Solar Cheat Sheet: Your Complete Guide to Getting Solar Panels at Home
Here’s where you can find the answer to all your solar panel questions, even those you didn’t know you had.
Andrew Blok has been an editor at CNET covering HVAC and home energy, with a FOCUS on solar, since October 2021. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make Smart energy decisions. He’s a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
Stephen J. Bronner is a New York-based freelance writer, editor and reporter. Over his more than a decade in journalism, he has written about energy, local politics and schools, startup success tips, the packaged food industry, the science of work, personal finance and blockchain. His bylined work has appeared in Inverse, Kotaku, Entrepreneur, NextAdvisor and CNET, and op-eds written on behalf of his clients were published in Forbes, HR Dive, Fast Company, NASDAQ and MarketWatch. Stephen previously served as contributors editor and news editor for Entrepreneur.com, and was the VP, Content and Strategy, at Ditto PR. He enjoys video games and punk rock. See some of his work at stephenjbronner.com.
Over the past few years, the stars (particularly that big one at the center of our solar system) have aligned to make residential solar panels increasingly appealing for meeting your home’s energy needs.
The rising costs of energy across the US, along with falling for solar panels aided by federal tax incentives, have simply made the economics of solar power not only attainable but beneficial for homeowners in the long run.
If you looked at solar just a few years ago, costs have continued to come down since then, said Ben Delman, communications director at Solar United Neighbors. It depends on your situation, but more and more homeowners and families are deciding that solar makes sense for them as a way to save money by taking control over where their electricity comes from.
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
Below, we’ve collected CNET’s expert advice to get you through the solar panel purchasing process.
In this article
- How do solar panels work?
- Is there a solar panel option that works for me?
- How much do solar panels cost?
- How much money will solar panels save me?
- Can I install solar panels myself?
- Where should I shop for solar panels?
- How do I maintain solar panels?
- Does solar work where I live?
- Do I need a backup battery?
- Does solar increase the value of my home?
- Are solar panels a scam?
- What is net metering?
- Should I go solar?
How do solar panels work?
Buying a solar panel system means buying a lot of equipment the average person doesn’t have reason to know about. In the most basic terms, photons from the sun are absorbed by the solar panels and converted into direct current, or DC, electricity. For this energy to be used in American homes, it has to go through an inverter attached to the solar array to become alternating current, or AC, electricity.
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
Read up on what you’ll actually be buying with the stories linked below:
- The Most Efficient Solar Panels
- Solar Energy Basics: The Magic of Photovoltaic Panels
- How Sand Becomes Solar Panels
- Here’s How Solar Panels Turn Light Into Power
- The Solar Panel Angle That’ll Generate the Most Energy Possible
- Solar Panel Efficiency: What Is It and Why Is It Important?
- What You Need to Know About Solar Inverters: Essential Solar Equipment
- Solar Cell, Module, Panel and Array: What’s the Difference?
- Bifacial Solar Panels Generate Electricity, but Not When You Put Them Here
- What’s a Virtual Power Plant? Should You Join One?
- How Much Energy Does a Solar Panel Produce?
Is there a solar panel option that works for me?
Fortunately for the solar-curious, many options exist for homeowners and even renters to get some or most of their electricity needs met with energy from the sun.
The most common way to go solar for homeowners is the installation of panels on their roofs. These systems can be purchased directly through an installer (or assembled for the DIYers) as a large cash purchase or through relatively affordable financing (such as a 1.99% APR 15-year loan). There are also options for rooftop solar for those who may not have the capital to get a project started. These are solar leases, where a homeowner pays a fixed monthly cost to a company who retains ownership of a solar system; or a power purchase agreement, in which a homeowner pays for the electricity generated by solar panels rather than the system itself.
Finally, both homeowners and renters in many places have access to community solar. This option allows people to opt in to a nearby solar farm to enjoy some energy savings.
How much do solar panels cost?
The costs of solar panels will depend on a few factors, including where you live, how much of your energy needs you want the system to cover, whether you install it yourself and whether you want a battery (which could cost as much as the system itself). The average cost was about 3 per watt in 2022 for an 8 kW system through an installer, according to the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
The way you pay for your system is vital. You’ll notice the biggest hit to your bank balance by paying for solar outright, while financing will spread the expense out over years but with added interest. A lease or PPA is most friendly to the budget-minded, but you won’t enjoy the long-term benefits that come with owning a system outright.
How much money will solar panels save me?
If you’re buying a system outright or financing it, you’ll receive a 30% tax credit through the Inflation Reduction Act.
To get a better idea of when to expect a return on investment, look at how much energy you’ve consumed in the past year or two and how much it cost you. Then, working with an installer, figure out how much of your energy you’d like to offset with solar and how much the system will cost. Eventually, the savings from not having to buy electricity from your utility will be greater than the cost of the solar system itself.
In terms of payback, broadly seven to 12 years is a decent average when you see returns from investment in solar after purchasing a system, Delman said.
Can I install solar panels myself?
It is possible to install most of a solar panel system yourself.- mounting the panels on your roof and connecting them to each other. But if your home is connected to a grid, you’ll need to hire a licensed electrician for the final connection needed to feed electricity to your utility.
Another thing to keep in mind if you’re doing it yourself is whether the warranties for the panels that you purchase require them to be installed by a professional, Delman said. Often when people do it themselves, they’ll hire an electrician to do the finishing work so it can get certified. It’s also good if you’re not an expert to have somebody with expertise to just go over the wiring and make sure that everything is where it should be.
Where should I shop for solar panels?
If you want to buy panels directly, most hardware stores and larger retailers have them available. If you’d like to get them through a professional, a good place to start, according to Delman, is the website of your local solar industry association (for example, the New York Solar Energy Industries Association). These organizations should have a list of its members, which will often include installers and suppliers. Typically, installers work with one or two solar panel brands.
Look for an installer who’s experienced, particularly with the kind of situation you have at your home, Delman said. Have they worked with the same roofing materials? Do you want a ground mount system installed? Check reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List, Google and others, and get references too. (Solar United Neighbors also offers resources for going solar, free of charge.)
