Frequently Asked Questions
Learn About Solar
Does solar work in Washington State?
Absolutely. The Pacific Northwest’s long summer days were made for solar. Thanks to all that sunlight and utility net metering programs, we can build energy credits in the summer months and work off of them in the shorter months.
Solar panels also operate more efficiently in our cooler summer weather, which means more efficient power than hotter climates, not less. Solar energy systems keep on working on cloudy days too, collecting scattered light and focusing it into energy.
Sure, we don’t produce as much power as the southern deserts, but we still generate enough to make solar a financially viable solution. In fact, our solar resource is similar to Germany’s, which leads the world in solar energy installations. Learn more…
What financial incentives are there?
Tons. Federal, state and local incentives make solar more affordable.
Homeowners can get a Residential Income Tax Credit of 30% of the total cost of an installed system. This incentive is available until 2016 and can be “carried over” each year until it’s used up, or until time is up, whichever comes first. Businesses and rental property owners are also eligible for a 30 percent tax credit, in addition to federal depreciation savings (MACRS).
There’s no sales tax on any equipment or labor for solar electric systems 10 kW or smaller.
Not only will your system offset CO2 emissions and lower your utility bills, but Washington State will also pay you a base rate of $0.15 per kWh on ALL energy your system produces, whether it’s used in the building or sent back to the grid. Which means, if “the sun rises,” you’re making money. We know, it almost sounds too good to be true. But it is true!
The state sweetened the pot even further by offering additional incentives for installing solar equipment made in Washington. Currently, Blue Frog Solar (Poulsbo) and itek Energy (Bellingham) are hard at work making inverters and solar panels so you can take advantage of these higher incentives. When you buy locally-made equipment, the base rate jumps from $0.15 to $0.54 per kWh, speeding up payback and helping to make solar a no-brainer.
What is net metering?
Net metering is an agreement between you and your utility where you are allowed to bank credits in the sunny summer months when your system is most productive. In the winter, you can draw from those credits, keeping your bills low.
There is a net metering fiscal year, which runs from May-April. On April 30, you will forfeit any credits that you may have with the utility. The year resets on May 1, coinciding with the long summer days to start building up credits again. Learn more…
What are production incentives?
This is a state program that allows you to earn money for every kilowatt hour that you produce, even the ones you use. This program pays PV system owners $0.15 to $0.54 per kilowatt-hour of solar energy produced. For a Washington state-made inverter, the rate increases to $.18/kWh. For solar modules made in Washington, you earn $.36/kWh. If your system uses both modules and inverters made in Washington, the rate jumps to $.54/kWh. The incentive is capped at $5,000 per household per year. This is one of the main reasons homeowners are able to payback the cost of their systems within several years. The current incentive program expires in 2020, but the state legislature is considering extending it. Learn more…
Will my meter really spin backward?
If you have an old-school analog meter, it really will. When your PV system makes more power than your home uses, your electrical service meter reverses — you can watch it go backward.
However, utilities have moved to digital metering. These will not give you the satisfaction of watching the meter spin backward. And if you do have an old analog meter, the utility will replace it with a new one a few days to a month after your system is installed.
How long does a solar system last?
Depends on the technology and the climate the system is placed in. Thanks to our mild weather, we should see extended lifetimes on our systems. A&R Solar also takes care to use best practices developed in our climate. That means you’re getting a system designed for you.
Generally, solar electric panels will produce power for 30-50 years. Manufacturers usually warranty the power output for 25 years, but most people agree they’ll continue producing well beyond that.
In most cases, the balance of system (BOS) components will need to be replaced at some point. This includes parts like inverters.
A&R Solar offers an industry-leading 10-year craftsmanship warranty on all our residential solar installations.
Does solar add value to my home?
Yes it does. Several studies have shown that homes with solar sell faster and for more money than comparable homes without.
A study out of California concluded that the premium for which solar homes sell is about the same as what the homeowner paid for the system in the first place. In the meantime, you’re saving money on your bill every month.
So, unlike stainless appliances in the kitchen or a new tile backsplash in the bathroom, the investment of adding solar energy is preserved by permanently increasing your home’s value.
Should I replace my roof before installing solar?
Since solar panels tend to last more than 25 years, your roof should be in good condition before you get a system installed. Panels have additional benefits—once they are in place, they will actually protect your roof from by blocking UV rays. Solar panels are surprisingly sturdy and can withstand hail and extreme environments. We recommend replacing your roof before installing solar if it has less than 10-12 years of life remaining.
Do you use any subcontractors to perform the work?
For our system installs, we only use our in-house employees, including licensed electricians and installers. In certain situations, we might contract out non-solar related work like installing membrane roof flashings or drywall repair.
Do I need to get permits or have any engineering done?
No. We do all of the permitting paperwork, and our team completes the engineering work.
Do you sell equipment or design plans to DIY’ers?
We really recommend that you hire experienced professionals to add a solar system to your home (remember, your system will need to pass inspection with your local permitting jurisdiction). However, we will provide our equipment, including panels, racking, and inverters, for a modest markup and can create designs and plans for up to $2,000.
