Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

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Sep 14 2009

Pie in the Sky: Solar Pie and PEMCO

Published by at 10:16 pm under Energy,Energy & Technology Committee

On September 2, 2009, I had the pleasure of participating in the “Solar Pie” launch event at the Seattle PEMCO building. As you may know, the Pemco building is somewhat of a landmark because of the digital clock on the outside of the building if you are driving on I-5 or entering downtown. The event marked the rollout of the PEMCO reader board now showing the kilowatts generated from the solar panels on the PEMCO roof. At night, the reader board will show the reductions in carbon emissions from the solar panels.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Carolyn and Scott Sherwood, founders of Solar Pie, brought the concept to PEMCO because the building was the perfect location to teach Seattleites about renewable solar energy. By displaying how much energy is generated from the panels and how much carbon it offsets to thousands who drive by that reader board, more of us can see and understand the potential of solar energy. The Sherwoods started the Seattle non-profit organization to help spread the news that the sun is the cleanest energy source and the place to go to for information on solar energy in Seattle. The Seattle Times wrote about the Sherwoods and this project.

It was great to see a successful project come to fruition that involved community leaders in Carolyn and Scott, a local company in PEMCO, and city departments involving City Light and the Department of Planning and Development.

Currently, Seattle City Light has approximately 180 solar energy-generating users (residential and business). I had the opportunity to visit one back on March 6, 2009. It was a home on Capitol Hill with a 2800 watt solar energy installation. The panels were not on the roof, but mounted on a standalone infrastructure that optimized its solar capture by tilting its angle to the sun. The panels should always face true south in the northern hemisphere and tilted at a certain angle depending on the location’s latitude.

Below is additional information about installing a solar energy system for your home or business:

There are two types of solar energy systems: one that produces electricity and one that heats water. The solar installation at this home was a Solar Electric system or a Photovoltaic system that converts sunlight directly into electricity. The owner at this home bought less electricity from Seattle City Light and at certain times generated electricity for Seattle City Light. When this occurred, the surplus electricity went to the power grid and the utility meter will spin backwards. This process is called “net metering.” I passed a bill last year to improve the net metering program (Council Bill 116265). Diagram below.

The solar system that heats your water uses the Sun’s heat to preheat the water before it enters your water heater, therefore using less energy.

Here’s some important information to consider if you plan to install your own solar system:

1) The location receives direct sunlight and is shade free from trees, nearby buildings, or other objects. Solar panels are interconnected on the panel grid, so shade on one can result in a dramatic loss of overall power output, even when the rest of the array is in sunlight.

2) The location for the solar panels, whether it is an isolated site in your yard or on your roof, must be structurally stable.

3) Understand that this is a long-term investment for your property.
a. Costs for a solar photovoltaic system are between $8,000 and $10,000 per kilowatt. This excludes any construction cost associated with installing the photovoltaic system. *Depending on energy consumption, the average residential systems are 1 to 3 kilowatts. Average Seattle household uses 25 kilowatt-hours per day. If the solar system is designed to meet a home’s full electricity usage, it would produce more power in one half and not enough in the other 6 months.
b. Costs for a solar hot water system are between $6000 and $8000.

4) You are eligible for incentives from the state of Washington of $.15 to $.54 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) generated by the photovoltaic system with a cap of $2,000 per year. You are also eligible for a federal tax credit of 30% of the system cost ($2000 cap for solar hot water system).

5) To determine your solar potential at your home, visit http://firstlook.3tiergroup.com/ The website is run by 3TIER, a Seattle-based start up. Two things are evident from solar and wind productivity in America, the South West for solar and mid-west for Wind.

While Western Washington is the worst area in the lower 48 states in terms of solar efficiency, we must also realize that Germany receives about the same sun as Germany and they are the world’s leading solar market.

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