The best way to make sure you’re getting the best deal on your solar panels is to get multiple quotes and ask as many questions of your potential installers as you need. CNET has reviewed many of the national solar companies, but it’s a good idea to check into local installers, too, who sometimes can offer lower prices.
How do I maintain solar panels?
Solar panel maintenance is generally minimal and fairly easy. Even so, we’ve got the info you need to keep your panels in the best possible shape.
Does solar work where I live?
Solar panels, in general, will work in a variety of climates, even those with frigid winters. The more important questions to ask are: Does my roof get adequate sunlight? Are any trees shading my roof? And most importantly, does my utility offer net metering?
Net metering is perhaps the most important aspect of going solar, in that it stipulates that your energy utility will pay you for the energy created by your solar panels that you don’t consume. Net metering ensures that the return on investment in going solar is financially sound.
Does solar increase the value of my home?
Going solar has another benefit for homeowners: it can boost the price of their properties if and when they decide to sell. According to studies by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Zillow, homes with solar panels often sell for about 10,000 more compared to those that don’t.
Are solar panels a scam?
No. Solar panels are a proven technology that can help you shift some of your energy use to cheaper, greener electricity. But that doesn’t mean that scammy companies (while apparently rare) don’t exist. The company discussed in the story linked below recently went out of business, but a bit of caution is a good thing.
What is net metering?
Net metering.- the process by which you’re paid for electricity generated by your solar panels but sent back to the grid.- is a critical factor in whether homeowners should go solar.
Let’s say during a beautiful sunny day, you’re at work, the lights, TV and dishwasher are off, so you’re probably generating more electricity from your system than you’re consuming, Delman said. When that happens, that electricity goes to the electric grid through your electric meter to be used by your neighbors. Net metering is what ensures you receive credit for that electricity so that your investment is still being paid back even if you’re not using the electricity yourself.
You can see what your state’s policy toward net metering is here.
Should I go solar?
Solar won’t be an option for everyone. If your home does not receive adequate sunlight due to shading on your roof, you live in a state without net metering or there’s no community solar, going solar may not be viable for you.
But with rising energy costs and the falling price of solar panels, for many people there’s never been a better time to go solar. There’s options to go solar that should fit most people’s needs, whether that’s through financing, a solar lease, PPA or community solar, that will allow them to start seeing savings on their energy bills almost immediately. By most estimates, a solar system starts paying for itself after between seven and 12 years.
Powering your home with solar not only allows you to get your electricity from a clean source, but provides an unmatched return on investment that will save you money on your energy bills and boost the value of your home.
Compare the 5 Best Solar Companies in California (2023 Reviews)
In this guide on the best solar companies in California, you’ll learn:
- Who our top 5 picks are for solar providers in California
- How we evaluated California’s solar companies
- What Californians should look for when choosing a solar company
Each product and or company featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Written by Karsten Neumeister
Karsten is an editor and energy specialist focused on environmental, social and cultural development. His work has been shared by sources including NPR, the World Economic Forum, Marketwatch and the SEIA, and he is certified in ESG with the CFA Institute. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the solar energy sector, studying energy policy, climate tech and environmental education. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace. Learn About This Person
Reviewed by Melissa Smith
Melissa is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainability studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a nonprofit that’s featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral. Learn About This Person
Why You Can Trust EcoWatch
Our content is created and advised by solar industry experts, giving you the information you need to make Smart decisions about solar for your home. No other site has access to the same data and insider information as EcoWatch, and you can rest assured our reviews and rankings are never affected by revenue or partnerships.
Jump to Section:
Find the best price from solar installers in California.
What Are the Top-Rated California Solar Companies?
California is perhaps the biggest state when it comes to leading the charge in solar energy for the United States, which is why we thought that it was important the EcoWatch reviews team cover our top picks for solar companies and solar power in the Golden State. With solar production steadily year round, find out which providers offer the best new year solar initiatives to go solar in 2023.
Below we cover the pros and cons of solar providers in California as well as a number of key details (like other solar services, batteries offered, etc), our comparison makes it easy for you to pick your provider and get solar today.
Our scope for this review is for a professionally installed residential solar system around 9 kilowatts (kW) in size. This size is typical for an average U.S. residential solar system.
- SunPower Solar: Best National Provider (Read more)
- ADT Solar: Best Warranty Coverage (Read more)
- NRG Solar: Great Warranty Coverage (Read more)
- Elevation Solar: Outstanding Regional Installer (Read more)
- Stellar Solar: Outstanding Local Installer (Read more)
For a detailed review of each company, click the “Why We Chose” banners down below to get our solar experts’ opinions on each. Alternatively, you can click the “Compare” boxes to evaluate multiple providers at once.
SunPower offers some of the most efficient residential panels on the market, manufactured by Maxeon, which allow homeowners to get more solar production out of fewer panels. In addition, it’s SunVault backup storage system can protect California homeowners from the state’s increasingly frequent power outages offering energy solutions for all California residents.
Unlike other solar companies, every single element of SunPower’s residential solar panel system is designed and protected by SunPower’s industry-leading 25-year warranty (covering panels, inverters, batteries, workmanship and performance). That’s why it’s one of the most trusted solar providers in America and our top pick for California homeowners.
Although it tends to be a more expensive solar option, SunPower makes solar more available by extending several unique financing options, including a new, in-house zero-down loan with SunPower Financial, leases and power purchase agreements (referred to as a PPA).
SunPower also offers online estimates and virtual consultations, so homeowners are aware of all costs involved and never hit with any hidden fees, unlike smaller companies that may not have the technology to offer virtual system walkthrough services.
Customers praise SunPower’s customer service, as well as its expertise in helping homeowners navigate the local complexities of going solar in a state like California. However, in order to support such a large operation, SunPower outsources its work through its network of certified dealers throughout the country. This has led to a few complaints of spotty customer service regarding post-installation repairs.
