Energy: Your guide to electricity & gas in Canada

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We’ve answered some of your most pressing questions when it comes to electricity, gas and solar so you know what price and structure will suit your needs. Firstly, it’s always useful to have a recent bill from your current provider when comparing energy providers.
Electricity prices vary greatly across Canada, with some of the lowest prices in the province of Quebec and some of the highest prices in Saskatchewan. Energy prices change constantly, depending on fluctuations in the marketplace, so it is worth staying in the loop regarding any changes in your province or territory.

Moving houses and not sure what to do?

If you’re moving house, you will need to let your energy provider know. When moving to a new location, you have the choice of either switching from, or keeping, your current provider provided that they supply energy to the new area you are moving to.

Typically it takes around three business days to get you connected, however it can take up to five days or longer sometimes, so it’s best not to leave this to the last minute, otherwise you may be leaving your family in the dark!

How do I compare providers?

When looking to switch electricity and gas providers, it’s best to have your new (or future) address close by as this will determine which providers are able to service you, and which deals they can offer. Different providers will offer different rates and promotions, so compare your options and consider a range of factors, including both long and short-term pricing.

Are electricity prices regulated in Canada?

Prices are deregulated in Canada, and have been since the late 1980’s. Prices vary substantially between provinces and territories. Some provinces offer regulated and competitive pricing rates, meaning you have the right to choose between the two.

Some of the main players in the marketplace are actually provincially owned, like BC Hydro, SaskPower, Manitoba Hydro, etc. The provinces that have provincially owned energy distributors use their ownership interests to advance provincial energy objectives. These marketplaces also have smaller companies competing against them, however the competitive sectors are much smaller than provinces who do not have provincially owned energy corporations.

Since the marketplace is not regulated, consumers shape the electricity and gas marketplaces. Providers work toward creating competitive deals, promotions and packages in order to attract and keep consumers happy.

What are some things to consider when choosing a provider?

There are many aspects to consider when deciding on an energy provider: whether the provider retails in your province or territory, bundle deals (if you are purchasing electricity and gas), discounts for off-peak usage, exit fees and whether concessions are considered. Retailers/providers can offer a variety of deals to suit your household, so having a good idea of your household’s energy needs beforehand can help the process along. For instance, could you shift your energy usage to off-peak hours, which are typically between 11pm until 7am?

Which type of electricity package do I want?

You should consider if you are looking for electric power or solar power. Some companies will install solar panels at your home and then provide you with a meter so that you can track your usage for tax purposes, while others will install a meter and provide you with regular electricity.

Do I need my bill to get a comparison of quotes?

Yes, having your last electricity/gas bill is very helpful when getting quotes from providers. At the very least, it would be helpful if you could suggest an estimate of your bill and payment period.

Are there any establishment fees for starting up a contract with a new company?

It depends. For both gas and electricity, fees will apply if you don’t already have a meter or connection to the gas mains. In this case, it might be quite expensive to get the necessary infrastructure and connection. If you are switching to a new company from a pre-existing relationship with another before your contract is up, there may be associated exit-fees. Contact your current energy provider to learn more about any additional fees.

Are there any fees for switching electricity or gas companies?

Sometimes. There are often fees for switching between companies. Some deals within the same company can have associated exit fees while others will not. To find out whether your provider has exit fees, you can call them or check out the details of your electricity package online.

How much can I save on energy, realistically?

There is a lot of variability in energy usage, and households can indeed save large amounts from optimizing their energy plans. Obviously, the larger a household’s energy usage, the larger the potential savings, so this depends on your current usage. It is well worth comparing providers and your own unique energy situation in order to determine the package that is best for your needs.

If I have solar panels, does this limit my options with energy retailers?

Sometimes, yes. Electricity retailers can offer specialized plans for residents with their own solar power. When selecting a plan, you will have to notify your retailer of your current solar system setup.

Solar hot water

What are solar hot water systems and what’s the difference between “flat-plate” and “evacuated tube” designs?

Solar hot water systems catch energy from the sun, store that energy in water and store that water for later uses around the home, for hot showers and dishwashers for example. These systems take the pressure off of traditional gas or electricity-powered hot water systems like boilers.

