Best Solar Companies in California
The Golden State is the place for solar – but how do you choose among the best solar companies in California?
California is by far the biggest market for residential solar in the entire country. The state is home to 37% of all solar in the entire US. According to SEIA, there are 6.5 million homes with solar and over 1,300 solar installers. With so many different installers out there, it can be hard to narrow down a list of the best solar companies in California.
A great way to find the best solar company in California for your needs is to compare both local and national solar panel installers. A quick and easy way to do this is to get multiple estimates and quotes to find the best deals and most reputable companies in your area.
Enter your zip code below to get a free solar cost and savings estimate and be matched with multiple California solar installers that service your local area.
Over the last decade, California really has been a boom-town for solar. From 2010 to 2018, the number of solar installations jumped 47% each year – a staggeringly fast average annual growth rate.
Most of this growth is thanks to the quickly falling cost of solar. In 2010, the average solar installation in the US cost over $7/watt. By 2018, that had dropped to around $3/watt. With the solar installations ranging from 4,000 to 12,000 watts, we don’t need to tell you that’s a huge drop! For an average-sized 6 kW installation, that’s a difference of $24,000.
Most of this reduction is thanks to the falling cost of the solar panels themselves, which have dropped 83% since 2010, but solar installers have also streamlined the installation process as well, dropping labor costs 77% since 2010.
How much can you save installing solar in California?
As of 2019, installing solar in California costs about $2.90/watt before any tax credits. With the national average cost around $3.05/watt, installing solar in California costs much less than in most other states, but it’s still higher than about ten others, including solar-friendly North Carolina, Texas, and Florida, which enjoy costs from about $2.60 to $2.80/watt.
$2.90/watt probably doesn’t mean much to you, so here’s how it adds up for some common installation sizes:
- 4 kW: $11,600 (small installation)
- 6 kW: $17,400 (average installation)
- 12 kW: $34,800 (large installation)
Costs of course can increase or decrease based on your local regulations, roof type, equipment, and installer. For the most accurate cost estimate, reach out to a few local installers for a personalized estimate.
California homeowners also have a few tax credits and other incentives that can drop the cost of solar even further. While the glory days when utilities offered huge discounts are long gone, there are still a handful of great incentives to help lower your installation costs:
- Federal tax credit: This credit gives you a dollar-for-dollar discount on your federal income tax, worth 30% of your installation costs. So, if you paid $17,000 for your installation, you’d be eligible for a $5,100 tax credit the following tax season.
- Property tax exclusion: This state incentive allows CA homeowners to exclude 100% of the value of the solar installation from property tax. With the average property tax in California at 0.79%, that’s a $130 discount in the first year alone. As your solar installation ages, that value decreases, but you’re still able to claim the exclusion.
- Local incentives: A small handful of CA utilities and cities still offer solar incentives for local residents. The City of San Francisco, Pasadena Water and Power, the City of Ukiah, and Riverside Public Utilities all offer incentives for residential solar, ranging from about $1,200 to $3,000 for an average-sized installation.
Although a handful of other states offer lower installation costs, California homeowners actually see some of the highest solar savings of any state in the country, thanks to the high utility rates and great sun light. The average CA home can save about $500 in the first year alone and $28,700 over the 25-year lifespan of the installation. Savings of course depends on your installation size, utility rates, and local weather. Installing a larger installation can increase your savings, but most homeowners try to size their installation to cover around 100% of their energy needs.
Only a handful of other states come close to the savings that California homeowners can see, mainly in the northeast where solar is still heavily subsidized such as Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island.
Best Solar Companies in California
To further help you get started on your hunt for the best solar company in California for your personal needs, we looked at dozens of the top solar companies working in California and shortlisted five for your consideration:
- Bland Solar & Air
- NRG Clean Power
- PetersenDean Roofing and Solar
- Tesla (formerly SolarCity)
- Stellar Solar
Each of these companies offers something unique, from incredible customer service to low prices to high quality equipment. Take a look at each one to see what sets them apart. And for more info on what qualifications a reputable solar company should have, keep reading til the end!
Bland Solar and Air
Why they’re the best: All work is in-house, Good variety of offerings
Founded in 1985, Bland Solar and Air have a lot of experience installing solar power systems for both residential and commercial customers. Headquartered in Bakersfield, they also have locations in Fresno and Templeton.
