Beat rising energy costs: solar power jumps in Snohomish County

By Blosssom Solar Monday, September 17, 2018 6:00am in the Everett Herald.

Incentives and technology mean there’s no better time to switch to solar.

With rising energy costs, more Washington homeowners are looking to alternatives. For more and more, those alternatives are coming from the sun.

Consider the numbers:

• By 2014 Snohomish County had only a total of 500 solar projects.

• In the last year, Snohomish County has seen at least 350 residential solar installations completed.

“Snohomish County is a part of the growing solar industry with on average seven solar projects being installed each week in 2018,” says Anders Alexander, with Everett’s Blossom Solar.

“Snohomish County is growing, in population and in electricity usage. More homes are being built each week, more electric cars are being purchased and plugged in, and more homes are installing air conditioning. All of these changes require more electricity and solar is a solution to utility rates that are increasing each year just to keep up,” Anders says.

When it comes to your electric bill, homeowners have two options: pay more for your power from the Utility, or pay less with sustainable energy from solar panels that you own.

As the numbers reflect, there’s been no better time to make the switch. “Washington Sate will refund a homeowner for buying solar up to 50 per cent the cost of the project, and this program is on track to end in early 2019.”

Putting the sun to work for you

Sure, we have our share of long, sunny days, but what happens when clouds appear?

Washington State uses a consumer-friendly, battery-free “Net Metering” system – tied directly to the grid. On sunny days, when your property produces more solar power than it consumes, excess electricity moves to the grid to be used other electricity consumers, giving you a credit for cloudier times when you need to draw power. “And because this is dynamic, it happens in every moment and as excess energy is credited to the next month, you can see it on your monthly bill,” Alexander explains.

The local case for solar

In the last year, only about 10 per cent of local solar installations were completed by Snohomish County companies. However, not only does Snohomish County benefit with each solar installation, but as a community, it benefits more by installing with local installers, Anders says.

“Blossom Solar is located in Everett and in 2018 hired and trained local residents to install solar; if more solar installations were completed by local companies, more local residents could be employed in the solar industry,” he explains.

To get a solar installation though a lot needs to be learned by a homeowner and a final design needs to be developed. Blossom Solar is here to help with a solar education and a system design to match.

Visit us online today to request a free solar consultation and quote. Blossom Solar will respond to your request and deliver a solar quote within 1 day!

Everett Herald Article - September 2018

In 2018, the photovoltaic solar energy industry in Washington state is doing well. In contrast to rising utility prices from dirty energy sources, solar offers a solution.

In 2019, the Washington state solar industry can thrive as it did in 2018, but more support from the Legislature is needed. There are two local pillars for solar energy, net metering and state incentives. Both of these programs are reaching their capacity and will require new legislation for 2019 to be as good for solar energy as 2018 has been.

Solar is our future, and to ensure that it happens as soon as possible we need these policies to be expanded. There is truly no time to delay on taking control of our own energy future, especially with the federal government backing out of the Paris climate agreement and putting unnecessary tariffs on solar panels and other inputs like steel and aluminum. Now is the time for us to enact our own solutions to the issues facing our own communities.

During this political season it is more important than ever for voters to let their elected officials know that solar energy is a priority for them. Elected officials need to hear from their constituency so they know where to place their priorities and which bills to vote for in January.

In Washington, Solar Installers of Washington is our main advocacy group for expanding solar policy. To harness public support a campaign was launched called Solar Strong. You can visit the website for more information, sign up for ongoing updates, and donate to the effort at www.SolarStrongWa.org.

The great poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote “the sun shines today,” and the only question now is, will we capture that power today?

Anders Alexander

Link to original article in the Everett Herald.


How to get a job in the solar industry.

by Anders Alexander
 
In Washington State, the solar industry is construction and manufacturing.

Large solar companies in places like California have jobs that are just like at any other large company, and anyone with mainstream skills like accounting can get a solar job. In smaller markets like here in Washington, the jobs are the same as with any small construction company. There are laborers, tradespeople like electricians, sales reps, project managers, designers, and administrative staff. For really small solar companies it’s the owners and some laborers and maybe an administrative staff member.

iTek Energy is the main solar manufacturer in Washington and has its operation in Bellingham where they employ about 80 people. So if you want a manufacturing solar job it's easy to find your target.

