Solarize SW Seattle Results In…and Staggering!

There are some forward thinking people in our city aren’t there? A testament to this is the recent Solarize SW Seattle Project that, by May of this year, will have left South West Seattle with nearly 2700 solar panels powering the homes of local residents with clean, green, solar power. All of this in a matter of 5 months!

Were any of the Solarize SW Seattle systems installed in your neighborhood? Click below to see the map.


Aside from the cost savings, increased home value, and environmental benefits, the intangibles of the Solarize Project coming to town include:

  • More Education: 500 people attended the Solarize educational seminars and learned about how solar works in WA
  • More Visibility: You can’t go down 35th or California without seeing a solar array up!
  • More Philanthropy: Highland Park Improvement Club was the recipient of a 4.4kW solar system and the Burien City Hall received an electric car charging station!

This is what going solar looks like:


The 5.4 kW array was installed by Artisan Electric on Dec 15, 2014.

Sean and Cole from Puget Sound Solar installing PV on a Solarize SW Seattle roof

Sean and Cole from Puget Sound Solar installing PV on a Solarize SW Seattle roof


4.9 kW solar array in White Center that was installed by Artisan Electric on January 8, 2015.

Solarize SW Seattle system installed by Puget Sound Solar

Solarize SW Seattle system installed by Puget Sound Solar


Number Nerd? Here are some solar numbers to ponder:

  • Solarize SW Seattle came in 2nd place at 684 kilo-watt’s (KW’s) next only to Solarize Central/SE Seattle in terms of solar capacity.
  • 1 KW of solar = ~4 solar panels (@250 watts each)
  • Average Amount of electricity 1 KW produces in Seattle: ~1000 kWh’s per year (check your electric bill to get a feel for how much power this is)
  • Average system size of Solarize SW: 6.16 KW’s (~24 panels).
  • Number of Installations: 111

This Solarize Project happened because a core group of experienced non-profits and (50) neighborhood volunteers worked hard to get the word out, coordinate the educational sessions, and vet the installation contractors. A big thank you to the groups, volunteers, contractors, and homeowners who made this effort a big success. You’re pushing us forward and that’s a good direction to head!

The contractors who served the campaign were Puget Sound Solar and Artisan Electric.. Although this Solarize campaign is over, the Solarize contractors are still offering free home site assessments. Contact them directly to see if solar can work for you.

Solar Nerd: Community-owned Solar Factory, Why Not?

Meaningful Solar Idea o’ the Day

Because Good Ideas Should Be Freed

I am so tired of having these huge ideas floating around my head and no one to share them with….so here we go. I’m opening my book to you, the sustainable community. Let’s see what happens when I turn on the idea faucet! Who’s got a bucket?

Idea 1:
Non-profit, Community Owned Photovoltaic Factory

Don’t you dare scoff! Read on! The gist is this; you can’t compete with China when it comes to manufacturing anything unless…’re not competing. What if you weren’t in business to make money but rather to make a difference?  Enter the Non-Profit Community Owned Solar Factory. By being organized as a nonprofit, grant money and tax benefits can offset the cost of solar to a point where it could be on par with the imported goods. A solar factory in West Seattle wouldn’t need to necessarily produce goods at a comparable price anyway. Washington State subsidizes local solar goods with some really good incentives that allow higher prices to be charged.

Ok, so it’s theoretically possibly produce lower-than-market-cost solar panels, great. A solar factory must cost 10’s of millions of dollars to create. Not so much. I’ve done the research, and have a quote, for all of the equipment necessary to produce 60,000, 200W solar panels a year. Enough for 4,000 average sized systems. How much is this equipment? $1.8 M. OMG, Gee whiz, holy smokes that’s a lot of money. Not really. Consider the community owned aspect of this idea. 1.8M may be a great deal for an individual to come up with, but a community such as ours….not so farfetched. Do some simple math and you can see 1.8M/$5000 = 360 people putting up $5k. I got 5k on it.

So 360 people putting up $5k gets us the equipment, what about the building? Well, it just so happens that WS has an industrial area in need of some serious rehab. The Duwamish Corridor is an EPA Superfund site. Tell me a better place to plant a cleantech seed! A nonprofit could lease a space for low cost instead of buying. You only need 6,000 square feet for the equipment and maybe another $30k for the electrical and plumbing build out. Not too bad so far.

