California is a leading state for solar panel installation and growth potential. The evidence is compelling – California has the nation’s most aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standards, the world’s largest solar thermal plant and cash-back homeowner incentives. Factor in the sun-soaked days throughout much of the state, and California has the recipe for success in solar energy. Get started on the path to clean energy with this comprehensive guide to going solar in California.

California’s Solar
Report Card

Grade
Methodology

To determine a grade for each state, our researchers and solar experts analyzed data on crucial solar-advancement criteria from the following sources:

We determined a rank from 1 to 10 for each state in each category. We then combined the scores with the following weights and assigned an overall grade for each state. Our goal is to encourage those considering solar for their homes to get a basic understanding of solar potential in their areas and discover the best opportunities for clean energy available.

Incentives & Rebates, 40%

Electricity Rate, 15%

Renewable Energy Policy, 30%

Interconnection Ease, 5%

Photovoltaic Potential, 10%

The High Price of Electricity in California

Despite being the most populous state, California has one of the lowest per capita total energy consumption in the nation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Residential electricity costs, however, are among the highest in the country at $.18/kWh, much higher than the nation’s average of $.13/kWh. High electricity costs often prompt homeowners and businesses to turn to solar for financial savings and environmental benefits. About three-fifths of California’s electricity comes from natural gas, however, the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard calls for 33 percent to come from renewable sources by 2020, and 50 percent by 2030.

Cost of Residential Electricity

Data from U.S. Energy Information Administration
*as of Q3 2015

Going Solar in California:
Library of Resources

Solar Panels in California: Policies & Incentives

California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which mandates 33 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, is the foundation of California’s solar success. The California Solar Initiative, which seeks to create 3,000 MW of new solar power by 2017 and place solar energy systems on 50 percent of new homes in 2020, has helped spur homeowners to join the movement as well. Under the California Solar Initiative, consumers get cash back on their solar panel systems. In addition, California’s net-metering programs allow homeowners to get paid the retail rate for surplus energy that is returned to the grid. Owners of solar panels in California also are eligible for a property tax exemption, but not a sales tax exemption.

REBATES/INCENTIVES

California Solar Initiative – PV Incentives:

This program, which is run by Southern California Edison (CSE), Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), can receive up to a $0.39/kWh rebate for grid connected PV systems and inverters. Systems must be UL 1703-certified to qualify.

Silicon Valley Power – Solar Electric Rebate:

Homeowners who install a new photovoltaic system can receive incentives from Silicon Valley Power. Rebates are $1.50 per watt AC for residential systems. Commercial systems up to 50 kW receive $0.90/watt AC and those greater than 50 kW receive $0.12/kWh.

Glendale Water and Power – Residential & Small Business Solar Solutions Program:

The Solar Solutions program offered through Glendale Water and Power provides up to $1.39 per watt (for Fiscal Year 2016-2017) for installed systems sized 30 KWdc or less (not exceed 50 percent of the total cost of the system) that meet program guidelines. The incentive rate declines at a rate of 7 percent per year after 2017.

Burbank Water and Power – Residential and Commercial Solar Support Program:

Burbank Water and Power customers with PV systems can receive an incentive of $0.32/W for residential installations $0.24/W commercial installations.

City of Palo Alto Utilities – PV Partners:

As of April 22, 2016, all PV Partners rebate funds have been fully reserved. Wait list is available. The PV Partners program provides that PV system owners with equipment ranging from 1 kW to 1 MW can receive a rebate from the City of Palo Alto Utilities. Residential properties can receive $1.00/watt AC, while commercial properties can receive $1.40/watt AC or $2.00/watt AC, depending on size.

California Solar Initiative – Single-Family Affordable Solar Housing (SASH) Program:

The California Solar Initiative provides rebates for PV systems installed on residential buildings that provide low-income housing. The amounts are determined based on participants’ income level. The maximum incentive is $10,000 for fully subsidized units and there is no maximum amount for partially subsidized units.

Riverside Public Utilities – Residential PV Rebate Program:

As of July 1, 2016, Riverside Public Utilities customers can receive $0.25 per watt AC for PV systems installed on their homes, with no cap on residential system rebate amounts.

SMUD – PV Residential Retrofit Buy-Down:

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District provides an incentive of $500 per residential solar system. The incentive payment process is handled through the contractor. Homeowners installing their systems themselves should contact SMUD.

Bear Valley Electric Service – Solar Initiative Program:

Bear Valley Electric Service has an incentive program that currently (as of March 29, 2016) allows homeowners to receive $.94/Watt for PV systems installed on their homes.

Western Riverside Council of Governments – Home Energy Renovation Opportunity (HERO) Financing Program:

This program from the Western Riverside Council of Governments provides financing to homeowners in order to make energy improvements on their residences. The maximum amount that customers can receive is $5,000, which can be repaid through special assessments on property taxes.

