Solar Power for Pacific Northwest Homes
“Overall, the U.S. solar market is off to a strong start in 2014…we anticipate another year of significant growth. We forecast that 6.6 GWdc of PV will be installed this year, up 39% over 2013, nearly double the market size in 2012. The U.S. installed 1,330 MWdc of solar PV in Q1 2014, up 79% over Q1 2013. 74% of new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in Q1 2014 came from solar. (1)
Intrigued by the challenge of designing or living in a net zero home I decided to revisit the affordability of solar systems for homes. The good news is that installing a system and running your home on solar power is finally affordable and will save a ton of money over the years. We’ve reached a terrific stage in the process of becoming energy independent where solar prices have dropped and significant incentives are still available. If you are having a house or addition built in the next year or two you must know about this option. Credit unions are offering special financing that will potentially allow you to pay off a solar system in about 6-7 years entirely through utility rebate checks and an income tax deduction.
But before we get too excited, let’s look at the viability of using solar in the Pacific Northwest which is notorious for rain. According to Itek Energy, Seattle has 22% greater average yearly solar potential than Hamburg Germany yet Germany was the world leader in installed solar capacity from 2000-2011. Since it’s a viable option in Germany it is certainly viable in Seattle. In fact, solar panels operate more efficiently in cooler climates because heat degrades electricity. (2) The amount of energy produced during our summer is more than enough to make up for the winter. Net energy metering makes it possible and eliminates the need to use onsite battery storage. During the sunny months surplus energy is delivered back to the grid and credited to your account. This credit can be used to power your house during the winter and you will be reimbursed for excess.
This brings us to the topic of WA state incentives. If you use solar panels manufactured in WA State you are eligible for a $0.54/kWh refund on energy returned to the grid, up to $5,000 per year through 2020. WA State is offering sales tax exemption on parts and installation. There’s also a federal tax incentive for up to 30% credit for systems placed in service before 12/31/2016. Businesses receive up to 30% tax grant and are also eligible for the 5-year Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System depreciation. (3)
There are several examples of homeowners maxing out this refund and using it to cover their annual payments for the system. A system large enough to power a typical house, year round would cost about $25-30,000. This amount could be recouped through tax deductions and rebates in 5-7 years. That is an incredible return on investment. In 5-7 years the system is paid off and you are saving hundreds of dollars a year on your utility bill. If all of that isn’t enough, imagine easily powering your electric vehicle entirely from your home’s solar system. (4)
The solar industry has seen stunning growth, increased efficiency, and lower costs. WA State has some of the highest solar incentives in the world. Zero down financing is available through credit unions. With net energy metering solar power is a viable, attainable, money saving option for homeowners in the Pacific Northwest.
Tim Bailey at Blue Frog Solar informed us that Puget Sound Commercial Credit Union (PSCCU) received a special grant that allows them to give 100% financing on home systems, up to $35,000, as part of a program they call CPW Energy Smart Loans.
Installers – Okanogan
Installers – Puget Sound
Installers – Seattle
Manufacturers in WA
Sustainable Home Certification
Thanks to Tadashi Shiga at Evergreen Certified for information about financing and incentives.