Facts and Figures: SunPower
|Solar Panels, Solar Batteries, EV Chargers, System Monitoring|
|25-year all-inclusive warranty|
Formerly known as Sunpro, ADT Solar is a good example of how a solar company should operate; an all-encompassing 25-year warranty, high-quality solar panels and good customer service. Now owned by ADT, the company prioritizes the protection of its customers in every sense of the word, whether its home security, warranty coverage or energy resilience with solar.
If you do choose to install with ADT Solar, the chances are that you’ll receive a quick, simple and effective solar solution that works for at least 25 years. However, we’d like to see better results from its customer service department, which is an area the company needs to improve on.
Through our research, we’ve found some complaints from Californians about post-installation customer service on rare occasions when the installation process didn’t go smoothly. Whether a minor issue like your inverter not connecting to your network or a major issue like a faulty panel, a comprehensive 25-year warranty only does so much good if you can’t get your provider to call you back.
Installing your solar system through a national provider like ADT does come with a few downsides, and ADT’s size has caused some customers to experience long wait times when reaching out with service and warranty questions.
But don’t let this scare you off. Overall, we happily recommend ADT Solar to our readers, just be sure you only sign a contract from a sales rep you trust. Leave no stone unturned in asking questions prior to the sale to make sure your consultant is knowledgeable and will field any of your concerns after you sign a contract. Solar is a significant investment and you should feel confident in your decision.
Facts and Figures: ADT Solar
|Solar Panels, Solar Batteries, EV Chargers, Energy-Efficiency Upgrades|
|Silfab, Panasonic and others depending on location|
|25-year all-inclusive warranty|
NRG Clean Power
NRG Clean Power is a total home performance company, offering energy services that go beyond just solar panel installations. While most other solar companies in California offer solar panels, batteries and perhaps EV chargers, NRG Clean Power also provides roofing and energy efficiency services. You can expect accessible prices, a wide offering of products and brands, flexible financing options, lifetime warranties and an excellent reputation throughout California.
With 9,000 installations under its belt, NRG specializes in installations throughout California and Texas — a big part of why it made our list. Dedicating its services to only two states comes with an amplified customer service experience and more local expertise. We’ve even found that the actual owner of the company will regularly reach out and work with some customers where additional help is needed, which we loved.
Because NRG is a home improvement company, it offers roof replacement services in addition to solar installations, which few other solar companies provide. This is extremely helpful as many homeowners will need to replace or repair their roof to better support a solar panel system. All projects are protected under NRG’s 40-year workmanship warranty (most other companies only offer 25 years), so homeowners can rest assured they’re in good care.
Here’s the only glaring downside to NRG Clean Power California — its locations are in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Diego only, which may leave Northern California residents out of reach. Additionally, doesn’t offer solar leases, which can exclude homeowners who may not be able to afford or procure a solar loan.
Facts and Figures: NRG Clean Power
|Solar Panels, Solar Batteries, Solar Roof Shingles, EV Chargers, System Monitoring|
|REC, SolarEdge, Tesla|
|25-year all-inclusive warranty|
Outstanding Regional Installer
Elevation is one of the nation’s fastest-growing solar companies, and it’s easy to understand why. Elevation offers comprehensive energy efficiency services, Energy Star-certified products, energy storage systems and Smart home solutions. On its website, Elevation claims to help homeowners reduce their wasted energy by at least 10% to achieve Energy Star certified status. This is of special interest in California, where summers are hot, and electricity are high.
As for solar, Elevation offers a variety of top-tier solar panel brands and boasts a 30-year workmanship warranty. Most competitors in the state only offer 25-year coverage. Its solar power systems also come with real-time energy monitoring so you’ll be in the know about how your panels are performing.
Customers in California praise Elevation for excellent customer service and local solar knowledge. Some customers cite in their reviews that Elevation’s solar customer service is the best they’ve ever experienced. This type of care goes a long way in California, where identifying and applying to the many local rebates typically requires professional assistance.
Here’s what we don’t like: although Elevation Solar has operated in California for some time, it only entered the space in 2014, making it significantly younger and less experienced compared to other companies. Elevation also does not offer any solar lease or PPA options.
Outstanding Regional Installer
Facts and Figures: Elevation
|Solar Panels, Solar Batteries, Energy-Efficiency Upgrades, Smart Home Energy Solutions|
|REC, Tesla, SolarEdge|
|25-year manufacturer warranty|
Outstanding Local Installer
Voted San Diego’s best solar company in 2021, Stellar Solar is one of the few companies on this list that is local exclusively to California. Its consultative, educational, no-pressure approach pays dividends for Stellar Solar, as the company boasts exceptional customer reviews and has built its business to serve over 14,000 local homeowners thanks to a booming referral network.
In addition to its solar panels, Stellar Solar offers energy storage solutions and both rooftop and ground-mounted arrays. All of its products are made increasingly available to homeowners through a variety of financing options including 0-down, 0% interest payments for 18 months, as well as solar lease options. There aren’t many other companies in California that can match the variety of payment options available through Stellar.
Lastly, as a locally-owned company based in San Diego, California homeowners can rest assured they’re getting personal, local care from this company.
While we love the local nature of Stellar Solar, the downside of its locality is that it’s only available to homeowners in Southern California. Plus, we’d like to see the company offer electrical services and energy efficiency packages along with its solar, battery and EV chargers.
Outstanding Local Installer
Facts and Figures: Stellar Solar
|Solar Panels, Solar Batteries, EV Chargers|
How Can You Save Money on California’s Best Solar Companies?
The average cost per watt of solar is slightly higher in California, sitting around 2.73 compared to the national average solar cost of 2.66. But because solar goes further in the Golden State, it offers more value in California compared to the majority of states.
That’s mostly thanks to the availability of sunshine, allowing a smaller system to work more efficiently. As such, the average California homeowner can power their home with a relatively small 6 kW system, compared to the national average 9 kW system.
|Location||Pre-Incentive Cost for Average Solar System|
The typical solar panel system costs a California homeowner 16,380, while the average U.S. homeowner pays 23,940. These figures are also before applying any solar incentives and assuming top-quality brands.
