Climate Best Practice in Canada: Halifax Solar City

Climate Best Practice in Canada: Halifax Solar City

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Canada Country Manager Diane Szoller

Renewable energy resources are on the rise in Canada and are expected to continue growing in the future. The Halifax Solar City (HSC) program is the first of its kind in Canada. This project is a community renewable best practice which offers property owners access to solar energy options. It is financed through the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) to help recipients avoid large, upfront solar energy installation costs. Eligible applicants include residential property owners, non-profits, places of worship, co-operatives, and charities. The program is also known as a property assessed clean energy (PACE) program.

Financing is applied to the property, not the individual, similar to a standard Local Improvement Charge (LIC). Participation is 100% voluntary and the asset is ultimately owned by the property owner. An agreement is made with HRM and a voluntary LIC is placed on the property after the solar contractor is paid by HRM at the end of the project. LIC financing is then repaid separately from the annual property tax bill at a fixed interest rate of 4.75% over ten years with the option for the property owner to pay in full at any time without penalty. The program helps participants pay for the upgrade through their savings on their heating, cooling, and electricity costs.

HSC was initiated with solar thermal technology that heats water using the sun’s heat using (1) a solar collector mounted on the home roof, (2) a pump to circulate heat and transfer fluid, and (3) a heat exchanger to then transfer the heat to storage tank(s) to store heated water when there is no sun.

Citizens also have the option to install technologies without HSC financing. 83% of the installed solar capacity in Halifax was financed through HSC in the first year after a 4 year provincial rebate program launched through the utility Efficiency Nova Scotia, SolarHomes in late 2018. HSC refers participants to the province’s approved installer company listing. In 2016, five contractors participated in HSC; today, there are twenty-four.

HSC launched a pilot (2013-2015) of $3.3 million (approved in 2010) and 388 homeowner solar water heating systems installations over 2 years. Over 3,000 citizens expressed interest and 900 attended events. Not every home was appropriate; over 2,000 assessments were done. Those showed a return on investment of approximately 5% over 25 years with interest over 10 years bringing the return to 3.4%. All costs were covered by participants and have the potential to save over $5.5 million over 25 years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 16.1 kg of CO2e.

Additionally, over 2,365 homes had water conservation measures implemented free of charge during their solar assessment visit. These saved 320 million litres of water over 20 years and $120,000 annually in water and heating costs. Monitoring was available as an option and was installed in half the systems subsidized by HSC ($1200-$1,000 = $200, cost to property owners).

In 2015, HRM then launched the program offering three solar systems: solar hot water, solar photovoltaic (PV), and solar hot air. PV solar panels are affixed to rooftops using racking equipment or installed directly on the ground with a ground mount. The PV panels produce direct current power, fed through an inverter to create alternating current power, most commonly used in the home. The third option uses fans to draw in, circulate, and exhaust air. The goal was to do 450 installs of various technologies annually and continue on a cost neutral basis resulting in a reduction of GGEs of 840,000 kg of CO2e and accumulate to over 63 million kg of CO2e reductions based on a 25 year lifespan of the systems and the projected three year period.

1,420 agreements were executed between 2016-2019, totaling $10.3 million in HSC financing with an expected savings of $700,000 per year in utility costs and a reduction of 3,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The 38 solar hot water systems cost $337,231 and saved 96,264 (ekWh) of energy as well as 59.6 tonnes of CO2e. The 381 PV systems cost $9,956,800 and saved 4,183 (MWh) of energy as well as 2,992 tonnes of CO2e.

Even though startup costs are higher for the consumer, going solar is a money-saver in the long run. HSC solar PV systems cost average $20,000 with estimated savings of $57,000 over 25 years. Solar hot air systems average $4,000 with estimated savings of $6,000 over 15 years. Additionally, solar hot water systems average $9,000 with estimated savings of $20,000 over 25 years.

HSC is self-sustaining (user pay) and there is no financial burden passed on to general taxpayers besides installs the future holds opportunity for retrofits; this is feasible to adopt elsewhere. PACE is an innovative financing tool with building owners and developers as they can upgrade their building’s energy performance, install renewable energy systems, and reduce resource consumption with no money down and financing repaid through their property’s tax bill. It has been introduced in other provinces and has been in the USA since 2009; best approaches are readily available to other agencies/countries looking for efficiencies and data sharing. As well, net metering is found in several countries, indicating its popularity on a global scale. It allows property owners to export excess power to the grid and reduce billings. ACE could be the next step to make renewables more accessible in those countries with net metering.

For more information please email Diane Szoller at

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