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Thanks to favorable geography and climate, California homeowners can harvest clean electricity from sunshine while reducing or eliminating their monthly power bills. Increasingly efficient solar panels at lower prices make the dream of affordable renewable energy possible, while rebates and tax incentives promoting clean energy sweeten the deal for interested customers. Switching to solar energy has various advantages, but the process can be complicated and costly.
Partnering with the right solar panel company is vital when switching to home-generated solar power. The best solar companies in California will walk their clients through system design, installation, maintenance, and access to available incentive programs. We evaluated dozens of residential solar companies to find the best options in California. Read on to learn about our selection process and why these companies scored a spot on our list of top picks.
- BEST OVERALL: SunPower
- RUNNER-UP: ADT Solar
- BEST CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE: Momentum Solar
- ALSO CONSIDER: Sunlux
What to Consider When Choosing One of the Best Solar Companies in California
Getting started is often the biggest challenge of a complicated project. When choosing a solar panel supplier that will install a solar system, here are a few essential things homeowners will want to bear in mind before making the first call.
Home Location and Roof Type
While California on the whole receives ample sunlight, not every home will be an ideal candidate for solar panels. Tall trees or buildings may obstruct the sun’s rays for a significant portion of the day, diminishing the potential energy collection. Additionally, the type of roof a home has is a factor. A roof with a slope that faces south is an ideal location for installing solar panels, but the roof structure on some homes may need to be stronger to support a solar array. The installer may need to modify the roof or set up the panels on a freestanding ground unit instead of on the roof.
Type of Panels
Solar panels all generate electricity, but they do it in different ways. The two main categories of solar panels are photovoltaic and thermal, and within those groups are a few more (or less) common types.
- Photovoltaic: The most popular solar panel installed today, photovoltaic panels have solar cells that convert sunlight into electrical power. People who want to power a significant portion of their home’s energy needs will usually have photovoltaic panels installed.
- Thermal: Less common but still functional, solar thermal panels have mirrors that reflect and concentrate the sun’s rays to create electricity. Thermal solar technology is more likely to be used for small energy purposes, such as powering a solar floodlight.
- Monocrystalline: Made from a single (mono) silicon crystal, these panels are dark black. They are long lasting and compact, but they are among the most expensive. They have efficiency ratings of 20 to 25 percent (see “Efficiency and Performance” below) and are considered to be among the best solar panels for home use.
- Polycrystalline: These solar panels are less expensive because they are made from silicon fragments rather than a large silicon crystal. They are more affordable than monocrystalline but not as efficient, ranging in efficiency from about 15 to 17 percent.
- PERC: The acronym stands for Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell, and it is a new technology that improves the efficiency of monocrystalline panels. The most efficient of all, PERC panels can be up to 5 percent more efficient than traditional monocrystalline panels.
- Thin-film: Not quite as efficient as other types of panels, thin-film panels do not contain expensive crystalline silicon, which makes them more affordable. Depending on the quality of the individual panel, it will typically range from 6 to 15 percent efficiency.
On-Grid vs. Off-Grid
Homeowners can install a self-sufficient, off-grid solar array or an on-grid (also known as a grid-tie) array. Both come with a few advantages and considerations.
An off-grid solar array is the best choice for those who want energy independence. It allows the user to generate all their electricity, and if a storm results in a municipal power outage, an off-grid system will continue to operate. Excess power is usually stored in large batteries to help supplement electricity when it’s cloudy. However, if the off-grid system isn’t generating due to cloudy weather and battery stores are depleted, there is no alternative source of electricity.
Many homeowners choose a grid-tie system because they can usually sell the excess energy back to the utility company (called net metering). If it’s cloudy, their home can draw power from the utility. However, if the utility company experiences an outage, a grid-tied system immediately shuts down. This is for safety reasons: It would not be safe for a technician to work on a downed power line if someone’s home solar array was sending electricity into the line. Those with grid-tie systems can minimize outages by installing batteries to draw electricity during an outage.
Efficiency and Performance
Solar panels are becoming more efficient as manufacturers incorporate better technology, but how can consumers determine whether a particular panel is better? It’s all about the percentages. Most solar panels have efficiency ratings of 15 to 20 percent. This means that when the sun’s rays hit the panel, it will convert from 15 to 20 percent of the sun’s energy into electrical power.