The Washington solar industry is growing and so are the companies. With the growth of the local solar market, there will be more mainstream jobs in solar and more jobs in general. The most recognizable goal in the past has been installer or sales rep. It helps to have training in solar, but it does not take long to learn enough to do the job well if you have prior experience in the type of job it is.

Making a career change into solar works well since there are not many job seekers in Washington with prior solar experience. Having a hard skill like CAD, accounting, project management, and sales is what a solar company needs more in a new hire over solar knowledge. If someone has both solar knowledge and a hard skill then that is obviously the best position to be in.

Coming out of High School or College and looking for a solar job can have its advantages if a solar education can be shown on a resume. A recent graduate might need to get another job first though to build their resume to get the solar job they want. Even when the solar job has been achieved it might not be the desired job and so ongoing training will lay the foundation for career advancement.

Starting out in the physical installation of solar can be a really good move, especially for a young person, because it supplies that deep knowledge of the product. But, it is not required, and for someone not at the beginning of their career, it is probably not the best financial move as installers do generally get paid the least in a solar company.

Solar installers will always be electrical contractors and they will always need an electrician to complete an install. Becoming an electrician by getting a residential or commercial license is an effective way to get a solar job. At some companies, you can start out as an installer and become an electrician so you can lead an install crew yourself.

If you are willing to move then going to a place like California can give you a larger market and more types of opportunities in seeking a solar job. For myself, I worked in California for solar companies for 4 years after graduating college and it was a good way to become an attractive new employee to Washington solar companies.

I wish anyone well in their pursuit of a solar job. And if you want to discuss this topic further then just send me an email – Anders@Bloomsolarenergy.com

Seattle, Solar and ADUs

by Anders Alexander
 
Additional Dwelling Units, Seattle residents love them, but some don’t. The Seattleites that do love ADUs are the ones with the yard space for them and want to rent them out for extra income. Solar can be a great feature for an ADU, but it does need to be planned for.

From the roof type to the vegetation around the ADU, to the electrical panel, the new building needs to be designed with solar in mind. The right time to contact a solar installation company is during that design phase with the builder or architect. Depending on several factors it is normally at least a month after signing up with the solar company until they are available to install the system. You can contact a solar company too late, but you can’t contact them too early.

Small buildings or home additions meant to be rented out might actually use a lot of energy, especially if you heat the space electrically. Solar can take care of a portion of the electric usage, but there probably won’t be enough space on the roof to cover all the extra electric usage. With good planning though an efficient building can be completed with low electric needs.

Being completely off-grid on these units can be cool if they are built and used appropriately, especially if the electric usage is really limited. But, being grid connected is still going to be the cheapest and easiest way to power the new unit. Batteries are still at least $10,000 for a good sizable unit, and being grid connected can only take a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars to set up. 

If the electric needs are as small as lights and small electronics then camping versions of solar plus batteries setups can be found for $400-$2,000.
Contact Bloom Solar to review your ADU plans to see if solar is an intelligent addition to the project.
 

Inverter Selection

by Anders Alexander

 

Why Does Bloom Solar Energy prefer to use SMA and SolarEdge inverters out of all the great options out there?


First off, let’s review how the inverter is the brain of the solar system. Solar panels produce DC electricity and the inverter turns it into AC so our homes can use that electricity. The inverter also handles system safety and rapid shutdown, gives monitoring info that can be viewed online, manages the battery if it's added to the system, and depending on the inverter it limits the effect of shade on the panels. The panels produce the electricity, but the inverter does everything else.


Here are resources for you to do your own research:

SolarEdge warranty

SolarEdge spec sheet

SMA warranty

SMA spec sheet


At Bloom Solar, we want to be installing the best equipment, and we want to have each design be appropriate for the site and customer. We accomplish this by having a consultative sales approach where we talk customers through their options. So, let’s review why Bloom Solar prefers to use SMA and SolarEdge inverters.


In solar, there are a ton of numbers. Those numbers don’t lie and you can find the numbers you need on an “inverter spec sheet.” For example, the efficiency of the inverter matters. Any inefficiency means that the panels are sending electricity to the inverter and some small amount is not getting through. SolarEdge HD wave inverter is 99%, for Enphase microinverters it's 96.5%, and for SMA it’s more like 96%. You can see quickly here in the numbers that SolarEdge has the edge on squeezing the most juice of the system, but for SMA there are other strengths that make it a desirable unit to purchase.


