Solar Panels & Other DIY Electricity Solutions

For the past 10 years, Washington state has had some of the best incentives for solar panels in the country. When I got a solar proposal for our house last year from Artisan Electric, it was for a 9.9 kW system that would produce 8198 kWh per year. The sticker price was steep: $42,598. But with several incentive programs in effect, they projected we would recoup our costs in 5.5 years. Sadly, this was not convincing enough for some members of our household, so we didn’t go for it, and now we may have missed our chance. Here are the incentives currently on the books and how they may be changing.

Incentives for Installation of Solar Panels

  1. Production Incentive (WA State): This was implemented in 2006 and is probably dying this week in Olympia. Contact your legislator now and ask them to do all they can to advance HB2346 if you think it shouldn’t die! The idea is that the city pays you a little thank-you incentive for every kilowatt your solar panels produce. The base rate is $0.15/kWh, but if you bought Made in Washington equipment, the incentives went up as high as $0.54/kWh.This incentive is what would have paid off almost half the cost of our system over 5 years, and what made it most profitable to install the largest possible system. But the funding originally set aside by the legislature has been running out since so many people jumped on this great deal. Jorgan Frank, the outreach person at Artisan, told me that the first system his company installed in 2007 cost $90k, so it was great to have such big incentives back then. But some customers who bought after prices had come down are now making money on their systems. Others who have yet to reach that break-even point are mighty upset now to hear that their incentives may be running out before the projected 2020 end date of the original program.
  2. Net Metering: Net metering is an incentive type that is in effect in all but 17 states, according to CleanTechnica. Only the gray states in the map below have no net metering laws. What it means is that when you are producing more solar power than you can use (on a really sunny day, or when you are not home, for example), the electricity meter on your house runs backwards.

    net metering refers to the adding up of values on several meters at the same property, such as the solar panels on the carport roof at REI in Framingham, MA plus the actual store building, which is metering for solar panels in USASo you are basically selling your power to the utility company at whatever their usual electricity rate is. Instead of saying “ha ha, too bad!” when you produce power but don’t use it, or instead of letting that power go to waste, you have a way of getting that power back into the grid, and the utility credits you for it. Then on those dark, rainy winter days when your system is not producing much, you will use more of the company’s juice, but you can pay for it with some of those credits, as it were. Net metering makes it so that the total kWh produced x the cost of 1 kWh from your utility company = your savings on electricity. Without net metering, your savings would be lower.
  3. Federal Tax Credit worth 30% of your purchase price. This is a credit, not a deduction, so you’re sure to get the benefit. It is in effect until December 31, 2016.

Well, kudos to those who bought when the buying was good and paid off their personal electricity generator stations in a few short years. If the price of solar panels seems a bit out of reach, check out these smaller DIY Eletricity Generating ideas:

  1. The Chopper Charger: An Electric Bike that Generates Electricity. This one deserves it’s own post, so I’ll get right on that. Let’s just say your workouts could get a lot more meaningful and productive. Thanks for alerting me to this, Alison Ramer!
  2. Micro-hydro power to turn those stormwater surges into a little juice for your laptop?
  3. OK, this one is hardly DIY in the hands-on sense (it involves drilling holes 150 ft into the ground), but it could be done at the scale of a single-family home. The new elementary school they’re building down the street from here will have geothermal HVAC, and so could you!

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