In California, there are several ways you can save money on going solar:
- Take advantage of solar incentives and rebates
- Compare types of solar equipment
- Shop solar panel companies
- Pay in cash if possible
- Find out if solar leases are right for you
We’ll discuss how you can save money when buying solar panels in California below. But first, here are our preferred picks:
Take Advantage of California Specific Solar Incentives and Rebates
There are a number of solar incentives in California — including tax credits, exemptions and rebate opportunities — that make installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems more affordable for residents while helping the state produce more clean energy. Below is an overview of those incentives:
|California Solar Incentive||Incentive Overview|
|Federal Solar Tax Credit (ITC)||The federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, allows homeowners to claim 30% of their system costs as a credit against the federal taxes they owe. As it stands, the credit is set to reduce to 26% in 2033 and 22% in 2034 and will be eliminated for residential systems in 2035.1|
|Net Energy Metering (NEM)||Net Metering allows customers to feed excess energy generated by their solar panels back to the local power grid. In exchange, customers receive credits from their utility companies that can be applied to future energy bills. California has historically offered one of the nation’s best net metering programs, compensating its solar customers at full retail rate. However, the program is undergoing changes and is expected to decrease soon.|
|Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP)||The SGIP as described by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) offers rebates for installing energy storage systems at both residential and non-residential facilities.2 Making getting a favorite battery, like the Tesla Powerwall more afforable with increased savings.|
|SGIP Equity Resiliency Program||Offered as an additional incentive within the SGIP program, California provides additional rebates of either 850 or 1,000 per kWh of battery storage. This program works primarily with low-income households and families living in areas prone to wildfires or power outages.3|
|Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program||The California Solar Initiative (CSI) launched its SASH program (aka DAC-SASH) to provide fixed, up-front incentives on qualifying affordable single-family housing.4|
|Active Solar Energy System Property Tax Exclusion||This incentive ensures the addition of a solar panel installation doesn’t raise homeowners’ property taxes.5|
|Local Solar Incentives||Some local utility companies and municipalities offer their own solar incentive programs. For example, The Rancho Mirage Energy Authority offers a 500 rebate to its residential customers who install or expand a home solar system, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District offers up to 2,500 for solar users with battery storage systems.|
Net energy metering (NEM) is often a great way to benefit financially from your solar panels. Beginning April 14, California will be modifying their net metering policy (now referred to as “NEM 3.0”). Watch the video below to learn what you need to know about NEM 3.0.
Compare Types of Solar Equipment
Just like clothing brands, solar equipment brands come with their own price tags and level of quality. Solar panel systems are sized by watt, and different types of solar panels have varying watt output.
California sees ample sunshine, so you may be able to power your entire home even with a cheaper solar panel that produces less energy (for example, buying an older 350W model instead of a cutting-edge 400W). Or, you can pick high-efficiency PV panels and install fewer of them. Either way, you’re saving money.
If you don’t live in an area prone to power outages, you can also save by skipping out on a solar battery installation. However, keep in mind that utility companies, like PGE, will frequently perform public safety power shut-offs when there are wildfire risks, which have been especially frequent up and down the Golden State.
Shop Different Solar Companies in California
California is home to nearly 900 registered solar installers, which means you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a solar company.6 We’ve outlined the top five best solar installers in California in this article — don’t hesitate to reach out to each one and compare quotes to ensure you’re getting the best deal. If you get a quote from one solar company but prefer another, see if they’ll match the rate.
Pay for Your System in Cash (If You Can)
The method you choose to pay for your solar panels will alter the total cost of installation. We recommend paying in cash if you can. Of course, cash purchases require the highest payments up front, but they save the most over time because they don’t require you to pay interest. Solar loans make your equipment more affordable up front, but they save slightly less because they include interest paid over time.
Luckily, California has plenty of financing programs to make solar more affordable and accessible to most homeowners. For example, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs are available to the majority of homeowners, and they serve to reduce financing costs and up-front payments for solar systems.7
Will Solar Increase Your Home Value In California?
Multiple studies have shown that solar panels do increase the value of a home, including a 2022 EcoWatch Solar Growth Outlook survey where 63% of respondents said they would pay more for a home with solar panels than a home without.
A study from Zillow revealed that homes with solar installations tend to sell for about 4.1% more on average than homes without solar. The study specifically examined the housing market in Riverside, California, reporting that homes with solar energy systems went for roughly 9,930 above market value.8
And an older study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory revealed that home resale value jumps by nearly 6,000 for each kilowatt of solar that’s installed.9
DIY vs Professional Solar Installation in California
Installing solar panels in California is a worthy decision for many reasons, but the cost may lead to some hesitancy. Many homeowners may look to install DIY panels to avoid solar panel installation costs. But is it a good idea?
Here are a few things to consider:
- How much do you save with a DIY solar panel installation?
- Are you capable of installing your own solar panels?
- Is the cost saved from DIY worth the risks?
How Much Do You Save With a DIY Solar Installation in California?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, labor typically accounts for about 10% of the total cost of solar installation.10 In California, that could lead to savings of 1,638.
Are You Capable of Installing Your Own Solar Panels?
There are people recording DIY solar panel installations on YouTube. So you may be thinking, how hard can it be?
The answer: it’s more complicated than you think. Unless you’re certified in a similar trade, we don’t recommend installing your own solar panels. Solar contractors have to go through rigorous training and licensing because there are complexities to the job.
Plus, solar companies have software designed to find the exact angle and placement of panels to maximize production, which can lead to savings of well over 1,600 when you consider 25 years of production. If you install your solar panels improperly or get a DIY solar panel, you’re not going to benefit as much as you could.
Is the Savings of DIY Solar Installation Worth the Risks?
While it sounds nice to save, you have to think about the risk involved in installing your own solar panels. DIY installations can be dangerous, as you’ll be up on the roof and dealing with direct electricity and wires. If you’re not 100% confident in what you’re doing, chances are higher that you could install them improperly, damage your solar equipment or even damage your roof.
