Portland Guide to Commercial Solar
Business owners can benefit in many ways from installing commercial solar energy systems. At Power Northwest, we know this is a big investment which is why we put together this guide to outline the pros and cons of commercial solar, how it works, and how much it might cost.
Advantages of Commercial Solar
Some of the biggest advantages of commercial solar energy systems include:
- It’ll save you money on electricity bills
- You can lock in energy prices to avoid future hikes
- You may receive tax breaks
- It’ll reduce your business’s carbon footprint
- It’s a highly visible PR opportunity to connect with environmentally conscious customers
- Commercial solar does not require much maintenance
- You may be able to take advantage of accelerated depreciation recovery through MACRS
Disadvantages of Commercial Solar
Realistically, there are some disadvantages of commercial solar as well:
- You may need to upgrade or replace the roof and/or electrical system in order to install a solar energy system
- It’s expensive upfront to install a system
- Energy production is weather-dependent
- System requirements and solar incentives change regularly
7 Types of Commercial Solar Systems
There are 7 main types of commercial solar systems used in Portland, Oregon. They are:
- Flat rooftop systems
- Slanted rooftop systems
- Carport systems
- Ground-mounted systems
- Single or double-axis motorized sun-tracker systems
- Artistic or branded systems
- Utility-scale systems
3 Factors That Can Hinder Your Solar Plans
Even if your commercial property seems like a perfect fit for solar, three factors can make a system less financially feasible:
1) Suboptimal Net Metering Policies
Net metering is both an Oregon solar incentive and Washington solar incentive that allows you as a solar energy system owner to essentially sell any excess energy that your system produces back to the utility grid in exchange for credits on your account. In some areas, you may be compensated at or near the retail rate of electricity, but not all states and regions offer this incentive. Without net metering, you will either have to ‘use it or lose it with the power that your system generates, or invest in a battery bank to store the energy.
2) Interconnection Restrictions
Grid interconnection rules vary by location and utility company, and in some places, it is not allowed at all. Before you begin planning a commercial solar energy system, contact your utility company to see if they allow grid-tied commercial solar interconnection.
3) Structural Limitations
If your commercial property does not have a large, unshaded space, it may not be suitable for solar without significant (and often expensive) modifications. Likewise, if the roof is aging or not capable of supporting the weight of a solar energy system, you may need to first replace or reinforce the roof before solar can be installed.
Step-By-Step Guide to Commercial Solar
Due to the varied nature of commercial solar energy systems, the installation process can sometimes look different, but the general process goes like this:
1) Site Audit
A site audit is the first step in any commercial solar installation. A solar professional will assess your business’s current monthly electricity consumption and cost, and do a walkthrough of the site to identify the best location for the panels. They’ll also inspect the structural elements and the load-bearing capacity of the roof.
2) Review the Project Proposal
With all the information from the site audit, your solar professional will then create a project proposal that includes information like the suggested location and type of the system, how the panels should be oriented, and how big the system should be to offset as much as possible of the business’s energy consumption. The proposal will also include a cost estimate for the project and information about solar incentives that can help reduce the upfront cost. Once you’ve reviewed the proposal, any necessary changes will be made until you give your final approval.
The finalized project proposal will be submitted as part of the permitting application, which can involve several different Authority Having Jurisdictions (AHJs). The exact permitting process will vary based on your location, but at Power Northwest, we are experienced with permitting and can walk you through the process or even handle the entire application on your behalf. Receiving permits can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, and this is also when you will apply for any solar incentives.
With permits in hand, installation can now begin! Depending on how large and involved the system is, this can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The panels, inverters, and other equipment will be mounted and connected together, but not yet connected to your business.
5) Grid Interconnection
Once the system has been installed, you can then submit a utility interconnection application. There may be fees or extra requirements in order to get the interconnection approved, depending on which utility company serves your business.
6) Final Inspection
Before you can start generating power with your new system, it needs to pass final inspections from both the AHJ and the utility company so that they can ensure that it’s safely and properly installed. Once it has passed inspection, you can fire it up and start generating solar energy!