A few high-efficiency solar panels are up to 25 percent efficient, but for the most part, the highest efficiency available today is about 22.5 percent. Researchers are working on ways to increase solar panel efficiency all the time, and laboratory tests show panels that will be available in the future could be up to 40 percent efficient.
Manufacturers vs. Installers
Many solar companies are certified to install one or more brands of solar panels, while a few solar companies both produce and install solar panels. The difference may be insignificant to some consumers, especially those looking to get good deals on panel installation, but it often affects the installation company’s guarantee. Solar panel installers/manufacturers are usually more likely to stand behind their products, which benefits consumers. On the other hand, a company that installs panels but doesn’t manufacture them may require the customer to contact the manufacturer directly for warranty work.
Most solar energy contractors or companies offer a complimentary consultation. This includes but is not restricted to analyzing and evaluating the home’s location and determining the amount of direct sunlight it would receive. As part of the process, the company will often suggest a specific type of solar panel array. It should give the homeowner an estimate of how much savings they can expect to see on their current utility bill.
Pricing and Financing
The price to install solar panels typically falls within the range of $12,000 to $16,500 in California, or possibly more based on the required number and efficiency of the panels. Solar companies or private lenders may offer financing options. Customers will want to keep in mind that a private lender may ask the homeowner to take out a second mortgage on their home to secure one of the best solar panel loans. As an alternative, some homeowners choose to lease solar panels, which allows them to decrease their carbon emissions while the leasing company owns the panels. These leases can last from 5 to 25 years, but the homeowner may see insignificant savings on their energy bills depending on the lease payments.
Obtaining a permit is often required to install solar panels in many neighborhoods. The permit fee may vary, but the installer typically includes it in the installation cost and takes care of obtaining it. The process of acquiring a permit informs the local building authority of a homeowner’s intention to install solar panels. The building authority may send an inspector to check the panels, batteries, and wiring installation before allowing the installer to activate the system.
The first two steps in the solar panel installation process are the initial consultation and obtaining the permit. After these have been completed, the installer can order the panels and other necessary equipment. The installation itself involves modifying the roof to support the array, installing the wiring system, and mounting and connecting the panels. The final step of activating the system may be delayed until an inspector approves it. The installer typically schedules the inspection in advance to minimize the time between the final installation and turning the system on.
In the solar panel industry, it is common for companies to offer a limited 25-year warranty. This usually covers repairs or replacements of components that fail due to factory defects or installation errors. However, it is important to be aware that not all warranties are equally comprehensive. Some only cover the cost of replacement parts, requiring the homeowner to pay for repair labor. Others may guarantee certain system parts for a shorter period, such as a 25-year warranty on panel performance but only a 12.5-year warranty on the inverter.
Rebates and Tax Incentives
A tax credit allows homeowners to deduct a certain percentage of their solar panel expenses from their income tax liability. Systems installed through 2032 are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit. For example, if the solar panels cost $10,000 and the tax credit is 30 percent, the homeowner could reduce their income tax liability by $3,000. Individual municipalities in California may offer tax credits for installing solar systems.
Purchasing a solar array is a significant investment, and it is reassuring to know that the solar company can handle any issues promptly. Most solar companies have a customer service phone number that homeowners can call in case of a problem, and some also have an emergency number for after-hours calls. Some offer online consultations via chat or email—or even interactive troubleshooting to help the homeowner diagnose and schedule repairs (if necessary). Generally, companies with more options for customer support tend to have higher customer satisfaction.
Our Top Picks
We researched the highest performers in the industry to find the best solar companies in California. Read on to learn more about these businesses and what makes them the best solar power companies in California.
Why It Made the Cut: For nearly 40 years, SunPower has built a reputation for innovation in home solar energy systems while providing outstanding customer service.
Since 1985, SunPower has been installing the best solar panels available while providing top-rated customer service. Its current offering includes proprietary Maxeon monocrystalline solar panels with an industry-leading 22.8 percent efficiency rating. The panels feature a low-profile structure with integrated microinverters that preserve the home’s curb appeal. SunPower’s website offers a virtual design studio, which allows potential clients to preview a system’s appearance on their home before making any financial commitment.
SunPower’s entire system design process is completed online, reducing paper consumption, travel time, and in-home meetings. Additionally, its equipment boasts Cradle to Cradle certification, indicating the company’s commitment to a soft environmental footprint through sustainable, circular production. Current and prospective clients can connect with SunPower’s live customer support representatives by phone.
