Over the past decade, the cost of a solar electric system (solar PV) has dropped significantly. With the advent Made-in-WA solar components and a production incentive rate paid to WA property-owners who install grid-tied solar, the numbers of homes with new solar systems in our state has skyrocketed.
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You too can get clean renewable solar electricity to meet a portion of your annual energy needs.
How Much Electricity Do You Use?
When determining what solar PV can do for you, the first question is how much electricity do you need? That is, how many kilowatt hours per year of electricity do you currently use? Before you call a solar installer for a bid, gather up your electric bills and figure out your usage. Then the solar system can be tailored to both your site and your usage.
Evaluating Your Home for Solar
Sunlight is the fuel for all solar technologies, and the term solar resource refers to identifying how much of it is available in a given collector area. Three significant factors affect the power output that you can expect from a roof or ground mount solar installation: direction the roof is facing, shading, and roof pitch.
- Direction: South-facing is ideal. Southeast and southwest facing roofs will still receive a lot sun. East and west facing will receive less, but may still receive enough sun. Roofs that face north facing will not receive enough of solar resource to make sense.
- Shading: Solar panels should have direct access to the sun, with little to no shading, for 6 hours of direct sun per day year-round. Common things that may reduce sunlight are shade from buildings, trees, hills or roof features like large chimneys.
- Pitch: The ideal roof is between 20 and 35 degrees, though steeper and flatter roofs may still work.
- Sufficient space is also a factor. When designing solar for a particular roof, the panels must be arranged not to cover up vents, skylights, chimneys, etc. Often the limiting factor on system size is the available roof space.
- You can learn about your site’s possible power output from the PV Watts website or from Google Project Sunroof online tool.
For an accurate cost estimate of solar for your home, a solar installer should visit your home to measure solar exposure and roof space, evaluate your electric breaker panel, evaluate your site, make a plan for panel locations, wire runs, inverters, production meter, and any other components. They will discuss with you any site specific concerns or factors that affect cost.
- The solar installer will design options for you taking into consideration things like fire code requirements for distance from the peak of the roof.
- After the site assessment, the solar installer should provide a proposal with system options, estimated power output for each option, diagram or text explaining the rooftop plan, prices and terms of the contract.
- The solar proposal should estimate for you the annual and long term savings on your electrical bill, as well as payments to you from incentive programs and tax benefits so you can see the long term benefits, the upfront costs, and payback time period. The following incentives apply if the home owner qualifies:
- 30% federal income tax credit.
- State of Washington Incentive – paid at a per KWH rate for the solar electricity your system produces before any gets used. Annual maximum of $5000. Highest payment rate for Made in Washington solar panels. Payments are made once a year for 8 years or until you’ve earned back 50% of the cost of the system (including sales tax), whichever occurs first. A solar system is classified as “residential” when it is sized 1 to 12 kW; larger than 12 kW is classified as “commercial” size.
- Net Metering – electric bill savings.
- Possible additional incentives your utility may offer.
Price & Financing Your Purchase & Installation
Residential size solar systems are systems of capacity up to and including 12 KW. System prices range from around $15,000 to $30,000 depending on system size, specific components, complexity of installation and other factors. So, it is about the same as buying a new car.
These financial institutions, based in Washington, specialize in solar-specific loans for home-owners:
Another option is to utilize a Home Equity Line of Credit on your existing home loan.
The Clean Energy States Alliance in partnership with the federal Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy published a free guide to help homeowners navigate the complex landscape of residential solar PV system financing. Download the complete Homeowners Guide to Solar Financing (PDF).
Hiring a Contractor
Do your homework. Call more than one installer and get several bids before choosing a company to install solar on your property. Review our list of Consumer Questions! Ask the companies if they abide by the SEIA Code of Ethics.
Setback from Roof Peak and Sides
International Fire Code dictates how much of the roof can be covered with solar panels and how close the panels can go to the ridgeline. Your solar installation company should know and understand these rules.
- Once you and your chosen installer agree on the system details, either you or your installer must apply for the necessary building permits per city ordinance (maybe none), electrical permit, and utility interconnection application. Your installer will create a line diagram which is part of the application.
- Once your utility approves your interconnection, an installation typically lasts one to three days for residential rooftop; longer for ground mount.
- When installation is complete, an electrical inspection is required.
- Within five to thirty days, your utility will install a new production and net meter and then your solar system begins producing power that saves you money on your bill.
- You must register your solar system with WSU Energy Office and pay a one-time fee of $125 in order to receive your annual WA production check. Click this link to register.
- You probably want to add your solar system to your home-owners insurance policy.
- Use your paid invoice to document your purchase to get your federal tax credit.
- Apply annually to receive your state Incentive payment.
- Check the system at least monthly to make sure it is working.
- Clean the solar panels at least annually or more often if you notice dust and pollen accumulating. Follow manufacture’s guidelines.
Here is a link to RCW 64.04.150 concerning solar easement definitions.