How To Save Money When Hiring a Solar Company In California
The average cost per watt of solar is slightly higher in California, sitting around $2.73 compared to the national average of $2.66. But because solar goes further in the Golden State, it offers more value in California compared to the majority of states.
That’s mostly thanks to the availability of sunshine, allowing a smaller system to work more efficiently. As such, the average California homeowner can power their home with a relatively small 6 kW system, compared to the national average 9 kW system.
|Location ||Pre-Incentive Cost for Average Solar System |
|California ||$16,380 |
|U.S. Average ||$23,940 |
The typical solar panel system costs a California homeowner $16,380, while the average U.S. homeowner pays $23,940. These figures are also before applying any solar incentives and assuming top-quality brands.
In California, there are several ways you can save money on going solar:
- Take advantage of solar incentives and rebates
- Compare types of solar equipment
- Shop solar panel companies
- Pay in cash if possible
We’ll discuss how you can save money when buying solar panels in California below. But first, here are our preferred picks:
Take Advantage of Solar Incentives and Rebates
There are a number of solar incentives in California — including tax credits, exemptions and rebate opportunities — that make installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems more affordable for residents while helping the state produce more clean energy. Below is an overview of those incentives:
|California Solar Incentive ||Incentive Overview |
|Federal Solar Tax Credit (ITC) ||The federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, allows homeowners to claim 30% of their system costs as a credit against the federal taxes they owe. As it stands, the credit is set to reduce to 26% in 2033 and 22% in 2034 and will be eliminated for residential systems in 2035.1 |
|Net Metering ||Net Metering allows customers to feed excess energy generated by their solar panels back to the local power grid. In exchange, customers receive credits from their utility companies that can be applied to future energy bills. California has historically offered one of the nation’s best net metering programs, compensating its solar customers at full retail rate. However, the program is undergoing changes and is expected to decrease soon. |
|Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) ||The SGIP as described by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) offers rebates for installing energy storage systems at both residential and non-residential facilities.2 |
|SGIP Equity Resiliency Program ||Offered as an additional incentive within the SGIP program, California provides additional rebates of either $850 or $1,000 per kWh of battery storage. This program works primarily with low-income households and families living in areas prone to wildfires or power outages.3 |
|Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program ||The California Solar Initiative (CSI) launched its SASH program (aka DAC-SASH) to provide fixed, up-front incentives on qualifying affordable single-family housing.4 |
|Active Solar Energy System Property Tax Exclusion ||This incentive ensures the addition of a solar panel installation doesn’t raise homeowners’ property taxes.5 |
|Local Solar Incentives ||Some local utility companies and municipalities offer their own solar incentive programs. For example, The Rancho Mirage Energy Authority offers a $500 rebate to its residential customers who install or expand a home solar system, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District offers up to $2,500 for solar users with battery storage systems. |
Learn more in our California solar incentives guide here.
Compare Types of Solar Equipment
Just like clothing brands, solar equipment brands come with their own price tags and level of quality. Solar panel systems are sized by watt, and different types of solar panels have varying watt output.
California sees ample sunshine, so you may be able to power your entire home even with a cheaper solar panel that produces less energy (for example, buying an older 350W model instead of a cutting-edge 400W). Or, you can pick high-efficiency panels and install fewer of them. Either way, you’re saving money.
If you don’t live in an area prone to power outages, you can also save by skipping out on a solar battery installation. However, keep in mind that utility companies, like PG&E, will frequently perform public safety power shut-offs when there are wildfire risks, which have been especially frequent up and down the Golden State.
Shop Different Solar Companies
California is home to nearly 900 registered solar installers, which means you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a solar company.6 We’ve outlined the top five best solar installers in California in this article — don’t hesitate to reach out to each one and compare quotes to ensure you’re getting the best deal. If you get a quote from one solar company but prefer another, see if they’ll match the rate.
Pay for Your System in Cash (If You Can)
The method you choose to pay for your solar panels will alter the total cost of installation. We recommend paying in cash if you can. Of course, cash purchases require the highest payments up front, but they save the most over time because they don’t require you to pay interest. Solar loans make your equipment more affordable up front, but they save slightly less because they include interest paid over time.
Luckily, California has plenty of financing programs to make solar more affordable and accessible to most homeowners. For example, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs are available to the majority of homeowners, and they serve to reduce financing costs and up-front payments for solar systems.7
Will Solar Increase Your Home Value In California?
Multiple studies have shown that solar panels do increase the value of a home, including a 2022 EcoWatch survey where 63% of respondents said they would pay more for a home with solar panels than a home without.
A study from Zillow revealed that homes with solar installations tend to sell for about 4.1% more on average than homes without solar. The study specifically examined the housing market in Riverside, California, reporting that homes with solar energy systems went for roughly $9,930 above market value.8
And an older study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory revealed that home resale value jumps by nearly $6,000 for each kilowatt of solar that’s installed.9
Should California Residents Hire a Professional Solar Installer Or DIY?
Installing solar panels in California is appealing for many reasons, but the cost may lead to some hesitancy. Many homeowners may look to install DIY panels to avoid solar panel installation costs. But is it a good idea?
Here are a few things to consider:
- How much do you save with a DIY solar panel installation?