SMUD – Business PV Incentive Program:

Commercial customers can receive an upfront incentive of $0.20/watt CSI-AC from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District for installing a PV system on their property. The program funding limits were met in April 2015. However, funds may still come available due to currently qualified projects that do not meet their progress milestones.

Los Angeles County – Commercial PACE:

The Property Assessed Clean Energy program allows commercial property owners to receive funding for PV system installation, which is paid back through a special assessment of property taxes.

City of Palo Alto Utilities – Palo Alto CLEAN (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now):

PV owners can received a fixed payment of $0.165 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for a 10, 15, or 20 year period. In order to participate, the energy generated from the system must be delivered to the utility.

POLICIES

Net Metering:

Through this law, utility customers receive a credit at the retail rate for generating energy through their PV systems. In order to be eligible, customers must have systems with capacities between 1 kW and 1 MW.

Solar Rights and Solar Shade Acts:

The Solar Rights and Solar Shade Acts were enacted to ensure California citizens with solar systems certain protections against conflicting CC&Rs in planned communities. The Solar Rights Act includes protections for access to sunlight and solar system shading prevention, as well as limits the ability HOAs and local governments to prevent solar system installation. The Solar Shade Act prevents property owners from allowing their trees or shrubs to shade existing solar energy systems installed by their neighbors, provided that the solar system was installed prior to the planting of the trees or shrubs.

Public Benefits Funds for Renewables and Efficiency:

This legislation allows investor-owned utilities—Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company—to create a public benefit fund designed to conduct research and development on renewable and efficient energy sources in the state. To that end, the law allows these utilities to charge electricity ratepayers a public goods charge.

Interconnection Standards:

Investor-owned utilities can charge residential and commercial customers to connect PV systems to the energy grid.

Homebuyer Solar Option and Solar Offset Program:

Under this program, sellers of production homes are required to offer solar energy systems to all potential homebuyers. However, sellers also have the option to offset this requirement by installing a new system elsewhere that would be the equivalent of the system that would have been installed in a new home.

City of Lancaster – Mandatory Solar Requirement for New Homes:

The City of Lancaster mandates that PV systems be installed on all new homes.

None specifically for commerical

TAX CREDITS

None specifically for residential

None specifically for commercial

None

EXEMPTIONS

None

None specifically for residential

Property Tax Incentives:

California businesses can earn property tax for 100 percent of system value, and 75 percent for dual-use equipment.

Sales Tax Incentives:

Agricultural businesses are also eligible for 100 percent sales tax incentives.

Solar Panel Installation Companies in California

As the largest solar market in the country, California employs more than 75,000 workers in the solar industry at more than 2,300 companies. The southern part of the state, known for its sunny weather, has about two-thirds more installation companies at work than California’s northern counties. Nearly 250 contractors are equipped to install solar panels in Los Angeles County alone. Here is a list of solar panel contractors that can help residential homeowners meet their solar needs:

A1 Sun Inc

Installs quality PV systems in residential and commercial buildings.

Where it operatesNorth central counties, including Nevada, Placer, Butte, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen and Mendocino

Year of opening2007

Allen Construction

Allen Construction provides energy efficiency and solar solutions for residential and commercial clients, including building performance assessments, passive solar design, energy efficiency upgrades, gray water systems, solar energy installations and system commissioning. In addition to its Santa Barbara headquarters, the company maintains offices in Santa Ynez, Ventura and Los Angeles.

Where it operatesSanta Barbara, CA

Year of opening1983

Alter Systems LLC

Designs and installs solar panels, including off-grid.

Where it operatesNorthern California counties

Year of opening2004

Bland Solar

Experts in both solar and air conditioning in order to design total solutions, with standard and emergency repair. Also features three solar showrooms.

Where it operatesFresno, Bakersfield & Templeton

Year of opening1985

California Solar Electric

California Solar Electric is a family-run business dedicated to providing high-quality on- and off-grid customer service for residential and commercial clients using the latest solar electric and battery storage technologies. It is one of only a handful of Elite SunPower dealers in the world.

Where it operatesOjai, CA

Year of opening1986

Central California Solar

Offers affordable solar leasing, servicing and installation in Central California.

Where it operatesCentral California counties

Year of opening2009

Coastal Solar

Originally a general contracting business, Coastal Solar began providing quality solar installation to residential and commercial clients in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in 2007. The company has completed over 500 installations in Ventura. Coastal Solar additionally offers solar panel repair and maintenance, energy upgrades, financing solutions and more.

Where it operatesVentura, CA

Year of opening1988

Complete Solar

Offers free quotes that include shade analysis, savings projections and a solar system design before customers commit to using their services.

