California Solar Panel Buyers Guide [Installation & Efficiency 2022]

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide to California solar panels:

  • How much solar costs, on average, in CA
  • Why CA is generally considered the best state in the country for residential solar
  • How you can save money by taking advantage of federal and state programs
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How to Get Solar Panels in California

The first thing you need to do to begin your solar journey is find a local solar installer. Before you call, make sure you have a recent electric bill handy to give the company a general sense of what size solar system you’ll need.

The company will send a technician to your home to inspect and take measurements. It should always provide a free quote and an overview of the design for the solar equipment you’ll need.

Once you give the green light to start the installation, the company will perform a detailed survey of your roof, design your system and acquire any permits you need from your local jurisdiction. Your solar provider will then install your system and take care of connecting it to the grid.

California is one of the sunniest states in the nation and offers several solar incentives to its residents. This makes it one of the best places for solar in the U.S. The average solar customer in CA pays off their panels with energy savings and then saves an additional $29,734.

 

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SunPower

Best National Provider

Nationwide Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost

Pros

  • Most efficient panels on the market
  • National coverage
  • Cradle to Cradle sustainability certification
  • Great warranty coverage

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Customer service varies by local dealer
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ADT Solar

Best Warranty Coverage

Regional Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost

Pros

  • Industry-leading warranty coverage
  • Expansive service area

Cons

  • Some reported communication issues
  • No leases or PPAs
Badge icon

NRG Clean Power

Great Warranty Coverage

Regional Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost

Pros

  • Industry-leading warranty
  • Outstanding customer service
  • Representatives are experts on local policies

Cons

  • No leases or PPAs
  • Can be slightly expensive

What Is the Price of Solar Panel Installation in California?

The average price of a solar installation in California is $11,466 after the federal investment tax credit (ITC), with most residents paying between around $5,700 and $17,500.

These estimates assume an average cost per watt of $2.73, which is a typical rate throughout California. Given the average cost of electricity and average monthly energy usage of CA residents, you’ll most likely need a six kilowatt (kW) system to offset your monthly electricity bill.

At these rates, most CA solar systems will pay for themselves within eight years well below the national average. Assuming a lifespan of 20 to 25 years, most Californians save nearly $30,000 by switching to solar over their solar system’s lifetime as compared to sticking with fossil fuels. For a more detailed look at price information, check out this comprehensive guide to solar prices in California.

The Best Solar Panel Brands Available in California

California is the number one state in the country for solar adoption, so you probably won’t be surprised to hear that its residents are spoiled for choice when it comes to solar brands. Having numerous choices is a double-edged sword since it means you have to do more research to find the best brand for you and your home.

Many CA residents choose to go with high-efficiency panels to help keep their solar systems small. Even though California has no shortage of sunshine, high-efficiency panels will help you make the most of your solar system.

Ultimately, high-efficiency brands reduce the amount of time it takes to recoup the cost of your system and increase your lifetime savings.

Below is a short list of some of the high-quality brands CA residents often choose:

  • SunPower (now Maxeon)
  • Tesla
  • Panasonic
  • LG (solar panels by this brand are soon to be discontinued)
  • Qcells
  • Silfab
  • REC
  • Canadian Solar
  • JA Solar
  • Mission Solar
  • Trina Solar

While these brands are the most popular in the solar industry in California, keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. Don’t be afraid to ask up front what brands a company carries before requesting a free quote if you’re looking for a specific panel manufacturer.

Bear in mind that panels aren’t the only equipment you need to think about when choosing a solar company and brand. Inverters, roof mounts, battery storage systems and electric vehicle chargers are also important and vary in cost and quality between brands.

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Is California a Good State for Solar Panels?

As mentioned above, California is largely regarded as the best state in the country for solar in terms of initial costs, lifetime savings and the availability of solar programs. Below are some of the top reasons why CA is an excellent state for solar:

  • Tons of sunshine: California is the fifth sunniest state in the country, boasting a whopping 258 sunny days throughout most of the state, and regions like Los Angeles enjoy even more sun.1 Having more sunlight available gives your panels more resources to work with to generate energy. Ultimately, that means more energy savings for you.
  • Above-average electricity rates: CA electricity rates are well above the national average, which means switching to solar saves CA residents more money on average than it does in many other states. The average cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in CA is 20.45 cents compared to the national average of 13.15 cents.2 Solar arrays are more valuable in areas like CA with higher energy needs because there’s more room for them to save you money.
  • Plenty of options: California residents have access to a wide variety of solar providers and top solar equipment brands. In fact, many of the largest solar manufacturers in the country are based right in CA, which helps keep equipment prices down a bit.
  • Abundant incentive programs for solar: CA is considered one of the most solar-friendly states. Residents can take advantage of the federal tax credit, net metering programs from their local utility company and several state-level programs to keep up-front costs down and long-term savings up. We’ll discuss these programs and rebates in more detail in a later section.
  • Low energy needs: While the cost of electricity in CA is high, most residents use less energy than homeowners in other states. The typical monthly consumption in the Golden State is just 572 kWh, making it the fifth lowest in the nation. Low energy consumption means a smaller system requirement, which translates to lower up-front costs.

