1. Does solar energy work in spite of Washington's wet, gray weather?
The Puget Sound region receives approximately 3.5 hours of full sun per day, which is equivalent to 70% of southern California's sunshine. Additionally, Washington receives more annual sunshine than Germany - one of the world leaders in installed solar modules. If Germany can do it, Washington can too! Ultimately, solar energy is a viable way to create renewable energy for any U.S. home or business.
2. How does net metering work?
The Net Metering law, originally passed in 1998, requires all utility companies in Washington to let their customers install solar photovoltaic (PV for short) renewable energy systems. The law also states that companies must provide “net metering” to their customers, which allows you to a.) use the solar energy you generate, and b.) sell surplus energy back to the utility company at their retail rate. While energy usage in the northwest is typically highest in the wintertime, net metering allows users to earn credits with our grid-tied solar PV system - so that when their energy usage is low, the grid will still provide steady power.
Thus, the grid acts as a “virtual battery,” which is far more efficient than a physical, chemical battery you might use in your home. Some of the advantages of this battery are as follows:
1. Our solar battery will never be "fully charged" - the way an off-grid battery bank might finish charging on a sunny day and therefore waste the remainder of the afternoon's sunlight. Our system uses energy at the same rate it is being produced, which means that the system is completely efficient. All energy can be stored on your meter and eventually used.
2. Your energy will be stored indefinitely. Any solar power that you store in the summertime can be used many seasons later!
3. You're already paying for the grid, whether you're a solar user or not! If you look at your utility bill, you'll see a monthly service charge of between $12 and $30 per month. These costs go toward the construction and maintenance of all solar grids. There have been a few political fights over net metering and its socialized costs; but in Olympia, the Net Metering Law has continued uncontested.
Here is the underlying RCW 80.60: http://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=80.60
3. How do I know if my home or business is a good candidate for solar power?
We will happily speak to you over the phone, or take a look at your home/business via aerial photos, to determine whether you might be a good candidate for solar energy. First, we check to see if your property is sunny enough for a roof-mounted PV system or a ground-mounted array. We want to make sure you have year-round sunshine from 9 am to 3 pm. We specifically look for a south-facing roof with a mid to moderate pitch; but we can certainly install a system on an east or west-facing roof, as well as a steep or shallow pitch.
4. How do you attach the solar panels to my roof?
We've completed over 600 rooftop solar pv installations, and we are familiar with many different roof types, as well as the manufacturers' methods of penetration and sealing. Most likely, we have worked with roofs like yours many times!
Every type of roof has the manufacturer’s approved methods of penetration and sealing. With the experienced gained from over 600 rooftop solar pv installations, we have most likely worked with your type of roof many times.
We attach the array to the roof framing with heavy duty lag bolts. The roof penetration is sealed and flashed with the appropriate materials - roof vents, plumbing vents, skylights, etc. all safely installed. Our equipment is made of only stainless steel, aluminum, or galvanized steel, to prevent rust. In addition, it's all made to withstand wind speeds of more than 125 mph.
5. What if my roof isn’t sunny? Can I mount a solar array on the ground?
A ground mounted system is often a good solution, if the roof mount sin't possible. Some of our customers have decided that a solar grid gives them an excuse to build that tool shed - with a roof designed specifically for a PV array!
6. How much electricity can I expect my solar array to produce?
Alright, ready to do some math? Each 1 kw of installed solar panels generate approximately 1,000 to 1,200 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity over the course of an average year on the north Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas (1 kw installed = 1,000 to 1,200 kwh/yr). When the solar panels are oriented due south, you should expect to be at the upper end of this range. Calculate your roof area (65 – 80 sq. ft. of roof area required per kW of PV array) and multiply it by this figure and you’ll have an idea of the annual electricity a PV system on your roof could generate. Shade will decrease this output based on the percentage of shade a location receives through the year. Here in the northwest we receive very different amounts of sun in the summer vs. winter months; so we focus instead on a yearly average, rather than a month to month measurement. With net metering and Washington State’s production incentive program (discussed further below) the total power generated over the course of the year is what matters.
7. How do I determine my current power usage? How do I maximize energy conservation?
Take a look at your electric bill to get an idea of how much electricity you consume over the course of the year. Your utility bill will express your energy consumption in kilowatt hours (kWh) per day, month, or year (look for the words "average daily consumption"). You would need a rather large solar PV system to cover all your energy needs; however, the economics of Washington State’s financial incentives allow you to cover your annual electricity costs with a smaller system. On average, it is 3 to 5 times cheaper to save a watt of energy through conservation than it is to generate that same watt of energy through solar power.
Conservation techniques include: designing your home to take advantage of the sun's natural light and heat; using energy-efficient appliances such as Energy Star certified; installing super insulation, high-efficiency windows, and exterior doors; and using compact fluorescent light bulbs (which are 90% more efficient than incandescent.) Other conservation techniques include utilizing a clothesline instead of a dryer, and the elimination of phantom loads (appliances that use power even when not in use) by using power strips or kill switches.
8. How much will a grid-tied solar electric (PV) system cost?
Typical costs range from $2,500 – $3,500 per installed kilowatt (kW) before the federal income tax credit. These components include: solar panels which generate the power (about 60% – 70% of system cost); an inverter or micro-inverters which convert the DC power (produced by the solar panels) to AC power that can be used by your home; a production meter that measures your gross electricity production; one or more safety disconnect switches, which isolates your solar panels if they require maintenance; wiring; racking for the solar panels; and finally, the cost of installation. The larger the system, the greater percentage of the budget goes to your solar panels - and the lower price per kilowatt you pay.
9. What financial incentives are available for solar PV systems?
In addition to net metering, there is a 26% federal income tax credit on the total cost of the system, including installation. There is no WA state sales tax charged on new solar installations.
10. How long do these systems last?
The modules we use are warrantied for 25 to 30 years (depending upon the manufacturer). Most modules are warranted to perform at 80% of their original manufactured power by the end of the warranty period; but their total life expectancy is hard to determine. Bell Labs' solar panels were developed in the 1950s, and they are still in operation today!