Where it operatesLos Angeles, Orange, Kings, San Francisco, Tulare, San Bernadino, Riverside, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Napa, Contra Costa, Marin, Alameda, Solano and San Joaquin counties

Year of openingN/A

EnergyPros

EnergyPros performs comprehensive home energy/audits to determine an “Energy Efficiency Rating” to create solutions based on cost and effectiveness. The company is an approved contractor for a number of solar and home performance programs throughout the state of California, including Energy Upgrade California, California Solar Initiative, The Energy Network and emPower Central Coast.

Where it operatesBeverly Hills, CA

Year of openingNA

Halsell Builders

Halsell Builders is a full-service design and build company offering new home and commercial construction, large remodels, and a number of energy upgrade services including solar, air sealing, heating and air conditioning upgrades, windows and insulation.

Where it operatesSanta Maria, CA

Year of opening2002

Horizon Solar Power

Specializes in quick installation, no money down financing and a lifetime guarantee for solar panel systems.

Where it operatesSouthern California and parts of northcentral counties

Year of opening2008

N.R.G. Heating and Air Conditioning

A full-service heating and air conditioning company, N.R.G additionally provides high-quality solar panel installation and repair. The company services the Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura County areas. Fully licensed, bonded and insured.

Where it operatesCanoga Park, CA

Year of opening1999

Milholland

Designs and installs solar panel systems; also provides roofing services.

Where it operatesSan Diego and Southern California

Year of opening1990

Simply Solar

Dedicated to giving back to the community and the planet, Simply Solar’s highly trained team provides design, installation, and monitoring for residential and commercial PV systems.

Where it operatesNorthern California

Year of opening2013

The Solar Energy Company

The Solar Energy Company provides full-service solar PV, hot water and heating for pools to residential and commercial customers in the Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County areas. It has installed over 7,000 systems since the company’s founding in 1976.

Where it operatesCarpinteria, CA

Year of opening1976

SolarNorCal

Residential and commercial solar installation, along with free quotes and solar panel cleaning services.

Where it operatesSacramento, San Francisco Bay and Stockton areas

Year of opening2008

Solar 360

One of southern California’s leading solar energy companies.

Where it operatesLos Angeles, Riverside, Orange, San Diego and San Bernadino counties

Year of opening2013

Solar Center

Quick installation and opportunity for free quotes.

Where it operatesLos Angeles and surrounding communities

Year of openingN/A

SolarCraft

SolarCraft offers solar electric, solar pool heating, and solar hot water for homes and businesses. The SolarCraft team will make sure to maximize financial incentives, giving you the most cost-effective PV system.

Where it operatesMarin, Sonoma, Napa

Year of opening1984

SolarMax Technology

Residential and commercial installation, with referral rewards and $0 down financing.

Where it operatesParts of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernadino, San Diego, Ventura and Orange counties

Year of opening2008

Solarponics

Solarponic has installed over 5,000 systems since its founding in 1975. It is the only Amicus Solar co-op member/owner on the Central Coast. Serving residential and commercial clients throughout the Central California and North Santa Barbara County areas.

Where it operatesAtascadero, CA

Year of opening1975

Solartronics

Installations for homes and businesses, along with free quotes.

Where it operatesLos Angeles and Ventura counties

Year of opening2004

Sun First Solar Energy Solutions

Headquartered in San Rafael, Sun First offers residential and commercial solar design and installation, as well as repair and maintenance services. Sun First also specializes in both off-grid and grid-tie battery storage.

Where it operatesNorthern California

Year of opening1984

SunFusion Solar

Solar solutions for homes and agricultural businesses. Also provides a variety of solar products and cleaning and maintenance services.

Where it operatesSan Diego County

Year of opening1986

Sun Pacific Solar Electric

Sun Pacific Solar Electric is a family-owned solar energy design, installation and maintenance company providing solar power solutions for residential, commercial and agricultural customers. It has installed a total of over 2 megawatts of solar energy systems throughout the Tri-County area.

Where it operatesSanta Barbara, CA

Year of opening2005

Wired Into the Future

Cost-effective solar solutions for customers in the Bay Area.

Where it operatesContra Costa, Alameda and Solano counties

Year of opening1992

Additional Resources for California Solar

California Public Utilities Commission

Find out about the government agency that oversees and regulates investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in the state, including energy rates, licensing and the California Solar Initiative.

Go Solar California

Get specific information California’s solar rebate programs as the state encourages residents and businesses to install 3,000 MW of new solar by 2017.

California State Energy Commission

Meet the commissioners who oversee the state’s energy projects and find information on state energy programs.

California Solar Industries Association

Find answers to FAQ, learn about your solar rights, find a contractor and learn about buying and selling a solar home.

California State Legislature

Search for legislation affecting solar and renewable energy, check the daily update for news and find out which legislator you need to contact.

Center for Sustainable Energy

Find out about energy efficiencies and renewable energy for your home as well as training and education in sustainable energy.

DSIRE – California

Explore state and federal incentives for solar energy in a database maintained by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University.

U.S. Energy Information Administration – California

Research official federal data on energy usage and potential for renewable energy resources for California.