The bottom line is that investing in a residential solar system is an excellent idea for virtually all Californians. While the statewide average cost per watt of $2.73 is slightly above the $2.66 national average, California’s abundant sunshine, generous incentive programs and short panel payback period make it one of the best investments residents of the Golden State can make.

How Much Energy Can I Get From Solar Panels in California?

The amount of clean energy a given solar power system produces depends on several factors, which makes it challenging to estimate your production. A property inspection and review of your electricity bills would be needed to get an accurate estimate. Some of the factors that influence production include:

  • Your roof’s orientation: South-facing roofs receive more direct sunlight in the northern hemisphere during the summer than roofs that face a different direction. More direct sunlight means greater potential for conversion to electricity for your photovoltaic panels.
  • How much sun your property gets: If your CA property is shaded by trees, utility poles or surrounding buildings, your solar system won’t generate as much energy as it otherwise could. The best candidates for rooftop solar are properties that have a clear line of sight to the sun for most of the day. This is because your panels rely on available sunlight to produce the maximum amount of power.
  • The brand of equipment: Each panel brand comes with an efficiency rating. This number dictates how much of the sunlight that actually hits your panels can be converted into electricity for your home. Having more-efficient panels means your system will generate more electricity than a system with less-efficient panels, provided all else is equal.
  • The weather: Photovoltaic panels produce less electricity when it’s cloudy because the sunlight is blocked, so your system’s overall production will depend on how sunny it is. Luckily, many parts of California experience more than 70% sunshine throughout the year.3
california solar panels
Credit: WikiMedia / WikiMedia
  • How big your system is: The size of the system you install — measured in watts — is the single most important factor for determining production rates. Larger systems produce more energy, which can be stored for later use if you purchase a solar system with a battery. Just keep in mind that maximizing system size isn’t always financially a good idea. Instead, it’s best to have a local installer size your system appropriately.

While all of these factors play into your total efficiency and production levels, it is possible to estimate your numbers. The following table provides some information about how the average amount of energy varies with system size in CA.

Solar Power System Size Expected Daily Energy Generation Expected Monthly Energy Generation Expected Annual Energy Generation
3 kW 10 kWh 300 kWh 3,600 kWh
4 kW 13.3 kWh 400 kWh 4,800 kWh
5 kW 16.7 kWh 500 kWh 6,000 kWh
6 kW 20 kWh 600 kWh 7,200 kWh
7 kW 23.3 kWh 700 kWh 8,400 kWh
8 kW 26.7 kWh 800 kWh 9,600 kWh
9 kW 30 kWh 900 kWh 10,800 kWh

You should check out our convenient solar calculator tool to see how much energy a solar panel system can produce on your roof for a more personalized estimate.

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Solar Panel Policy History in California

California has led the way regarding solar policy in the U.S. from the beginning. Its solar policy began back in 1976 when the state initiated incentives for businesses willing to invest in solar technology.

Two years later, in 1978, the state passed solar rights and easement laws. This legislation prevented homeowners associations (HOAs) and other governing bodies from stopping solar installation on private residences.

Flash forward to the late 90s, and we see residential solar installations starting to gain momentum. This was, in large part, due to the state’s passing of the Electric Utility Industry Restructuring Act in 1996. The bill served to deregulate energy companies in California, giving the state’s residents the freedom to choose their own energy provider.

In the same year, California installed statewide net metering policies that guaranteed Californians the ability to sell the excess energy their panels generate back to their utility companies.

These early progressive stances on residential solar paved the way for California to become the number one state in the country for solar energy investments decades later.

About ten years after the Utility Restructuring act in 2006, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger passed the California Solar Initiative (CSI), a move that started the ball rolling for state-sponsored renewable energy programs.

The act involved California’s three largest energy companies — Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) — making it easy for a large swath of the state’s population to take advantage of California solar incentives.

The CSI was a resounding success, reaching its lofty goal of installing nearly 2,000 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity by 2016, two years ahead of schedule.

