Solar energy could become a new crop to harvest for farmers, and a pilot program in Alberta is trying to determine the practicality of grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Alberta Agriculture is administering the Solar PV pilot grant program under the Growing Forward framework.  The purpose is to provide grant funding to farmer applicants to install qualifying solar PV systems on their farm.

“The program is trying to get a handle on the actual energy production (kWh) from various system setups.  We want to find out if the projected production is realistic and find out what farmers really are producing from their systems,” says program administer Kelly Lund, with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development in Edmonton.

Solar PV technology is a type of renewable energy production. Electricity production using solar PV technology helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and in some cases can help save on electricity costs, as well as providing a means to participate in certain green-marketing opportunities. Renewable energy can play a role in a farm’s overall energy management plan.

Changes to Alberta’s electrical regulations on Feb 1, 2008 allows micro-generation so Albertans can generate their own environmentally friendly electricity and receive credit for any power they send into the electrical grid.  In Alberta, micro-generation is defined as being the generation of electrical energy from a generating unit with a total nominal capacity of one megawatt (1 MW) or less, is connected to the distribution system, exclusively uses sources of renewable or alternative energy to generate electrical energy and the electrical energy output is intended to meet all or a portion of the customer’s electricity needs.

The Solar PV Equipment Pilot program provides some financial support to farmers installing grid-connected, minimum 2.2 kW size, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on their operation to produce electricity. Grants are available based on the rated power of the solar PV system using the cumulative total of the following formula:

Part of the research goal of the Solar PV Equipment Pilot program is to collect data on whether small-scale installed solar PV systems can provide the energy production performance that was predicted in the design stage, when it is installed with optimized specifications. Other important data that will be collected is the ongoing operation and maintenance costs of installed systems. This combined data will be developed into educational materials that can help other producers decide if solar PV technology is a good fit for their operation, with or without government incentives.

For the 2011/12 fiscal year approximately 15 projects were initiated.  The 2012/13 pilot program has room for up to 20 projects, depending on the size of each application.  The last round of applications filled up in 10 days, and Lund expects the new round of funding, opening April 2, 2012, to fill up quickly as well.

“The other part of the project is to assess the cost side of solar PV equipment.  We are trying to find out how competitive the market is and whether outside market forces are influencing prices in Alberta,” says Lund.  “From what we have seen to date, prices for equipment over the last year have gone down because of an oversupply in Ontario.”

According to Alberta Agriculture, an installed solar PV system in Alberta could cost anywhere from $5 per Watt to $9 per Watt for the complete installed grid-tied (no batteries) system. A 2200 W system could cost from $11,000 to $19,800 and the program grant would be $5500.

The payback would depend on the amount of electricity generated and typical electrical rates.  The output of a solar PV panel depends on whether the panel is optimized to collect the most energy possible.  This varies from the north to the south of the province due to latitude, and at the site due to tilt angle of the modules, whether there is a tracking system installed, and cloud cover and other temporary or periodic shading.

A government of Canada web resource shows typical kWh energy production per kW of installed solar capacity.

To enter the Alberta pilot, applicants must first apply for a site assessment using the Solar Assessment Application form. A site assessment will be scheduled for approved applicants when 12 months of recent electricity bills have been provided to the Program office. If the Solar Assessment site visit is successful, the applicant will receive a report that indicates they are eligible to apply to the Solar PV Equipment Pilot grant.

  • $2.50 per Watt from 2200 W to 3000 W;
  • PLUS $2.00 per Watt from 3001 W to 6000 W;
  • PLUS $1.50 per Watt from 6001 W and over, until the Program maximum of $19,500 has been reached.
  • The Program maximum corresponds to a solar PV system size of 10 kW.