How long does the installation take?
The installation piece is fairly straightforward and usually takes between one and three days, depending on system size and installation complexity.
Why do I need another meter?
Your utility meter measures only your home’s energy consumption. A production meter is a separate device that tracks your energy production. It is also required to receive production incentives from the state.
After Your Installation
My system is rated at X.XkW but I’m only seeing XkW production from it, what gives?
The nameplate rating of your system has to do with equipment that was tested in a controlled environment under standardized conditions. Generally, your solar panels will produce no more than 80-90 percent of their rated output, even on their most productive days. Don’t worry, we’ve taken this into account! The production you are seeing today is different from the overall production that your system will produce throughout the year. Like any good solar installer, we include this variance in the design and estimation of the performance of your system.
When will my production meter be installed?
After your system is installed, we notify your utility to install your production meter. Every utility varies in the time it takes them to come to your home and install it. Wait times can vary from a few days to more than a month. Some utilities allow your system to be turned on before the production meter is in place, while other utilities will not. The utility does not usually communicate to us if the meter has been placed, and you will often hear our project team ask to let them know when it is installed.
When do I receive my certification letter from the Department of Revenue?
We file the paperwork to the state Department of Revenue on your behalf. Typically, it takes about 30-45 days after your system is complete to receive your certification; your utility will receive a copy as well. You should keep this letter for your records.
What do I need to do to receive my incentive payment?
Each year you will need to sign off on a form prepared for you by your utility. Check with your utility to see if they have any additional requirements such as self reporting your solar generation.
How do I get the federal tax credit?
The federal government allows you to claim a 30 percent tax credit off of your solar power system costs. If you do not expect to owe enough in taxes this year to claim the full credit, you can roll over your federal solar tax credit to the following year. You should consult your tax accountant with any questions, although most online e-filing services allow you to easily record your system cost and claim the tax credit. You don’t need to provide any payment receipts or supporting documentation unless requested specifically by the IRS.
Will my PV system work when the power goes out?
No. Most PV systems will automatically shut off when the power goes out to ensure no energy is back-fed to the grid during an outage. The reason for this is to protect utility linesmen from potential shock or electrocution who may be working on the lines to restore power. The only way to be able to run your home from solar when there is a power outage would be to have a battery backup system, which adds significant labor and material costs to the system.
How much maintenance of my PV system is required?
Not much. Even if you slack off, your solar energy system will operate effectively. If you want your system to soak up its maximum potential, hose off the panels and collectors once or twice a year, preferably in the morning while your panels are still cool. This can boost performance, especially if pollen, dirt, or debris has accumulated. If there is buildup on your panels, use a soft brush like the one you would use to wash your car along with a mild detergent. Do not pressure wash your panels and never run cold water over a hot array. If you’re not sure about doing this yourself, we offer cleaning and maintenance services in some areas. Otherwise, many local window and gutter cleaning companies can perform this work.
In addition to keeping your system clean, you should always keep an eye on your system’s production and look for any significant changes in output. If you notice anything that might be out of the ordinary, please give us a call and let us know.
Do I need a battery system?
It depends. If you live in an area with frequent power outages, you may want to consider investing in a battery-backup solar system. This would allow you to power some of your house with solar energy during an outage, usually for up to a day or two. In most cases, the added benefits of a battery system are not worth the added costs. A&R Solar has experience design and installing battery systems throughout Washington and one of our design consultants can help you determine whether one is right for you.
Can I view my energy generation and consumption?
There are a couple of ways you can do this. The typical way is to look at your inverter to see how much power your system is producing at any given time. Some inverters also track cumulative production over various periods of time. You can then compare this information to your historical and future utility bills to see how much energy you are producing versus consuming.
Another option is to have an eGauge monitoring system installed, which allows you to view your home’s energy production and consumption on your computer or mobile device. Your information is stored securely, so don’t worry about your neighbors peeking in. Unless you’re in to that sort of thing, in which case you can provide them with a public link showing your system’s performance in real time. Let the competition begin!
The eGauge system can be installed later, so contact us if you are interested in learning more.
What paperwork do I have to submit?
A&R Solar submits all of your paperwork, including those for certification for state incentives, local permitting requirements, and interconnection with your utility. However, each year your utility requires an annual application for your yearly production incentive payment based on how much energy your system produced for the year. The best course is to follow the instructions they send you and to contact your utility directly if you have any questions.
My system isn’t producing as much energy as when it was cloudy. What gives?
Production depends on a number of factors. While it would seem obvious that hot, sunny summer days would result in the most production, that isn’t the case. In the summer months, the sun is directly overhead, which isn’t always an optimal angle for production. Additionally, solar panels operate more efficiently at cooler temperatures. For these reasons, PV systems typically have their best days in April and May when the sun is angled better to pitched roofs and the weather is relatively cool.
How does the referral program work?
More than half of our business comes from referrals! It’s simple—tell your neighbors, friends, and family about us. Make sure they mention your name when they contact us. If they get a system, you both get a cash bonus of up to $500 ($100 per kW of their system size) after their project is complete.