Solar 101

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Solar has progressed over the years, and is actually a fairly simple system. The main components of a solar installation include solar panels on the roof, an inverter to convert the electricity from DC to AC so your home can use the electricity, and a new meter to log all of your solar production.

How Does It Work?

Solar technology has evolved over the years, and is now a fairly simple system. The main components of a solar installation include solar panels, an inverter, and a meter to log your solar production.

  1. Solar panels generate electricity by taking energy from the sun and converting this energy into an electrical current.
  2. The inverter then converts the electricity from DC to AC so that it’s usable.
  3. The system plugs right into your home’s electric panel to feed electricity directly to your home, meaning the utility grid becomes a back-up power source.
  4. If there is more solar generated than your home demands, this extra electricity is sent to the grid, your meter will run backwards, and one of your neighbors will use that clean energy.

Solar panels are wired together and one main wire runs from the panels to the inverter, which is typically installed on an outside wall near the electrical panel for the home. The inverter can be installed inside, if preferred.

The solar panels work best when they are in direct sunlight, but they also generate electricity in diffused or indirect light, as well. The total electricity generated by an array of solar panels depends on the hours of sunlight and the intensity of sunlight each panel receives.

Does Solar Work In The Pacific Northwest

One of the most common misconceptions is that the Pacific Northwest does not get enough sun for solar to work. The truth is that we DO get enough sun for solar energy!

  • You’ll still produce energy on cloudy days – similar to how you can get sunburned on a hazy day.
  • Rain helps keeps the panels clean.
  • Mild temperatures minimize overheating and encourages high production.
  • Long summer days are great for offsetting our shorter winter days.

Seattle receives about 70% of the sun that Los Angeles receives and Portland gets about 5% more than Seattle.

How Much Does It Cost?

The typical payment for a solar electric system is between $100-$200 per month – depending on the number of solar panels you install. There are significant benefits during the first several years in the form of tax credits, savings on your electric bill, and local incentives. There are excellent, affordable solar loan programs available that will allow you to add solar to your home for zero down

Is solar right for me?

Every location is different; that is why our consultants always perform a comprehensive site survey prior to installation. The perfect site is one that faces south, with the modules at a 30-35 degree pitch and no shading; this type of site, however, is extremely rare, and other roofs can still produce significant energy! The solar exposure on a west-facing roof is only about 10-12% lower than a true south, and an east-facing roof is around 12-15% lower. That said, here are some things that you should consider when looking at solar for your home.

Direct Sunlight

Does the intended roof have direct sunlight from 10 am to 4 pm, on average? Though "10 - 4" is a flexible timeframe, it is an important one. You generate the majority of your power during the middle of the day, so you want to make sure to have a clear, sunny window! Shade is the number one enemy of solar, and we want to make sure that your roof gets enough daily sun to turn your meter backwards!


Does your roof have planes facing south, west or east? If so, solar will work on your home. Typically, our design consultants will place solar panels on several roof planes of a home to maximize the available roof space.

Future Plan

Are you planning on staying in your home for the next 3 - 5 years? This is typically the minimum of how long it takes for your investment in a solar electric system to break even. Even if you move in year 5, your solar panels will have added value to your home when you sell it, making it a safe and profitable investment even if you do not reap the full benefits of yearly electric bill savings!


The typical investment for a solar electric system is $20,000 - $40,000, most of which comes back to you over the next several years in the form of tax credits, bills savings, and local incentives. There are excellent financing options available through local Washington and Oregon financial institutions, including a $50,000 loan with a fixed rate of 4.25% for the next 15 years! Financing solar has never been easier; about 85% of our customers finance their system, and in most cases, our customers pay off their loan in the same time frame as it would have taken their system to return on a cash investment!


Do you live in a neighborhood that has an HOA or covenant? Homeowner's associations CANNOT legally prevent a homeowner from installing solar. SolTerra has several years and many projects worth of experience designing systems, and is happy to work with your HOA to find the perfect solar system for you!

Solar is highly customizable to your needs, and every home is different- that’s why the best way to assess your house for solar is to talk to one of our experienced designers.

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