FREDERICTON – A Fredericton electrician was tired of paying recurring electricity bills, so he started a solar panel company that allows him and his customers to generate electricity and be independent of an electrical utility.
Mark McCann is the co-founder and owner-operator of MJM Solar Solutions, a company that installs renewable energy systems, such as solar panels, for both grid-tied systems that are connected to NB Power and off-grid systems that are not connected to any sort of utility.
“We thought if we could pay the utility bills once and be done with it, it’ll be a lot better than having these reoccurring charges. I don’t like rent; I like to own my thing,” said McCann.
The panel, which is installed on the roof, is a photovoltaic (PV) system and is connected to the utility. That means that all the energy that is generated on the roof is consumed by the house. If there’s any left, it goes back onto the local grid – NB Power – where it’s stored through a metre.
“You’re able to actually use that energy at a later day, not just that day or that month, but it could be [that] you stored energy in the spring, summer, and fall, and you use it in the winter time,” he said.
McCann says the company sizes the system so that it can overproduce throughout the summer months in the high reduction times and build credits that could be used later during wintertime.
The amount of energy the panel collects depends on various factors, such as the angle of the panel – which generally follows the pitch of the roof – and what direction it’s facing.
McCann says he first started the business around 2010 to research solar. Then he tested his research on his house for two years. Afterwards, he installed another system on a family member’s house, and kept moving on from there.
“With that, we were exactly able to see what each panel would do at different angles,” he said.
Now, McCann’s home goes five months with no electricity usage, from May to September. McCann is grid-tied, meaning that he still has a hook-up fee with NB Power.
“Once we get into September, our bills are still reduced lower than what they typically would be, but we’re starting to use our credits,” he said.
McCann says his two-kilowatt system covers 25 per cent of the annual utilities costs. If he wanted to be off-grid and run on the electricity produced by the solar panel all year long, he would use an eight-kilowatt system.
He says a system for an average New Brunswick home is about ten kilowatts and takes three days to install.
“We’ve been doing it a while, so we’re getting pretty good at it,” he said.
The company offers services in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It is one of six companies that is an approved installer under the Efficiency Nova Scotia Trade Network, which connects home and business owners with professionals in energy efficiency improvements.
One of the network requirements is to take a Photovoltaic Solar Training course, which McCann teaches across Canada.
He started working on his company part-time while teaching the course for the NB Power Powerline Technician Program at the New Brunswick Community College.
He worked at NB Power in transmission and distribution as an electrician and a power-light technician, and switched over into training during the last four years he worked there.
He had been working at NB Power for twelve years when he decided to go full-time with his own company. The occupational hazards of his job at NB Power had made him start to think about other energy-producing alternatives.
“You keep looking at the big picture and you start thinking ‘wow, if somebody had a back-up, if people looked at putting in a generator’…the financials looked good, the security of being in your home is also quite nice, when you do lose power for longs periods of time…you’re getting a power out of source,” he said.
Most of his clients live in rural and suburban areas, as it is difficult for the solar panels to produce energy in the city because of shadings from buildings, chimneys, and trees.
“It doesn’t become an ideal situation to put PV on a house that only gets sun for three and a half hours in the summer,” he said.
Now, MJM Solutions has five team members who work in administration and system installment. His wife helps him with the company too.
One of McCann’s customers, Drew Gilbert, has been living off-grid since last November. The Taymouth, NB, resident decided to take the step because of environmental reasons.
It took him a year to transition into an off-grid lifestyle. He says he believes most people don’t get solar panel systems installed because it is expensive. Gilbert’s 30-panel system cost $40,000.
“Pretty much everybody I talk to, the first question is ‘oh, how long is that going to take you to pay back?’ They never ask ‘hey, how does it feel to be self-sufficient?’ It’s always about the money,” he said.
He says he doesn’t worry about the power going out or the prices going up anymore.
“We would lose power ten times a year, sometimes for days, sometimes over a week, that’s pretty terrible, to live in the country and not have water, food, or anywhere to cook. We’ve got everything now set up so…we are pretty self-sufficient. With all that comes peace of mind,” he said.
“Now I feel like a plant, I look for solar days, and I think ‘oh, okay, my house is going to charge up today.’”