Monday, April 14, 2014

Raise the Roof

Solar panels in Seattle may not make sense at first blush.  However we get sunlight just like any other place.

A few months ago, my husband spearheaded this project after hearing about a recent installation on a friend's house here in Seattle. We invited Solterra Systems over to take a look at our roof on a VERY rainy Saturday.  I was doubtful that we'd have the attributes to support a solar installation.  But lo and behold, our location at the top of a (slight) hill coupled with a significantly unobscured western exposure made the house a prime candidate.  Add to that a smaller but just as unobscured southern exposure, and we were looking at a system that could generate 44% of our yearly power draw. With a one-time federal tax incentive and yearly energy production credits, the system will pay for itself in 5-6 years--all the while reducing our draw from the grid.  While I had understood we'd be paid for energy our system collected, I only thought it was whatever excess we didn't use first.  But no: ANY kilowatts we generate, regardless of who uses them, we get paid $.54 per kW (until 2015, then the rate drops a little).  But still--Wow.

Our system was installed in February when we were on vacation earlier this year. The only reason I mention that we were gone is that that when we came home, the panels protruded above the roofline by at least a foot.  It was significant.  I saw this and was, no. I certainly didn't mind having solar panels but I didn't want to turn our house into a goofy-looking science fair project.

 Luckily they were able to slide the panels down a bit on their rails to make them less obtrusive.

Western facing array

South facing array

From the backyard

More technology bolted to the old house--inverters and meters.

With the monitoring tool, we can see online how much energy the panels produce and likewise, how much energy the house is using.  See those red spikes?  I think that is the heat pump coming on in intervals.  See that green bubble?  That's a mostly sunny day and a surplus of kW going to the grid. We are eager to meter specific breakers (hot water heater, range, washer/dryer) to see exactly which things take the most energy. Just this week, a very serious report out by the UN basically concluded that alternative energy and reduction of greenhouse gases has to happen or we risk "catastrophic effects from global warming." Sounds so dire and so unsurmountable.

As a parent though, as someone who wants humanity and all of the planet's life to succeed, apathy isn't an option.  It's now about the "long game" and doing one's part.  Our science project in domestic energy production won't completely solve the problem but it's one step in what needs to be done. 

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