Going Solar In California? Here’s What To Expect

Going Solar In California

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Wanting to save money and switch away from the utility is a no-brainer. For decades, utility companies in California like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric have monopolized the energy industry.

With rising electricity rates year over year, it’s no wonder more and more homeowners are deciding to smarten up and switch over to solar. If you’re thinking of going solar in California and getting solar installed, here’s what you need to know.

TL;DR: The entire solar installation timeline ranges from 4 to 8 weeks.

Solar Process In California

There’s a saying among solar sales reps: “solar is not a one size fits all product.” This is why it’s important to first gather your home annual electricity usage to determine how much solar power you need. If you don’t know where to find this, you can contact your electric service provider and have them give you a read-out or request an email with the usage history.

Once you have this, you can either give this to the solar company you call out or you can tally up the annual usage and see how many kilowatt hours (kWh) your home uses. This way you’ll know just how many solar panels your home needs with accuracy.

Finding A Solar Installer

The most common ways to find rooftop solar companies near you is through a quick Google search, Angi, or Yelp. Here you’ll find company ratings, reviews and photos showing the companies work. You can also check out our free solar quote page and we’ll do all the leg work for you to ensure you get a competitive solar quote.

Setting A Solar Appointment

Next up, you’ll want to schedule a time to sit down with multiple solar companies. It’s important to be upfront about the type of offering you’re looking for. Be very clear about the amount of electricity you want based on the annual usage you provided the company.

We recommend getting at least 115% to 130% energy offset as solar panels experience a 0.05% panel degradation year-over-year. This means that the efficiency of your panels are going to go down over time and lose production. That extra 15% or 30% gives you a buffer.

Solar Lease, PPA, or Ownership

Now that you know how much electricity you want, it’s time to decide on the specific product you want. Yes, you read that correctly – there are different ways to go solar in California.

  • Leasing Solar Equipment: This is where you make monthly payments on the equipment itself and not on the electricity that the solar system produces.
  • Power Purchase Agreement: Also known as a PPA, this is a lease-hybrid. You don’t own the equipment but instead are buying the electricity that the solar system provides, rather than buying it from the utility company. This option comes in a fixed rate or at an escalator rate where the price goes up 1.9% – 2.9% annually at a lower price than the utility.
  • Solar Ownership: You can either pay cash or finance your solar system. This is a good option if you might qualify for the solar ITC for tax purposes or if you’d rather own. Typically comes with all the same workmanship warranties and manufacturers warranties that come with both lease and ppa options.

The way you decide to go solar is of course going to depend on your current living situation. People living in the home, electric vehicle, growing family, jacuzzi, pool, workshop out back, home based business, etc are all things to consider.

Signing Documents

Once you decide which solar product you want, the next step is to sign off on documents. Depending on which product you went with, you’ll have signed off on a lease, ppa, or loan documents. After these documents are signed off on, the next documents required by all public utility are the follows:

  • Net Energy Metering Form: Put simply, net energy metering is going to show the net energy production and net energy consumption of your home. For more information on Net Energy Metering, check with your utility.
  • California Solar Consumer Protection Guide: This document was created to protected California homeowners from shady solar business practices. It’s essentially a document to help notify you of your legal rights for going solar in California.

Site Survey: Qualifying Your Roof

Next step is having a site inspector called out for a site survey. The solar company will send their inspector out to take measurements of you roof to ensure that the design you signed off on can be installed.

They also check for asbestos, molding, inspect your main service panel to see if it needs to be upgraded and also check to see if your roof qualifies.

Roofs that have composition shingle, concrete, or tile can be installed on so long as they are layered with OSB roof sheeting (the decking material). This is why solar is a step-by-step qualification process and not a guarantee for every homeowner.

Final Design and Change Orders

Assuming your roof qualifies for solar, you may be asked to sign what’s called a final design layout or a change order cover sheet. A final design is the blueprints of how the solar will be installed on your roof. Typically this will require your signature of approval.

Another sheet you may be asked to sign is called a change order. In the case that the initial design presented to you is unable to be installed due to limited roof space or any other reason, a redesign of less (or more) panels may be presented to you which will also reflect a difference in price.

A main service panel upgrade or any other home improvement upgrade that the solar company you’re working with may also require a signature.

Getting Permits From The City

Now that all the paperwork has been taken care of, the solar company will submit the design plans for your solar project for permitting. Since a solar installation counts as a construction zone. Most cities require permits to maintain safety and ordinance protocols.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to go to the city and file for a permit, unless of course if you’re doing a DIY solar project or have agreed to otherwise with the solar company. Most of the time this part of the process should come at no additional cost to you.

Please note: Some solar installers in California have been known to install solar racking before acquiring permits from the city or county to “lock in” the deal. Since permitting typically takes 7-14 business days, it can be a long waiting period and like any other business, there are drop off rates of customers who cancel or get cold feet.

Make sure to be clear that you don’t want any solar installed on your home unless permits have been given. This protects you from any legalities the city may enforce, as well as gives you peace of mind knowing that your solar installation is being done correctly and by the book.

Solar Install Day

Once permits are acquired, it’s time to install! The solar sales rep you worked with will usually give you a heads up on install days available and will coordinate with the install team to get your home on schedule. You might also be kept up to date through email updates from the solar company as well.

Residential solar installs typically take 4-6 hours depending on how big the install is. If the home needs a main service panel upgrade, this could also prolong the install time.

If you have a ground mount project, add an extra day to the total install time. You’ll typically find that the install crews are very professional, safe, and do their work efficiently. You might also notice your neighbors coming outside to take a peek.

City or County Inspection

Once your solar installation is complete, the city or county will come out to inspect your solar installation to make sure everything was installed correctly.

Utility Interconnection

Next up, the utility will install a net energy meter to track the solar systems net production and homes consumption. Once that’s complete, there’s just one more step left!

Permission To Operate (PTO)

Flip the switch and start enjoying clean energy. Your utility will grant you what’s called permission to operate or PTO for short. This means that your solar install has passed all necessary qualifications and is now interconnected into the power grid.

That’s the entire process of going solar in California from start to finish. It might sound tedious but the most time consuming aspect is picking a company and comparing solar quotes. Outside of that the process is very straight forward. More often than not you’re given updates and can sit back and relax.

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