The biggest cost of manufacturing solar modules comes from procuring the solar cells, solder, framing, glass and backsheets. If you were going to go all out and procure the entire 60,000 panels worth of materials you’d be looking at another $20M or so. Granted, that’s an intimidating amount but you don’t have to get a year’s worth of materials all at once, start smaller. Or, add in some Department of Energy grant money, maybe some Bill and Melinda money, oh heck, how about some Costco, Boeing, and Amazon money while we’re at it (after all, they will be customers of this new entity, right?). Pretty soon, our little $22M dollar community solar factory is accomplishable, likely even. We have the human resources right here in town to make this happen. Toss in some local grant writers, Sustainability group volunteers, a couple politicians, a solar expert or two, and viola! Homegrown solar factory.

The nonprofit can then train solar educators and sponsor events where the community learns about the benefits of having solar, how it works, the incentives, etc. They are introduced to the “new cost” of going solar, the one with the nonprofit profit margin.

The nonprofit can also train solar installers to install and maintain the modules that are being produced. You want to talk about job creation!! Educators, trades people, grant writers, nonprofit leaders…all of the jobs that are in jeopardy in the present day will have useful places in this arena.

Bottom line: The only thing in recession is the old way of making money. A nonprofit can provide meaningful work, health care, and living wages for all those involved instead of just a few on top. It just takes us getting together to make it happen. I’m all for this one, that’s why I’m sharing it. If you are interested in chatting it up, just shoot a call or email.

As always, take care.

Eric Thomas is the proprietor of Solar Epiphany, a West Seattle business specializing in Solar Education, Installation and Advocacy. Find Solar Epiphany online at and at 6016 B California Ave SW, in the Morgan Junction area.

Solar Nerd: Community Solar Can Help In Many Ways

by Eric Thomas

No public school or library budget?

Public service retirements in danger?

Community Solar to the Rescue

We already know that solar power can save the world, but in staying with the here (West Seattle) and now (a recession), solar power can help save some of our most treasured community institutions; our schools and libraries. In the following paragraphs I will outline a proposal for these institutions to get FREE solar power systems, lower electric bills, and run on good green power (not to mention the awesome intangible benefits such as a solar curriculum for schools). The community members that support such a project will likely see a nice payback for their efforts. For the motivated community, this could be a huge opportunity. Of course and as always, there are no guarantees that one will recoup their contributions to such a project. I have put together a dynamic spreadsheet (snapshot below) that can help people understand Community Solar systems of various sizes and levels of participation. Just drop a line if you would like to chat sometime!

Ok, let us begin with a community solar overview. The WA State Legislature defines “community solar” as a solar energy system capable of generating up to 75kW of power and located on local government property. City and county owned property, both raw land and facilities, are the only eligible properties. No state, federal, utility, tribal or privately owned lands will work. There are many forms of ownership for community solar projects. Utilities, non-profits, individuals, households, cooperatives, LLCs, corporations and mutual corporations (local governments) can all be owners and applicants in a community solar project. Here is what a 75kW Made in WA system would look like.

In order to keep out the motive of profiteering, the form of ownership for a community solar project that I am proposing here is the cooperative as defined by 23.86 RCW. Cooperatives have been used successfully in many ways to provide for the greater good in a democratic grassroots manner (just look at our very own PCC!).

Sustainability groups, churches, business districts, active PTA groups, “Friends of the Library”, etc are all great catalysts for a community solar coop. A group with cooperative experience is a must. Undertaking a project like this needs strong leadership and involvement.

Here is an outline of how the process works:

After forming the coop, members then begin to choose their contribution levels, budgets, target institutions, and begin developing a project plan. Once a general target has been identified, a local school or library system, a solar expert is used to determine the particular buildings that are best suited for solar. After some himmin’ and hawin’ amongst members, and a good ol’ fashioned site evaluation, the perfect site is chosen for installation. There are many factors involved in choosing a site. An important caveat to remember is that you MUST have a champion on the inside; a principle, science teacher, board member, legislator, Union, PTA, someone or some group to lobby for the project to the site stakeholders, from the inside.

