Operational since early 2010, the huge 800-panel solar rooftop system costs $1.85 million to build. The third part of this case study focuses on financial details. We look at the startup costs, operating costs, income from the high profile Ontario Feed-In Tariff program, and most importantly, the projected payback period.

Owned by LoyaltyOne and located in Mississauga, just outside Toronto, this is the first system that feeds electricity into the provincial power grid to earn income through the Feed-In Tariff program. Let us get into the financial details.

First, let us look at the costs. They consist of the initial startup costs and the ongoing operating costs. For solar rooftop systems, a large portion of the costs are startup costs.

For this system, the startup costs total approximately $1.85 million. These include feasibility studies, design and installation, all equipment, commissioning and testing, local distribution company connection, Ontario Feed-In Tariff application, etc. (For details on the solar panels and electrical inverters, see Part One and Part Two of this case study.)

Similar to most solar systems, the ongoing operating costs are comparatively small. The $3,000 to $5,000 per year operating costs include keeping the solar panels clean and free from snow, routine inspection, and responding to unusual meter signals.

Now let us look at the income from feeding the electricity output into the provincial power grid. The nameplate capacity of this system is 165 kW. This fits into the second tier of the provincial Feed-In Tariff Program price schedule. This means the Ontario Power Authority will pay LoyaltyOne $0.713 for each kWh of electricity fed into the grid.

How much electricity does the system generate? The system consists of a rooftop panel array and a carport panel array. I will simply combine the two for this calculation, but the area split between the two arrays is approximately 90% rooftop and 10% carport. Energy outputs were estimated based on historical climate data. Actual outputs depend on amount of sunlight and other factors. (See Part One and Part Two of this case study for more details).

Combined solar array area: 1,003 m² (or 10,794 ft²)
Energy output per area per day: 0.493 kWh/m²/day (or 0.0458 kWh/ft²/day)
Energy output per day: 1,003 x 0.493 = 495 kWh/day
Energy output per year: 495 x 365 = 180,611 kWh/year
Income from Feed-In Tariff per year: 180,611 x 0.713 = $128,776 per year

The payback period can then be calculated from these figures:

Costs (initial startup): $1.85 million
Costs (ongoing operation): $3,000 to $5,000 per year
Income: $128,776 per year

A simple calculation would work out the payback period to be approximately 15 years. In practice, other factors that affect the payback period are tax treatment such as accelerated depreciation, inflation, interests, etc. I was told that after these factors are taken into account, the payback period is closer to 10 years.

There you have it. How does your solar project compare? Drop me a line in the comment area below. The main contractor for the LoyaltyOne system is RESCo Energy. Kevin Monsour, Vice President of Partner Development at RESCo Energy told me the system costs of $1.85 million is higher than others mainly because the building was a new construction without the solar system in mind. This resulted in much structural upgrade.

The system has been operating now for less than a year. It is still too early to tell how the actual performance compares to the estimation. But so far, the electricity yield is quite good and it is performing above projection. If this continues, the payback time could come sooner. After the payback, the system should continue to deliver substantial financial benefits with minimal maintenance. And let’s not forget, there are also substantial benefits to the environment, corporate image, and employee engagement … and these start on day one. Stay tuned for the final part of this case study focusing on the Feed-In Tariff application.

Photos courtesy of RESCo Energy.