Energy Update: Selling Solar Panels Door-to-Door

On Saturday afternoon after a long walk with my dog Maya I returned home to settle down to read a mystery novel when the doorbell rang. A young man with clipboard in hand stood on my front patio patiently waiting for me to open the door. Now normally I ignore unsolicited calls to my front door largely because the days of Fuller brush men and Avon ladies calling are past here in Toronto. Now we usually get people collecting for a local charity, Witnesses of Jehovah and Mormons evangelizing, or the latest scam, water heater inspectors who want to show you the rust in the bottom of your hot water tank and are prepared to sell or lease you a new one.

I don’t know what compelled me to open the door, but I did. The young man promptly introduced himself and told me he could put a solar array on my roof that would give me a $66,000 return over 20 years at no cost for purchase, installation or service. Having written about solar power on many occasions, of course, I was intrigued.

The program, called “No Cost Solar Program,” is offered by EFAN GREEN, a Canadian company that is prepared to finance residential home owners and provide an income stream to those owners for generating solar power to feed into the power grid. They can do this because the government of Ontario will pay solar producers up to 54.9 cents per kilowatt to feed into the electricity grid while charges for electricity usage by local utilities ends up costing those same home owners between 6.5 and 11.7 cents per kilowatt.

If you haven’t read about the Ontario Feed-in Tariff or FIT program, it was launched in 2009. The part of the program that governs homes is called microFIT. To be eligible the Ontario government has created an application process that goes like this:

microFIT APPLICATION PROCESS

60 days:

  1. Apply at the MicroFIT website
  2. Ontario Power Authority (OPA) reviews application for completeness and eligibility
  3. OPA provides reference number, project location, renewable fuel and project size to municipality

90 Days:

  1. Applicant requests and receives an offer to connect from their local power distribution company (LDC)

180 Days:

  1. OPA issues application approval notice to applicant
  2. Applicant checks for required approvals with local municipal office (e.g. building permit)
  3. Applicant constructs their project
  4. Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) inspects project and issues approval
    1. LDC connects project
    2. OPA issues contract to applicant
    3. Applicant accepts contract and begins receiving microFIT payments

So from doorbell ringing to getting a 5 to 10 kilowatt solar array on your roof here in Ontario, and one that purportedly will cost you nothing and deliver a 20-year revenue stream, takes an estimated 180 days if all steps go smoothly. I sure wish the process was less complex then it appears to be. And maybe it will get streamlined over time as more solar arrays appear on residential homes (there is still only one in my neighbourhood).

Is This Offer Real?

Now I’m a healthy skeptic about something that sounds too good to be true…..free energy, free money being two of those things. And I am also leery of a company that I have never heard of before the doorbell rang.

So I did some investigating. I went to the Ontario Power Authority website which provides a list of solar companies operating in Ontario and throughout Canada. I wanted to see if EFAN GREEN was on that list, did a directory search, and the company’s name didn’t come up.

So this led me to two possible conclusions:

  1. The offer is just like one of those door-to-door water heater sales pitches. Don’t buy the pitch without a lot of extra due diligence because this may be just another scam that will cost you a lot of money out of pocket.
  2. EFAN GREEN are so new that they have yet to become a member of the organization in Canada that represents 650 other solar energy companies across the country.

I decided to check the Better Business Bureau rating on the company. Sure enough EFAN GREEN is rated an A-. The reasons stated for the current rating, the company hasn’t been in business long enough to rate an A or A+.

No customer complaints. No billing or collection problems. No problems with product or service delivery.

Worth checking out if you plan to stay in your home for the next 20 years?

I think so!

But make sure:

  1. The tariff is locked in because as more solar comes on stream those feed-in rates will drop.
  2. There are no hidden consulting or service fees.
  3. You have read the fine print in the agreement and have talked to your local power provider before signing anything.

Also note that the cost of solar arrays continues to fall and one hopes that solar installers will pass new inventory savings on to customers.

And a final two notes:

  1. If you are interested in starting small you may want to check out buying ready-made solar panels if all you want to do is heat a pool or provide hot water for the shower. Kits can be purchased from local hardware suppliers but they are not designed to be hooked up to the power grid.
  2. For those of you who want to go it alone with an integrated home system that includes solar arrays, battery storage, and a complete computer environmental control system, check out my blog post of July 8, Home Energy Storage Technology Goes Commercial.

residential solar panels


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...

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