While Portland isn’t exactly known for abundant sunshine, there’s actually more than enough sun shining down to make solar energy a worthwhile investment. And not only does solar power help the environment — it can also line your pockets. The initial investment can be daunting (about $20,000), but thankfully, Oregon is a very solar-friendly state that has major rebates and tax credits. So you can install solar panels on your home for little to no upfront cost, and save a ton of money in the long run.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through how solar panels work, how much they cost, and how to get started installing a system in your own home. We’ll even break down the energy savings and show you how much money you’ll make every year, just by going green.

Freshome’s Top Solar Panel Installers in Portland

Thanks to Rip City’s killer solar incentives, there’s no shortage of solar contractors. These are the folks who install solar panels on your roof or in your yard, and they also manage everything from city permits to HOA paperwork. When you’re ready for solar, your first step should be to gather quotes from local solar contractors — and here are the two that we recommend starting your search with.

Solar City

Solar City is the leading solar panel installer in Oregon, and has branches all over the country. So suffice it to say, they’ve done this a few times before. When we called to chat with them as prospective customers, we never had to wait on hold, and all of the sales representatives were friendly and really knew what they were talking about.

While most solar contractors allow you to choose between a number of solar panel manufacturers, Solar City has an exclusive relationship with Silevo, so if you decide to use them for installation, you’ll also be agreeing to panels manufactured by Silevo. But that’s not a problem, as long as the panels you choose meet our strict standards (which we’ll outline in the next section.)

Brands Available: Silevo
Color Options: Navy

Sun Run

Sun Run has several payment options that make it easy to get set up with solar panels at a low upfront cost. They allow you to buy your system outright, lease it for a small monthly payment, or pay the full cost of a 20-year solar lease upfront, allowing you free solar energy for the next couple of decades.

Sun Run focuses exclusively on residential solar, and has serviced over 100,000 customers across the country. While the sales representative we spoke to didn’t know the answers to all of our questions, we’d still recommend Sun Run based on their experience and overwhelmingly positive Angie’s List and Better Business Bureau ratings.

Brands Available: Canadian Solar, Hanwha, and more
Color Options: Navy, Black

Finding the best solar panels in Portland

As you might expect, cheap solar panels aren’t worth the money you’ll save upfront. Since your solar setup is such a valuable investment, it’s smart to choose a high quality panel that’s efficient and long-lasting. You don’t necessarily need the most expensive option, but make sure you have high standards when picking a panel.

Here at Freshome, we recommend the following specs as a baseline for a solar panel: Minimum efficiency of 16.5, minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25-year warranty. While some solar contractors have exclusive agreements with a specific panel manufacturer, most will have several brands to choose from, and some may even special order your prefered brand. Talk to your solar contractor to determine the brand that’s best for you, and keep in mind Freshome’s top four solar panel manufacturers:

Solar Power in Portland

Solar Policies and Incentives in Portland

Elsewhere in the country, folks are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to install a solar panel system. But Oregon lawmakers are so environmentally conscious, that there are a couple of ways you can pay $0 upfront for a solar panel system, and still come away with oodles of cash down the road. In fact, even if you take out a loan to finance your solar setup, your returns in the long run will be higher than if you’d invested in the S&P 500.

So how can you save the planet and make money without spending a dime? A nifty little loophole that allows you to get your federal and local tax credits based on the entire value of your system, even if you get a loan for it. We’ll walk you through the math right here, but if you want more details on how this works, check out this guide.

A 5kW solar panel system starts at around $18,750. But you’ll get an immediate rebate of $3,300, bringing the cost of your system to $15,450. Then at tax season, you’ll get a 30 percent credit on the cost of your system. This isn’t a deduction, it’s a credit, so you’ll get $5,625 added to your refund in cold hard cash. And that’s not all — the state of Oregon will give you another credit of $1,500… every year for four years! That’s a total of $6000, meaning the cost of that $18,750 ends up being only $3,825 — and thanks to your home equity loan, you never had to pay a penny of it. But wait, what about the interest on your loan? In year one, your loan payments will total $1,466, but you’ll be saving $644 on your electric bill, bringing that number down to $822. And that’s a lot less than those $1,500 yearly credits.

If you use the home equity loan method to get set up with solar, you’ll be looking at $1,100 profit yearly after your loan is paid off, and at the 25 year mark you’ll be looking at a tidy profit of $13,707. That’s quite a bit of money to make off of a $0 investment.

If you decide to pay for your system without a loan, you’ll make an even larger profit, so if you have the cash, that’s a great option. In 25 years you’ll net about $20,000 in profit on your initial investment. Not bad for an environmental good deed.

