers and then our backup solar and batteries kicked in. I took the entire system off grid to avoid any on grid glitches and also as an extra safety measure for the working crews on the power lines. At first the solar was generating enough power to both cover the house load and charge the batteries. Once the batteries were fully charged, I took the panels offline until night time, because the extra power will have no place to go.

When night came on our block, we were the only house that kind of shined. Although others were suffering from a lack of power and wholly I empathized, It was a good silver lining to see our house with electricity.

House lights clearly evident during power outage in the evening

We are now in the morning after. The grid electricity was restored about 30 minutes after midnight. The outages lasted near 10 hours, quite a long one.

We were extremely fortunate to have our solar project completed on May 4th, and in less than 3 weeks we experienced this outage.

I am now going to flip the switch and go back onto the grid, so we can recharge our batteries in case anything else happens to the grid during the restoration process.

Canada Greener Home Grant

In a series of posts, I have documented my experiences and adventures on installing solar panels and backup batteries. One of the incentives that prompted us to start the project is the new Canada Greener Home Grant, which offers a maximum of $5,000 grant towards certain home projects that are classified as “green”. I also mentioned EnerTest as a great company that chaperoned us the entire process of the Canada Greener Homes Grant.

EnerTest was extremely prompt in organizing and conducting the energy audits, which are required for the grant eligibility. I wanted to thank Nick Crosby from EnerTest who played a very supportive role in guiding our family through this, and sometimes very confusing process.

Knock on wood, but I think today we crossed the last hurdle.

Confirmation from Canada Greener Homes Grant Web Site

If you are embarking on the same grant, take note that you must perform the first energy audit prior to you getting the work done. This is very important.

You will have to perform a second audit once all the work is completed. Make sure you keep all of your receipts and working documents relating to the work.

I would highly recommend Nick Crosby for the job if you are starting a similar journey that I did. Click on his name to email him.

It certainly feels good that the grant is coming our way in 30 days!

Reading Our Net Smart Meter, Carbon Neutrality?

We now have been running our net smart meter for more than a day now. I mentioned that we got our new net meter on this previous post.

Of course I am now curious how to read the meter so that I can decipher how much electricity we sent back to the grid. Here is a short video of what the meter is showing:

Meter Display Sequence

Initially the displayed information is quite cryptic, but looking at the meter’s label, I found this group of small prints.

These labels essentially tells us what is going on. The LED display cycles through 5 modes in total. The initial display is a segment test, which means all segments of the LED are displayed. This is a simple test to ensure that the LED display itself is functioning correctly. Next, it shows LST003, indicating that the next number it shows will be the amount of kWh of electricity that we ended up consuming or using. This is followed by LST004, another label indicating that the following number is the amount of kWh of electricity that is sent back to the grid.

Now with this new found knowledge, the above video shows that we used 13 kWh and exported 103 kWh since the meter was installed in the afternoon of May 4th.

In about 1.5 days, and bright sunny day yesterday, we generated and provided to our community electricity grid with a net of 90 kWh of energy.

Excerpt from the CBC article from Oct. 8th, 2021

There are 4 people in our house right now, and according to a recent CBC article our average carbon footprint is about 14.2 tonnes of CO2 per person. Doing a little more research, I found this white paper titled, “A Clearer View on Ontarios Emissions June 2019“. On page 8 of this paper, we see an annual average emissions factor (AEF) of 31 grams of CO2 per kWh. One tonne is 1,000,000 (a million) grams. This means to offset one individual, we need to offset 14,200,000 grams of CO2, and using the AEF this is equivalent to approximately 458,065 kWh!

To put this big number in perspective, I think our last month’s electricity bill only shows us using around 1,200 kWh of electricity.

It is clear that we will not be able to offset one of us, never mind all four of us by just using solar ourselves (at least not in Ontario). The idea of carbon neutrality is still a long ways off, and the above numbers show that we cannot do it alone. It will require every industry to do its part.

Net Meter Installed

Today is a good day. Alectra finally installed the net meter. From my previous post, I noted that without a net meter, any excess energy being sent back to the grid will be interpreted as usage. With the addition of the net meter, we can finally export our excess electricity from our solar panels without being charged for the generation. Instead, we can start earning and storing credits for the excess energy that we will supply to the grid.

Prior to the presence of the net meter, we gained plenty of experiences on going off grid. Effectively even on a cloudy day, we were able to generate enough energy for the house and charge our batteries to get us through the night. Below is a depiction of our energy utilization from Alectra.

Started to go off grid on April 23rd

The process of getting this net meter installed was not an easy feat! It took 22 days from the time of ESA inspection (April 12th) to Alectra installing the net meter. In summary, we played with the solar system to see what it can do for 11 days (April 12th to 22nd), while paying for the excess generation, and went off grid for the remaining 12 days (April 23rd to May 4th).

