Is Solar Worth It in Washington? (2023 Homeowner's Guide)

Here’s a quick overview of solar viability in Washington:

  • Washington ranks 37th in the country for solar installations*
  • The average electricity rate is 9.87 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh)**
  • The average solar payback period is 16 years***
  • Homeowners are eligible for net metering and the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC)
  • The average homeowner saves $10,846 over the lifetime of their solar system***

*According to the Solar Energy Industries Association.1
**Data from the Energy Information Administration.2
***Calculated assuming the system is purchased in cash.

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Washington ranks 37th in the country for solar conversions, and homeowners in the area pay above-average prices for solar equipment and have the second-lowest electricity rates in the country. Given these facts, many Washingtonians wonder if solar panels are a worthwhile investment in the Pacific Northwest. For most homeowners, they are, but solar conversion is less advantageous in Washington than in many other states and isn’t ideal for everyone.

Below, you’ll learn how to assess your home to see if you would benefit from solar panel installation. We’ll also discuss the benefits of converting to solar power in Washington and some things to keep in mind before you commit to panel installation.

To speak with an EcoWatch-vetted professional who can help you determine whether solar is worth it for your Washington home, follow the links below.

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How to Figure Out if Solar Panels are Worth It in Washington

Assessing whether or not your home is a good candidate for solar is crucial, especially in Washington, where solar equipment is considered less valuable than in most other states. Below are some of the metrics you can use to figure out if investing in solar makes good financial sense for you.

What’s Your Home Electricity Consumption?

One of the first things you should do is look at your average monthly energy needs, which you can typically find on your electric bill under monthly billing history. Although it’s not a perfect measurement, a general rule of thumb is that solar panels will be profitable for homes that use more than 500 kWh per month.

The average Washington resident consumes far more than this, at an average of 969 kWh monthly. This energy usage rate is also higher than the national average. From an energy consumption standpoint, solar will be a good investment for the large majority of Washington homeowners and will provide more value in Washington than in most other areas of the country.

How Much Is It To Go Solar in Washington?

The price of solar panels in Washington is around $2.69 per watt, which sits just above the national average of $2.66 per watt. Most Washingtonians need around a 10 kW system to offset electric rates, which comes out to a total price of approximately $19,906 after the federal tax credit is considered.

Solar panels are considered more valuable where they can offset high energy prices or high energy consumption. The electricity rates in Washington are the second-lowest in the nation, and the energy usage is not that far above average. As such, solar panels aren’t as valuable in Washington as they are in most other states.

What’s the Payback Period for Solar in Washington?

solar panels on a cloudy day Most home solar systems provide energy savings that eventually add up to more than the total system expense, which means your panels are expected to pay for themselves over time. The average solar panel payback period in Washington State is around 16 years, as compared to the average of 12 years throughout the rest of the country. Most homeowners in Washington will have an estimated payback period between 13 and 19 years.

If your payback period is longer than 19 years, solar might not be right for you, depending on your financial situation. Solar panels are expected to save you money as long as your payback period is under 25 years, but the higher it is, the lower your return on investment (ROI) will be.

What Are Average Buy-Back Rates in Washington?

Most states require that electric companies offer net metering to solar customers. Net metering is a billing policy that allows you to overproduce energy with your panels and sell the excess to your electric company for a credit to your utility bill. Net metering helps limit your payback period and increases your expected ROI.

Washington does have a mandated net metering program, but it doesn’t require that electricity providers buy back your energy at the retail rate. As such, most will use an avoided-cost rate, which is less beneficial but still massively helpful. However, if you’re looking to eliminate your electric bills entirely, you might need to install a solar battery along with your panels.

How Much Sun Does Your Roof Receive?

The amount of sun that hits your roof on a daily basis is an important factor to consider because solar panels are more valuable in areas where sunlight is widely available. Washington is well-known for its cloudy weather and receives just 165 sunny days per year, compared to the national average of 205 days. While there is less sunlight availability in Washington than in most states — making solar panels less valuable overall — there is still enough to make solar a good investment for most residents.

With that being said, there are some individual factors to consider as well that can affect how much sunlight you receive. First, the direction your roof faces makes a difference because south-facing roofs are exposed to the sun the longest as it travels through the sky. West-facing roofs can also be viable for solar panel installation. Shading on your roof from trees or buildings is another important consideration, as any obstruction will reduce your panel efficiency and lead to fewer savings over time.

What’s the Outlook on Solar in Washington?