- Type of panels: Maxeon monocrystalline
- Payment options: Buy, finance, lease
- Guarantee: 25-year complete-system warranty
- Customer support: Phone
- High 22.8 percent efficiency rate
- Cradle to Cradle–certified equipment
- Interactive online design-studio feature
- Sleek design with built-in microinverters
- Customer service only available by phone
Why It Made the Cut: ADT Solar offers top-rated solar equipment backed up by an incredibly inclusive 25-year warranty.
ADT acquired fast-growing Sunpro Solar in 2021 and retooled the business as ADT Solar. The new brand offers design-install and maintenance services for customers in most of the United States, including California. While the company is known for efficient designs and quality equipment, the broadly inclusive warranty stands out. ADT Solar–installed systems are guaranteed to produce electricity at the level estimated at the time of purchase for 25 years. Warranty information on the batteries is not provided, and customers can direct any questions to customer support.
ADT Solar’s installation technicians can perform any necessary roof repairs ahead of installation. The company also provides 24/7 professional solar monitoring after installing the system to keep an eye out for any potential problems. These services streamline the process, eliminating the need for additional contractors.
- Type of panels: Q Cells, Silfab, Canadian Solar
- Payment options: Buy, finance, lease
- Guarantee: 25-year power-production guarantee
- Customer support: Phone, email
- Generous 25-year power-production guarantee
- 24/7 solar monitoring
- Additional roofing repair services available
- Warranty information on battery is not readily available on website
Best Customer Experience
Why It Made the Cut: Momentum Solar delivers a personalized client experience through its single-point-of-contact business model; customers work with the same representative from inquiry through installation.
Momentum Solar has been one of the fastest-growing solar companies in the United States since 2009. Clients appreciate its individualized customer service model, wherein they communicate with the same company representative through every phase of their project. This approach builds deeper client relationships, and clients can more easily access all available discounts and incentive programs.
Momentum takes care of all project paperwork, permits, and inspections, eliminating these worries and headaches for the client. While the information readily available on the website is thin, prospective clients can access a company representative via phone or email with any questions.
- Type of panels: Monocrystalline (various manufacturers)
- Payment options: Buy, finance, lease
- Guarantee: 25-year equipment and labor warranty
- Customer support: Phone, email
- Streamlined “concierge” service offered
- All paperwork and permits handled on behalf of the customer
- Somewhat limited information available online
Why It Made the Cut: SunLux builds dependable solar systems using quality brand-name equipment and backs its installations with an extensive three-part 25-year warranty.
Customers looking for one of the best solar companies in San Diego or other areas of southern California may want to consider SunLux. SunLux installs quality equipment from well-known manufacturers, including solar panels by Panasonic, LG, and Q Cells. The company also installs battery backups from Tesla, LG, and Enphase. In addition to residential solar, it offers smart home systems and EV charging-station installation. These services are ideal for customers who are looking for an energy-efficient whole-home upgrade.
Flexible purchase financing is available, as are lease and PPA plan options. All SunLux installations are backed by 25-year warranties on hardware components; parts, labor, and shipping costs; and generating performance. Customer service is available by phone.
- Type of panels: Panasonic monocrystalline, Q Cells monocrystalline, Tesla solar panels
- Financing available: Buy, finance, lease
- Guarantee: 25-year equipment and labor warranty
- Customer support: Phone
- Wide variety of top-rated solar products
- EV charger and smart-home installations available
- Customer service only available by phone
- Service area restricted to southern California
SunPower has years of industry experience and high-performing, reliable solar equipment, which makes it an excellent choice for homeowners looking to switch to solar. Regarding guaranteed performance, ADT Solar sets the standard with top-tier solar panels and an industry-leading warranty program.
How We Chose the Best Solar Companies in California
California’s solar customers deserve reliable service and the peace of mind that accompanies a good value. But since hundreds of solar systems installers operate in California, we created this guide to help Californians find the best solar companies for designing and installing their residential solar arrays.
We investigated California’s top-rated solar companies to find firms our readers can trust. We prioritized businesses with a knack for transparency and operational flexibility. To help determine the top companies, we referenced online customer solar company reviews, Better Business Bureau ratings, and industry awards. We also looked for business practices that support excellent customer service as company growth continues.