Reliability and warranties are very important in solar. For SMA their product has only one reliable box that has a low failure rate, and it comes with a 10-year warranty that can be extended for another 5 or 10 years. Having the inverter reduced down to one reliable box has a lot of advantages, like the ease of troubleshooting issues and ease of installing new parts. 


SolarEdge has a central box too, and it also has a component called an “optimizer” attached to each panel. Having more parts, and putting those parts on the roof, naturally creates a higher fail rate for the system as a whole. The SolarEdge warranty starts out at 12 years to give you longer coverage, and it can be purchased up to 20 or 25 years. Keep in mind that even if SolarEdge provides a new part in year 15, you will still have to pay a little bit to get that new part installed.


Shade is a big issue in Washington, and while the site has to be chosen appropriately there still might be some shade, and the inverter can help. SMA is a simple inverter system where we group panels together and when shade covers one panel in the group it reduces the production of all the panels in the group. This shading effect for SMA is reducing over time with better panels and better strategies within the SMA product to deal with the effect of shade. SolarEdge, on the other hand, has an “optimizer” unit attached to each panel and is able to isolate the effect of shade down to only the panel that has the shade on it. With SolarEdge the optimizers can increase the annual performance of a system. Depending on the amount of shade your site gets you might need SolarEdge to get sufficient production, or you might be able to get away with the more simple SMA system. 


Extra features are new to inverters, they used to just convert electricity from DC to AC. One new feature that SMA provides is the ability to get power from the system when the grid is down and without using batteries. SMA created the Secure Power Supply to pass on a little power when the sun is up and the grid is down, check out their explainer video here. SolarEdge is coming out with some new features soon as well including direct to vehicle charging so the power can go directly from the panels to an electric vehicle.


A ground-mounted solar project has a lot of benefits and SMA is a really good inverter to use. When placing a ground mount it is typically located where there is no shade so the more simple SMA is appropriate. Then, on a roof mounted system there is a requirement called Rapid Shut Down, for SMA it takes an extra product to comply, but with a ground mounted system that extra part is not needed and SMA is the lower cost inverter option.


Monitoring is important and both SMA and SolarEdge come with internet-based monitoring so you can view the system on your computer or smartphone. SolarEdge does have the edge here again though because they have panel level monitoring, and SMA just reports on groups of panels or the system as a whole. Both monitoring systems will allow you to manage your system, and while SolarEdge might give you more detailed info to view you will be able to manage your system well with both monitoring types.


Batteries are the future for solar, they are still expensive but their price has come down enough and the products have developed enough that adding batteries to solar is possible. SMA and SolarEdge both have inverters that can manage a battery, SMA has the Sunny Island, SolarEdge has the StorEdge. There are some main differences that might influence which battery-based inverter system to use. The SMA Sunny Island has an extra input for a generator so you can charge up the batteries, but you’ll now have 2 inverters to run the system and that comes with a good cost. For SolarEdge they just add the StorEdge system onto their existing inverter and that makes it less expensive to add batteries. There are a lot more details to go over here and you can see that adding batteries to a system opens up the conversation quite a bit to become more complex.


The goal of the sales process at Bloom Solar is to inform you, the customer, so you can make an informed purchase of a solar system that matches your particular home and set of preferences. By signing up for a free quote today through our website Bloom Solar will talk you through your options to create a custom system for you and your home. 

Does installing solar extend the life of your roof?

by Anders Alexander

 

No. But, maybe.

Now for the long answer.

Solar panels cover the roof they are installed over, blocking most water and sunlight. For composite shingle roofs this can greatly reduce weathering on portions of the roof.

The issue is that the entire roof is not covered. Even for the roof section that the panels are on, there is still boarder space that the panels do not cover and that doesn’t allow for full coverage. If a roof gets to the end of its life, but the area under the panel is still good then you still have to replace the full roof.

Theoretically on a composite shingle roof you can cover or just replace the shingles on the boarder around the panels, but that is not the best approach to ensure proper water sealing. Roofing companies will probably not provide this service.