Bottom line, unless you have relevant experience, we don’t recommend DIY solar panels installations.
What Should California Residents Look for in a Solar Installer?
California has hundreds of solar installers all competing for your business. The state is also home to high energy costs and frequent outages, which make for a unique energy market. With that in mind, we recommend considering the following factors when choosing the best company for your installation:
- Local reputation and reviews
- Solar pricing and financing
- Services offered
- Warranty coverage
- Company experience
- Brand quality
Local California Reputation Reviews
We read through dozens of customer reviews and complaints from fellow California homeowners, as well as examining each company’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) score. Companies like Stellar Solar score well in this category thanks to its excellent local reputation, proven by the success of its referral network.
We also recommend working with a company that maintains membership in the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other professional associations. Membership in these groups is a great indicator of the company’s professionalism, workmanship, reputation and reliability.
Solar Pricing and Financing
Sticker shock is common with solar systems, but keep in mind that you’ll ultimately save money in the long run, thanks to the reduced energy costs. In addition, California offers statewide solar incentives that can help you reduce these upfront costs. We give high scores to companies that offer a wide range of solar financing options, as well as have proven experience navigating the many statewide incentive programs of California.
Services Offered in California
For one, it’s important to note that different solar companies may offer slightly different services. Most California homeowners will want a company that provides a wide range of services, assisting with everything from initial consultation to panel installation to applying for financial incentives. Since power outages and EVs are very common in California, we place special weight on companies that have ample experience installing solar batteries and EV chargers.
Finally, we recommend seeking an installer that can offer a good warranty. Panels can last 25 to 30 years, and you will want to ensure your investment is protected for as long as possible. The top solar installers will offer 25-year warranties for roofing, performance and workmanship.
SunPower, ADT Solar and NRG Clean Power all offer comprehensive warranties of at least 25 years, hence why they scored well in this category.
Californian’s Company Experience
We typically only recommend solar companies that have at least 10 years of experience. In most cases, the more experience, the better. With more than 900 solar installers to choose from in California, a company that has a long track record and customer referrals is a strong sign that it’s a good company to work with.
California also has a lot of local solar policies promoting certain residential solar add-ons, like EV chargers and energy storage devices. As a result, installations with add-ons are much more common here compared to other states. You want a company that knows California well.
Pay attention to the specific type of solar technology in panels that is offered. Some companies, like SunPower, can exclusively offer best-in-class solar modules, while others may have a variety of products better suited for a budget-minded customer. Is the company certified to install leading brands like Tesla, Panasonic and LG? It never hurts to take a closer look into the company’s tech portfolio. If you have a specific brand of solar panel or battery in mind, check that the company you’re speaking with is certified to sell and install those products.
GeoPeak Energy: Solar installation NJ, New Jersey solar installers, NJ solar companies, New Jersey solar companies, NJ solar installers, Free Solar NJ, New Jersey solar program, Solar Installers NJ, Solar Companies in New Jersey, Solar Companies in NJ
Going solar means installing a power plant on the roof of your home. As with any construction project, it is imperative you choose the right team for the job. GeoPeak Energy is the highest-rated New Jersey solar installer in terms of customer satisfaction, inspection quality, and solar performance. Call us today at (888) 526-4428 to get a free survey and affordable price estimate for your home or business. There are absolutely no obligations and you will not get any sales pitch from us.
It is imperative that when you install a solar system, the process is done right the first time to avoid failures. Such failures can range from performance issues such as reduced power output to fire hazards, electrical hazards, leaks, or structural hazards. You may not notice the inadequacies in your system until the second or third year, by which time it might be too late to get have your installer repair the problem. Spending a little more on a quality company initially can save you thousands of dollars in repairs and maintenance over the duration of your solar systems’ life.
Therefore, it is best to make your decision on which solar company you will choose based on more than just price. In fact, the price is merely one of the twelve issues you should consider about your solar energy company before they begin any construction on your home.
1) Ownership vs. Leasing: Will I ownor leasemy solar power system?
While some companies offer a lease program to get solar for free, you actually end up taking an additional lien on your home for the solar power system. Meanwhile, the installer takes the thousands of dollars of income your system generates every year in SRECs. The only benefit to you is a reduction of a few hundred dollars off your electric bill per year; moreover, a lien is placed on your home to cover the system.
The other danger with getting a solar power installation for “free is that the company usually has to cut corners on quality to make a profit. They may hire incompetent or uninsured installers, install shoddy solar panels that last only a few years, or both. This results in a poor installation that will not last, is physically unappealing, and can even damage your roof and home.
2) Testimonials: Who can vouch for the quality of your work, and how can I contact them?
Every reputable solar installer should have a healthy list of satisfied customers who praise their work. You should contact a few of these references and listen to their success stories firsthand.
Also, check into the company’s reputation. Do a Google search or call your local township office and ask about the company. Township inspectors can be helpful toothey can check the company’s filings, reputation, and tell you whether they are or have ever been subject to lawsuits or formal complaints. Also check for the installer’s name in the NJ Clean Energy Program at www.njcleanenergy.com.
3) Will you file the paperwork, and train me in how to make money selling Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)?
If you own your solar panel system and go through the necessary procedures, you will get to make thousands of dollars a year off the sales of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). Your solar installer should take you through all the steps to understand and take advantage of these valuable credits, which you can sell to receive income for up to 15 years.
You will get an SREC for every 1,000 kWh of electricity produced by your solar power system. Combined with state and federal rebates and tax credits, this is a great way to ensure your solar power system will pay for itself. If done right, the system will actually pay for itself within 3-4 years.
Value-added services such as brokering SREC sales is one way a company shows its commitment to its customers. Top solar providers will never leave you in the dust after a sale.
4) Can you guarantee the quality of the solar panels you are putting on my home?
The best solar companies are strategically partnered with top solar panel manufacturers to provide the highest quality components. There are many factors that separate high quality panels that will efficiently generate power for a long time from poor quality panels whose mediocre output may fail in just a few years.