7) Implement a Monitoring System
Solar energy systems are generally low maintenance, but it’s important to monitor the system’s output so if something does require maintenance, you’ll know right away.
Residential vs. Commercial Solar Systems
Residential solar energy systems are similar to commercial systems in terms of components and how they function, but they are generally built on a much smaller scale.
Commercial solar arrays are larger, but individual solar panels are also larger than residential panels and generally more efficient, which means they convert a greater percentage of the sun’s rays into electricity.
Additionally, since most businesses operate during the daytime, their power consumption is greatest when solar production is highest. This is the opposite of a residential setting, where power consumption is often highest in the morning and evening hours when people are home from work and school. This means that a commercial solar energy system can actually offset more of the demand than a residential system.
Financing Commercial Solar Systems
There are a few ways to finance a commercial solar energy system.
The first and simplest is an outright purchase. While this requires a lot of capital upfront to purchase the system, you then avoid additional financing costs and you are the sole owner of the system and can reap all of its benefits.
But, since this often isn’t feasible, there are ever more loan options available for commercial solar. This way, you can spread the cost over several years to make it easier to manage.
Or, you can choose to lease a solar energy system or enter a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). With this option, you would benefit from the immediate energy cost savings without having to purchase the system, but the owner of the system would receive the tax benefits and other solar incentives. Right now, only about half of the country allows this option.
Finally, you may be able to take advantage of Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), which is a program where local governments help business owners finance a commercial solar energy system. The business owners repay the loans through a new higher property tax assessment of the commercial property.
Cost of Commercial Solar Systems in Portland, Oregon
The cost of a commercial solar energy system varies based on how big the system is and what type of equipment you choose to use. The size of the system will be based on how much energy your business uses per month on average, so the more energy that’s required, the bigger the system and the more expensive it will be.
Some types of panels are more efficient than others, and the cost per panel correlates to the efficiency rating. And, if you decide to install a system that includes a sun-tracking mechanism or design the array in an artistic or branded way, the overall cost will of course be higher.
For a personalized cost estimate, contact us at Power Northwest today. Our experts can help you choose the best type of system and the right equipment for your needs.
Big Companies Are Harnessing Solar Energy
Many large companies across the country are taking advantage of the financial, environmental, and PR benefits of commercial solar, including Walmart, Costco, Apple, Verizon, FedEx, IKEA, and many more.
Commercial Solar FAQs
Last but not least, let’s look at a few commercial solar FAQs.
What can be powered in my Portland business with solar energy?
Anything in your business that uses electricity can be powered with an appropriately sized solar energy system. For example, you can power lights, heating and air conditioning, refrigeration units, electric pumps, tools, machinery, and so on.
What size solar energy system does my business need?
Our Power Northwest experts can help you determine the best size of a solar energy system based on your business’s average monthly energy consumption and the solar potential of your property. For exact figures, contact us today to schedule your solar site audit.
Get Your Business’s Free Solar Assessment Today!
Hey Portland Business Owners! Are you thinking about solar panels for your company? Let us at Power Northwest help you decide if it’s the right move with a Free Solar Assessment just for you.
Here’s what you get:
- Visit from Our Solar Team: We’ll come to your place and check out if it’s a good spot for solar panels. We’ll look at things like how much sun your roof gets and how big it is.
- Personalized Solar Plan: After we see your place, we’ll suggest the best solar setup for you. It could be panels on your roof or somewhere else on your property.
- Costs and Savings Info: We’ll tell you how much the solar panels might cost and how much money they could save you. Plus, we’ll fill you in on tax breaks and other perks you can get in Oregon.
- Help with Money Stuff: Solar panels can be pricey, but we’ll show you ways to pay for them that work for your budget.
- No Pressure Proposal: You’ll get all the details without any pressure to say yes. It’s all about what’s best for your business.
Ready to see if solar is right for your business? Give Power Northwest a call at or give us a call now at 503-208-4357 or schedule a date and time below and we’ll set up your free solar assessment. Let’s make your business greener together!