  • Flat-plate systems consist of a flat glass plate covering copper pipes. These pipes hold water which is heated by the sun, and then transported to a storage vessel.
  • Evacuated tubes are just that, evacuated tubes with a vacuum component for insulation. As with flat-plates, the sun heats up the copper pipes, but thanks to the 360° nature of the tubes, the tubes catch more sun than the flat-plate panels do. Evacuated tubes are generally more expensive, but are newer, more efficient, durable and easily fixed.

Solar panel systems

Which components actually compose a solar panel system?

You’ll need the solar panels themselves, an inverter for converting the energy, potentially a battery to store the energy, and if on the ground, a mount to bear the equipment.

What type of solar mounting systems are there?

Solar panels can be installed onto roofs, in which case the roof may need to be first reinforced in order to hold the weight. Alternatively, panels can be mounted on racks on the ground. This is normally the alternative for larger set-ups. More sophisticated systems can be multi-functional, doubling as an awning or sunlight, absorbing sunlight and offering shade.

What should I know about batteries for solar?

A lot. When selecting a battery there are variety of factors to consider: how quickly the battery loses its capacity, how many charges it can take before it loses capacity, how much return you get on energy as a proportion of how much you put in. Also, it is normally a good idea to have enough storage to cover you for between 3 and 4 days.

Can the UltraBattery® be used as a solar backup?

Yes, the UltraBattery® can be used as a solar backup. For more information, visit the official UltraBattery® website.

What do inverters do?

Inverters convert the DC (direct current) energy made by the solar panels into AC (alternating current) energy that can be used by the household.

Which inverters should I purchase for my solar system?

ABB, Delta Energy Systems, Enphase and SMA inverters.

What are solar micro-inverters?

Micro-inverters invert the output of each solar panel individually. Each of these outputs can then be combined. This alternative can sometimes be superior to the typical inverter system which inverts the cumulative output of all solar panels, a process that might be limited by a poor performing panel. This setup is ideal if some panels are partially shaded throughout the day.

What are solar scams?

Yes, believe it or not, “green schemes” or “solar scams” are legitimate. Some scams include offering rebates for solar systems after an initial upfront payment.

Some of the scammers perform the charade of being solar system salespeople before rushing on an impromptu deal, catching the victim off guard.

You can work to avoid any scams by asking questions and gathering as many details about the “company” as you can.

What is the difference between AC and DC and how does this apply to appliances and solar?

AC — alternating current — is the type of current that arrives into your home or business via the power lines. This current periodically changes (or alternates) its direction of flow. AC is able to travel through the grid for a cheaper cost than DC. Photovoltaic cells (solar panels) have an output which is DC — direct current — and so must be converted to AC so it is usable. Inverters perform this conversion.

Do solar suppliers and installers vary in their reliability?

Of course. There is a large scope of companies out there willing to sell solar technology to you, and/or install it, too. Plenty of research must be done before diving into solar installation, and you shouldn’t rush into anything — especially if it’s at the insistence of solicitors knocking at your door.

What happens if I see cracks or other signs of damage on my panels?

Turn your solar system off and contact the provider. It may be covered under warranty.

How much do solar panels cost?

Anywhere from one hundred dollars into the thousands.

Case studies

Case Study — Mysteriously high electricity bill

Meghan received an uncharacteristically high electricity bill in Ontario, hundreds of dollars above her typical one. It could have been an inaccurate reading from her supplier or it could have been due to high appliance usages, which could be leaky — this would be the case 99% of the time. Meghan took her observations to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), where it turned out to be a faulty electricity meter. Though this is a rare instance, it is good to know the factors behind such a price surge.

Case Study — Seasonal bill totals

Similarly, Josh was looking through his past bills and found that his recent usage was much more expensive than usual — over double his regular energy usage — he was actually comparing two bills from different seasons. Winter and summer can require lots of energy through extra heating and cooling. Make sure to compare two bills from the same time of year.

