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What You Need to Know About Buying Solar Panels in California

Solar power in California has been growing rapidly because of the plethora of sunny days, widespread government and community support, rapidly declining solar costs, and a Renewable Portfolio Standard which requires that 33% of California’s electricity come from renewable resources by 2020, and 50% by 2030. In 2014, utility-scale solar power in California generated 9.9 million megawatt-hours, more than double the amount generated in 2013, and more than 5% of total utility-scale electrical generation in the state.

The cost of installing a photovoltaic system in a residential or commercial property in California has decreased 5% from 2013–nationally, the cost of solar has decreased by 53% since 2010. The large scale investments that California is making in solar power will undoubtedly bring about cleaner air, lower energy costs, and an increase in job opportunities.

ElectricBillSavings-California1(Click the Graph for your Solar Estimate)

Solar Incentives in California

California has created incentives, including rebates and net-metering policies, to encourage rooftop and other small-scale solar capacity. Thanks in part to those incentives, at the end of 2014, more than 2,300 MW of small-scale solar capacity had been installed on homes and businesses. It’s important to note that investing in these systems won’t get you “off the grid.” In fact, the incentives work hand-in-hand with the grid. Your new photovoltaic system will produce energy that flows back onto the grid, which they conversely draw from whenever their systems are not generating energy. Note: these grid-tied solar electric systems are not typically designed to provide back-up power when there is an electrical outage.

The California Solar Initiative (CSI) offers cash back for installing solar on your home or business. Managed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the CSI provides incentives for photovoltaic system installations to customers of the state’s three investor-owned utilities (IOUs): Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E). The CSI Program provides upfront incentives for photovoltaic systems installed on existing residential homes, as well as existing and new commercial, industrial, government, non-profit, and agricultural properties within the service territories of the IOUs.

Return on Investment of Solar in California

(Click the Graph for your Solar Estimate)

Lesser Known Solar Incentive Programs in California

The are still incentives available for the usage of solar on new residential construction. The California Energy Commission’s New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) provides financial incentives and other support to home builders, encouraging the construction of new, energy efficient solar homes that save homeowners money on their electric bills and protect the environment. There are also CSI-Thermal rebates available for solar hot water systems that displace electricity or natural gas usage.

The CSI also has a program to bring solar energy systems to lower-income families, the Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program. SASH intends to decrease the expense of owning a solar system by providing incentives that are larger than those in the general CSI program. SASH provides qualified low-income homeowners fixed, up front, capacity-based incentives to help offset the upfront cost of a solar electric system. To be eligible, applicants must: 1) receive electrical service from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), or San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E); 2) own and live in their home; 3) have a household income that is 80% or below the area median income; and 4) live in a home defined as “affordable housing” by California Public Utilities Code 2852.

The Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program is an incentive program that is currently exhausted, but applicants on the waitlist will be reviewed in August 2015 and a decision will be made in the Fall of 2015 as to whether or not the program will be extended to new applicants. Established in 2008, the MASH Program provides solar incentives on qualifying affordable housing multifamily dwellings. The MASH program intends to stimulate the adoption of solar power in the affordable housing sector, while decreasing electricity use and costs without increasing monthly household expenses for affordable housing building occupants.

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