Solar panels aren’t just for calculators anymore.

For Ottawa residents, the time has never been better to install a series of solar panels on their homes and reap many of the benefits offered by various government branches.

Installing solar panels is one of many possible home renovations projects that qualify under the federal government’s new Home Renovation Tax Credit in addition to other programs and incentives.

“The Solar H2Ottawa program is fantastic and few people know about it,” said Peter Glover, director of sales and marketing for Ottawa Solar Power, a business that sells solar heating and electricity.

“It’s an extra $1,200 rebate that people in Ottawa are eligible for and nobody else in Canada is. There are a bunch of initiatives going on across Canada, but this is the only one that gives money back to the home owner,” said Glover.

The initiative is only available to 250 Ottawa systems, only 50 of which have been given out to date.

Beyond doing some good for the environment, installing solar panels onto a house can actually be a very profitable investment, despite the initial cost of $10,000 per kilowatt, which powers 100 square feet on average. The panels last longer — 30 years —, with a slight degradation rate of eight to 10 per cent after 20 years.

“With the feed-in-tariff in effect, we plan to sell mostly to on-grid homes,” said Glover.

“The tariff gives a 20-year contract at a set price with the province, which pays 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour. Currently, most people pay about 12 cents a kilowatt hour,” said Glover. “With this program, which is the same risk level as a GIC, you’re looking at a 10 to 12 per cent annual payback.”

The downside is that despite being able to get 100 per cent of a home’s power in the sunny July and August months, usable electricity drops to 20 per cent in darker December, before rising to 45 per cent by February. Solar panels are not quite a complete calendar year solution to energy needs.

In addition to all the financial incentives, there is also the simple satisfaction of knowing you are doing your part to protect the environment.

“They have an immediate effect on air pollutions and greenhouses gas emissions,” said Glover.

About the HRTC

• The Home Renovation Tax Credit of up to $1,350 applies to alterations “of an enduring nature and integral to the dwelling,” meaning anything that is nailed down or wouldn’t get transported away.

• The HRTC eligible expenditures of more than $1,000.

• For more, log on to cra-arc.gc.ca/gncy/bdgt/2009/fqhmrnvtn-eng.html.