The small usages from the 23rd to the 30th that you see above were primarily charging our Toyota Prius Prime from the garage. That circuit is still grid tied and is independent of our Solar system. I cannot get an updated chart that contains data all the way up to today. Perhaps Alectra is doing something in the background in preparation for them to switch to net metering. In summary, we were pretty much off grid from April the 23rd to around 2pm today (May 4th). There was one exception, when we charged our backup batteries during off-peak hours from the grid on the evening of the 26th. We didn’t have to, but I was bit anxious with the battery at 50% whether it will last through the night and to the next evening, so this was more of an insurance. As we get more experience, we now have the confidence that even during cloudy / rainy days in the month of April, we should have no problem charging the batteries from solar that will last to the next night time operation.

Our old unidirectional meter
Our new bidirectional net meter

Once again, I have to thank New Dawn Energy Solutions for their correspondence and baby sitting the net meter installation process, as well as closing out the building permit from Richmond Hill. I am certain there was plenty of red tape that must be cut by them to get to where I am today, so kudos to them!

Today was also the day when we completed our second audit with Enertest. Once again Nick Crosby, A Certified Energy Advisor did a professional job. This audit is mandatory for the participation of the Canada Greener Homes Grant program.

If you are thinking of installing solar, New Dawn and Enertest are partners and experts in your endeavours.

Solar Power and Off Grid Operations

In my previous post, all major installations were completed. Since that time, the ESA inspection was completed and we validated our batteries so that we have confidence that they will last for more than a day in the worst case scenario (no sun). However at the time of this writing, we are still waiting for Alectra Utilities to switch out our old meter to a new one that is net-meter capable. Until this meter replacement occurs, every watt-hour (Wh) of energy we produce and send back to the grid, Alectra will charge us for it as if we are using that energy instead of producing it. Here is a summary of the timeline from panel installation:

  • Solar panels installation completed on April 8th;
  • ESA Inspection on April 12th;
  • New LiFePO4 batteries installed on April 18th;
  • From April 18th onwards, we tested the system through a series of scenarios;
Our Utilization Chart from Alectra Utilities (click to enlarge)

So prior to the ESA inspection on April 12th, we continue our on-peak time shifting. You can see that there has been very little on-peak usage (red indicator) before April 12th. Once the ESA inspection is completed, we turned on our solar panels for the first time.

The erratic “usage” indicated in the above chart after April 12th, is a direct result of excess solar energy being exported back to the grid. Since our net meter has yet to be installed, Alectra sees it as usage, and unfortunately I will have to pay for that generation, very ironic if you ask me.

Nevertheless, we gathered much data in the last couple of weeks. We tested the system for both on grid and off grid operations. We tested with washer and dryer loads. Today on a bright sunny day, I even tried our air conditioner when we are off grid. The air conditioner started without any issues and worked with just solar energy, impressive. I will try again at night when we only use the batteries.

Let us take a look at our energy generation data that we collected so far. The information here is a surprise to us in a good way. The best way to show this is to provide the data for our best day performance to date.

Our best performance day (April, 20th), 103.63 kWh generated

On April 20th we had a beautiful sunny day. We generated 103.63 kWh of electricity, since the house could not use it all, we fed most of it back to the grid. This is an excellent run and really show what the panels are capable of. For comparison, our average daily use is between 30 to 40 kWh. This means our solar generation ability on a sunny day can easily cover 2.5 to 3 days. For those Tesla drivers out there, we can generate enough power to fill your “tank”.

A rainy and cloudy morning and the sun came out at around 3pm.
Total generation: 32.53 kWh (not whole day)

Yesterday was a rainy and cloudy morning, and the power generation on average kept up with house load usage. We woke up with the batteries at about 50% charged and the system managed to gain around 10% of battery charge at 3pm. After 3pm, the sun started to come out and the batteries charged rapidly. It easily reached 87% state of charge, and I had to shut the solar generation down at around 5pm, otherwise the energy would have no place to go, which leads to another major dilemma for off grid operation.

During on grid operation, the grid can regulate and absorb the excess energy generated by our solar panels. This is a huge convenience, which until we have the net meter, we really cannot take advantage of.

During off grid operation, we must use all the energy generated. Our supply must match demand and vice versa. This is where the batteries come in. They help to buffer or store the excess, and supplement any shortages. However, when the batteries are full and our usage cannot keep up with the generation, then the best option is to shutdown the solar, and shift our energy consumption to the batteries. Using the batteries will create more “empty” capacity, which we can later use to store more sun energy. I assumed, incorrectly, that this power regulation will be handled by the Schneider inverters. This is not the case, at least not fully. I am not going to go into details of Frequency Shift Power Control and other inverter deficiencies here, but suffice it to say that they are really not that smart. We will have to investigate on a more flexible power regulation mechanism for off grid operations in the future.

In the meantime, I have developed something myself that will monitor battery usage and solar power generation, so that I can determine when to turn on the solar and when to turn it off. Note that this is only for off grid operations. Once we have the net-meter, we can go back to on grid operations, and the convenience of the grid can act as the main regulator of power.

However, this is excellent experience as it teaches us some of the off grid challenges. There is no substitute for living through the experiences.

We hope the net-meter will arrive soon. Until then, we will challenge ourselves to see how many days we can stay off grid! You can already see our progress on the 23rd and the 24th of this month from the above Alectra utilization chart.

