7 Steps to Solar Panels in California (Purchase and Installation)

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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California is one of the best states for solar energy, thanks to an impressive amount of sunlight throughout the year. The state’s higher-than-average electricity bills and generous solar incentives also mean Californians can break even on the cost of their solar panels faster than nearly anywhere else.

With almost 2,400 solar companies operating in the state, Californians have a wide variety of solar providers to choose from.1 All of this makes going solar in California completely worth it for most homeowners. If you’re ready to go solar in California, here’s a guide to the steps you should take.

Step 1: What to consider when Buying Solar Panels

Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider 

Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract 

Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day 

Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels

Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO) 

Step 7: Set Back and Enjoy Your Solar Energy

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Best National Provider

Nationwide Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost


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


  • Expensive
  • Customer service varies by local dealer
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ADT Solar

Best Warranty Coverage

Regional Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost


  • Industry-leading warranty coverage
  • Expansive service area


  • Some reported communication issues
  • No leases or PPAs
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NRG Clean Power

Great Warranty Coverage

Regional Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost


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


  • No leases or PPAs
  • Can be slightly expensive

Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels in California

Buying a solar power system has a host of proven benefits, but it is still a big decision. Like any other investment, you should spend some time figuring out if and how you should go solar. 

Research If Solar Panels Are a Good Fit For You in California

To start, carefully consider whether solar power is a good fit for you. For Californians, the answer is generally yes, but there may be some rare scenarios where solar isn’t suitable for you.

Here at EcoWatch, we think converting to Solar Power in California is 100% worth it, but we understand it is a decision you need to make on an individual level. We highly recommend researching if solar makes sense in your location, for your roof type, and in your budget. This guide from EcoWatch can help. Secondly, check if solar power is viable for your particular home. For example, your home’s roof orientation may not not favorable for solar, or your roof space may be insufficient.

It is also a good idea to check out the state’s solar incentives to see how they can help you afford solar conversion. Keep in mind, these policies can change quickly. For instance, California’s net metering policy has been solid for many years now, but the state’s public utilities commission recently voted for a new net metering policy called NEM 3.0 that won’t be nearly as beneficial.

Fortunately, California is generally a great place to go solar, as you can see from the table below:

California Average U.S. Average
Cost of solar $2.73/W $2.66/W
Average system size 6 kW 9 kW
Average system cost $16,380 $23,940
Average system cost after ITC $11,466 $16,758
Payback period 8 years 8 years

Research How to Finance Solar Panels 

Even with the massive savings solar panels offer, its initial cost may feel daunting. This makes it important to understand the cost of solar in California, your potential savings from it, and ways to finance it. 

Considering all the existing state and federal incentives in the cost of a system can help paint a clearer picture of the net cost and savings. Here are a few commonly asked questions related to pricing and financing, and their answers.

How much are solar panels in California?

A typical solar power system in California will cost an average of $16,380. Once you add your savings from the federal solar investment tax credit, this number drops significantly. You can use our solar calculator to find out how large your system will need to be and determine how much your specific installation will cost.

How much can I save with solar? 

Solar power is largely beneficial on both the ecological and financial level, though there are a few minor drawbacks to consider. Over time, many California homeowners can save as much as $30,000 or more during the lifetime of their solar panels.

How do I finance solar?

Paying cash is generally the best deal, but financing your solar panels make solar conversion more accessible to people who don’t necessarily have enough saved up to buy a solar energy system all at once. Loans and other financing options help spread out your initial investment over a longer period of time. Multiple lenders in California offer solar loans at reasonable interest rates, though the rate you’ll pay usually varies based on your credit score. You can also apply to the Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program in California to help reduce financing costs.

Are there any tax incentives or other benefits for going solar? 

Yes! California has a large number of incentives programs for solar buyers, from tax rebates to generation incentives. Solar Incentives in California are ample due to the nature of solar-friendly the state is from an environmental standpoint and due to the legislation passed by the state to continue sustainable practices to help mitigate their growing population and resource exhaustion.Below is a quick list of the main incentives available to Californians.

What is the payback period for solar in California?

A typical system in California usually has a payback period of 8 years.

Step 2: Get a Quote from a Solar Provider 

Once your general research for solar power in California is done, you may conclude that solar is a great choice for your home. The next step, naturally, is to look for a solar installer. 

Picking a Solar Installer

California has a large number of solar companies, and it can be difficult to choose one that’s best for you. One way to do this is to look at the best solar companies in California, as well as the best solar companies in the U.S

National installers often offer low prices and reliable warranties, but you may want the more personalized service you get when you choose a local installer. 

What to Expect After Requesting a Quote

Once you have a short list of a few installers that you like, reach out to each of them to get a quote. Multiple quotes help you compare not only prices but also timelines, services and any additional perks the provider offers. Some installers can even agree to price match another company’s quote, getting you a combination of your preferred installer and price.

Before giving you a quote, each provider is likely to set up a basic consultation, where they may ask you to send them your energy bills and home address. This is also a good chance to ask any questions that you may have, such as the type of equipment offered, or the warranties.

When the installer has assessed your energy bills and the details of your roof, the company will create a solar proposal for you. It will generally include the final price of your system, along with details such as the system size, expected savings, and panel brands they recommend. 