If a homeowner has a few planes of the roof they want to install solar on they can see if its feasible to just re-roof that part to save on roofing cost. Roofing companies are more willing to complete this type of work.

A non-habitable structure, like a carport or a shed, has different rules from installing on a home so you can cover the full roof space. If you completed a project like this correctly then the full roof can be covered and the roof has the opportunity to last longer than usual. The key to this approach is that you have to install the rail and panels to extend 12 inches over the edge of the roof on each end so the panels take up more surface area than the roof itself. Every bit of the roof has to be covered to make it work.

Another choice is to install a ground mount, they can be up on a pole, or lower on the ground as a long row. The property should be at least ¼ acre before considering a ground mount as they take up a lot of space.

Context is the key here. If done correctly, solar can extend the life of a roof.

 

Good solar financing is not hard to find in Washington State

by Anders Alexander

Financing for solar has been a major breakthrough to allow the average homeowner to invest in solar. The upfront price of solar is easily above $12k and often more like $20k. Here in Washington State we have solar financing lower than the more typical 6% rate seen in other States.

The most important aspect of financing is avoiding the upfront price and avoiding too much in interest payments with interest rates below 5%. Once the incentives start to come in then you can use the incentives to pay the monthly loan amount or pay down the principal on the loan.

Since solar is fully paid for by the federal tax credit, the Washington State incentive and lower utility bills the loan will be paid for by solar. On a car payment you actually owe money out of your paycheck every month to pay it off, for solar you are leveraging the 3 revenue streams to pay back the loan.

Solar loans can get more complicated but I don’t necessarily see the need. For example, you can avoid any payments for a year but a balloon payment is always due and there is usually a big penalty for not making the full payment on time.

Partial financing is also a good option for someone that wants to pay off the system quickly and wants to pay out of pocket for some portion of the cost. For example, on a $20k system, if only $10k is financed then the loan would be paid off with the federal and State incentives in 3 years.

Some Washington banks, usually credit unions, will give low fixed rate solar loans. A home equity loan is also an option for those that have access, and this approach makes payments on interest tax deductible.

More complicated financial products like leasing or PPA are not available in Washington due to their exclusion from receiving the Washington incentive. Without the incentive companies that offer these products choose to not operate in Washington.

Financing is discussed during the quoting process here at Bloom Solar Energy, we will connect you with good local options that fit your needs.

 

 

Does solar really increase the sale price of your home?

by Anders Alexarder

Maybe. Usually.

Now for the long answer.

Solar can increase the sale price of a home, just like expensive new countertops in the kitchen can. Studies do show that on average a home sells for more if it has solar on it, and it sells more quickly. My neighbor bought solar from me a couple of years ago, and the new homeowner told me recently that solar on the roof was the deciding factor in choosing the home over another one.

Incentives are transferable to the new homeowner. So, if Washington state is paying $1,000-$5,000 per year as a rebate for the system, then the new homeowner has checks coming their way and all they need to do is keep the system on the roof. The old incentive system ends 2020, and the new incentive system that started in 2017 is a set 8 years from the date of the installation. Each home will then have a different rebate amount going to the new homeowner, and this should be acknowledged in the sale of the home.

Warranty coverage is important. The new homeowner will need the warranty for the system transferred from the installation company if it is still valid. If the installation company has a 10 year warranty, then buying a system in its 11th year means that any issues need to be self-detected and the new homeowner will have to pay to have any issues fixed. The manufacturing warranty is only as good as the manufacturer’s ability to stay in business, so there are potential costs from having to deal with broken parts when the manufacturer is gone. Also, the new homeowner will have to put the system on their new homeowner’s insurance, which is easy and cheap.

The age of the system is important when the home is sold, just like the age of the water heater in the home. If it is at the end of its life then it has no value. It does cost money to take a system down, so buying a home with an almost dead system will definitely not increase the price of the home.

The intention of the new homeowner is also important. If they plan to remodel the roof or demolish the house then solar would not have a value.

Aesthetics is important. Some people will not buy a home with solar on it, like some people will not buy a home with a brick façade. There is a large enough portion of the home buying market that does like solar so it doesn’t generally impede the sale of a home. Aesthetics are important though, an installation does need to look good and be done right. The lesson here is to choose a solar company that discusses visuals during the sales process so that the layout of the system blends as much into the home as large square boxes on the roof can.

