I know you're not supposed to air your dirty linen in public. But clean linen is OK. Pretty much. Unless you live in a neighborhood that expressly forbids it as not aesthetically pleasing. Not sure if that happens locally, but it does elsewhere, (and can become quite an issue.)
But I do think it's OK here. At any rate, I have been airing my clean linen (and cotton, polyester, rayon, etc) on my clothes racks in the back yard (and hanging in trees) for a number of years. I hate turning on the dryer and using kilowatts when there's all that solar energy just waiting to dry my laundry for free. (If you're interested, by the way, in the cost per load or per year with your electric or gas dryer, you can calculate it on this Saving Electricity website.) The price tag might sell you on sunshine. Gentle breezes sometimes assist the sun in this drying task, although Enumclaw winds have occasionally toppled my clothes racks. I think with an actual clothesline that is not a problem.
Well, that low-tech solar energy is available to most anybody with room for a clothesline or a clothes rack, and more and more people are tapping into it. We just took a big step and went for high-tech solar energy with the installation of solar panels. Now, besides drying clothes with solar energy, we bake, compute, light, refrigerate. No, it doesn't do the whole job. We will know more after a year's use, but the projection is that our system will produce about 63% of our energy needs. What happens is that when the panels are producing more than we are using, as they did the past few weeks, the PSE meter runs backwards. So we banked some kwh's during our extended summer which got credited for later use. (And what an extended summer it was--we wish we had gone solar in July!) But yes, we have a sudden drop in production now that it has clouded over. Plus days are getting shorter . The PSE meter is running forwards. :(
So you might wonder about the effectiveness of solar energy in the Great PNW, given our gray winter days, not to mention the June Gloom. But over the course of a year, a house in Enumclaw receives about 70% of the sunshine it would get in Los Angeles. Even more surprising, it can generate 82% of the solar electricity its L.A. counterpart does. The reason is that solar panels are more efficient the cooler they are--a panel loses about 1% of its production power for each degree above 70, and likewise gains 1% for each degree below. Which is to say, briefly, Yes, it works here, and quite well.
You might also wonder about the cost and value of solar energy. It's definitely a major investment. Of course, like other home improvements, we figure the value of our house immediately went up as much as the cost of the system. And we did the math--the eventual return is considerably better than we can get anywhere on savings or CDs. But payback for the actual outlay will take about seven years, so we'll be hoping for sunny days and carefully watching our kwh production. Oh, forgot to mention, our system comes with an online Energy Minder (picture above) for monitoring in kilowatts our moment-by-moment solar production and household energy being consumed. We watched the kilowatt hours and pennies and dollars add up during the sunny weather--it's not as much fun now! I do suppose the novelty will wear off and we won't watch for all seven years. Payback is helped, too, by some temporary state and federal incentives, intended to boost the industry. And low-interest loans are available, so solar installation can also be done with less upfront cash and payments can be made with the proceeds generated.
There are a number of solar companies in Washington. We chose Puget Sound Solar to install our system, and have been very happy with their expertise, staff, service, and follow-up.. You can see some of the team at work here. Always thinking LOCAL, we selected panels made in Washington (Marysville) by Silicon Energy. (Let's keep the jobs here!)
If anyone is considering a solar installation and wants to see our system or get more information, we'll be happy to share what we know and what we learn along the way. We plan to be involved for at least seven years....
Back to low-tech solar energy: Clothes-drying in the sun-- been going on for thousands of years. Seems to me it's still a good idea. And payback on a clothes rack won't take long. (Don't forget to check your dryer cost-per-year on that website.)