In the face of an economic downturn in Alberta, home building company Jayman BUILT and solar company SkyFire Energy took a significant risk. As many home builders removed energy efficiencies to cut costs, Jayman BUILT became the first company in Alberta to include solar modules as standard features – at no additional cost to the buyer – on all 750 of its new build, single-family homes.
Just a few months into 2019, this risk is already paying off. Jayman BUILT reports that since launching the project in January, sales are 20 to 30 per cent higher than expected, buyers are “thrilled”, and together with SkyFire Energy the companies are answering calls from across the country asking how they made the numbers work.
We spoke with Jayman BUILT President Dave Desormeaux and SkyFire Energy CEO David Kelly, to learn about the project, what the future of solar-equipped homes may look like in Canada, and how the upcoming Solar Canada Conference (May 8-9) will guide future innovations.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What market factors and trends created the right environment to make this project possible?
David Kelly: Equipment costs have fallen significantly. The Alberta government, through Energy Efficiency Alberta, has a solar rebate program. The combination of these two things made the economics work.
Dave Desormeaux: Also, the economy in Alberta is challenging. What do you do when your province enters a downturn? Some people might try to strip their houses and increase margins that way. We decided to differentiate ourselves through innovation.
What reaction have you received from potential homebuyers?
Dave Desormeaux: In previous years when solar was an optional add-on in our homes, we had very low uptake from buyers. Something else often took priority, such as granite countertops or kitchen appliances. Solar was considered a “nice to have.” When we decided to include standard solar panels on all our new builds, we weren’t sure how people would react. Now, homebuyers are thrilled it is part of the package. They feel they are making a socially-responsible decision with their home purchase.
What is the benefit to the home buyer?
Dave Desormeaux: Our homes have many energy efficient built-ins, with solar being the latest addition. These features make our homes 20 per cent more efficient than required by building codes and add up to about $840 per year in total energy savings. $200 of these savings are from solar.
We reworked our entire purchasing program so that even with energy efficient features, our houses sell at the same price or less than last year and at about the same price as our competitors.
From an environmental standpoint, the solar panels reduce emissions by 1.2 metric tons per year per house, making our homes particularly appealing to young and upcoming generations that want to do the right thing for the environment.
We also see these homes as a “beginner package.” If the homeowner wants to add more solar panels to increase their savings per year, they can contact our partners at SkyFire Energy and do so. Also, we’ve put the infrastructure in place so that when new technology comes out in 10 years, the homeowner can quickly add or replace panels with that new technology.
Dave Kelly: We install the solar panels as soon as we can so Jayman BUILT can take advantage of them during the construction of the home. After that, the application is transferred to the homeowner who starts to see credits appear on their bill. Owners can also log in to our phone app to see how much money they are saving and how much energy their roof is producing.
What needs to happen to make solar-equipped homes the norm in Canada?
David Kelly: The increasing price of energy will drive it without much interference. Today, the cost of energy from solar is cheaper than existing grid power.
Dave Desormeaux: It’s also going to take leadership from industry leaders and government working together to do things differently. We’re keeping a close eye on the election coming to Alberta this spring. It is already publicly stated that if a new government takes power, they may get rid of the rebates. We are canvassing heavily that they don’t do that. However, whether they get rid of the rebates or not, solar is not leaving our homes. We will do what we have to do to keep it.
What are you most looking forward to at Solar Canada?
David Kelly: I’m looking forward to seeing old colleagues and developing new business relationships. I’ll also be keeping an eye on the direction that the Alberta government is going in.
Dave Desormeaux: I’ll be watching out to see what is next for us in terms of innovation. What does 2020 look like? Will we add more solar panels to our homes? Will we tie energy efficiencies to home automation? We’re in talks with partners to start on a new project to build Canada’s greenest community. I’ll be looking at how we can do that.
Looking for more solar insights?
Provincial governments and consumers are focusing more on renewable energy in an effort to lower greenhouse gases and utilize more affordable sources of energy. This has created a tremendous opportunity for companies to expand their market presence in Canada. Solar Canada Conference & Exposition 2019 will provide an excellent platform to connect with industry professionals and enter this growing market. Join us on May 8-9, 2019 at the BMO Centre in Calgary, Alberta. Register today.
Meet Dave at Solar Canada on May 9 from 1:45 pm – 2:15 pm in the Expo Hall for the Learning Pod Session “Solar Electricity As Standard In All New Homes”.