Generally, customers do not think to ask for high quality solar panels. You should know the performance, warranty, and longevity of the panels being installed in comparison to all other brands available. Make sure the solar company can prove the quality of the solar equipment they plan to install.
5) In-house Teams vs. Hired Guns: Do you employ a fully qualified, fully trained, in-house team?
Only top competitors in the solar market can afford to hire and train their own installation team. Many companies employ installers that claim to know the solar installation process, but may not have received formal trainer and appropriate licensing. Make sure your choice of company hires and trains their own installation teams to assure a mistake-free, professional installation that lasts.
6) Do you custom design the solar panel system to best fit my home?
Every home is unique, and every family deserves a custom-designed, custom-built system. Make sure your solar provider designs a system that fits the specific needs of your home instead of just adapting a basic framework that makes it work”. Your company should have in-house design engineers with extensive experience in customized renewable energy solutions.
7) Can you guarantee the long-term performance of my solar panel system in writing?
The company should give you a guarantee with the proposal about exactly how much electricity the system will generate. This guarantee needs to be in writing. If the company is not confident enough to do this, you have no reason to be confident in their work.
8) Will you monitor the performance of my system and alert me when there are problems?
Most top solar companies now provide online monitoring of system output. This is your first line of defense against potential power losses and other problems. Your company should monitor this information to assure your system is producing power correctly, and be able to send out a repair team to your location to find and replace and faulty components.
9) Will my solar power system compliment the beauty and aesthetics of my home?
A lot of equipment goes onto your roof and into your home when you go solar: panels, racking, flashing, and more. While your system is designed to save you money and help the environment, you should also be happy and proud of its appearance too. Top companies take both efficiency and aesthetics into account when designing the system.
10) Can the system warranty guarantee at least 80% of production capacity for 25 years?
Your solar installer should guarantee the performance and life of the solar panels they intend to put on your roof, in writing. The minimum guaranteed output should be 80% for 25 years on panels, in addition to 10 years for inverters.
11) Are you fully licensed and insured?
Solar energy companies. New Jersey or otherwise. should be fully insured and licensed. Proper solar installation training costs and takes weeks or months, but many companies choose to skip this step and put unqualified, unlicensed workers on your roof.
12) Is the entire process handled by an in-house task force?
A truly qualified solar energy company will never use subcontractors or freelance installers. They will also have their own in-house designers and in-house clerical and accounting staff to handle the maze of paperwork required to get all the incentives available to you. They should be committed to your investment and provide after-sales service whenever you need it.
National vs Local Solar Installers: Who’s Better?
When you’re looking for a solar installer, you’re going to want a company that provides great service, does quality work, and offers a fair price. You’ll have your choice between large companies that operate on a national level, and smaller companies that are local and regionally based. Of these two types of solar installers, which one is more likely to give you a great deal on a great system?
In this blog, we’ll take a look at how the size of the solar company can determine how much you’ll pay for your system, the level of workmanship you can expect, and what financing options are available.
Before we jump in, it needs to be stated that Paradise Energy Solutions does fall in the local solar installer category. But you can be confident this blog is written based on experiences and research not our biased opinion.
How do national and local solar installers compare?
Who Will Be Less Expensive?
While there are several factors that create an appealing solar proposal, more often than not, the installation price is one of the most significant. All things equal, you’d much rather go with the company who can install your system for less. Studies have shown that there is often a trend in the price differences between local companies and national companies. And the type of company that typically is more expensive may be surprising.
While national companies have more resources, more projects, and the benefit of economies of scale, they typically won’t be offering the lower price. According to a study by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), larger solar installers gave customers a higher quote 70% of the time compared to smaller, local installers. And these quotes were about 10% more on average.
Why is this? Unlike smaller companies, many are publicly traded and are held accountable to their shareholders and investors to maintain a specific profit margin. So we can speculate that national firms are more likely to base their pricing on the company’s market share and financial goals.
Smaller local companies, however, face less pressure and less red tape regarding pricing and profit criteria than larger companies. Each project is important to a local installer. While a handful of 10 kW residential systems are just a drop in the bucket for large, national companies.
Who Will Do Better Work?
The larger installers have more projects associated with their company than the local guys. But does that mean they’re more experienced or capable of doing better work? After all, even if it ends up costing a little extra, some solar customers are more comfortable going with a company they feel will give them the best system.
But if you opt for a national installer, they may not be the ones doing the installation. While they may have regional offices across the country, they don’t always have a team of installers that can service these locations. Oftentimes, large installers will hire subcontractors to do their installation work. And while they’ll surely do a great job selecting and managing experienced subs, the accountability is a little different than with a local company.
Local solar installation teams may have one central office or a handful of offices spread across a region. They are more likely to fully staff those office locations with their own installers. Unlike subcontractors, these installation teams are held accountable by the owner of the company that sold you your system.
In these smaller companies, even the newest solar installation technician could know the owner of the company. This tight-knit environment fuels teamwork and motivates employees to do a better job. If they don’t perform up to the company’s expectations, they’re answerable directly to the leadership of the company.
When choosing a solar installer, one way to see how experienced and qualified an installation company is is to take a look at their industry certifications and registrations. Look for certifications from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, or NABCEP. NABCEP is one of the leading professional development and accreditation organization in the solar industry.
Companies may also mention if they’re affiliated with any other solar energy education organization, such as Solar Energy International (SEI). Take a look at the company’s about us or team page on their website to see how highly they value training and continuing education.
Another thing to take a look at is the company’s online reviews. From Google to to sites like SolarReviews.com, learn from people who have been in your shoes and made the decision. Many customers enjoy the personal, relationship-based approach that working with a local company offers.
Who Offers Financing Options?
When it comes to installing solar, you’ll have a few different options for financing: solar ownership, or solar leasing. The most beneficial in the long term is typically solar ownership. This is where you purchase and own your solar system and get 100% of the tax benefits and free electricity throughout the lifespan of the system.
With local solar installers, this is often the only option. Ownership pays off really well in the long term, but it does require a significant upfront investment.