More recently, in 2018, California’s state government established the California Energy Commission (CEC), which stipulates that all new homes must be built with solar panels starting in 2020. The state is also committed to increasing its long-term solar production by aiming to eliminate its carbon footprint entirely by 2050.

CA is well on its way to reaching these targets, with an estimated 25 gigawatts of solar energy production capacity already installed across almost one million separate solar projects.

California also raised more than $40 billion for solar installations as of 2018. This is strong evidence that the state’s solar movement isn’t losing any steam despite the staggering investments that have already been made.

To say that California leads the country in solar capacity is a gross understatement. California’s progressive approach to solar energy at the state level has catapulted it well ahead of the field. A 2018 report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) showed that California had a greater solar capacity than the next eight highest solar-producing states.4

The future of solar in California is bright, and state legislators aren’t showing any signs of changing their approach to solar policy. If anything, solar policy in California is likely to improve in the coming years as more homeowners make the switch.

What Are the Solar Panel Incentives in California?

California offers its residents some of the best solar incentives of any state in the country.

It uses incentives to encourage residents to switch to solar to help combat climate change while simultaneously saving money on their monthly energy bills. Below, we’ll explain some of the most compelling programs Californians can take advantage of when converting to solar energy:

  • Net energy metering (NEM): This policy allows homeowners to sell the excess energy their solar system produces back to the grid. It has been available in California since 1996 and is historically one of the best incentives in the solar industry.
  • Federal solar tax credit (ITC): The federal government allows homeowners to claim 30% of the total cost of a solar system as a tax credit that can be used to offset their federal tax burden. The ITC will remain at 30% until 2033, when it decreases to 26%. It will drop again to 22% in 2034 before being discontinued in 2035.
  • Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP): The SGIP was started by the California Public Utilities Commission. The program offers rebates to California residents who install rooftop solar.
  • Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH): This program was launched with the CSI in 2006, offering rebates for single-family houses that install solar equipment.
  • Equity Resiliency program: Separate from the SGIP incentive, this provides rebates of either $850 or $1,000 per kWh of energy storage capacity your solar system has. This program is focused on low-income areas of the state where power outages are common since solar energy storage helps mitigate the burden on electric companies during large-scale outages.
  • Active solar energy system property tax exclusion: This prevents solar installations from increasing the value of your home for property tax purposes. Solar equipment increases a home’s value by approximately 4.1%, so this incentive is especially beneficial given California’s median home value of around $750,000.5

Some local jurisdictions offer additional incentives above and beyond the state and federal programs above.

Rancho Mirage Energy Authority (RMEA) offers a $500 rebate to its customers who install a home solar panel system. Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) offers a similar option to its customers that can return as much as $2,500 to a homeowner for installing solar systems with battery backups.

solar panels california
Courtesy: Tesla Inc

To learn more about the programs available to you as a Golden State resident, check out this guide to California’s solar incentives.

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Find a Local Installer in California

The company you choose to tackle your solar project is one of the most important decisions you need to make when going solar it will have the biggest effect on your experience during installation and maintenance down the road.

Below, we’ll include links to company rankings for some of the largest cities in California:

Aerial view of San Jose
Credit: WikiMedia / WikiMedia

Best Solar Companies in San Jose

Skyline of San Francisco
Credit: Ken Lund / Flickr

Best Solar Companies in San Francisco

View of the Fresno skyline
Credit: WikiMedia / WikiMedia

Best Solar Companies in Fresno

View of Sacramento, CA from the water
Credit: Wayne Hsieh / Flickr

Best Solar Companies in Sacramento

Aerial view of East Village in Long Beach
Credit: WikiMedia / WikiMedia

Best Solar Companies in Long Beach

Aerial view of Oakland, CA
Credit: WikiMedia / WikiMedia

Best Solar Companies in Oakland

Street view of downtown Anaheim
Credit: Ken Lund / Flickr

Best Solar Companies in Anaheim

Street view of downtown Santa Ana, CA
Credit: Ken Lund / Flickr

Best Solar Companies in Santa Ana

Stunning view of Los Angeles
Credit: WikiMedia / WikiMedia

Best Solar Companies in Los Angeles

A shot of downtown Stockton in CA
Credit: WikiMedia / WikiMedia

Best Solar Companies in Stockton

If you’re looking for more general installer recommendations, or if you’re looking for installers outside of these major cities, you can check out our guide to solar companies in California.

 

Blog author image
Dan Simms, Home Improvement Expert
Article author
Dan Simms is an experienced writer with a passion for renewable energy. As a solar and EV advocate, much of his work has focused on the potential of solar power and deregulated energy, but he also writes on related topics, like real estate and economics. In his free time — when he's not checking his own home's solar production — he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing.