Solar Power in Seattle? Not yet…

imageI took a look at solar power for residential use this year. The last time I did the analysis was in 2004 and the payback was over 15 years, best case. It is now down to 12 years best case. After a lot of research I went with Puget Sound Solar for my estimates. They are the most honest and have a nice presentation on the Internet. They also had a number of installations on the East Side of Seattle for me to consider.

Also I looked at wind turbines, but if you mount the turbine on your roof, any gust of wind over 25 miles an hour will shake the whole house. Running the turbine on a tower is a very costly solution with the need to climb the towers yearly for maintenance. And there is apparently a lot of noise associated with wind turbines.

The solar power option I was looking at was a photovoltaic system:

  • Solar electric, or photovoltaic (PV) systems, collect electricity from photovoltaic panels and send it to an inverter and into your house electric panel.
  • PV systems require little or no maintenance (just keep the panels free of dust, and leaves.)
  • For each 1,000 watts of PV you can get up to 1,200 kWhof electricity produced per year.  To see what this means, check your electric bill to see how many kWh of electricity you use.
  • Your electric meter spins backwardwhen your home isn’t using the energy generated, giving you retail credit for power produced.
  • 1000 watts of PV takes up about 65 to 90 square feetof space.
  • PV systems costbetween $6.00 to $10.00 per watt installed.
  • A 1,000 watt PV system typically costs around $9,000 installed.
  • A 2,000  watt system costs around $14,000 installed.
  • A 3,000 watt system costs about $20,000 installed.
  • The State of Washington will pay you a minimum of 15 cents for every kilowatt hour that your system produces until July 2,020.
  • There is currently no sales tax on grid-connected photovoltaic systems.
  • The Internal Revenue Service will give you a tax credit of 30% of system cost.
  • Commercial customers can get fast depreciation of most of the balance of the cost, 50% in the first year!

For those nay-sayers who think that we don’t get enough sun, I think if you did the research you would be surprised. Although we don’t have the sun of say, Death Valley, we have enough to harness depending upon the efficiency of the collection device.


My plan was to shy away from the battery part of the program, rather choosing to sell any overages to Puget power to offset my usage. That eliminated the space required to store that batteries, cost of buying and maintaining them, and off gassing.

Even with the significant tax savings from county, state and federal and the selling to the grid through Puget Power, my payback was going to be very long. Here is a chart one of the eastside home owners gave me charting his pay back schedule. (Click on the chart to enlarge.)

image image

image The home owner wrote: The installation was professional, he worked with me to give a good price and I have had zero problems with the system since the day it was installed.  Net power product at this point is around 30 megawatt hours.  Even with the incentives, it’s still a LONG ROI to break even (see attached spreadsheet for system performance and costs/income).  Since the system was put in more than five years ago the cost basis and some of the incentives will have changed.  I’m glad I did it – I’m looking at putting in a hot water solar system in addition which also has a much shorter ROI (few years).

Me: Wow, very illuminating and close to what Sean was telling me at Puget Sound Solar. It’s better than it was ten years ago, but not good enough to invest in if you use the accounting standard that recommends investment if you start getting a return over the costs in seven years or less. Even with the 30% fed rebate on the cost of the system and the other incentives adding up to 50% off initial costs, it’s still not ready for prime time.

Home owner: From a pure monetary perspective this is true – but I knew this going in and considered the investment in encouraging solar production in the Northwest and the net energy savings to be worthwhile the relative cost.  The flip side is any solar plan should be accompanied with a conservation plan also (CFL lights, turning things off etc).

So I’ll relook in another five years. This looks promising though.  :o)


About Gandalfe

Just an itinerant saxophonist trying to find life between the changes. I have retired from the Corps of Engineers and Microsoft. I am an admin on the Woodwind Forum, run the Seattle Solid GOLD Big Band (formerly the Microsoft Jumpin' Jive Orchestra) a GOLD sax quartet, and enjoy time with family and friends.
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4 Responses to Solar Power in Seattle? Not yet…

  1. Deb says:

    Wow, you did your homework. I am impressed and proud of you, Jim. You do all the work for the rest of us.

  2. Deb's says:

    this is something I have been looking into of late, although not worht installing it at the moment, I do believe that all new build homes should have solar panels fitted as standard. the first time I ever came into contact with the idea of solar power for the home was about 20 years ago, and I used to work for a certain oil company the panels weren’t as efficient or as easy on the eye.the most common misconception people have about solar power is they think it has to be warm outside when the reality is even cloud coverage wont stop the panels charging… its about the light waves and not the heat produced, I still have such a hard time getting my mother to understand that one fact… lolthis is a subject that fascninates me and I cannot understand why it isn’t more easily affordable, you’d think governments would be looking into making it more accesible for public/domestic use, this is one area that can make a difference in the over use of fossil fuels.xXx

  3. JaAG says:

    Bubby, it’s a hobby for me, not work. :o)Witchy, are there as many tax breaks for residential space in the UK?

  4. kitten says:

    Great post, darling….hugs Catherine

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