With larger, national installers, you may have the option for a lease, or a Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA). With a PPA, a company will pay to have a solar system installed on your property. In return, they’ll offer you the electricity generated by their solar system for a price lower than your electric bill. So there’s still a solar system on your property, and you’re still getting power from it, but instead of paying the utility company, you’re paying the leasing company for that electricity.
These contractual agreements can last 20 to 25 years and could include escalations in the price of electricity. While you may save a ton of money in the first couple of years, you need to be aware the agreement could include a price increase down the road. Because you don’t own this solar system, the PPA company will get all the tax benefits from the system. However, they’ll be responsible for the initial installation costs and maintenance.
Which Solar Installer Is Best For You?
The information we touched on are general trends often seen in the industry, but not telling for every situation. It’s always a great idea to get quotes from several companies. The more information and options you have, the more likely it is that you’ll get a great system for a fair price.
There are fantastic solar installation companies of all sizes that can install an efficient, long-lasting system that will meet your energy and financial goals. Likewise, there are companies of all sizes that you may be better off avoiding. The best way to find out is to start requesting your quotes!
If you’re not ready just yet for a quote, the next best step is to download our solar buying guide. This guide answers many of the common questions people have when examining a solar investment.
The Cost of Solar Panels: Is It Worth It?
Do the benefits of solar panels outweigh their costs?
Nathaniel Riley brings 28 years of experience in financial services, including merger-arbitrage trading, hedge funds, and alternative investments.
Somer G. Anderson is CPA, doctor of accounting, and an accounting and finance professor who has been working in the accounting and finance industries for more than 20 years. Her expertise covers a wide range of accounting, corporate finance, taxes, lending, and personal finance areas.
Skylar Clarine is a fact-checker and expert in personal finance with a range of experience including veterinary technology and film studies.
What Is Solar Power for the Home?
Homeowners who install solar power systems can receive numerous benefits: lower electric bills, lower carbon footprints, and potentially higher home values. But these benefits typically come with significant installation and maintenance costs and the magnitude of the gains can vary widely from one house to another.
This article will help homeowners make the financial calculations required to determine the viability of solar power in their homes.
- Those seeking to go green may want to consider equipping their home with solar panels.
- Not only is solar power good for the environment, but you can earn money selling back excess power to the grid.
- While costs have come down over the past years, installation and maintenance of solar panels can be quite expensive.
- Solar panels are best suited for homes that receive ample sun exposure throughout the year.
- Before committing to solar power, be sure to understand both the social and economic factors.
Understanding Solar Power
In principle, working out whether it makes financial sense to install solar power for your home is simple. You will need to calculate:
- The cost of a solar power system
- How much energy it will produce
- What you would otherwise pay for the same amount of energy
- How many years it will take for your upfront investment to pay for itself in saved energy costs
- Whether the system will pay for itself in five years
If it does and you have the upfront capital, it’s probably a great idea. If you’ll have to wait longer for savings or take out a loan to afford the system, you’ll need to think the decision through carefully.
In practice, however, things are not this simple. There is a large variation in each of these factors, and that can make the costs and benefits of installing solar power for two homes—even if they are neighbors—radically different.
There are some tools that can help, though. Solar Reviews offer a calculator that will quickly provide you with representative costs and savings for a solar power system in every part of the U.S. Calculators like this are a good place to start if you are new to solar energy and want to understand the basic cost model.
In the rest of this article, we’ll take you through each of the key factors you should consider when calculating the costs and potential savings of solar power for your home.
Before getting solar panels, get quotes from several reputable installers to compare.
The Cost of Solar Power for Homeowners
First, let’s look at the cost of installing a solar power system for your home. The average, upfront cost of a residential solar power system is between 3,500 and 16,000.
Why the huge range of costs? Well, a lot of the variation depends on the size of the system you’d like to install and the type of panels you want to use. Whatever system you use, keep in mind that solar power is capital intensive and the main cost of owning a system comes upfront when buying the equipment. The solar module will almost certainly represent the largest single component of the overall expense.
There are some additional costs, as well. Other equipment necessary for installation includes an inverter (to turn the direct current produced by the panel into the alternating current used by household appliances), metering equipment (if it is necessary to see how much power is produced), and various housing components along with cables and wiring gear. Some homeowners also consider battery storage. Historically, batteries have been prohibitively expensive and unnecessary if the utility pays for excess electricity that is fed into the grid (see below). The installation labor cost must also be factored in.
In addition to installation costs, there are some further costs associated with operating and maintaining a PV solar array. Aside from cleaning the panels regularly, inverters and batteries (if installed) generally need replacement after several years of use.
While the above costs are relatively straightforward—often a solar installation company can quote a price for these for a homeowner—determining subsidies available from the government and/or your local utility can prove more of a challenge. Government incentives change often, but historically, the U.S. government has allowed a tax credit of up to 30% of the system’s cost.
details on incentive programs in the U.S., including programs within each state, can be found on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables Efficiency (DSIRE) website. In other countries, such information is often available on government or solar advocacy websites. Homeowners should also check with their local utility company to see whether it offers financial incentives for solar installation and to determine what its policy is for grid interconnection and for selling excess power into the grid.
The U.S. installed 19.2 gigawatts of solar PV capacity in 2020 to reach 97.7 GWdc of total installed capacity, enough to power 17.7 million American homes.
Calculating Your Energy Production
The second factor you’ll need to consider in your calculations is the amount of energy your system will produce and when it will do that. This can be a very complicated calculation to make, even for experienced solar engineers. However, let’s run through the basics.
One of the most important considerations is the solar irradiation levels available in the home’s geographical location; in other words, how sunny it is where you live. When it comes to using solar panels, being closer to the equator is generally better, but other factors must be considered. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) produces maps for the U.S. showing solar irradiation levels and the tools on its website provide detailed solar information for specific locations within the U.S.
Equally important is your home’s orientation: For rooftop arrays, a south-facing roof without trees or other objects obstructing sunlight maximizes the available solar energy. If this is not available, panels can be mounted on external supports and installed away from the house, incurring additional costs for the extra hardware and cables.
