Given its reputation as the rain-and-cloud capital of the US, Seattle may not seem like a place where one could save money via solar energy. And yet, Seattle actually enjoys a considerable amount of sun in the summertime — enough to make switching to solar energy something worth evaluating.
The thing is, there’s a lot to evaluate when deciding whether or not to become the proud new owner of solar panels in Seattle. Do you own your home? What size is your roof? What kind of incentives does Washington state offer for switching to solar? What are the best solar panels on the market?
It’s enough to get your head spinning, right? But we’re here to calm your nerves, dear reader, as we’ve analyzed the state legislation, talked to the best solar panel installers in Seattle, and figured out what the word “photovoltaic” means — all so you don’t have to. All you need to do is settle in and take a look through this comprehensive guide to decide if solar panels are right for you.
Freshome’s Top 4 Solar Panel Installers In Seattle
We researched the top solar panel installers in Seattle and analyzed them based on details such as their customer service, warranty offerings, panel brands, and expected time for installation.
Our research led us to conclude that there are several solid solar panel installers in Seattle — best of all, they’re all super passionate about promoting the use of solar energy in the state. Read on to learn more about the four local companies we vetted.
Puget Sound Solar
Jeremy Smithson founded Puget Sound Solar after his own interest in switching to solar turned him into an avid proponent of renewable energy. In business over 14 years now, Puget Sound Solar offers the best in personal design, utilizes both local solar panel manufacturers and more readily available ones (such as Canadian Solar), and its representatives extra personable on the phone. They answered all of our questions, educating us along the way — needless to say, we were impressed.
In addition to the 25-30 year manufacturer’s warranty, Puget Sound Solar offers a 10-year warranty on labor. That means you never have to worry about something in your system not working out as planned. All in all, it’s a local company that champions the competition and has the passion to prove that solar is a viable option in Seattle.
NW Wind & Solar
NW Wind & Solar clearly outlines, in listicle form, the process of residential solar installation on their website. It’s a full-team operation: they send a sales consultant to your home to conduct a preliminary site assessment, employ a structural engineer to design your system, and then propose that system to you in a detailed, written proposal.
What’s more, they prepare all the paperwork for utility and local permitting. Whether you’re considering different financing options or applications, NW Wind and Solar has you covered. A typical system install runs a couple days and the company will make sure to schedule upcoming inspections to keep you up-to-date and within regulation. We love its care for the customer — representatives emphasize that they are always on call to support the ongoing operation of your solar panel system. Bonus: it’s a Better Business Bureau-accredited company with an A+ rating.
Though Sunergy Systems website is a little tricky to navigate, it seems they provide a thorough and supportive process for residential solar panel installation. It evaluates one year’s worth of your electric bills before even attempting to design your system, ensuring that they maximize the operational characteristics of your home system for maximum savings and energy reduction.
Sunergy Systems have all your bases covered: professional design, a thoroughly researched proposal presented for your evaluation, coverage of all state and federal incentive applications, and follow-up care. Whew, that’s a lot. Be warned though: We did not receive a call back after we phoned to ask about which solar panel brands and labor warranties it offered. Sunergy Systems is also a Better Business Bureau-accredited business with an A+ rating.
West Seattle Natural Energy
We’ll just get this out of the way now: West Seattle Natural Energy was a bit short with us on the phone. Take that for what you will, because beyond that it seem like a pretty solid option for your solar installation needs. The company offers a five-year warranty on labor, in addition to the 25-30 year warranty on the panels themselves, and does all the federal and state paperwork for you.
Plus, it’s an accredited Better Business Bureau company with an A+ rating. And the focus is all about serving the local Seattle community — West Seattle Natural Energy has been in business since 1979 and is International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46 members.
Finding the best solar panels in Seattle
When it comes to solar panels, it’s better to shell out a little more money for quality. Cheap panels don’t last: they can break, and warranties can run out. To get the most longevity and power out of your panels, it’s best to invest in a panel that meets three standards: minimum efficiency of 16.5, minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25-year warranty.
Always, always make sure to ask your installer about the panels that you’re purchasing. Here are Freshome’s top recommending brands — many of them are offered by the installers we highlighted above — you should ask your installer to provide more information on which one is right for you.
Solar Power in Seattle
Seattle’s Solar Policies and Incentives
You’d be forgiven if you thought relying on solar energy in the rainy city of Seattle sounded like a far-fetched idea. We thought so too, but then we looked into it and found that Seattle actually gets more usable sunlight than Germany — the leading country in solar energy usage. At higher elevations, solar panels are better able to capture the radiation of the sun, which beats brightly during the summer. That more than makes up for the gloomy winters.
State officials have also made it increasingly advantageous to switch over to solar energy. Not only will you save money on your utilities bill if you install a solar system in your home, you will also get paid extra for the electricity your system generates. Luckily, the installers listed above will all fill out the necessary paperwork so you can receive these state and federal benefits (all solar systems earn a 30 percent tax credit on the federal level) without the headaches.
