solar heater

Let the Light Shine In: Toronto Rolls Out Solar Water Heater Program

Toronto's lawmakers are showing an increasing interest in pushing green initiatives. Though far too small and ineffective for some green activists, they are at least a start. As part of the city's green push, it recently launched a pilot program in the Toronto-Danforth ward - the Solar Neighbourhoods project.

The Solar Neighbourhoods project is supported by both the City of Toronto and Toronto Hydro, and it's designed to help residents in the ward purchase and install a solar water heater. In the process, help assessing a home's suitability for solar panels, assistance with installation and a kick in of about $1,000 of rebates will be provided.

A representative from the city says 84 homeowners have already paid for and completed the eco-energy audit and solar site assessment. He says the next step for these participants to select an approved contractor to install the system. He expects the first installs to be completed this spring.

This all sounds great - especially the fact that the city's $1,000 incentive comes on top a provincial and federal rebates equaling the same amount. But that $2,000 total still falls WELL short of the amount needed to install an efficient solar water heater. According to Solar Neighbourhood's website, a solar hot water system can cost anywhere between $3,500 and $8,500. While there are definitely better deals out there than the $3,500 quoted by the city, they're still far above what the homeowner would have to shell out.

Consider those costs in the face of the advertised savings of as little as $325 per year. Assuming the city's low-end $3,500 figure, it would take more than ten years and absolutely no maintenance costs for a homeowner to actually see the benefits of a solar hot water system.

Which begs the question: Is the city the serious about this initiative? If so, wouldn't it make more sense to highly subsidize the pilot program, so it would then have a larger sample size to analyze its effectiveness? In my opinion, the city would be better off buying the solar heaters for those interested in the project. If it's a success in producing lower energy bills and little hassle, then the program could be expanded to wards across the city.

As the program stands right now, it seems only those homeowners passionate about environmental and green causes are likely to sign on. Anyone who's slightly skeptical about green initiatives is likely to wait for the up-front costs to come down, or for the city or the provincial and federal governments to increase the value of rebates. In the face of all the recent power outages, there's every reason to believe an increasing number of homeowners would consider new power solutions. But I think the city needs to offer better bait if it wants them to bite.

Photo by RJL 20.

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