California has more rooftop solar panels than any other state; it’s not even close. And for good reason: Not only does the Golden State have the most people, it also has a history of policies designed to encourage people to go solar.
While recent changes to the state’s net metering regulations might put a dent in the state’s solar growth, there are plenty of reasons to consider swapping much of your above-average electric bill for a set of solar panels. But making that choice is just the first of many: You also have to pick an installer.
We’ve compiled a list of the top installers in California, and rounded up some advice on how to shop around to make sure you’re getting a good deal on something that should power your home and your life for decades.
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Best national solar panel companies in California
According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, California has the largest solar market in the US, with nearly 2,000 solar companies operating across the state. While this means there are plenty of California solar installers to choose from, it can also feel overwhelming to sort through your options.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the best national solar panel companies that stand out in the industry. Here are a few that service California.
Local solar panel companies in California
During your search for solar installers, consider looking into local solar companies, too. We pulled a few California solar companies with some of the highest average Google review scores. However, you should also do some research on your own, and get referrals from people you know if you can. Here are a few local solar companies in California that might be worth considering.
How to determine which solar company in California is best for me
You’ll want to make sure your installer has experience working with the type of roof that you have, and the type of system you want installed, like grid-tied or off-grid.
Ben Delman, a communications director with Solar United Neighbors, a clean energy nonprofit, says a homeowner interested in solar should look for solar installers that are certified by NABCEP and have the proper licensing for their work. Reading online reviews from multiple sources can also help you get a better understanding of a company’s reputation. A few places to start looking for solar company reviews are Google, Yelp and Angie’s. Delman recommends looking for solar companies that have at least 20 to 30 reviews. If you know someone who has solar panels on their home, you can ask them for recommendations too.
Aside from certifications and reviews, there are a few other things to look for in a solar installer. A good installer, Delman said, will be able to:
- Give good word-of-mouth references
- Clearly explain the project and working deadlines in detail
- Define technical terms in an easy-to-understand manner
- Be transparent about pricing and how financing works
- Have knowledge about the local permit requirements and the process for system interconnection with the local utility company
- Understand homeowners association restrictions and help you navigate that process
A reputable solar installer should be able to answer any questions you may have, no matter how difficult those questions might be. Don’t feel hesitant to ask for clarification on any project and pricing details. To get the best price possible, shop around for multiple quotes. Delman recommends getting at least three quotes before settling on an installer.
Average cost of solar panels in California
Here’s a look at the average cash price for a 5-kilowatt system before factoring in tax credits and incentives, according to data from FindEnergy.com and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Remember that the prices you’re quoted may not exactly match the estimates and averages, which may vary for a number of reasons. The Berkeley Lab’s estimates are for prices before incentives and including fees for financing, for example.
California solar panel costs
|Price per watt
|System size (kW)
California solar panel incentives and rebates
Even though the cost of solar panels has decreased in the last two decades, they’re still a substantial investment. But several solar tax credits and incentives make solar more affordable, especially in California. One key solar incentive, net metering, was reduced in a utility commission vote last year. When that change goes into effect April 15, it’s expected to increase a solar system’s payback period from six years to 10. California also introduced time of use rates, which could make installing backup batteries more profitable.
The residential clean energy credit (previously known as the investment tax credit) is a federal solar tax incentive offered in California that credits 30% of the cost of a solar system back to consumers who buy solar panels. This solar tax credit was increased and extended due to the Inflation Reduction Act, passed in August. There is no cap on the federal tax credit, so you can claim the entire 30% regardless of the size of the system.
You can apply for the residential clean energy credit by including IRS Form 5695 with your tax return. The IRS provides instructions on how to fill out this form, or the best tax software can take care of it for you. Your savings from the tax credit will be included in your tax refund or used to offset taxes you owe.
There are various state and local solar incentives available in California, too. You can find a more comprehensive list through the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. Here are just a few you should know.
California solar incentives
|Disadvantaged Communities – Single-Family Solar Homes
|DAC-SASH provides no-cost rooftop solar installations to California households that meet set income qualifications.
|Property tax exclusion for solar energy systems
|Consumers who install solar energy systems won’t pay increased property taxes. This statute is scheduled to expire in 2025.
|Net metering programs
|California offers net metering programs, which let consumers sell back to the grid any extra solar energy generated by their system. Californians connecting their solar system to the grid after April 15, 2023, will be under net energy metering 3.0, which sets reimbursements for power lower than previously.
|Sales and use tax exemption
|Equipment that generates or stores electricity, including solar panels and batteries, are exempt from sales and use tax in California.
|Self-Generation Incentives Program
|SGIP provides rebates to homes and businesses that install energy storage systems, such as solar batteries.
How to pay for solar panels in California
If you decide to invest in solar panels for your home, there are several financing options to make the purchase easier.
Cash: A big expensive project like solar panels requires a lot of cash. If you see solar power in your future consider saving money now. Regular contributions to a high-yield savings account can help pad your savings.
Solar loan: Many solar companies will offer third party financing. Shop around with different lenders, because your solar company’s third party choice might not have the best terms or interest rate.
Installation factors to keep in mind
Solar panels are a big investment, so it’s important to consider all elements that could impact whether they’re right for you. Some installation aspects to consider include:
- The condition of your roof: The size, shape and slope of your roof can affect how much electricity a solar system generates. According to the Department of Energy, solar panels are most efficient on roofs with a slope between 15 and 40 degrees. The age and overall condition of your roof are also considerations. Older roofs or roofs needing maintenance should be replaced or repaired before solar panel installation.
- HOA and neighborhood regulations: California law prohibits homeowner associations from banning solar panel installations, but there may still be specific requirements and approval processes in your neighborhood. Be sure to research the requirements for solar installation in your neighborhood ahead of time, so there are no issues down the road.
- Insurance coverage: After installing solar panels, contact your homeowner’s insurance agency to add the panels to your policy. Most standard homeowner’s policies cover rooftop solar panels, but you’ll need to check with your agency for the specific details of your policy.
- Your location: Solar panels are designed to work in all climates and areas that receive indirect sunlight. But they’ll be much more efficient when installed where they receive at least four hours of direct sunlight each day. If your home is in a cloudy region of California or gets shade coverage throughout the day, a solar panel system will not generate as much electricity as it would with direct sunlight.
- Rentals: If you rent your home, you may not be allowed to install solar panels. You can check with your landlord or rental management company to confirm whether solar panels are allowed. If not, you can consider community solar programs as an alternative. These let you subscribe to electricity produced by solar panels at another location and receive a credit on your energy bills. The subscription fees are set at a lower rate than the value of these credits, so you come out ahead financially. In California, community solar programs are expected to grow quickly due to new regulations.