Renewable energy sources are looked on very favorably in Washington. In fact, most of the state’s power production comes from hydroelectric power, which is a clean energy source. Washington uses some fossil fuels for energy generation, but the majority of power comes from renewables, including biomass and solar. Washington’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goals are some of the most aggressive in the country, calling for 100% of the state’s power production to be from renewable sources by 2045.

While solar might not be the most prevalent clean energy source in Washington, it certainly has its place in the Evergreen State. The solar incentives and policies are quite favorable in Washington, which has led to a massive increase in the number of residential solar installations over the past decade. It’s likely that the solar industry in Washington will continue to grow and improve, potentially leading to solar becoming as popular as other renewables in the state.

Benefits of Solar Energy in Washington

There are many benefits you’ll enjoy when you install solar panels in Washington. We’ll explain some of the most appealing upsides to going solar below.

Electricity Bill Savings

The most enticing benefit of going solar is that your panels will save you money every month on your energy bills. Washington residents pay an average of $95.72 per month for electricity, which means you stand to save an annual total of around $1,149. While electricity rates are unusually low in Washington, the average resident still saves approximately $10,846 over the lifespan of their photovoltaic (PV) equipment after the panels pay for themselves.

You could actually save more than this by going solar, as your panels will afford you a lower energy bill for 25+ years. Your monthly savings could be even higher if electricity prices continue to increase, as they have in the past.

Lower Taxes & Access to Other Incentives

Washington is a great place to go solar because there are several solar incentives available that make solar panels more valuable. One of the most appealing incentives is the federal solar tax credit (ITC). The ITC is a credit to your federal income taxes, and it totals a massive 26% of your entire installation expense. For most Washingtonians, this federal incentive comes out to $6,994.

Some additional Washington solar incentives are explained briefly below:

  • Net Metering: Net metering is one of the most beneficial solar incentives offered at the state level in Washington. This policy requires all electric companies to buy back excess power production from solar customers, which is routed to the electric grid via your inverters. Ultimately, this makes your panels more valuable, reduces your panel payback period and increases your ROI.
  • Renewable Energy Products Sales & Use Tax Exemption: This is a sales tax exemption that brings down your total expense of going solar by exempting all solar equipment and installations from state sales tax.

Home Resale Value Increase

Solar panels make your home more valuable, which is yet another major benefit of going solar. Research completed by Zillow suggests that the typical home will increase in value by around 4.1% with the addition of a solar energy system.3 In Washington, where the average home value is $606,643, this equates to a typical value bump of $24,872!4 The dollar amount your home increases by could be even higher in more expensive areas, like the Seattle area, Tacoma and Olympia.

Your home value will only increase if you choose to buy your panels with cash or a solar loan. Solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs) will not provide this same incentive.

Clean, Renewable Energy

Washington is considered one of the greenest states in the nation, ranking first for the statewide percentage of energy coming from renewable resources.5 As such, many residents will be drawn to solar for the environmental benefits it affords. By installing solar panels, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint, the pollution and emissions you contribute to the environment. You’ll also make your home more energy independent, making you less reliant on your utility company and fossil fuels.

What to Look Out For When Considering Solar in Washington

If you’re considering going solar in Washington, there are a few things you should know and some you need to decide on before committing to this clean energy source. Below are some additional considerations you need to make after confirming that your home is a good fit for solar panels.

Upfront Fees

solar panels on a house roof The upfront fees of solar panels will always be an important factor, and it can be prohibitively expensive for some homeowners. If keeping your initial expenditure to a minimum is your primary goal, your best option is to choose a solar financing option that doesn’t require a downpayment. You can also keep upfront fees down by avoiding add-on solar products like electric vehicle chargers and choosing a cheaper solar panel brand at the expense of efficiency and longevity.

Payback Period

Your solar panel payback period is an important factor not only because it takes multiple other factors into consideration but also because it determines your ROI over time. Most Washington homeowners will have a payback period between 13 and 19 years. If yours is longer than 19 years, it will take you longer to earn back your investment, and your ROI will be below average for the area.

Net Metering Policies in Washington

Net metering is mandated for all electric companies in Washington, but the policies can vary among electricity providers. You should check with your utility company before signing anything to see the rate it uses to buy back excess energy your system produces. The net metering program you have isn’t usually a make-or-break factor for going solar, but those with less appealing policies might need a solar battery to eliminate electric bills.

Pending Policies & Changes to Incentives

The policies and tax incentives mentioned above are all subject to change over time as the solar market in Washington matures. Some solar incentive programs could be expiring soon, some incentives could disappear and the policy specifics can change without warning. We don’t recommend waiting for better incentives to come along, but we do suggest checking for updates and new solar rebate programs before signing any contracts.

