Lifestyle

Federal Way solar power business promotes DIY installation

Federal Way resident and business owner Jim Davis installed 10 solar panels on his own roof. He now owns and operates Pacific NW Solar Inc., a business that teaches individuals how to do exactly what he did. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Federal Way resident and business owner Jim Davis installed 10 solar panels on his own roof. He now owns and operates Pacific NW Solar Inc., a business that teaches individuals how to do exactly what he did.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Federal Way resident Jim Davis has combined the do-it-yourself mentality, and an environmentally-friendly train of thought, to create Pacific NW Solar Inc.

The home-based business is aimed at turning residents on to solar power — at a cost that is more affordable than hiring a full-service contractor. It operates on the concept that most homeowners have the ability to install the alternative energy source almost entirely on their own.

"We're just in this to wake people up, to give them an alternative to these full-service installers," Davis said.

Pacific NW Solar customers receive an instructional DVD. This guides them through the process of choosing their solar panels and fastening them to the roof. It also provides a step-by-step guide to installing the electrical components accompanying the panels. Two consulting visits from Pacific NW Solar are available, if needed.

The customers' only charge is the cost of the materials and the professional electrical work required to complete the connection and pass an inspection. Instead of spending upwards of $20,000 to convert to solar power, the total installation costs Pacific NW Solar customers roughly $8,000, after a 30 percent rebate from the federal government, Davis said.

Davis began thinking about solar power three years ago, after retiring from the Coca-Cola company. He wished to benefit from solar power, but was amazed to find out how much companies were charging to install and connect solar panels.

"What really set me off was what they were going to charge me to do this," Davis said.

He decided to install the panels himself. The process was easier than he expected. Davis now has two rows of five 200-watt photovoltaic solar panels on his roof. The panels convert the sun's energy into power, even in cloudy weather.

The panels feed direct current (DC) electricity into an inverter, which converts the DC power into alternative current (AC) electricity. The AC power is connected to the circuit breaker box in Davis' home. From there, the energy is used to power the Davis household.

Davis' solar panels have proven cost-effective. The first five were installed in May 2008. The second five were installed this past March. Davis estimates he saves between $100 and $140 a month on his electricity bill. He also estimates the purchase of the panels will be recovered in five to seven years.

In fact, he's looking forward to a rebate from Puget Sound Energy at the end of the year. Davis' solar energy system is, on an annual basis, creating more power than he is using in his home. He plans to add five more panels to his roof soon.

"The more you do, the more you're going to save," Davis said.

Davis hopes to conduct informational workshops or display solar panels to educate the public about the benefits of solar power. He is inspired by Seattle residents Carolyn and Scott Sherwood, founders of the nonprofit Solar Pie. The couple started taking solar power seriously after they placed panels on their roof in 2006.

"In watching the process, we came to realize that solar was really, really simple," Carolyn said.

They now advocate for solar power and hope to encourage individuals to embrace the fairly new technology.

"What we want to do is create a tipping point for solar," Scott Sherwood said. "We want to make solar just like cell phones are."

The couple is responsible for the 36 solar panels on the roof of Seattle's Pemco building. The building displays a clock that tells passersby how much power the panels are generating. The Sherwoods figure solar power will catch on once people are able to witness it working firsthand. They are looking for another roof to outfit with solar panels.

"Our main focus is to put these roofs in locations where at least 200,000 cars pass by on a daily basis," Scott Sherwood said. "We're trying to get it out to the masses as soon as possible."

Part of getting it out the masses is making it affordable for everyday people, Carolyn Sherwood said. Davis is doing that by providing an option that lets individuals partake in solar power at a decreased cost, she said.

"He may be putting this in reach for people, and that's what I really like about what he's doing," she said.

Check it out

• Pacific NW Solar Inc.: www.pacificnwsolar.com.

• Solar Pie: http://solarpie.org.

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