Bland doesn’t just focus on solar, they also supply HVAC systems as well as roofing, so if you’re looking to do some major upgrades along with your solar installation, they’d be a great choice.
On top of that, they don’t use any subcontractors, preferring to use an internal installation crew, staffed with their own fully-trained and licensed employees. Instead of hiring three separate companies for your solar, roofing, and HVAC, take a look at Bland. With just a single company, there’s less opportunity for miscommunication and you’ll enjoy an easier experience.
NRG Clean Power
Why they’re the best: Great reviews and focus on solar + energy efficiency
The best solar companies in California have great reviews and years of experience, and NRG Clean Power fits the bill exactly. Established in 1987, they have nearly 30 years of experience. They are based in the Los Angeles area, they also have offices in San Jose, San Diego, and Chino.
NRG Clean Power not only installs solar, but can also work with you to upgrade your entire home for better energy efficiency. We consider energy efficiency upgrades (like adding insulation, upgrading to high-efficiency appliances, etc) a great partner to solar, and tackling both at the same time can do wonders for your utility bill.
On top of this, they enjoy excellent reviews from previous customers. In fact, they enjoy a perfect overall score on Yelp for the San Jose area.
PetersenDean Roofing and Solar
Why they’re the best: One of the oldest solar installers out there, Wide variety of offerings
Another long-standing company, PetersenDean was founded in 1984 by James P. Petersen, and they claim to be the largest privately-owned solar company in the United States. They are quite a large company, working in 7 states, with 10 locations across California (Sacramento, Gold River, Orange, San Diego, Santa Rosa, Santa Clarita, Riverside, Fresno, Fairfield, and Bakersfield).
Like we mentioned before, California is a huge market for solar and there are dozens, if not hundreds of installers in the state. The best installers in California don’t just install solar – they can also take care of your roof and energy efficiency needs as well. However, PetersenDean takes this to the next level. They not only install solar, but HVAC, solar batteries, EV chargers, roofing, and fences.
To decrease prices and shorten installation times, they’ve adopted quite a unique business model for solar. Instead of custom designing each solar installation, they have pre-made solar ‘packages’ that include a certain amount of panels. Which package you choose depends on how much electricity you use.
The installers proudly installs only American-made products in their solar installations, and since 2014 they have exclusively used SolarWorld solar panels and Buy American Act compliant inverters and racking. They do not offer leases, but do offer facilitate loans for your solar installation.
Tesla (formerly SolarCity)
Why they’re the best: One of the few companies to offer solar leases, Great products like the Powerwall and solar shingles
If you’re not familiar with Tesla, you might need to get out from the rock you’re living under. Founded by the Rive brothers in 2006 after a suggestion by their cousin, Elon Musk, SolarCity has been one of the biggest solar installers in the USA since 2013.
SolarCity was acquired by Tesla Motors, and at the same time announced the introduction of several very interesting new products, including the Tesla Powerwall II and solar roof tiles. Their headquarters are based in San Mateo, but Tesla install systems across the entire US.
To date, they’ve installed systems in over 300,000 homes, and they claim to provide the longest warranty terms in the industry. Tesla’s online reviews paint a pretty bleak picture of their customer service, but if you’re looking to install the Powerwall or their new solar shingles, you can go straight to the source. Tesla also reports some of the lower installation prices among the big nation-wide installers – never a bad thing.
Why they’re the best: Great reviews, Install high-end Sunpower panels
Stellar Solar have been installing solar panels on homes and businesses in the San Diego area since 1998. They’ve supplied solar power solutions to more than 6,000 homes so far, and state that most of their business comes through referrals – always a good sign of a quality company.
They’re a SunPower Master Dealer and exclusively install the company’s high-end solar panels in their installations. Stellar Solar bill themselves as specialists in installing on top of tile roofs, with a streamlined system they have developed for ensuring a smooth, swift installation with no damage to any tiles.
On top of all this, Stellar Solar really is one of the best solar companies in California. Readers of the San Diego Union-Tribune have voted them the best solar installer in the city six different times, most recently in 2018.