Now let us look a little deeper at an example project. In this example we will be using Made in Washington solar panels and inverters. The WA Dept. of Revenue’s community solar rules state that a community solar installation using Made in WA equipment qualifies each member of the coop to be paid $1.08/kWh for their percentage of interest in the project (until the year 2020!). WOW! That’s bananas! Do you realize that electricity costs an average of about $0.08/kWh, and you’ll be paid $1.08! See the image below for an overview of community solar financial factors.

Ok, Ok, but what does a project like this really look like? How much time and energy is needed to start the coop and administer it? How big does the site have to be? What are the risks? The payback? System maintenance? There are a million questions to be answered. There is a reason that only a handful of these projects have been completed. But West Seattle is home to some of the brightest and boldest that Seattle has to offer (at 20% of Seattle’s population we have to be). If anyone could collaborate to make this happen, we could.

Again, feel free to drop a line. Solar Epiphany is happy to put together an informal idea session at our space sometime in the New Year.

Until next time…

PS:  Want to really shake things up? Imagine the Union of a local government warehouse (wink, wink, Port of Seattle;) investing in a community solar system for their building. Not only would the taxpayers be benefiting from lower overhead, but the Union members could enjoy a decent return on investment (better than the stock market)…and maintain the equipment themselves (learning new skills!). Holy Moly.

Eric Thomas is the proprietor of Solar Epiphany, a West Seattle business specializing in Solar Education, Installation and Advocacy. Find Solar Epiphany online at and at 6016 B California Ave SW, in the Morgan Junction area.

Solar Nerd: Does Solar Power Work In Seattle?

(Sustainable West Seattle is pleased to introduce a new original series: Solar Nerd.  Solar Nerd is Eric Thomas, owner and proprietor of Solar Epiphany, a West Seattle (6016 B California Ave SW) provider of  solar education, installation and advocacy).

Does Solar Power Work In Seattle?   Natürlich!

A headline recently came across my desk that blew my socks off. It read, “Germany Adds Nearly 1% of Electricity Supply with Solar in Eight Months.”   Nearly 1%!

Geez! At that rate, they could theoretically cover 100% of their electricity needs in ~66 years. That’s amazing. Now, me being a solar nerd, I had to look into the specifics of this. In my initial Solar Power Post here on the Sustainable West Seattle site I’m going to share with you my findings.

Now, I already knew that Germany gets about the same or even a little less sun than we do here in Seattle (See image below).

But as I was putting together more background stats for this posting, I was hit with a HUGE realization….(an Epiphany, if you will☺)

Follow my statistical path to enlightenment:

Stat 1-Population: Germany has a massive population of 82 million people. Seattle’s sitting at 602 thousand residents or less than 1% ( .07%) of Germany.

Stat 2-Land Mass: Germany covers 137,847 square miles. Seattle’s 91.5 square miles is hardly comparable at .006% !

Stat 3-Electrical Use/Year: Germany’s electrical usage is 512.9 billion kWh’s per year. Seattle came in at 9.6 billion kWh’s per year which equals approximately ~1.87%…..Wait….WHAT?

In the last eight months, had Germany really added enough solar power to cover half of Seattle’s electrical usage? This is profound and goes directly to the point that solar works here is our lovely climate. Germany’s huge solar deployment can be traced to a great incentive that pays a “tariff” ($$) for all solar electricity that an individual or business produces. If you put up solar panels in Germany, you will be paid for all of the electricity you produce for the next 20 years. A point to be made here is that Washington has a similar incentive in place that also pays you for all of the solar electricity your produce, but also pays more than Germany’s incentive. Although our incentive only pays you for your solar electricity until 2020, using Made in Washington solar components will give you a full payback on your solar investment in 8-9 years*.

So does solar work here in Seattle? The evidence is playing out right now in a climate that nearly matches ours. The incentive’s are similar and, if using Made in WA equipment, are even better here. What’s left to prove?

“If You’ve Realized…Run With It.” – Eric Thomas

*Fine Print: Every installation is unique. To teach our community about solar payback, Solar Epiphany offers free solar education classes to those interested. Please visit to sign up. And as always…our classes are sales-pitch free.