Timing is everything for Ray Dawson. The driven 69-year-old serial entrepreneur recently rebuffed a comfortable retirement for the pleasures of clanking up rooftops in Sault Ste. Marie to install solar panels.
The idea is to help homeowners generate their own electricity to be able to sell it back to the grid.
Back in 1975, Dawson had pitched the very same idea to the local power company and was politely shown the door. “They patiently listened to my plan but basically the response was ‘no deal’,” he recalled.
Thirty five years later, customers are not actually banging at his door but Dawson’s Algoma District Solar Energies Inc., set up only early this year, has made three sales already and generating more interest. If all goes well, Dawson is looking at a very busy summer.
“Back in 1975 the need to conserve energy was not that great and the technology to allow homeowners to transfer power back to the grid had not been fully developed,” he explained of his earlier hardship gaining adherents.
But rather than give up completely, Dawson just bided his time. Besides, he had other things to do because Dawson is the kind of person who’s always working.
He worked with his father, a carpenter, throughout his youth, before going on to university for a degree in psychology. At 35, he had his own nine-person business that ran a government funded group home that helped young offenders reintegrate into society. When government funding ran out, Dawson just went back to his home renovation business which he operated for about 20 years.
He knew the market was ripe for another go when the Ontario Energy Act rolled out the micro-Feed in Tariff program last year.
The program allows homeowners, farmers, small business owners, schools and religious institutions to develop a small (10 kW or less capacity) renewable electricity power generation project and get paid at favourable rates for the next 20 years. Among the technologies considered are solar photovoltaic cells, water power, wind, biomas, bio gas and landfill gas.
Typically, solar power systems employ an inverter that send the home-generated electricity to the main circuit breaker panel in the house. From there the power can either be used to run household appliances or, if there is excess power, it is sent back to the utility grid. Through agreements with local power companies, sending back power to the grid will spill the homeowner’s electrical meter backwards – effectively selling back power to the utility.
While researching how he could reduce his own home energy consumption and carbon footprint, Dawson found out about the Enphase Energy System and was impressed by it that he decided to become a distributor and installer of the company’s product.
Dawson said Enphase’s new AC system is safer and more stabled than earlier systems. Its solar panels operate independently so that even if one panel malfunctions the rest are not affected. The earlier systems tended to be more expensive because they required heavier wires.
Dawson said a typical system generates two kilowatts. Three kilowatts generally served the electrical needs of a three small homes.
The intrepid entrepreneur remortgaged his home to buy his own system. The system cost him $55,000 for parts and installation. However, Dawson now earns about $800 a month selling his solar electricity back to the grid at a rate of more around 82 cents per kilowatt hour.
Dawson puts about $300 of that $800 into his new mortgage and pockets the remaining $500. He expects full payback in five years.