Featured Project: Lake Union Houseboat

One of Seattle’s iconic houseboats now is partly powered by solar energy.

Seattle Solar House BoatLimited roof space didn’t stop William Donnelly from installing a solar system on his floating home on Lake Union.

For Donnelly, going solar was less about financial savings and more about being a pioneer in the clean energy movement while motivating others in the Eastlake community to do the same.

Donnelly’s system is relatively small in comparison to most residential solar installations. It consists of just 10 south-facing SunPower panels that should generate about a quarter of his overall energy usage. Because a deck with amazing views of the lake takes up most of his roof space, the number of panels in the array was restricted. Limited installation space means that he will receive far less of an offset than what most home installations generate, but that doesn’t bother him.

“Even if I can run my fridge off of it, that’s fine.”

The project required installers to work within the homeowners’ association and city’s height restrictions for houseboats to keep the profile as low as possible.

With limited space to operate, installers had to get creative to conceal the wiring on his deck and side of the house. Because his utility meter is on land about 160 feet away, Donnelly decided to forego the extra cost of installing a new production meter, which means he isn’t eligible to receive state incentive payments. He is still eligible for credits from Seattle City Light for the kilowatt-hours his system sends back to the grid.

Donnelly has long been involved in environmental issues and documentaries, including Chasing Ice, which won an Emmy.

Seattle’s houseboats are among the city’s most iconic landmarks. In the 1930s, there were more than 2,000 houseboats in Seattle. Now there are about 500, mostly in Lake Union and Portage Bay. While most Seattle residents use the terms interchangeably, a houseboat is capable of moving under its own power while a floating home is permanently moored and resembles a typical house.

This was A&R Solar’s second solar installation on a Seattle floating home.