Today’s solar industry is stronger than ever. In Washington State, local installers and manufacturers are having record years thanks to low equipment prices, generous state incentives , increasing awareness about solar in general, and several “Solarize” programs across the State. And, it could be even stronger.
Washington currently has a production incentive that favors locally manufactured equipment. If a customer uses PV modules (solar panels) and inverters (which convert DC energy to AC) made in Washington, production incentive rates jump from $0.15 per kWh to $0.54 per kWh. For the average household, this translates into $2,700 per year in production incentives, and this is in addition to energy savings resulting from producing one’s own power. So, despite our rainy reputation and cheap hydro electricity, many solar-customers in Washington are seeing paybacks come in under 10 years—and their systems will last 20-30 years after that.
Washington is not the only state with incentives. New Jersey and California have lavish incentives and are responsible for the majority of our country’s installed solar-capacity. Arizona, Tennessee, Massachusetts and about 12 others also have state rebates for renewables. Unlike Washington, most of these states do not have larger incentives for locally made equipment, so you see more Chinese-produced panels in those states.
In general, Washington solar customers have always been sensitive to the idea of buying Chinese imports regardless of local-incentives and Chinese tariffs. Therefore, the tariffs are not expected to affect the Washington solar market much, if at all. And, while there were fears that higher prices on Chinese modules would slow the rate of solar installs in the US, this has not yet been the case. In fact, Chinese module prices continue to decrease since the tariff.
Washington’s incentive programs continue to offer great opportunities for homeowners with non-shaded rooftops and a sizeable chunk of money saved up to go solar. State lawmakers should focus on developing incentives that make solar more attractive for commercial customers, where large system owners could take advantage of economies of scale and truly boost our state’s solar footprint. Additionally, utilities and building officials should continue standardizing interconnection and permitting requirements in conjunction with DOE’s SunShot Initiative. Finally, State and Federal officials must ensure that solar energy is equitably subsidized compared to non-renewable energy sources so that it may mature and become a more integral part of our country’s energy mix.
Dave Kozin is a recent graduate of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. He’s using his MBA in Sustainable Business to grow A&R Solar, his solar installation company based in Seattle. Dave is also a board member and the Treasurer of Solar Washington. You can follow Dave on twitter @InventedSolar, about.me or connect with him on LinkedIn.