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Residential solar is one of the primary areas where the rubber meets the road between the worlds of electricity supply, climate change action, and direct participation from individuals. There are not many other sectors wherein a homeowner can take a direct action to offset greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously playing an active and ongoing role in the electricity sector. Residential solar should be a part of any renewable electricity strategy to ensure that individuals have the ability to participate in the transition to clean energy sources and a low carbon economy. Without this ability, the on the ground impacts of this transition can be too removed to really impact the average homeowner.

In many states and provinces, participating in this sector means net metering and offsetting electricity consumption from the grid (which often is a mix of supply sources including natural gas and coal) with self-generated solar electricity. At times when your solar system is generating more than your home consumes, that excess power is sold back to the local utility.

In Ontario, however, residential solar has largely been developed under the province’s microFIT Program. The microFIT Program is a standard offer program that provides a set rate for every kWh produced and sold to the grid, and this year, it was temporarily suspended for almost two months with the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) (the entity responsible for running the program) citing “application irregularities” as the rationale for the suspension. What this meant, at the end of the day, was that some solar companies were not following the established rules and process for developing residential solar projects. This event brought up a very important issue for the residential solar sector, namely, how to ensure consumers are being protected while participating in a marketplace that is often complex and technical. Often the responsibility for informing customers of the risks and opportunities associated of going solar and how to navigate complicated connection and contracting processes falls to solar companies themselves. It is a large responsibility and one that the residential solar sector needs to take very seriously.

In 2016, CanSIA initiated new consumer protection policies in order to help consumers and our members fulfill this responsibility. A new Solar Business Code of Conduct, a guide for consumers, and a complaint resolution process were all introduced to create a set of standards that will apply to all CanSIA members and to provide consumers with a clear path for addressing complaints against members. The code of conduct is a nationally applicable set of standards that will evolve over time to ensure it keeps pace with new business models and practices within the industry, offering a slate of industry best practices for any consumer that is considering installing solar.

During the two months that the microFIT Program was suspended Ontario saw little to no residential solar development (and this during two months of the summer that are often regarded as “sales season”). It was a relatively serious hit to the overall installation numbers that we will see for 2016 and as of now it is very uncertain whether the industry will reach the 50 MW procurement target for the year. That being said, the program is once again up and running and is now supported by CanSIA’s consumer protection policies. The job is by no means done, however, if you are a homeowner in Ontario you now once again have a stable program available to you and, if working with a CanSIA member, assurance that your solar professional will be held to a high standard of professionalism and conduct.