Solar on a Strata?

Bruce Mackenzie

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Note: I wrote this page when we were just planning our PV system in the fall of 2014. See the next chapters of this story in my January 29 UpdateOur Vote,  Engineering ApprovalInstallationJoin Us? (lots of technical info on that one), Three Months In2015 Summary, Spring Cleaning, Routine NowOver Three Years, and Still Producing in 2023.

We’re working towards installing solar panels on our roof.

I’m president of the strata council for an apartment-style building in downtown Victoria – ‘Central Park’ – 909 Pembroke at Quadra. It’s a 4-storey wood framed 1977 building, 64 suites, with a perfectly flat roof which has no sun blockage at all.  I’ve attached an air photo of the site. The main electrical room and boiler is at the top left corner of the parking lot at the corner of the two ‘wings’.


Each suite has its own electric baseboard heating on its own meter, but our common area electricity costs was $5,000 in 2014 for indoor and outdoor lights, the elevator, make-up air fans, laundry machines, and some hallway heating.

We have done the obvious lighting upgrades, taking part in the BC Hydro Product Incentive Program in 2009. There may be some more efficiency opportunities, such as LED lights or motion sensors in the hallways.

BC Hydro has announced price increases of about 17% over the next four years, after a rise of 9% in 2014.

Natural Gas

We have a 2006 central natural gas boiler supplying all hot water, and gas heated clothes dryers in our laundry room. Our natural gas bill is about $17K/year.
I’m expecting our gas cost to drop. Vancouver Island currently has a higher price than the rest of BC, but the BC Utilities Commission has approved a single rate across BC, to be implemented over the next few years, which will drop our rate by about 1/4 in relation to the rest of BC. In BC we pay market price for natural gas, so future prices are not nearly as predictable as electrical rates, but are expected to stay low in North America until the export of Liquefied Natural Gas begins – if that ever happens.

Solar Power

I’ve been an energy geek for years and a BCSEA member since 2004, so in 2011 I got a quote for solar hot water on our roof from Rob Barry at Island Energy. The cost was just over $70,000 (+taxes) for 20 flat panel collectors, tanks and pumps to run it all. I asked for a show of hands at our 2011 Annual General Meeting, and there was good support to pursue it more. At that time PV was too expensive.

PV Pricing and Output

As I learned in our April 2014 BCSEA Webinar on the future of solar PV in BC, PhotoVoltaic panel prices have been falling, so now they are economic in most of BC. Also, Dave Egles of HES-PV mentioned his ‘1100’ rule – in our part of BC, on average, a PV panel will generate 1,100 times its capacity in power each year – e.g. a 1 Kw panel will generate 1,100 kwh of electricity. This makes it really easy to calculate their energy output. I am using $3.00 / watt + GST as a complete installation cost for a 10 KW system, and a bit less for a 20 KW system.

I plan to keep the system small enough that it doesn’t generate more electricity than we use in a year, because the ‘net metered’ refund is higher than the price on extra power sold to BC Hydro.

Solar Hot Water Subsidy

The SolarCRD program has a subsidy of 25% of the cost of installing solar hot water on a few multi-family buildings in the Capital region, but the system must be operational by March 31, 2015. With the low prices we have for natural gas, it’s still hard to make an economic case for SHW.


I have done some analysis of the energy generation potential of both PV and Solar Hot Water on our building, and prepared a document (attached to this blog post) to explain the options, costs, and benefits for our owners. The spreadsheets (attached also) show most of the calculations, with a table near the end showing capital cost and financial paybacks of three options. Because our owners are not wealthy people, I set a cap of about $1,000 per unit (about $64K total) capital cost on whatever system we install. My calculations show a payback (ROI) of about 5% for the PV in the first year.

On December 8, we had an Open House to discuss it (see poster attached). Representatives of nine of our suites showed up, and all were supportive. Their concerns were mainly cost, reliability, and maintenance. Their enthusiasm was for making ours a ‘greener’ building, and looking for some payback. Their preference was to pay it off monthly – maybe $30/month/unit over three years – rather than a special assessment to pay the capital cost all at once.

Part of my pitch was that we can do this much more easily than an individual homeowner. I have heard the cost for solar on a single family home is around $7,000, but our owners can do it collectively for under $1,000 each.

Solar Ambient

Late in the process, Scott Graham of Renew Energy has proposed a very different SHW system he calls ‘solar ambient’. It uses very inexpensive flat mats laid directly on the roof, a very large ‘warm water’ tank, and heat pumps to warm the domestic hot water. It looks very interesting with good paybacks, but hasn’t been used in BC on a residential building. I’m not sure what to do with that one.

Next Steps

It’s a very biased sample, but I will take the list of nine to our Strata Council to ask to proceed to get firmer quotes and prepare a proposal and budget for our Annual General Meeting in February 2015. I consider it a bit of a long shot just because it hasn’t been done before on Vancouver Island as far as I know, but it doesn’t seem any more risky than rebuilding the elevator, installing new windows, or any other type of work we routinely do on condominium buildings.

Update: Our December Strata Council meeting endorsed the work so far, with all three of us voting ‘yes’ to continue. The other councillors really liked the idea of being the first on Vancouver Island. Now I’m looking for firm quotes for the PV installation, which will have to be voted at our next Annual General Meeting in February 25, 2015.

Discuss it ?

If you’re interested about what we’re doing, or have advice, please contact me at or comment on this page below. I would be very happy to hear corrections, opinions, or share the calculations.I have probably spent 50 volunteer hours preparing all of this so far, and it’s maybe half-way there..

Next in the series: January 29 Update

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