Because of the initial equipment costs associated with solar panels, we also wanted to ensure that customers would have affordable financing options. Most of the businesses in this guide offer in-house financing at competitive rates or partner with outside institutions. They also assist their clients in accessing any available rebates, tax breaks, and other incentive programs.
Before You Work With One of the Best Solar Companies in California
Before signing up with a solar provider, customers want to ensure that the provider can fulfill all project requirements. Customers will want to know where the company is based, where its suppliers are located, and where the installation technicians are based. Suppose operations are not based within a realistic commute of the installation site. In that case, customers will want to ask detailed questions to learn how warranty, service, and maintenance issues will be resolved. If there’s an existing solar buyback program, customers will also want to ensure they’re using the best electric company for solar panels in California.
Homeowners will also need to understand the installation plan before signing a contract. They’ll want to review the itemized components to be installed, a diagram of the installation, and a project itinerary. Customers can ask to ensure that the contractor will coordinate the permitting process and required inspections after the installation is complete.
Customers may also ask about the nature of the company. Some solar companies only sell solar equipment, and then subcontract all installations. In contrast, others are vertically integrated organizations that manufacture and install their own equipment with their own employees. Customers can ask if the installers are employees of the company selling the system. If not, they can find out how subcontractors are vetted and whether they are independently licensed, insured, and trained to install the equipment in the contract.
Cost of Working With One of the Best Solar Companies in California
The average cost of a solar installation in California is $2.86 per watt, or between $12,000 and $16,500 (before incentives) for a whole-home system. In addition to component prices, several elements dictate the actual costs and savings.
Customers who purchase their system outright pay the total cost and are on the hook for maintenance expenses (like contracting one of the best solar panel cleaning services to keep panels operating at peak performance). But paying off the system right away usually leads to the lowest cost of solar panels and the highest savings over the system’s life. Financing attracts many buyers as a way to gain the system’s benefits quickly without depleting savings. However, financing often adds interest and fees that partly offset benefits like reduced utility bills and access to other financial incentives.
Leasing is often the least costly way to access clean solar energy. Solar lease customers do not own the equipment installed by the solar company, so they do not qualify for many of the available incentive programs. However, they often pay a much lower monthly rate for electric service when compared to grid customers, and they avoid the responsibility of maintaining the solar system. Lease customers may also have the option to purchase the system outright when the lease term expires.
The Advantages of Working With One of the Best Solar Companies in California
Homeowners enjoy numerous advantages after installing solar power with a top solar company, including reduced monthly bills, improved access to reliable electricity in areas with frequent outages, and a more sustainable lifestyle.
- Expert planning and construction smooth the transition to clean energy.
- Superior customer support clarifies communication, minimizes mistakes, and maximizes access to renewable energy incentives.
- The best solar companies design cost-effective systems built with high-quality components.
Californians who would like to install residential solar power systems may have lingering questions. Find out answers to some frequently asked questions below.
Q. What is the average cost for solar panels in California?
The average price of solar panels in California is $2.86 per kilowatt hour. The average cost for a whole-home solar installation comes to $14,300.
Q. Is it worth going solar in California?
California is one of the greenest states in the country and home to three of the country’s greenest cities. With its favorable climate and ample sunshine, California is a great place to install solar panels. The cost of electricity, the actual price of the installation, and available incentives impact how quickly a particular project will break even. On average, Californians can save $65,138 over 20 years by switching to solar from one of the best solar companies, assuming the cost is paid in full upon installation.
Q. What is the average ROI on solar panels?
The ROI (return on investment) for solar panels is calculated by taking the net installation cost after one-time incentives versus anticipated power bill savings and recurring incentives over time. While the precise value varies significantly based on location and project specifications, the average ROI on solar panels in the United States is approximately 10 percent.
Q. What is the most important factor when choosing the best solar company in California?
All candidates should be licensed, bonded, and insured and have a clean business record. Beyond this basic set of credentials, customers may want to limit their search to NABCEP-certified (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) solar installers. Ultimately, the best company for any project will be able to complete the job on time, on budget, and according to specifications outlined in the contract.
Q. How do I qualify for free solar in California?
California does not have a free solar program. Instead, the state offers rebates and tax incentives to reduce the cost of solar panels. Cost-saving programs available to Californians include Disadvantaged Communities – Single Family Solar Home (DAC-SASH), Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), the Federal Solar Tax Credit, and California Net Metering.
Sources: EnergySage, SolarReviews