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Published on March 31st, 2016 | by Roy L Hales


What Does Rooftop Solar Cost In California?

March 31st, 2016 by  

Originally published on The ECOreport

Californians pay some of the highest electricity bills on the West Coast. As the sun is shining more than 240 days a year in most areas, this is also an ideal setting for solar energy. I went to a San Diego website called Solar to the People to find out what rooftop solar costs in California.


How Much Do You Lose Not Having Solar?

“We started the site to provide more information so that people can make more intelligent buying decisions. So we took the data from across the state and said on average, if you are a homeowner, what price would you expect to pay for solar panels,” said Ryan Willemsen, Founder and CEO of Solar to the People.

After using his site’s sample cost tool, I think this question should really be how much do you lose by not having solar?

“The best savings are pretty much always from a cash purchase, because you don’t have the cost of the loan interest over time,” said Willemsen.

Jim from Sullivan Solar Power coming up to the roof - Courtesy Sullivan Solar Power

Typing a San Diego address into its savings search engine, I found that even without incentives, the average installation should pay for itself in 8 years. Over the course of 20 years, owners who pay cash for their systems save about $26,780 over their typical utility bills. Even if they borrowed the money to pay for that system @ 5% interest, they would save $20,180.

“There are a lot of loan providers out there, and pretty low rates,” said Willemsen.

However, most homeowners still lease their systems. This means they don’t have any upfront costs, but their 20 year savings are only about $17,151. That’s almost $10,000 less than the homeowner that paid cash – $9,629 to be exact – and the system still belongs to someone else!

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 5.26.16 AM

Now Add the ITC To This Equation

Solar to the People calculated that when you include the solar investment tax credit (ITC), the average Californian solar system is 5.5 kW and, after the incentives and tax credits have been taken off,  costs about $18,675. Some of the lowest cost per installed kilowatt systems are in the Redding and Shasta/Cascades region, so they tend to be larger (6.7 kW) and more expensive ($20,698).  People in the Central Coast tend to purchase systems that are 20% smaller and less expensive ($16.212) than average.  San Diego is right in the middle, a 5.5 kW system for $18,580.

Cost of Solar in California by Region - Solar to the People

Though California’s three investor owned utilities (SDG&E, SCE and PG&E) have all tapped out their incentive programs, there are still additional programs for customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Sacramento District Utility.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 7.48.10 AM

Baker Electric Solar installation

In addition to providing general information about solar systems, Solar To The People can also send would-be-buyers to installation companies.

“We have multiple providers and, if customers apply through us, we end up getting a commission. We encourage people to compare local providers. Look at a cost per kilowatt basis and really understand where the best deal is,” said Willemsen.

“We do well as a business if we are known as someone who can provide valuable information. So, although obviously we need to make money, we also want to drive solar forward, and at the end of the day I am not as concerned about whether they go through us or not.”

Installation photo courtesy Sullivan Solar Power

Photo Credits: (top) Solar Installation – Courtesy Baker Electric Solar; Jim from Sullivan Solar Power coming up to the roof – Courtesy Sullivan Solar Power;Screenshot from Solar to the PeopleCost of Solar in California by Region – Solar to the People; Average cost of installing solar in California in 2015, after incentives, lowest to highest – Courtesy Solar To The People;A Baker Electric Solar installation – Courtesy Baker Electric Solar; Installation photo courtesy Sullivan Solar Power  


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About the Author

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He writes for both writes for both Clean Technica and PlanetSave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

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