This month's Moment of Inspiration comes from a workshop I recently attended on July 18th for Solarize Mercer Island, a local group part of the Spark Northwest organization. The city of Mercer Island is clearly passionate about becoming energy efficient as a city, as through this program they are making it easier for individuals to access more affordable options for making their own homes efficient.
Solarize Mercer Island is a "community-driven, neighborhood purchase campaign" sponsored by the city of Mercer Island. This city initiative includes a partnership with Sphere Solar Energy (the solar panel installer) and Spark Northwest, and the city was determined to use local vendors and support the local economy through this partnership. Once the city went through a vendor selection process and chose Sphere, they held a few workshops and so far have 7 - 8 homes contracted on Mercer Island. The goal is to have 30 houses signed up on Mercer Island.
Here's a breakdown of how Solarize Northwest (the bigger campaign throughout the Pacific Northwest) is impacting our local area:
Attending a Solarize Mercer Island workshop is free, and they make it very easy to sign up for a free site assessment. The biggest benefit of attending their workshops is that you can learn more about the program directly from the people closely involved.
The value of going to a workshop is to understand what to expect when it comes to installing solar panels. The panelists answer many questions, such as "Why solar?", "How does it work?", and "Who is installing the panels?" Attendees also walk away with a stronger understanding, a timeline, and the benefits overall for being part of the program. The city shows the amount of due diligence they have done and have also streamlined the process so that, from the sign-up of your site assessment to the final installation, it takes an average of two months for completion.
During the workshop, I also had a chance to hear from two participants of the program who have already had the solar panels installed. Peter Donaldson, for example, is a residential beneficiary who joined based on the moral, technical, and environmental benefits. His home is now an energy facility, so he's actually feeding the grid! He shares that while it cost him about $20,000 up front, the panels pay for themselves in seven years..
Suzanne Skone, previous owner of AutoSpa, also shared her experience with being part of Solarize Mercer Island. She put panels on her home four years ago and also added them to her busines. As someone coming from an engineering background, Suzanne is excited to use ecofriendly methods to run her business, and she shared that for every 10 cars washed at AutoSpa, one was washed by solar.
While she did her research on other companies, Suzanne ultimately went with the city's pricing on the solar panels since members of Solarize Mercer Island receive a group pricing discount. One of the major benefits for businesses to have solar panels through this program is that business owners can write off the expense of the panels, so upfront costs can essentially be paid off quickly.
One of the biggest questions people have about solar energy in the Pacific Northwest is whether solar actually works out here. This myth was busted during the workshop.
While the Northwest is on the cooler side, it actually has a similar amount of sunlight as Germany, which is actually second in the world for solar usage, since there's net metering benefits about 6 - 7 months out of the year. Rain doesn't necessarily have a negative impact on the panels; instead, it washes off the panels so they perform better. Contrary to what many believe about how well solar panels work in hot-and-dry climates like Arizona, the Northwest's cool climate prevents the solar panels from overheating.
Several of the benefits of having solar panels include the following:
- No pollution. The solar energy used to power your home will help you conserve energy without using photovoltaic (PV) cells, also known as hot water tubes. Instead, it's collected as direct current (DC) and then converted into alternating current (AC) energy that you can use in your home.
- Long life span. The solar panels have a 25-year warranty and slow degredation.
- Pays for itself. It will only take about 7 - 8 years until your panels are actually paying for itself.
- Become an energy-producing facility. You'll be able to provide energy to the grid once you start to harvest more solar energy than you're using in your home or business, which will give you credit toward your Puget Sound Energy (PSE) bill.
While each assessment process is specific to each family or property and how they're used, there are a few things to keep in mind as you dive into the research process. Edwin Wanji, a representative from Sphere Solar Energy, shared a couple questions to ask yourself:
- How much shading does your house receive?
- What type of kilowatt hours per year do you receive?
- What is your roof geometry?
- What's your budget?
Cost is often one of the biggest questions when it comes to considering solar panels for your home or business. The presenters explained that, while the upfront costs could be close to $15,000 - $30,000, there are major incentives that can reduce the costs.
For example, the federal solar tax credit can save you up to 30% of the upfront costs for two years. Washington state also has a solar production incentive, where if you use a WA state-produced panel, the credit while net metering is $0.18 per kilowatt hour, or using a panel from Oregon state will give you $0.14 per kilowatt hour. With the combination of these incentives, you can save about 40-50% of the initial costs within the first year.
Additionally, the sooner you enter the Solarize Mercer Island program, the better rate you'll receive on the panels. The workshop also hosted representatives from Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union and Umpqua Bank to share details on the financing options.
If you're interested in what it takes to get solar installed on your home, here are the steps to solarize as described on the Solarize Northwest website. Their next workshop will be held on September 15th at Islander Middle School from 10 - 11:30 am.
Steps to Solarize
- Attend a Workshop. Come to a free public workshop to learn everything you need to know about installing solar on your home or business. You’ll learn about the maintenance, costs, incentives, and financing associated with solar PV. You’ll also get to meet your community-selected installer and representatives from your utility and local lenders.
- Get a Site Assessment. After you attend a workshop, your community-selected installer will contact you to schedule a free site assessment. The installer will visit your site to look at roof orientation, shading, and whether you need any upgrades to your roofing, structure or electrical services. From there, the installer will discuss your budget, electricity use, and goals in order to design a system that works for you.
- Sign Your Contract. Next, your installer will send you a system proposal with details about the system, costs, and expected savings. Sign your contract by the campaign deadline to lock in the Solarize price! Until you sign a contract, there is no cost and no obligation to proceed.
- Go Solar! Congratulations on your new solar system! The installer will schedule your installation so you can start producing clean, renewable energy!
I'm glad the city is sponsoring a program like this, since it helps lighten the load on our energy infrastructure as a city, and it also gives us a chance to do the more responsible thing -- help feed the energy grid and help the Earth, rather than take away from it.