Nonprofit Solar Pie proves Seattle is always sunny

Solar Pie founders on the PEMCO building roof in SeattleScott Sherwood wanted to put solar panels on the 1907 Seattle home he shared with his wife, Carolyn.  And Carolyn thought he was nuts. “This is going to be one big, costly huge science experiment,” she thought.  They live in Seattle, she told him. It’s the cloudiest, rainiest city in the country. “But when you’re married, you support your partner,” Carolyn said.

She sat down with a pen and paper and started calculating. Having trouble making sense of the figures, she turned to a friend who had recently installed panels. Her friend told her to put the pen down and just do it if it was important to her. That was good advice.  This was in 2008.

The Sherwoods installed 18 photovoltaic solar panels on their roof.  Carolyn was shocked by how little effort and equipment was needed to make the system work. Once it was installed she started climbing into the attic regularly to look at how the system worked and monitor how much energy it was producing and saving.  “I was shocked,” she said. “I just thought, ‘oh my goodness, this is something everybody needs to know about.’”

That’s when Carolyn and Scott created Solar Pie, a non-profit organization, whose aim is to increase awareness of solar energy. They started driving up and down Interstate 5 through the heart of Seattle to look for the most visible rooftop in the city. They spotted the PEMCO building.

PEMCO agreed to install 36 solar panels and a huge display next to its temperature and time clocks showing how much energy the panels were producing.  The panels were installed in November, 2008, but the monitor wasn’t working until about a year ago. In the last year, the 36 panels have produced 8,200 kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power one average American home, Carolyn said.  She wants people to know that solar not only works, but works in Seattle.

“People drive by that building on the cloudiest rainiest winter day, a typical Seattle day,” Carolyn said. “And that roof is producing energy.”  She is working on developing partnerships so Solar Pie can install similar systems on roofs in cities in all 50 states.  The Sherwoods’ organization is called Solar Pie because people, especially in the northwest United States, think solar is a “pie in the sky” kind of idea.  “Scott always says, ‘It is pie in the sky. How much do you want?’” Carolyn said.

Pictured: PEMCO's Ed Davis talks with Scott and Carolyn Sherwood on the PEMCO building roof. Photo taken by Greg Gilbert for the Seattle Times.