What to Look for in a Solar Company
Despite prices dropping over the last 10 years like apples in an autumn storm, solar panels are still a major investment. It’s worth taking your time to thoroughly research the companies available to you. Back up your investment by ensuring you pick an experienced and trustworthy installer, and don’t get caught out with shoddy workmanship or poor customer service. A little time spent researching beforehand can save you from a vast amount of stress and unnecessary costs.
Above all, you should feel comfortable working with the contractor. They should have good references, and be willing to answer any questions you have. You shouldn’t feel pressured into making any decisions. Here’s a couple other considerations before choosing your installer:
Licenses and Certifications
The licenses and certifications a solar installer should have varies between each state. In California, the main license a solar installer should have is a C-46 Solar Contractors License. To get this license, the contractor has to have a minimum of four years of experience, and pass several written examinations, including sections on Law and Business.
California also has several specialist licenses that you might want to be aware of, depending on your project:
- C-4 Boiler, Hot Water Heating and Steam Fitting (for solar thermal systems)
- C-10 Electrical (for photovoltaics only)
- C-20 Warm-Air, HVAC (for HVAC systems that utilize solar energy)
- C-36 Plumbing (for solar thermal systems)
- C-53 Swimming Pool (for solar pool heating)
One of the most important certifications you’ll want to keep an eye out for is the NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Providers) certification. NABCEP aims to be the gold standard in solar certification, ensuring that installers know how to safely install solar so they don’t damage the equipment, your home, and the people involved (including yourself and your family!)
While not required by state law, many utilities require your installer to have at least one NABCEP certified installers if you want to enroll in net metering. Your installer will know all about your utility’s requirements, so you don’t need to worry.
This goes without saying, but your installer should have generally favorable reviews. Checking review sites like Yelp or Google Reviews is a very good way to get a handle on the performance of a solar installer.
Often, problematic behaviors and unscrupulous activity will be revealed when you look at other people’s experiences. A common issue, for example, that we’ve seen time and again is a sharp decline in responsiveness and customer service after the contract has been signed.
Of course, don’t forget, it’s the internet. Some people just get on to complain or blow a single, small issue out of proportion. It’s rare to see a company with all good or all bad reviews. Even still, it’s easy to get the general feel for the company as a whole, so don’t let a single review sway you in one direction or the other.
Once you’ve shortened your list of potential installers, your next step is to give them a call to get a better feel for how they do business. They’ll usually send a salesperson out to discuss your options and create a savings estimate.
Throughout the installation process, your salesperson is your best friend and go-to fixer if something goes wrong, so you need to be comfortable from the beginning with them. Reaching out to installers doesn’t bind you to any agreement, so talking to a few different companies is always worthwhile.
It’s important to consider what sort of warranty will be provided with your system – not just for the equipment (solar panels, inverter, racking hardware), but also the workmanship, especially the roof penetrations. Warranties for your solar panels and other equipment are supported by the manufacturers, but warranties for workmanship are left up to your installer.
The details of workmanship warranties depend on the installer and the best solar installers in California will lay out in the contract how they cover a variety of specific incidences. Before you sign any paperwork, you need to be aware of how your installer warranties against roof penetrations, leaks, Acts of God, and damage during your installation.
Looking for the Best Installers in a Specific City?
All of the installers we’ve looked at above have their own selling points, from low prices to unique offerings to near-perfect reviews. Let’s take a last look at our list:
- Bland Solar & Air
- NRG Clean Power
- PetersenDean Roofing and Solar
- Tesla (formerly SolarCity)
- Stellar Solar
This is by no means an exhaustive list. With so many solar installers working in California, don’t just take our word for it! There’s likely some great local solar companies that we aren’t aware of and that offer exceptional service and good prices. Ask coworkers or friends for recommendations or get on Yelp or Angie’s List to see which installers homeowners in your area are working with.
Also check out our articles 5 Best Solar Companies in San Diego and What Are the Top Solar Companies in Sacramento, CA? if you live in these areas and want some more specific recommendations.
There are many installers in the state, and you should take your time researching those in your area. Oftentimes, the best solar companies in California are small, less well known installers, so it’s worth your time to choose very carefully. A great place to start is by comparing options and getting a free cost and savings estimate from several of the best solar companies in California by entering your zip code below.
Photo Credit CC License via Flickr