California is currently the nation's largest market for solar power installations; it has great sun, great solar policies, relatively high conventional (non solar) electricity rates, and a vibrant solar installer eco-system. So how does a homeowner start the process of finding the right system and the "best" deal for their particular situation?
Home solar power shoppers want choice. As with any home improvement project, the first step is to become educated on the products and services available in your area, the specific needs of your household, and the various companies offering those services. Next, you need to shop around and see what's out there, and get competitive solar quotes. Finally, you'll need to look at the various financing options available, your particular financial situation, and your ultimate goals or reasons for installing a solar power system. Let's look at these steps one at a time.
Step 1: Finding what's out there. Solar comes in many flavors, for most shoppers the flavor will be solar electric panels, called photovoltaic or PV panels. These panels convert sunlight into electricity that runs through some type of an inverter box or control box (depending on system type) and then into your house and then through the utility meter back out to the grid for any excess power that you generated. You may have heard about energy storage, otherwise known as a battery, that can be used in your home solar system. Energy storage is very promising and will gain wider adoption as prices keep coming down. For the moment (2016) it is still a bit expensive, so there would have to be other compelling reasons to add energy storage to a home solar power system (such as for backup power, or total self-supply and consumption). Qualified California solar installers can walk you through the pros and cons, along with the various economic considerations.
Step 2: The most important consideration when choosing a California solar installer (or a solar installer in any state for that matter) is to Not make a decision based on one quote or proposal from one company. Even if that company came knocking on your front door or telephone and delivered a polished presentation. The power of receiving multiple solar quotes from multiple solar installer companies will be evident the moment you see side by side bids and financial paybacks. Solar quotes will vary in price, equipment will vary, financing options will vary, payback periods will vary, solar installer experience and customer ratings will vary. So it really does make sense to shop around for choice and quality.
Step 3: Deciding on the type of financing for your home solar power system will be very important and unique to your financial situation. While solar power has come way down in price over the last five to eight years, it still represents a significant financial commitment. For good reason; that solar electric panel system will be up on the roof for probably thirty (30) years generating power for your home! Talk about a home upgrade. In essence you are securing your power at a fixed long term rate that is lower than what you are currently paying the utility company. So whether you pay cash, or take out a loan, or sign a lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) you are assuming a real financial obligation for a meaningful period of time. The point is you want to get the best deal for you, and just like other product types (shopping for a car, insurance products, airline tickets) you would want to see what deals are being offered in your market.
Luckily there are some great resources on the internet such as GetSolar and our partner EnergySage, and others like Findsolar.org to make informed choices. In the case of GetSolar EnergySage partnership, solar shoppers can look up their home online and receive side by side, apples to apples comparisons from multiple high quality, pre-screened solar installers with detailed financial analysis and equipment comparisons.