We recently had Western Solar out to our office to give a presentation on solar power, and specifically how it works in Bellingham and across Western Washington. Here’s a little recap of what I learned.
The basics of solar power
Solar power captures sunlight and uses it to power your home. Roof mounted panels capture the sunlight and send the converted electricity to an inverter in your home that then uses the electricity in the home, and gives any excess power back to the utility company. Any power given back to your power company allows you to build up energy credits for times when you are not producing enough energy like night time or dark winter days.
Solar power in rainy and gray Washington?
Many people wonder if solar is a viable option in Western Washington because of our latitude and climate. Actually, our long and sunny summer days make for great solar energy production!
You can expect to get about 24 percent less electricity per panel in this area than cities such as Austin, TX, or Miami, FL,. Western Washington receives 30 percent less solar per year than Southern California, and 20 percent more than Germany, which interestingly enough, is the world leader in solar installations.
The upside of solar in Washington is that solar is less expensive to install per watt here than sunnier states like California, Nevada, or Texas. This helps offset the lower production.
Bellingham is a great place to install solar
In fact, I was surprised to learn that Bellingham is one of the most cost effective areas in the entire country to install and operate solar systems! One of the reasons is competition. There’s more solar installation companies locally than in other markets, which drives the price down. And, we have the largest provider of solar energy technology in North America right in our backyard (operating out of facilities on the Bellingham waterfront): Itek, which is now Silfab Solar.
Federal and state incentives
There is a 30 percent federal tax credit available for solar installed prior to the end of 2019. It drops to 26 percent in 2020 and then to 22 percent in 2021.
Washington State has recently been offering an 18 cent rebate check for every KW of power you produce per year for the next 8 years, up to 50% of the cost of your solar power system.
Combining state and federal benefits you may be able to get up to 80 percent of the cost of your systems back.
Cost benefit of solar conversion
Providing you were able to take full advantage of both state and federal benefits it would take an average of between 6 and 8 years to “break even” on the upfront cost of installing a solar system. Since solar systems are rated to have a life span exceeding 20 years that would be like having 12 to 14 years of “free power” out of the next 20.
Your home’s value
In addition to financial benefits to your power bill, having an effective solar power system installed on a home also increases its market value. A Forbes magazine article estimated that a home got an increase in value in the 3 percent or $14,000 range when the home had a solar power system installed.
When is the right time?
With the significant federal tax credit that is getting smaller over the next few years, it feels like now is the time to invest in solar. However, one thing to consider is that you need to have a relatively new roof before you install solar, as it wouldn’t be prudent to install panels on a roof with short life span.
When you are ready, the experts at Western Solar will come out and do a free assessment that will give you a fairly accurate idea of how much production you’ll receive on your own roof (based on the number of panels, the angle of the sun, your shaded areas, etc). This will help you decide if it makes sense for you to invest in a solar system.
Because the tax incentives are so good right now, the demand is high. Solar installation companies are quite booked out (well into 2019 from what I’ve heard) so if you’re thinking about going solar, it’s best to get on the list right away!