There’s another option to get set up with solar for $0. A solar lease allows your solar contractor to install panels on your roof for free, and you pay them for the electricity you use. This should even out to exactly what you’re paying for your monthly energy bill now, and as the price of dirty energy goes up, you’ll see savings with a low solar rate. So while you won’t be profiting right away, the savings will eventually add up.

If you have cash on hand or good credit, there’s no reason you should wait to buy a solar panel system for your home. Tax credits and rebates could expire at the end of the year, so start shopping now. And if you don’t have the cash and can’t get a loan, consider a solar lease for a low-commitment way to help the environment and save some money over time.

What to Expect

The price you pay for standard electricity varies depending on what time you’re turning on the lights. Your late night energy usage may only cost about $0.04 per kWh (kilowatt hour), but flip the switch on a weekday morning, and you’re looking at peak pricing of $0.12 per kWh. For the purpose of these calculations, we’ll go with the mid-peak pricing of $0.07 per kWh

Portland receives about 1400 harvestable kWh of sun every year. That’s not as much as sunlight as most of the country, but it’s enough to make a big dent in your energy bill when you switch to solar. We’ve calculated your savings based on how many panels you might have below.

Solar panels are generally 3 feet by 5 feet, so finding out how many can fit on your roof is easy — just divide your square footage by 15. And you don’t necessarily have to jam pack your roof with panels. You can choose to install solar on just a portion of your roof, or even as a freestanding setup in your yard.

How do solar panels work?

Each solar panel is comprised of photovoltaic cells, often referred to as PV cells. These are usually made up of crystalline silicon, and absorb photons whenever the sun is shining. This photon absorption causes electrons to discharge from their atoms, and the electrons go into the electrical circuit and create energy.

This phenomenon is called the photovoltaic effect, and came to light in France in the nineteenth century. Funny how the energy source of the future has been right in our laps for a couple hundred years. You don’t need to know much about the photovoltaic effect to have solar panels installed on your home, but if you’re curious and want to learn more, check out this more detailed guide to how solar energy works.

Should I go on or off the grid?

While the idea of living “off the grid” might sound appealing to anyone awaiting a zombie apocalypse, staying on the grid is really the best way to go. Especially in Portland, where prolonged periods of cloudy days mean a constant supply of solar power is no guarantee.

Net metering, otherwise known as on-the-grid, means that your solar panels will feed into your home, as well as to your electrical supplier. When you have a surplus of solar energy, it will feed back into the grid, and you’ll be compensated for every kWh you supply. And when you have a deficit of solar power, your system will pull from the grid so you can keep the lights on.

A battery-powered system, or “off the grid,” means that your solar panels connect directly to your home, and extra energy is stored in a battery to provide electricity when the sun isn’t shining. But the battery may not be able to hold enough energy to keep you supplied throughout the year, and you won’t be paid for any extra energy you produce. There’s no need to install a battery-powered system unless you don’t currently have access to the grid. It’ll cost you a lot more money, and your energy supply won’t be as reliable.

How long does the install take?

Getting city permits and sometimes HOA paperwork in order is a bit of a waiting game, and usually takes about two to four months. But once the wait is over, you’ll have your solar panel system installed and operating in just about a week.

It typically takes your solar contractor just a day to install panels on your roof or in the yard, and then another day to wire everything up to your home and to the grid. So after months of waiting for paperwork to clear, you’ll be ready to go before you know it.

Does color matter?

Recent advances in technology mean that solar panels are now available in every color of the rainbow. And while a flashy color might be fun, it’s smart to stick with the traditional navy or black. Not only will a neutral color increase the curb appeal of your home — black and navy are more efficient than other colors.

Navy panels are usually polycrystalline, while black are monocrystalline. An increasing number of panels are being manufactured in monocrystalline, because it’s even more efficient than polycrystalline. It’ll cost you more upfront, but could pay for itself in the long run. It’s best to discuss which material is right for your circumstances with a solar contractor you trust.

Take Action

Going solar in Portland is an easy decision. No matter your budget, there’s a way to have solar panels installed in your home. Not only will you be doing your part to save the planet, you’ll also be making money. Oh, and did we mention that the value of your home will skyrocket? Solar panels can increase your home’s value by up to 20%.

There’s no guarantee that the awesome rebates and tax credits for Portland residents will stick around forever, so the time to start shopping is now. Dive in and get a few quotes, and keep in mind our recommended solar installers and manufacturers.

Portland’s Top Local Installers: Solar City, Sun Run

Freshome’s Top Solar Manufacturers: Solar World, Canadian Solar, Axitec, Kyocera Solar

P.S. For this guide we focused on Portland-specific policies and providers, but if you’re looking for some more general information, check out Freshome’s guide to solar panels for your home.