Infographic: Does Solar Really Work in My State?

posted by Shannon on August 24th, 2011

Infographic: Does Solar Really Work in My State?

Infographic: Does Solar Really Work in My State?

Does Solar Really Work in my State?

A lot of people think you have to live in a sunny state like California in order for solar panels to work, but nothing could be further from the truth. Solar is starting to take off even in famously overcast places like Portland and Buffalo. Here we reveal why solar works in even the un-sunniest states and hear from the homeowners using it there.

Surprising States Where Solar is Working

  • Seattle, WA: In May 2011, the Seattle Seahawks announced they’re installing 2.5 acres of solar panels on their stadium’s event center.
  • Portland, OR: Overcast Portland is actually a leading solar city, with three times the number of residential solar installations as most cities. Soon Portland will be debuting solar-powered public charging station for electric vehicles.
  • A foggy corner of San Francisco: “We’re saving $2,000 in electric bills a year.” -Michael Bollinger. “We’re not paying anything in monthly utility bills.” – Robert Boebel
  • Denver, CO: “Living in snow has not been a problem whatsoever. Our latest electricity bill for March 2011 was $12.” -Jim and Sue Okerson
  • Anchorage, AK: In June 2011, Alaska’s single largest commercial solar installation was completed when 64 panels were placed on a large downtown office building, supplying it with 11,651 kilowatts of energy a year.
  • A shady corner of Colorado: “My roof has a bit of a shading issue, so I’ve been particularly happy with the microinverters we installed. They make a huge difference because the panel affected by shade doesn’t interfere with how our system runs overall.” – Tim Pickard
  • New Jersey: “I couldn’t be happier. We used to have monster electric bills that topped out at $800 a month. Our first full bill after going solar was a total of $6.88!” – Esther Poulsen. “We love our ground mount solar system. We talk about it all the time now with friends and such.” – Deb Maher
  • Philadelphia, PA: “The way I see it, solar is the only home improvement that really pays you back over 10 to 25 years.” – Dave Shaffer
  • Long Island, NY: “Given how high our home’s electric bills were each month before going solar, I expect the payback period on this solar system to be very short.” – Raina Russo
  • Buffalo, NY: Niagara University just installed a 45-kilowatt solar system atop the Dwyer Arena, a 2,100-seat ice hockey rink.

Why You Don’t Think Solar Works

Many people believe that solar panels couldn’t possibly provide for their everyday electrical needs, particularly if they live in a state where the weather is seasonally cold and cloudy, snowy or overcast. Here’s how solar panels overcome (and in some cases even thrive on) less than perfectly sunny conditions.


Although the electrical output of solar panels is reduced by cloud cover, panels are designed to collect ambient light and produce electricity on cloudy days.

Consider San Francisco homeowner Thomas Beutel who lives in the Outer Sunset, one of San Francisco’s foggiest neighborhoods. Last year, Thomas received a year-end production credit of $83 from his utility, PG&E, proving that even in an extremely foggy part of a foggy city, solar reduced his utility bills to less than zero.

No south-facing roof

Just because a home’s roof doesn’t directly face south (an optimal direction for sun exposure), doesn’t mean solar panels won’t be effective. Recent studies suggest that in the right circumstances, panels can face up to 90 degrees east or west of a south-facing position without a significant effect on performance.

In addition, new microinverter technology boosts the efficiency of panels, allowing them to make lots of energy, even in less-than-perfect conditions.

Too cold

Some mistakenly believe solar panels won’t work in cold weather, but solar cells absorb light, not heat, so panels actually work just fine in colder climates. In fact, solar panels are actually more efficient at cooler temperatures because cool temperatures actually increase the conductivity of the metals.

What Makes Solar Work in Every State

Three little-known facts about solar that will convince the skeptics.

  • Solar panels actually perform better in cool versus hot weather
  • Solar panels still collect energy in ambient (versus direct) sunlight
  • Solar technology has developed to boost efficiency and generate more power in overcast climates.

What’s One Block Off the Grid?

One Block Off the Grid organizes group deals on solar energy. Since 2008, One Block Off the Grid has run hundreds of group deals in over 40 U.S. states and helped thousands of homeowners go solar. We’ve been featured in dozens of publications and programs including The New York Times, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, USA Today, Marketplace, Wired, and GOOD Magazine. In 2010, One Block Off the Grid sponsored the first-ever solar deal on and received a Heart of Green Award for “Best New Innovation.” Want to find out if there’s a group deal on solar in your area? Sign up for One Block Off the Grid (it’s free). Not ready to go solar, but want to help take solar mainstream? Tell your friends about One Block Off the Grid.


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11 Responses to “Infographic: Does Solar Really Work in My State?”

  1. Keith Hobden says:

    Just turned on my system last week and it is doing fantastic here in Massachusetts.

  2. Dirk Doerflinger says:

    Nice graphic, one mistake: on Alaska, you cannot produce “kilowatts” of energy, either you produce 12.000 kilowatt-hours or you have 11.000 Wp. Maybe you could also refer to other countries, my plant is in germany, about the same inclination as the northern border of the USA, and I make over 1000kWh/kWp :)

  3. Gina Meduski says:

    Hubby and I live in Massachusetts and we just bought a passive solar home but haven’t moved in yet. Unfortunately, it is more passive than it was designed for originally and the solar components are no longer connected (but it does have a south facing sun room with glass ceiling and a collector under the floor). We’d like to learn more and connect with people in our area to figure out what the best solution is.

  4. Simon Fraser says:

    want to learn more about this…

  5. Brad Whitehead says:

    The author of this infographic is either misinformed or trying to put a positive spin on solar. PV panels efficiency is cut in half when it’s cloudy. You could still see an electric bill of zero but you would need twice the PV panel area as someone living in a mostly sunny area. The payback period on solar panels is anywhere from 20-30 years. They really aren’t cost effective, unless they are heavily subsidized. If they were power companies would use them instead of burn coal or natural gas. They are great for the environment, but not for the wallet.

  6. Dustin McKay says:

    Brad, brings up an interesting point, but it is somewhat incomplete in forgetting to note, that solar panels efficiency increases as the temperature decreases. In other words, the colder it is, the more power you get from each panel.

  7. Lorrie A Tourville says:

    Hubby had a question- what about snow ? do you have to climb up on the roof & clean them off ?

  8. Jay Johnson says:

    Too bad solar still takes a long time to pay back for itself. But I’m sure the payback time will become shorter in due time.

    On the upside… it’s good to see solar making its way into mainstream usage.

  9. Edward Michael Stoddard says:

    Brad also is dwelling too much on the negative, that is, the cost – the payback time. A lot of effort is going into making solar more efficient and affordable for the masses. Maybe not there yet, but as time passes and the technology improves and more and more folks install them, the costs will drop, making it a real option for the rest of us. We will ALL be in a much better position when that time comes. No more high energy bills, and when power plants have to cut back production as a result, much less damage to our environment. It’s a win that WILL come in time. Be patient.

  10. John Fall says:

    What is the cost of a decent solar system?

  11. Tim Schorer says:

    @brad is also overlooking the fact that solar panels ARE heavily subsidized by fed and state tax credits, as well as production credits from utilities (srecs). So brad IS correct that relying on energy offset will take 20 years to recoup your investment…but the actual number at this time, taking advantage of subsidies, is 4-5yrs.

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