There are several ways to purchase your solar energy system — and this is where the big differences in money savings come in. Though you’ll end up paying more in the short-term, buying your solar energy system in full will reap you the largest profits in the long run. After 25 years, your solar panel system will have earned you about $9,000 — and solar panel systems typically last much longer than 25 years. Obviously, a lot of people cannot afford to put the money down right away, so there are several HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) options which essentially function as a loan. You’ll still get the 30 percent tax credit if you go this route, but your savings will diminish over time and there may be a period where you’re shelling out a bit more to repay your loan than you are saving on your utilities bill. Still, in the long run you will be saving big bucks and lowering your carbon footprint — a major plus.
Washington was the second state in the country to formally enact a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires utilities in the state to obtain a certain percentage of electricity from clean sources (like solar panels!). This is all well and good, however Washington’s mandated percentage is actually pretty low at 15 percent. If utility companies don’t hit their RPS numbers, they have to pay fines to the state. But since Washington’s goal percentage is so low, that means utility companies aren’t incentivized to promote solar energy usage.
What to Expect
Seattle receives 1278 harvestable kWh per year, which is pretty decent compared to the rest of the country. And at 8 cents, its average residential price per kW is one of the lowest in the country.
Given that the average panel is 3 feet by 5 feet and produces about 190 watts, this doesn’t make solar energy in Seattle seem like a viable investment at first glance. However, because the state heavily incentivizes the switch to solar, you could end up making money back from the utilities company and netting a profit from your solar panels in the long run, especially if you purchase your solar system outright (as mentioned above).
At any rate, we made some conservative calculations to see how much you’d save based on the how many panels you can get on your roof:
How do solar panels work?
Some people hear words like “photovoltaic,” and take that as their cue to start tuning out what’s being said. The scientific mechanism behind solar panels can be overwhelming, but we’re here to break it down into digestible pieces for you.
OK, back to that word, “photovoltaic.” It’s what we call the cells on solar panels that convert the sun’s energy into electricity. The photovoltaic material is made of either monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon, which absorbs the sun’s rays. The energy from the sun rays then causes the electrons within the solar panel cell to escape and create an electrical current. This energy is referred to as direct current (DC) and you need an inverter to convert into alternating current (AC), which circuits energy into the fuse box that powers your house.
Solar systems for homes located in remote areas usually necessitate a battery. Most solar energy systems, however, can be connected to a “grid,” which simply means your municipality’s power source. Most areas of Seattle utilize something called net-metering, which is a very good thing for you, the homeowner. Net-metering is the process by which you earn profit on your solar energy — whatever AC energy your system creates that doesn’t get used up by your home is sent back into the grid which sends money back into your pocket.
Installation typically takes one to three days, but your system won’t start giving you usable energy for about one to two weeks, depending on the size and complexity of your system. The average panel size is 3X5 feet — the number of panels you’ll use will depend on the square footage of your roof. And remember, it’s not all or nothing — you can partially outfit your home with solar panels and reap benefits.
Is switching to solar worth it if I take out a loan?
We think so, but only for those who can withstand paying a bit extra for a few years. In Washington, it’s worth it if you can get a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) for $18,750 with a fixed rate of 5 percent or lower for 15 years. Thanks to the 30-percent federal solar tax credit, you’ll profit about $5110 in the first year, but that’s because you haven’t started repaying your loan yet. For the following 14 years, however, you’ll be paying more on your loans than you’re saving on your utilities bill. If energy costs continue to increase annually by 3.5 percent, you’ll end up netting about $950 after 25 years. Not too shabby.
The other factor to consider—and this is huge—is the positive impact you’ll have on our environment. That’s priceless! Why not switch over if you’ll basically break even?
What’s the difference between a Kilowatt (KW) and a Kilowatt-hour (kWh)?
A kilowatt-hour is the amount of energy equivalent to one kilowatt running for 1 hour. Kilowatt-hours are the units electric companies monitor to bill you.
Will my solar panels get damaged during a storm?
No, not likely. Solar panels are typically 3.2mm thick tempered glass. This glass can withstand rain, hail, and high winds — you name it. Plus, most of the installation companies offer warranties on both labor (typically 5-10 years) and the panels themselves (25+ years). So rest assured that your system isn’t going anywhere.
Switching to solar can be a solid investment in Seattle if you can purchase your solar energy system outright, thanks to tax credits and a solid state incentive program. That being said, you won’t really lose money if you buy your solar panels with a loan or leasing plan — and you’ll still receive the priceless benefit of knowing you’re doing your part to preserve our one and onely planet.
So what are the next steps? Contact a Seattle solar panel installation company and get a personalized quote from them — they’ll be able to walk you through the specific logistics of installing solar panels in your home.
Local Installers: Puget Sound Solar, NW Wind & Solar, Sunergy Systems, West Seattle Natural Energy
Freshome’s Top Solar Manufacturers: Solar World, Canadian Solar, Axitec, Kyocera Solar