And then you must factor in the size of your system. Solar panel size is quoted in terms of the theoretical electrical output potential in watts. However, the typical output realized for installed PV systems—known as the capacity factor—is between 15% and 30% of the theoretical output. A 3 kilowatt-hour (kWh) household system running at a 15% capacity factor would produce 3 kWh x 15% x 24 hr/day x 365 days/year = 3,942 kWh/year or roughly one-third of the typical electricity consumption of a U.S. household.
How Much Will You Save?
Once you know how much a solar power system will cost upfront, and how much energy it will produce, you can (theoretically) predict how much you can save in energy costs per year.
This is another tricky calculation, however, because a lot depends on how you pay for electricity at the moment. Utilities often charge residential consumers a flat rate for electricity, regardless of the time of consumption. This means that instead of offsetting the expensive cost of peak electricity production, homeowners’ solar power systems merely offset the price they are charged for electricity, which is much closer to the average cost of power production.
However, many utility companies in the U.S. have introduced pricing schemes that allow homeowners to be charged at different rates throughout the day in an attempt to mirror the actual cost of electricity production at different times: This means higher rates in the afternoon and lower rates at night. A PV solar array may be very beneficial in areas where this sort of time-varying rate is used since the solar power produced would offset the most costly electricity.
Exactly how beneficial this is for a given homeowner depends on the exact timing and magnitude of the rate changes under such a plan. Similarly, utilities in some locations have pricing schemes that vary over different times of the year due to regular seasonal demand fluctuations. Those with higher rates during the summer make solar power more valuable.
Some utilities have tiered pricing plans in which the marginal price of electricity changes as consumption rises. Under this type of plan, the benefit from a solar system can depend on the electricity use of the home; in certain areas subject to rates that increase dramatically as consumption increases, large homes (with large energy needs) may benefit most from solar arrays that offset high-cost marginal consumption.
For some homes, it might even be possible to make money by selling solar power back to the grid. In the U.S., this is done through net metering plans, in which residential consumers use the power that they put into the grid (when the rate of electricity generation from the solar array is greater than the rate of household electricity consumption) to offset the power consumed at other times; the monthly electric bill reflects net energy consumption. The specific net metering regulations and policies vary across regions. Homeowners can refer to the DSIRE database and should also contact their local utilities to find more specific information.
Calculating Solar Power Costs
At this point, you will be in a position to make a final calculation, and an assessment of whether solar power makes sense for you.
The overall cost and benefit of a solar system can theoretically be evaluated using the discounted cash flow (DCF) method. Outflows at the beginning of the project would consist of installation costs (net of subsidies) and inflows would arrive later in the form of offset electricity costs (both directly and through net metering).
However, rather than using DCF, the viability of solar power is usually evaluated by calculating the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), then comparing it to the cost of electricity charged by the local utility. The LCOE for household solar will typically be calculated as cost/kilowatt-hour (/kWh or ¢/kWh)—the same format commonly used on electricity bills. To approximate the LCOE, one can use the following equation:
LCOE (/kWh) = Net Present Value (NPV) of the Lifetime Cost of Ownership / Lifetime Energy Output (kWh)
The useful life of a PV solar module is generally assumed to be 25 to 40 years. The cost of ownership includes the maintenance costs, which must be discounted to find the NPV. The LCOE can then be compared to the cost of electricity from a utility; remember, the relevant price is that which occurs during times at or near peak PV solar production.
Is Solar Power Worth It?
Once you’ve worked through all of these calculations, you’ll likely end up with a single number—the number of years it will take for a solar system to pay for itself in savings from your energy bills. If you live in a sunny part of the country and have high utility bills at the moment, you could be looking at a system that will reach this point in five years. Other homeowners may have to wait 10 or 20 years to reach this point.
In other words, most homeowners will eventually see a benefit from a solar power system; it might just take decades for this to be realized. Whether it is worth installing such a system therefore often comes down to a number of much less technical factors than those we’ve listed above: how long you are going to stay in your home, the subsidies available in your area, and simply whether you want to do your bit for the environment.
Pros and Cons of Solar Panels for Your Home
Like most things, solar power has its benefits and drawbacks. At the same time, some economic costs may be defrayed by the social benefits to the environment and lowering your carbon footprint, which may be more important to you than a purely monetary evaluation.
- Green energy that lowers your carbon footprint
- Net metering allows you to sell back excess energy produced
- You may be eligible for certain tax breaks
- Installation and maintenance costs are still high
- Solar only works when the sun is out
- Parts of the system need to be replaced every few years
- Some tax breaks may have expired or will be expiring
Can a House Run on Solar Power Alone?
Practically, it is not often possible. This is because solar only works when the sun is shining—when it is cloudy or nighttime, they do not generate electricity. There are some battery solutions to provide power during these times, but they still tend to be quite expensive. Most homes with solar panels still rely on the grid from time to time.
Do You Really Save Money With Solar Panels?
Depending on where you live, it is possible that the system can pay itself back and more over time. This is because you won’t be spending as much money buying electricity from your utility. If net metering is in place, you could reduce your bills even further.
How Much Does a Solar Panel Cost?
have been coming down steadily over the years. The total cost will depend on how many kilowatts of power your array will generate. According to consumer reports, after solar tax credits are accounted for, the cost for a solar panel system on an average-sized house in the U.S. in 2021 ranges from 11,000 to 15,000.
How Long Will It Take To Recoup the Initial Cost?
Depending on where you live and the size of your system it can take, on average, anywhere from 10 to 20 years to break even on a solar installation.
The Bottom Line
Determining whether to install a PV solar system may seem like a daunting task, but it is important to remember that such a system is a long-term investment. In many locations, solar power is a good choice from a financial perspective.
Even if the cost of solar power is found to be marginally more expensive than electricity purchased from a utility, homeowners may wish to install solar power to avoid future potential fluctuations in energy costs, or may simply wish to look beyond their personal financial motivations and use solar for green living.