Comox Valley Based Company Powering Up With Electrical Options
COMOX VALLEY – When Jason Jackson made a trip to Calvert Island to see if he could help a luxury fishing lodge electrically independent in 2010, little did he know it was the start of a dynamic new company.
Fast forward to today, as his Hakai Energy Solutions is powering forward with 25 employees, installing cutting edge solar systems throughout the province from their head office in Cumberland, and now, a new office in Nanaimo.
Accelerating that growth – which has been 25 per cent per year – is the federal government’s recent announcement of the Canada Cleaner Homes Grant, which offers up to $5,000 per household for efficiency upgrades, including solar. It’s the first time that solar has been included in the funding option.
“Our perspective on renewable energy is that we’re building a system that will be with our clients for decades,” he states. “We want that system to last well over 30 years, so we build that with this in mind.”
Jackson explains that BC Hydro takes excess power created by solar systems into their grid, which accumulates as credits against the homeowners’ power bill on a one-for-one Kilo-watt hour basis.
“A net zero home is one that produces as much energy as it consumes and is up to 80% more energy efficient than a home built to conventional standards,” he explains. “Today, some of our customers exporting energy and generating more than they consume annually.”
Solar energy systems typically range between $15,000 to $30,000 per home, depending on the amount of available roof space and the customer’s budget and consumption. Jackson adds that users are often surprised that cooler, overcast days can produce as much energy as sun-filled days, since solar systems use light as opposed to direct heat to generate power.
Solar installations are not only attractive to homeowners, but home buyers. Multi-family developments are increasingly looking at solar options.
“Typically, customers might have been more politically or ecologically motivated,” he observes. “But now, spec home builders are finding a lot of success in their sales by putting solar systems on their homes, and research is showing that with solar, homes sell faster.”
For example, Coastal Custom Homes has installed solar systems on every one of their single family houses.
“The homes sell faster because they are unique and they cost less to live in, particularly for retirees,” he notes. “A home with a lowered or eliminated electrical bills are attractive for people on fixed incomes. They know they’ll be able to sell their home, potentially, faster, in the used home market because they’re unique.”
Jackson adds that commercial and multi-family customer demand is increasing. Edgett Excavating’s new office currently under construction near Slegg Lumber in the Comox Valley has a full rooftop of solar panels in its plans. Oak Tree Manor, a retirement home in Nanaimo, has maximum, full-rooftop solar coverage, a decision he says was made largely due to the increased quality to the investment itself. Hakai recently completed a 120-unit multi-family development in Kelowna where each suite has its own roof-based solar unit.
The industry started slowly but increased technology, research and development has caused it to accelerate. It seems a lifetime alone when Jackson received the initial request from luxury fishing lodge Hakai Beach Lodge.
“It was purchased by an individual who wanted to convert it into a coastal ecological observatory,” he recalls, adding the facility consumed 500 litres of diesel per day on average. Other remote sites he had worked on were consuming in access of 1000 liters per day.
“Our entrance in the industry hit two years before the product was commercially available,” he states. “We were like a test kitchen for a new suite of products that we built into the largest off-grid solar powered site in Canada, and we converted it into the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island.
“Our sole project was on that island, and we were quickly recognized for having built a very robust and capable system that was scalable, and we went from there.”
Much has changed along the way, including BC Hydro’s significant price increases from 2012-2014, which made people look for electrical alternatives.
“I remember the announcement that proposed a 32 percent price increase over 3 year, and that kind of kicked off grid-connected solar in B.C.,” he recalls. “The announcement was on a weekend, and I had phone calls lined up when I arrived at the office on Monday morning. The next BC Hydro rate plan hiked rates 28 percent over 5 years, and during that period solar prices tumbled substantially.
“Every time BC Hydro increases their user rates, the investment aspect of solar improves, and benefits everybody that decides who choose to invest in solar,” he states. “Our solar energy systems provide 30 years of energy, and the rate of return improves every year.”