Case Study — Import/export meter on solar systems

Paul and Jill were told by their solar installer that they can activate their system before their import/export meter had been installed. This was bad advice. They received mistakes in their bills, some in their favour, some not, and they could not be accurately rectified by their retailer due to this breach of meter protocol. You can check your energy suppliers guidelines on the matter to make sure this applies to your province or territory.

Case Study — Falling behind on payments

Francis and her family had fallen behind on their payments, and so had their electricity turned off by their supplier. She contacted her retailer and made an agreed upon deal to pay back her deficit. Though the retailer agreed, they switched off Francis’ power nonetheless. Though the retailer quickly realized their mistake and set about turning it back on, Francis took no risks and so went straight to her provinces energy board. They ensured that her power was indeed turned back on, and she was rightfully compensated for her spoilt refrigerated food.

Case Study — Unable to pay energy bills

Farmer Joe had outstanding payments on his energy bill. Being unable to pay, Joe had his power forcibly switched off. To get it back on, the retailer made a payment plan and deal with Joe, but due to his irregular income, he was unable to commit. Joe sought the help from his local Albertan Ombudsman, who worked with him and his retailers to arrive at a payment plan that was achievable.

Other important questions to ask

How fast can my electricity be connected?

If you already have a meter, it will take between three to five business days. If you don’t have a meter, it will take longer.

I’m moving house, what do I do?

Step one is to find out whether your new residence already has an electricity or gas connection. To determine whether you have connected gas or electricity, you can contact an energy retailer or an energy distributor. An energy distributor are the companies that upkeep energy infrastructure, such as powerlines and gas pipes.

For a new property with no electricity, it can take up to three weeks to get connected. If, however, your utilities are already connected, step two is to strike up a contract with a new provider.

What is the difference between an energy ‘supplier’, ‘distributor’, and ‘retailer’?

  • Suppliers: Suppliers generate the electricity or gas via various green and not-so-green processes.
  • Distributor: Distributors take the energy from the suppliers and distribute it out to residents and businesses. The distributors are often responsible for maintaining the infrastructure including power lines, pipelines, etc.
  • Retailer: Retailers are the companies who sell you the power from the distributors, and whose names you are probably aware of: Gas Ontario, XOOM Energy, Ambit Energy Canada and many others.

We filled out an application to get our connectionless property hooked up to the grid, how long can it take for that to get approved?

It can take a while — between one to two months.

How is energy measured?

  • Gas: Gas is measured by its capacity to release heat energy, and this unit is called a joule (J) (which might sound familiar from the amount of heat energy released from food). For instance, it requires 4.2 joules to heat 1 gram of water by just 1℃. Your gas usage is measured in thousands of joules (kilojoules — KJ) or more likely millions of joules (megajoules — MJ).
  • Electricity: Your electricity usage is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). A kilowatt is 1000 joules used up in a second. So a kilowatt hour is a 1000 joules used every second for a whole hour. That’s 1 kilojoule * 60 seconds * 60 minutes = 3,600. So a kilowatt hour uses 3,600 KJ (or 3.6 MJ).

What are peak hours for electricity and why do they exist?

“Peak” and “off-peak” hours refer to the times when there is the most strain on an electric network. To try and combat these all-on all-off spikes and troughs, power companies have introduced benefits, where electricity prices are cheaper on those troughs. These times roughly correspond to:

  • Peak times. 7am until 7 or 8pm, depending on the province.
  • Off-peak. 7pm or 11pm—7am all days. All day and night on weekends and statutory holidays.
  • Mid-peak. Intermediate times between peak and off-peak.

Note that these times can differ slightly between different provinces and territories across Canada.

What taxes are added to my electricity bill?

If you are a residential customer, you will pay GST (General Sales Tax), while business customers will pay GST and HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) or PST (Provincial Sales Tax), depending on which province you reside in.

Why do taxes on electricity exist and why does electricity cost money?

Network charges cost a lot. They’re the costs of bringing electricity from the generator to your house. On top of those charges is the inherent value of electricity. Also, there are costs associated with running the retailer. Finally, there are tax schemes where customers are rewarded for going green, and these costs are incorporated into further taxes.

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