Weather & Climate in Washington

Washington is well-known for its cloudy weather and above-average rainfall. Cloudy days can reduce your solar energy production by up to around 90%, but the state still experiences enough sunlight to make solar a good option for most homeowners. The rain in the area will serve to keep your panels clean, which can be beneficial for maximizing efficiency for the sunny weather that follows.

Solar panels are also most efficient and profitable in areas closest to the equator, so some Washington residents worry that their northern location will mean the winters will yield insufficient energy production. While it’s true that sunlight is less intense in northern regions during the winter, electricity flows more quickly in the cold, so most Washington homeowners still benefit from their solar panels in the winter months. Some residents will get some peace of mind by opting for a solar panel brand that comes with an efficiency warranty, which will guarantee maximum power production for the winter months.

Companies Pushing Solar Leases or PPAs

Finally, you should be aware that not all solar companies are the same, and you need to be careful to choose one that has your best interests at heart. Some companies might seem appealing because they offer things like “free panels” or make cheap solar leases seem enticing. Unfortunately, panels are never really free, and solar leases aren’t as beneficial as they seem; they don’t provide the same boost to home value, they don’t let you take the federal investment tax credit and they take longer to pay off, which leads to a lower ROI.

Unfortunately, there have been reports of even less reliable solar companies in Washington. Many local customers have complained about solar companies failing to return phone calls for service and abandoning solar power system installations even after payment.6 Reports across the country about aggressive door-to-door sales and inflated savings claims have also been abundant. You should only ever agree to work with a reputable and vetted solar installer to avoid these and other potential problems.

Wrap Up: Are Solar Panels Worth it in Washington?

Solar panels are a wonderful investment for most Washington residents, as they typically pay for themselves and provide massive additional savings after doing so. However, solar isn’t right for everyone, so you need to make sure that your home is a good candidate for solar panels before agreeing to install them.

Some important factors to consider to determine your home’s solar viability include your monthly energy consumption, the net metering policy available from your solar company, the direction your roof faces and more. Given how complicated the calculation can be, we suggest having a local solar installer help you decide if you and your home would benefit from solar conversion.

Frequently Asked Questions

The EcoWatch team gets tons of questions from Washington residents about the prospect of going solar and the potential savings they could enjoy. We’ll include some of the questions we see most frequently below.

How long does it take for solar panels to pay for themselves in Washington?

The answer to this question will depend on many different factors, including how much energy your home consumes each month, the size and price of the solar system you need, how much sun your roof gets throughout the day and more. With that being said, the average Washingtonian has an estimated solar panel payback period of around 16 years. Most homeowners in the area have a payback period between 13 and 19 years, but you can use a solar calculator to determine yours or reach out to a local solar installer to calculate it for you.

Does going solar actually save you money?

Most of the time, installing solar panels comes with an upfront fee but will save you a significant amount over time. The most substantial savings will be seen on your monthly energy bills. The average Washington resident pays around $95.72 for energy each month, which means you could save about $1,149 every year. Over the 25+ years of your system’s life, it should pay for itself and provide an additional $10,846 in energy savings.

Does solar increase home value in Washington?

Yes! As long as you pay for your solar panels with solar financing or cash, the solar PV equipment will raise the value of your home. According to Zillow, solar panel systems increase the average home’s value by around 4.1%, which comes out to a massive $24,872 value bump in Washington.

Do you need a permit for solar panels in Washington?

Yes, solar panel installations require permits to be pulled and closed out. However, most solar customers don’t have to deal with permits, as their solar installer handles the process for them. Your permits will also add a few hundred dollars to your installation expenses, but most solar companies will include these unavoidable charges in your total system estimate.

Can I install my own solar panels in Washington?

You can install your own solar panels in Washington, but it’s not recommended. The process is complicated and dangerous, and you’ll be putting yourself at risk of injury and your home at risk of severe damage and roof leaks if you mess up. We recommend letting an experienced and insured installer handle the process for you.

See also: Calculate how much you can save by going solar

Read More About Going Solar

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Article author
Dan Simms is an experienced writer with a passion for renewable energy. As a solar and EV advocate, much of his work has focused on the potential of solar power and deregulated energy, but he also writes on related topics, like real estate and economics. In his free time — when he's not checking his own home's solar production — he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing.
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Expert reviewer
Melissa is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainability studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a nonprofit that’s featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.

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