If the context is right then solar will add value to the home, or make it sell more quickly.

 

How to use the solar federal tax credit

by Anders Alexander

The federal tax credit for solar returns 30% the cost of the system back to the homeowner. It’s a really important part of buying solar, and it’s important to use the tax credit correctly. The correct way to use the solar federal tax credit is to consult a professional tax accountant.

The main reason to at least check with a professional about your taxes before going solar, is that everyone’s taxes are different and each person needs to understand how going solar will affect their taxes in that particular year.

The solar industry has a generally agreed upon interpretation of the tax language. New roofs, not any part of it, qualifies for the tax credit. The electrical wiring in your home does not apply either. The costs that do apply is everything regarding the direct installation of the system and the electrical panel in your home. If you have an old electric panel that needs replacing, or one that does not work for solar then that cost does get included in the federal tax credit.

The year in which you can claim the credit should not be confusing at all. The year in which the system passed the electrical inspection is the year in which you can begin claiming the credit. In Washington the State L&I website records the passed inspection date for public record. Payment on the system does not qualify to get any portion of the tax credit if the system is installed the following year.

The solar tax credit is simple, but it’s a constant source of confusion.

Reviewing qualification for the tax credit is part of the quoting process here at Bloom Solar, its an important step in verifying that a solar project is appropriate for a homeowner.

 

Generator or Battery in Washington in 2018?

by Anders Alexander

Generators have been the good old standby for backup power in my lifetime. I have a generator because it’s an easy and lower cost way to get power when the grid is down. Batteries are developing though and battery packs are now competing with small and medium sized generators. I also have solar so when the time is right for me I will add a battery system to it.


The strength of a generator setup is that its easy and affordable to get the parts installed, and you can always add more capacity by storing more fuel. A generator can also pump out a lot of power, a battery setup is often limited to 7kW draw capacity at most, whereas you can easily get a generator that produces 10kW of power or more. Generators are also loud, smelly, heavy, and based on a combustible fuel stored on-site, but most of those issues can be addressed with good planning.

In Washington we have dark winters, so if you have batteries with solar panels and the power goes out in the winter then the solar isn’t going to help much. The stored capacity in the batteries is what you will have during a winter outage and that is often enough for 1-2 days of using a small amount of electricity on a large battery system. 

Small battery packs, marketed for camping, are starting to be made with lithium which makes them a much more attractive product. Lithium is light, lasts a long time, and recharges well. From a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars portable battery packs can be found at many stores from Cabela’s to Costco. These small units will charge a phone, power a light, and maybe even keep a fridge going. But they do not have much stored capacity so you can power your fridge but maybe only for a few hours. 

Larger battery packs are built to be installed on your home, they can be integrated with solar, and they can also be integrated with a generator. These systems cost at least $5k for a smaller DIY install to above $20k for a larger system installed by a professional company. The Tesla PoweWall is the most well known brand name for home battery packs, but they are not yet available in Washington and there is a wait list. Companies like SMA, SolarEdge, Enphase and more are coming to market with home battery packs in 2018.

If affordable back up power is needed in 2018 a generator is probably the right choice. 2018 will be a development year for batteries in Washington, homeowners getting installed will be a part of the first batch of customers getting products that are launched in 2018. There are still older battery options available, but the growth of lithium batteries and what I call ‘single box technology’ is bringing the next stage in home batteries. On old systems there is a lot of knowledge and ability that customers need to operate their systems. Newer systems come covered in one big box with an easy to use interface so that the product can be easily used and managed by most any person. Cars, cell phones, computers; they are all really complicated but they come as a ‘single box technology’ so you can use the thing but not know what is inside.


Generators can recharge battery packs if the products are chosen correctly. Not all battery packs will come with this feature but some do. Generac even has a generator that only works in conjunction with a battery system. 

Even though there are only a few batteries options available in Washington in 2018 solar is ready for installation and local incentives are strong. It’s a good time to get solar, and then add batteries later. A generator can act as back-up power until the battery gets added, then when a long outage depletes the batteries you can recharge them with the generator and keep going. I would call this a more survivalist system as the grid is rarely out for longer than a day for most Washington homes. 

Every homeowner will warrant a different plan for back-up power in their home because context is the most important part of deciding on what technology to use.