Cheers! Until the next update.

Solar Panels on the Roof

On March 31st, I saw the following picture from my garage security camera:

The Panels Have Arrived!

It took several days to install the 56 335W panels from Canadian Solar. We just finished the installation yesterday and we are now awaiting for ESA inspection and commissioning the system.

The weather was borderline cooperative, being wet and fairly high wind situations (gusting near 50 to 100 km/h at times). However the installers from New Dawn Energy Solutions soldiered on and completed the installation yesterday.

Instead of me blabbing about how the install went, here is a short video on the near daily progress.

Near Daily Progress of Installation

The system is now ready to generate power as soon as ESA inspection is completed and our power meter is changed for net metering. Hopefully this will happen in the next week or so.

Residential Backup Battery Installed

In an earlier posting, I outlined how we initiated our solar panel project. Although the current weather condition prevents us from installing the solar panels at this point, we can install all of our required inverters and backup batteries.

On February the 22nd, we connected our Schneider Hybrid inverters to the grid, and on the 23rd, we connected the Pylontech LiFePO4 (LFP) batteries.

We configured the inverters so that the batteries will be discharged during the peak hours and charged during off-peak hours, effectively performing consumption time-shifting so that we can take advantage of the lower rates:

From Alectra Utilities

As you can see the savings are quite significant, more than 50%.

On February the 24th, was our first full day of usage when we tested our time-shifting configuration, and we found that it worked quite well. The battery capacity was enough to cover all of our on-peak hours usage save for the last remaining on-peak hour period.

Notice that we have more green in the off-peak hours because we are storing that capacity in the form of battery storage. I will play around with the configuration some more to see if I can shift the uncovered, on-peak hour to the mid-peak period, so that I have enough battery capacity left to cover all the on-peak periods.

I want to give a big shout out to New Dawn Energy Solutions. They have been very professional and really know their stuff. Any one thinking of installing a solar and/or a battery backup solution within the Greater Toronto Area, should seriously consider them. I highly recommend them and hope to do more business with them in the future.

Stay tune, and I will continue my progress here on the blog.

Gold Bars

This year on January the 31st, I purchased a gold bar from TD Canada Trust. It is one ounce for $2,414.67. The idea is from my wife. She wanted to establish a new trend as her annual birthday gift.

one ounce bar

As the kids are grown up and our RESP savings are being maxed out. the redirection of funds to accumulating gold may not be a bad idea. The world has become a more unpredictable place, the pandemic, and growing geopolitical issues.

This morning I was curious and check the price for the same one ounce of gold and it is sitting at $2,540.03. Already up in about three weeks.

We will continue to monitor to see if this is indeed a good long term investment.

3D Printer to the Rescue!

Traveling Pill Container

It has been a long time since I printed something with my 3D printer. The last project was to print out a traveling pill box, which I ended up using when I went to Montreal during the last Thanksgiving holidays.

This morning my wife approached me with a request to create a part for the Silver Reed LK150 Knitting Machine. This part had custom dimensions, which I had to design with Autodesk Fusion 360.

Silver Reed LK150 Knitting Machine

It has also been a very long time since I designed something with Fusion 360, but kudos to the people at Autodesk to continue to allow people such as myself to use Fusion 360 for free as long as it is for personal use.

As always with these 3D project, it is very much measure three times, and draw once. I have to re-acclimate myself with how to use Fusion 360, but after about fifteen minutes, I was back at it, drawing lines, and creating polygons. The final outcome is shown below.

3D Printed Result

As you can see, I did a pretty good job!

Year-End Smart Home Improvements

This year like last year is another quiet holiday period. The persistence of the Covid-19 virus and its many variants, especially Delta and Omicron, has made holiday travel near impossible and unpredictable.

Other than getting our Pfizer vaccine booster on Christmas Eve, there is not much to do then to treat myself to another smart home improvement project. The smart switches have really come down in prices. With my previous experience on the Homebridge server, it is now possible to acquire non-HomeKit compliant switches on the cheap and installed them with Homebridge so that I can still get Siri and Home App access.

This is exactly what I did on Boxing Day. I ended up purchasing the following switches and smart lock from Amazon:

I used some extra TD Travel reward points that I am not going to use anytime soon on the smart lock.

The two HS220 dimmers are used for the pot lights in my basement. The simple HS200 switch is hooked up to my chandelier. The TopGreener 3 way dimmer will be used for my basement landing light underneath the stairs, and finally the smart lock will be used in the door between the laundry room and the garage. I already have the same August lock for the front door. With the above additions, all the light switches are now automated in the shared living areas of the house.

All of the above devices are on its separate Wi-Fi and are bandwidth limited as well as isolated from the our internal LAN.

I am looking forward to reconfigure my HomeKit Automations with the above capabilities.

Update: I had to return the TOPGREENER. My basement landing light wiring had both switches at the end of the load, so I don’t have a close loop access to constant power, while the load / light is off. In effect, I thought I had access to a neutral wire, but it was just a piece of white wire connecting the hot lead. This just took 2.5 hours for me to figure it out.

My Basement Light Wiring