At this point, you can explore financing options if you like. A good start is to ask the provider if they work with any specific lenders.

Consider Purchasing Solar Accessories

Before signing your purchase agreement, you have the chance to add in accessories like a battery bank for energy storage. This may be useful in places where your system is not grid-connected, meaning you cannot benefit from net metering. Which as mentioned above with NEM 3.0 passing in April 14, 2023 will force many solar converters to store energy instead of selling it back to utility companies.

Another example is a solar carport or an EV charger, if you are planning to buy an electric vehicle in the near future. Bundling these purchases may help you get a better deal. With the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) you could also benefit from tax breaks on EVs- calculate how much you save with our IRA Calculator.

Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract in California 

When you have multiple proposals in front of you, it’s time to choose an installer that best suits your needs. Try to fully understand the terms and conditions of your purchase agreement. Below are a few things you might want to focus on.

How Do Solar Warranties Work in California?

Most solar power systems come with two types of warranties – an equipment warranty and a workmanship warranty. The equipment warranty applies to each component of your system, protecting against damage and malfunction. These warranties may range from 10 years to 25 years. Longer is almost always better.

The workmanship warranty refers to the quality of your installation. This can range anywhere between 5 and 25 years. If your panels were installed improperly, this warranty means the installer will come back and fix it for you for free.

When Can I Expect Solar Service to Begin?

Getting a solar power system on your roof involves much more than just the installation part of it. Along with the permitting, inspections, and other steps, it can take anywhere between two and six months.

Solar Panel Permits in California

Local governments in California typically require solar panel systems to have certain permits before being installed and turned on. Thankfully, your solar installer will usually handle the permitting process, and you won’t have to do anything (besides pay for it). The cost of permits are generally factored into your proposal.

Solar & Utility Interconnection 

Most solar power systems in California are interconnected to the local electrical grid. This means electricity can flow to and from the utility grid in your area. This is useful for net-metered systems, which allow you to send excess power to the grid during the day, while taking power from the grid during darker hours.

Although optional, nearly all new buyers opt for utility interconnection, whether they are customers of PG&E, SCE, or SDG&E. This may lengthen the permitting process, and even add an inspection step, but is important to reap maximum benefits from your panels.

Step 4: Preparing for Installation Day in California

In California, a typical residential solar installation takes anywhere between a day and a week. A common question many homeowners ask is “Do I need to be home for solar panel installation?” 

Technically, you don’t need to be home for the rooftop work of mounting and connecting panels, but the electrical work after that generally requires access to your house’s wiring and electrical panel. To this, we highly recommend you or a proxy be at home during solar panel installation day. We also recommend that you be present for the entire installation process to better understand how your system is put together.

The inspection of your system will likely happen on a separate day. Usually, solar inspections take one to two hours. Your installer should let you know when this will happen and if you need to be present for it.

Step 5: Getting a Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels in California

Before your system goes live, it needs a final inspection by an employee of the local government. The goal of this inspection is to ensure compliance with the California Electrical Code and other regulations. This ensures that your system is safe.

Your inspector will check the wiring and grounding of your system, and also examine the equipment — modules, inverter, etc. For ground-mounted systems, they may choose to inspect the footing and underground wiring.

Step 6: Obtaining Permission to Operate in California

In California, like other U.S. states, you can only turn on your system after receiving a permission to operate (PTO) from your utility company. This can take anywhere between a few days to a few weeks after you have submitted your interconnection request.

Once you receive the PTO, you can activate your system. However, it is a good idea to let your installer guide you through the operation of the system, and show you the switches, breakers and other safety devices. 

They will also inform you about any monitoring capabilities your system has, which often give you access to your system’s data in real time through a website or smartphone app. The installer will guide you on operating and cleaning the system safely, and may also show you how to identify potential hazards.

In the event of an emergency related to the system, you can call your installer, your utility company, or 911. 

Step 7: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Solar Energy in California

Once your system is up and running, your work is done, and it’s your solar panels’ turn to get to work. From the day your system is turned on, your panels work relentlessly for 25 or more years, saving you thousands of dollars in electricity bills.

Your solar panels will also typically increase your home value significantly, as multiple studies have found. Last but not least, your solar power system will help conserve energy, and make this planet a slightly better place.

Aerial view of San Jose
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Skyline of San Francisco
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FAQs on Solar Panels in California

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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.
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Expert reviewer
Andrew Dunn is a veteran journalist with more than 15 years of experience reporting and editing for local and national publications, including The Charlotte Observer and Business North Carolina magazine. His work has been recognized numerous times by the N.C. Press Association and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Andrew earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a certificate in business journalism and a minor in Spanish. He's also an avid outdoorsman, an Eagle Scout and volunteer leader in the Boy Scouts of America. He lives in Charlotte, N.C.

Comparing authorized solar partners

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  • 5.0
    • Most efficient panels on the market
    • National coverage
    • Cradle to Cradle sustainability certification
    • Great warranty coverage
    • Expensive
    • Customer service varies by local dealer
    Best National Provider
    SunPower Panels
    25-year all-inclusive warranty

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