- California is arguably the most solar friendly state in the US, with high levels of sunlight along with favourable incentives
- Go Solar California initiative schemes and California Solar Initiative have caused the number of residential installations to skyrocket in the last few years
- Complete the form at the top of this page to compare prices of installers operating in California or read our guide to solar in california below
Overview of Solar Systems in California
It should come as no surprise that solar power has a strong foothold in the Golden State. That’s due in no small part to a warm and sunny climate with plenty of irradiance (incoming sunlight), especially in the southern part of the state.
Given the state’s politics and history, the regulatory climate is no less favorable, with California being one of the friendliest states in the union toward the installation and use of residential solar. Regulatory and financial incentives toward solar abound in California, thanks to initiatives targeted at transitioning California from fossil fuels to renewables.
In addition to its obvious environmental benefits, the transition to solar is also a boon to consumers. It’s a source of renewable — and practically unlimited — energy. It lowers subscribers’ energy bills, while also decreasing seasonal spikes in utility costs due to factors beyond users’ control. Given the fixed cost of purchase and installation, it’s also an effective hedge against future price increases.
Go Solar California
Go Solar California is an umbrella for a series of initiatives ushered in under Senate Bill 1, passed in California in 2006. It consists of the New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) overseen by the California Energy Commission, the California Solar Initiative (CSI) overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission, and a variety of programs offered under the aegis of California’s Publicly Owned Utilities, or POUs.
The NSHP takes a two-pronged approach to solar energy. It is intended to spur construction of energy efficient solar homes through regulations and financial incentives. On one hand, this added efficiency saves homeowners money on their utility bills; on the other, it protects the environment by lowering the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. During the eight years which the program has been operational (FY 2007 – FY 2014), its funding has increased almost tenfold, from 4.13 million dollars at its inception to 41.03 million dollars in 2014.
California Solar Initiative
Chief among these regulatory policies is the California Solar Initiative (CSI), passed under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007. It’s the centerpiece of Schwarzenegger’s Million Solar Roofs program, which aimed not only to move California toward sustainable energy production (with an ambitious target of 50% renewables by 2030), but also to help create the economies of scale that would make solar affordable to the masses.
By most measures, the program has been a success. California is home to many of the largest photovoltaic and concentrated solar power facilities, helping utilities scale rapidly toward the state’s sustainability targets.
The impact on the residential side has also been striking. The cost of solar panels has indeed fallen dramatically. That, in turn, has led to installations skyrocketing to the point where residential photovoltaic cells alone power 230,000 households. That number means that California is far and away the nation’s leader in residential solar power. Taken in tandem with its public utilities’ wholehearted embrace of solar, California is leading the way toward an enlightened energy future.
Solar Rebates in California
Under the CSI, California provides incentives for the retrofitting of existing homes for solar power and solar water heating for single and multiple-family homes.
The New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP), on the other hand, is intended to provide incentives for the construction of new single and multi-family units.
Both programs place special emphasis on the use of solar in affordable housing stock. In addition to the perks offered at the state level, many cities and counties in California offer additional rebates and incentives to their residents.
Burbank, Berkeley, San Diego, San Francisco, Roseville, and the counties of Marin and Santa Clara — among many others — offer policy and monetary incentives to business and residential customers alike.
Solar Panel Companies in California
National Installers Operating in California
SolarCity: Since its founding in 2006, SolarCity has grown to become the largest solar provider both in California, where it was founded, and in the United States. It serves the Northeast (from New Hampshire to Washington, DC) as well as the Southwest and Pacific Northwest (where its coverage area stretches from Texas to Oregon).
Vivint: Vivint offers a suite of what it calls “Smart Home Solutions,” including internet, cloud services, security, and gadgets connected to the “internet of things.” The company has banked on solar as a vital component of the smart home strategy. Its service areas are scattered, but it maintains a strong presence in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Hawaii, among others.
SunRun: SunRun approaches solar as part of a holistic approach to saving energy, helping customers to audit energy usage in order to save electricity, money, and — ultimately — the planet. The company offers both lease and purchase options, with the option to pay up front on the former (eliminating monthly billing) and financing on the latter (making ownership more affordable).
Local Installers Operating in California
Pacific Gas and Electric Company: PG&E is one of California’s oldest public utilities, having been founded in 1905. The company has changed with the times, as is evidenced by its embrace of solar power. In addition to its portfolio of solar power plants, it provides installation to residential customers, 150,000 of whom use solar.
Southern California Edison Company: While it is not a direct installer, SCE is worth mentioning for the assistance and incentives offered to its customers choosing solar power. These include home energy audits, net energy metering, and financing options.
San Diego Gas & Electric offers solar in conjunction with the California Center for Sustainable Energy. Between them, these entities service San Diego and Orange Counties, and have disbursed more than $600 million in incentives to their customers through both the CSI and NSHP programs.
Clean Solar: Based in San Jose, Clean Solar is a Diamond Certified™ installer that serves the San Francisco Bay area.
Green Energy Group: This Rancho Cucamonga-based company was established in 2006, and specializes in retrofitting existing homes for solar power.
The United States has long looked to California as an innovator. While some have bemoaned the state’s regulatory environment or its politics, it’s nearly impossible to deny that when it comes to environmental issues, California has long been at the forefront of responsibility and stewardship, practically daring the rest of the country to keep up. Solar is no exception; as California proves that solar is affordable and practical for public utilities and homeowners alike, it shouldn’t be long before the rest of the country follows suit.