Is Solar Really Worth it in the Pacific Northwest?
Well… here I am, back at it – trying to share what we’ve learned over the last 15 years as a solar contractor in the northwest.
One of the most obvious questions we get about solar is:
Does Solar Work in Oregon?
Is a Solar Installation worth it in the Pacific Northwest?
Well, my friends, in a nutshell – solar is a viable investment wherever the sun shines in this country.
Here are some quick facts to consider when questioning the viability of solar in the Northwest or Oregon:
1) Germany has been and continues to be one of the largest adopters of solar power in the world. They currently sit at #4 in total solar wattage installed
a. Germany’s latitude is roughly equal to the Aleutian Islands that comprise the island chain spreading away (to the west) off ALASKA
b. Germany’s annual rainfall is 31” per year (a little drier than Oregon who sits at 41” per year).
2) Japan also has been and continues to be another large adopter of solar power in the world. They currently hold the #3 spot for total solar wattage installed
a. Japan is a very tropical country (it sits near the same latitude as California, yet the island itself sees substantial rainfall every year due to regional weather patterns.
b. Japan’s annual rainfail is 40” per year (which is exactly on par with Oregon’s annual rainfall).
3) Fun fact: The HOTTER a solar cell gets, the lower it’s power output.
a. You read that right – solar cells aren’t a big fan of hot weather. What this means is that a more temperate climate is actually better suited for solar than the hot deserts of our southern states
4) Final fun fact: The best place for solar production annually in the U.S. is none other than Colorado.
a. Colorado has (on average) 300 days of sunshine per year
b. Colorado’s average temperature year-round is 43.5°
c. The state is cold, and the weather is clear – which in turn creates a heck of a good place to install solar panels.
If we were to use rainfall and latitude on the map as the base-line for solar being a good fit for an area, then neither of these two countries (mentioned above) would end up in the top spots for adoption, yet there they are – still hovering in the top five for total solar installed. So… what gives?
Well, incentives in these countries (past and present) really helped to jump-start the industry there. But even with heavy subsidies, the technology wouldn’t continue to be a preferred alternative energy source if the results didn’t measure up.
And that’s where we find ourselves in the Pacific Northwest:
1) We get plenty of rain
2) We don’t get as much sunlight per year as the southern states (think Texas, California, Florida, Arizona)
3) Our power is still reasonably priced in comparison to other parts of the country
So…why did your neighbors install solar on their home?
In a word: Proactive.
What I’ve found as a common theme with the thousands of customers we’ve had in 15 years is this: They all seem to be proactive in one way or another, whether it’s financially motivated (locking in their cost of electricity forever), or maybe environmental (they want to continue to lessen their footprint on the environment by sourcing their power from a renewable resource – the sun). Whatever their proactive purpose is, they all have one.
Even here in the northwest (where the monsoon season starts in November and sometimes goes all the way into June), our customers always find a proactive reason to adopt solar.
So how did your neighbor’s system perform over the course of the year? Well, if they had DPI Solar as their installer, then they met the goals they set forth when they started down the path to solar. Most of my customers want to delete their kilowatt-hour dependence (completely) from their electric company. DPI Solar’s customers (on average) delete
99% of their electric bill when they adopt solar as part of their home’s culture.
So…how do they do it?
Again – it’s just math my friends.
We already know that Colorado is a rock-star state to install solar panels in, so if it’s so great (and the Pacific Northwest isn’t as great), then how are people in Oregon getting the same results as someone in Colorado?
Again – math.
The process of going solar all starts with a site-visit and a solar production analysis. What we are trying to determine (when we start working with you) is: How good is your property at seeing the sunshine? Once we figure out how good your property is at seeing the sunshine, we want to maximize those spots. We do this by creating a 3-D model of your property that includes the trees and anything else that might shade your property. We then plug in our software to model your property for efficiency and output from the solar panels we’ve “virtually” installed on your property.
This model includes a weather data set (6.25-mile x 6.25-mile grid) from your GPS location as well as a Sandia Model for Temperature prediction and finally a Perez Model for transpositional data to account for your home’s angle of incidence to the sunshine available at its location on the earth.
Whew! That’s a LOT of big words, right?
So… how does the Pacific Northwest compare to Colorado?
Well… by the time we take everything just mentioned into account, we will find that (here in the Northwest) we’ll need to install a few more solar panels on our rooftops to meet our goals of 100% offset than our friends in Colorado need to install to meet the same power production goals per year.
What’s a few?
Roughly 15% more solar panels here than the same project would need in Colorado to generate the same amount of power per year.
And there’s your answer – Solar in the Northwest is a predictable, quantifiable asset that (when properly designed and installed) will generate the power you’re looking for. We just need to install more here than we would elsewhere in the country. Yes – you’re right – we will need to sell you more solar panels, but the flip-side is that the cost to go solar here
in Oregon (per watt) is actually lower than it is in California, New Jersey, or Hawaii. You can thank a competitive industry and lower wages for that!
So… now that we’ve rambled through the weeds and find ourselves looking for a conclusion, here’s what I can tell you:
1) Solar in the Northwest and in Oregon does meet the consumer expectations so long as the installer they work with is providing them with detailed analysis of their property’s ability to turn sunlight into electricity.
2) Because of the wetter weather here, well end up installing a few more solar panels to meet our needs than we would in sunny Southern California (or Colorado!)
3) The nice temperate temperatures of the northwest and Oregon are actually very favorable to solar production – so when we have a nice beautiful sunny day at 75° here (and the southern states are cooking at over 100°) our solar panels will produce more power that day (per watt) than the ones in the hot states
4) Our wages and costs of products here in the Northwest is usually less than the wages and cost of installations down in states like California. So your net spend for a project that would produce 10,000 kWh of power per year will actually be less here in Oregon (even with more solar panels) than you’d find for a project producing the same amount of power in Hawaii, California, New Jersey, or Florida.
So…Does solar work here in the Northwest and in Oregon?
Will you need to install more solar panels in a wetter climate than you would in a drier climate?
Does it make financial sense to take this leap? Honestly my friends – I will always say:
We want to help you understand what you’re buying and what you are getting for your money.
If the goal is to stop buying kilowatt-hours of power from the utility, we can help.
If the goal is to have some backup power when the electric grid fails, we can help.
If the goal is to stop the rate increases from the electric company, we can help
And finally – if the goal is to leave a legacy of environmental stewardship for your loved ones, we can help.
Thanks for reading and as always – call me if you have any questions.