The data evidence is in, and it shows that solar panels have reduced my energy bills by 71 percent, with greater reductions expected for calendar year 2016.

Table showing energy bills over three-year period.

Comparison of annual bills paid to Puget Sound Energy, 2013-2015. “Adjusted energy bill” refers to the amount paid after the solar production payment is factored in.

In 2013, the last calendar year in which I didn’t have the solar array, my bill from PSE totaled $1343.05, for electricity and natural gas (the furnace and water heater are powered by natural gas).

In 2014, which saw the installation of the array in October, my bill from PSE totaled $1240.85. This was down approximately 8 percent from the previous year, a decrease possibly (although not definitively) associated with the transition to solar for my electricity.

And in 2015, the first full calendar year in which the solar array was operative, my bill from PSE totaled $881.26. This figure is down approximately 29 percent from the previous year, and 33 percent from 2013. This shows the impact of the solar panels in and of themselves, and while it is not as dramatic a reduction as I had imagined it might be, the reason for this is clear. Heating in winter is easily the costliest component of my power portfolio, and this is supplied by natural gas, not electricity.

But if you factor in the solar production payment from 2015, which was $498.30, this offsets approximately 57 percent of my power bill for that year. This “adjusted energy bill,” then, is down roughly 69 percent from the previous year, and roughly 71 percent from 2013.

The numbers for 2016 should be even better, with the solar production payment jumping to $738.64, against a total PSE bill probably very similar to that paid last year. Production increased in 2016 to 5276 kWh, over the 2015 total of 3322 kWh. (Note: the 2015 production total was lower because it was based on only nine months of array usage.)

The array also achieved a milestone on August 30 of this year: 10 megawatts (or 10,000 kilowatts) produced in total.


And as of this writing, we have eclipsed 10.5 megawatts!


Two years in, I have reached a point, amazingly enough, where I consider my solar panels a routine part of my world. They quietly warm and accelerate their profusion of electrons, and I can go for days now without thinking of them at all.

But then something happens that, shall we say, jolts me out of my inattention. Recently it was the deposit of some $738.64 from Puget Sound Energy into my bank account, representing its annual solar production payout for the array on my roof. The money actually originates in a state of Washington fund to incentivize the adoption of renewable energy (including solar, wind, and even anaerobic digestion applications).

All the buzz over the last few months has been how dramatically an individual’s payout would be reduced this year, due to the fact that the amount in the overall fund remains constant, while the number of people participating in the renewable economy in the state is increasing substantially. But the cuts were less than anticipated: my own system, which is categorized as “solar manufactured out of state”, now pays at a rate of 14 cents per kilowatt hour produced, down only a penny from the previous year. Other categories were comparable in their marginal reductions.

This is not to suggest that the future of such a fund is secure. A former mayor of Seattle, who had gone solar at approximately the same time that I did, recently decried the possibility of payout reductions from their original incentive rates as a kind of “bait-and-switch” deception of consumers. Indeed, it is commonplace to calculate a prospective solar customer’s ROI before the customer commits to the installation. Calculating incentives, tax breaks, and electricity produced, the installer can at least give you a ballpark estimate: your system will pay for itself in 15 years, say, or 10, or even 5! But if a major piece of the calculation is subject to change at each legislative session, that ROI becomes much less predictable.

We’ll see how it plays out. But in the meantime, all this got me to thinking more about the economics of going solar. Next post I will go through some of the interesting data that is now accumulating from two years’ worth of having a solar array.