- Are you capable of installing your own solar panels?
- Is the cost saved from DIY worth the risks?
How Much Do You Save With a DIY Solar Installation in California?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, labor typically accounts for about 10% of the total cost of solar installation.10 In California, that could lead to savings of $1,638.
Are You Capable of Installing Your Own Solar Panels?
There are people recording DIY solar panel installations on YouTube. So you may be thinking, how hard can it be?
The answer: it’s more complicated than you think. Unless you’re certified in a similar trade, we don’t recommend installing your own solar panels. Solar contractors have to go through rigorous training and licensing because there are complexities to the job.
Plus, solar companies have software designed to find the exact angle and placement of panels to maximize production, which can lead to savings of well over $1,600 when you consider 25 years of production. If you install your solar panels improperly, you’re not going to benefit as much as you could.
Is the Savings of DIY Solar Installation Worth the Risks?
While it sounds nice to save, you have to think about the risk involved in installing your own solar panels. DIY installations can be dangerous, as you’ll be up on the roof and dealing with direct electricity and wires. If you’re not 100% confident in what you’re doing, chances are higher that you could install them improperly, damage your solar equipment or even damage your roof.
Bottom line, unless you have relevant experience, we don’t recommend DIY solar panels installations.
What Should California Residents Look for in a Solar Installer?
California has hundreds of solar installers all competing for your business. The state is also home to high energy costs and frequent outages, which make for a unique energy market. With that in mind, we recommend considering the following factors when choosing the best company for your installation:
- Local reputation and reviews
- Solar pricing and financing
- Services offered
- Warranty coverage
- Company experience
- Brand quality
Local Reputation & Reviews
We read through dozens of customer reviews and complaints from fellow California homeowners, as well as examining each company’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) score. Companies like Stellar Solar score well in this category thanks to its excellent local reputation, proven by the success of its referral network.
We also recommend working with a company that maintains membership in the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other professional associations. Membership in these groups is a great indicator of the company’s professionalism, workmanship, reputation and reliability.
Solar Pricing and Financing
Sticker shock is common with solar systems, but keep in mind that you’ll ultimately save money in the long run, thanks to the reduced energy costs. In addition, California offers statewide solar incentives that can help you reduce these upfront costs. We give high scores to companies that offer a wide range of solar financing options, as well as have proven experience navigating the many statewide incentive programs of California.
For one, it’s important to note that different solar companies may offer slightly different services. Most California homeowners will want a company that provides a wide range of services, assisting with everything from initial consultation to panel installation to applying for financial incentives. Since power outages and EVs are very common in California, we place special weight on companies that have ample experience installing solar batteries and EV chargers.
Finally, we recommend seeking an installer that can offer a good warranty. Panels can last 25 to 30 years, and you will want to ensure your investment is protected for as long as possible. The top solar installers will offer 25-year warranties for roofing, performance and workmanship.
SunPower, ADT Solar and NRG Clean Power all offer comprehensive warranties of at least 25 years, hence why they scored well in this category.
We typically only recommend solar companies that have at least 10 years of experience. In most cases, the more experience, the better. With more than 900 solar installers to choose from in California, a company that has a long track record and customer referrals is a strong sign that it’s a good company to work with.
California also has a lot of local solar policies promoting certain residential solar add-ons, like EV chargers and energy storage devices. As a result, installations with add-ons are much more common here compared to other states. You want a company that knows California well.
Pay attention to the specific type of solar technology that is offered. Some companies, like SunPower, can exclusively offer best-in-class solar modules, while others may have a variety of products better suited for a budget-minded customer. Is the company certified to install leading brands like Tesla, Panasonic and LG? It never hurts to take a closer look into the company’s tech portfolio. If you have a specific brand of solar panel or battery in mind, check that the company you’re speaking with is certified to sell and install those products.
Methodology: How We Ranked California’s Solar Companies
EcoWatch’s solar experts researched the product ranges, services, warranty coverage, financing options, customer feedback and industry reputations of each major California solar installer. Using this methodology, we used the data we collected to rate and rank each company to narrow down our picks for the best solar companies in California.
Below are some of the criteria we examined specifically for California solar companies:
- Local reputation and reviews (20%): We take each company’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) score into consideration, as well as the reviews other California homeowners have left for each company. We give bonus points for companies with wide-ranging referral networks in California, which offer proof of satisfied customers.
- Solar pricing and financing (20%): We give more points to companies that offer a wide variety of payment options. The best companies understand that in a state as economically diverse as California, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
- Services offered (20%): Aside from solar panel installation, we award more points to companies that offer solar batteries, EV chargers, energy audits, etc. In California, we pay special attention to companies that offer backup battery installations to counter the increasing frequency of power outages in the state.
- Warranty coverage (20%): Most of the top providers offer 25-year performance guarantees. If a company offers anything less than this, we dock points.
- Company experience (10%): We only review solar companies that are at least 10 years old. More points are awarded the longer the company has been operating in California.
- Brand quality (10%): Each company will offer different brands of solar equipment as part of its services. We award more points to companies that offer a variety of brands and plenty of high-quality products. Higher quality products usually offer
Read More About Going Solar in California