Solar panel cost and typical prices in California: How to get the best deal

compare solar prices in california

In 2017, there may be no better state in the U.S. for solar power than sunny California. When you factor in the state’s high cost of electricity and notably low solar prices, it’s hard not to see the sense of going solar in CA.

How much do solar panels cost in California?

As of the end of 2016, the average cost for solar panels in the state of California was $3.39 per watt. Since the average system size in the U.S. is 5 kilowatts (5,000 watts), the average price for a solar panel system in CA is $16,950 before any local incentives or the federal tax rebate (ITC).

Three of the top 5 solar installers in the U.S. hail from California (SolarCity, Sunrun and Sungevity) as well as the world’s most efficient solar panel manufacturer (SunPower). California has one of the best net metering programs in the country, which means that homeowners can use the grid for free solar storage and access their panel’s extra electricity at night when the sun is no longer shining. Additionally, California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) ensures that Golden State homeowners can install solar batteries along with their panels at very competitive, state-subsidized prices. It’s no surprise then that CA prices are some of the best in the country in 2017.

 Cost of solar panels in California: Low end, average and high end prices on EnergySage in 2017

Dollars / Watt 3 kW system gross cost 6 kW system gross cost 10 kW system gross cost
Low end $2.94 $6,174 $12,348 $20,580
Mid-range $3.39 $7,119 $14,238 $23,730
High end $3.84 $8,064 $16,128 $26,880

    *Note: prices include the 30% discount from the federal solar tax credit 

The above data table for the California residential solar market looks at prices offered to customers on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace through the end of 2016, offering the most up to date information as to what solar actually costs in the Golden State in 2017. Though EnergySage has more up-to-date pricing data available, for the sake of making an accurate comparison to data outside of our marketplace, we used 2015 numbers in order to also include the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Tracking the Sun data set from the 2015 U.S. solar market (the latest external dataset available for the California solar market).

NREL’s data set revealed that the average cost of solar in the overall California solar market in 2015 was $4.45/watt – 60¢/watt higher than the $3.80/watt figure seen on EnergySage during the same time period in CA. In short, these CA homeowners would have saved $3,900 on average for a typical mid-size 6 kW solar system if they had utilized the price and product comparison benefits of EnergySage. A larger 10 kW system would have garnered $6,500 in savings on EnergySage.

Consider this: back in 2011, the typical gross cost for a 4 kW solar system in California was over $34,000. And as recently as 2015, that number has dropped to below $20,000, before incentives. Thus, it’s evident that solar prices have been and are continuing to move in the right direction with the development of price-shopping tools further putting consumers in control. However, it’s important to note that bids in the U.S. may still be fairly variable depending on where you shop and how many quotes you are able to get.

This price variability brings us to our…

Three tips for solar energy in California

1. Compare all your options: get as many quotes as possible

The key takeaway from this article: If you are considering installing solar, research and consider every option that you can. Various resources such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the California Solar Initiative and others can offer pricing data to supplement our own, and there is a long list of companies in the state that can provide free PV quotes. To toot our own horn, EnergySage’s Marketplace for solar shoppers is the only true one-stop-shop for information about residential solar in California – and beyond.

Shopping in our California marketplace allows you to get customized quotes from multiple pre-vetted solar installers in your city or town and compare their bids on an apples-to-apples, easy-to-understand basis. These high quality solar contractors compete for your business, and offer lower prices to stay in the mix. When you shop on EnergySage, you’ll get quotes for cash purchase, solar loans, solar leases and PPAs and save anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 on your overall solar installation because of the nature of price auctions (in the evidence of the data comparison above, sometimes a lot more). To get a feel for what a typical installation cost and payback period will be on EnergySage, check out our California Solar Data Explorer and review quotes that were submitted to solar shoppers in your state, town or even neighborhood.

2. The largest installers will not necessarily offer the best price

Although large companies will often bring out superlatives like ‘biggest installer’ in their sales pitches, this does not mean that they offer the best value. The majority of companies on EnergySage are small, local installers, and as a result, prices have dropped on our platform at a faster and more notable rate than in an industry that has pricing trends largely skewed by a few giant contractors. The premise is simple: massive installers already have market share and brand awareness and thus do not need to offer the best prices and value. When small installers compete in a price auction, on the other hand, the result is some of the lowest bids you can find in the U.S. for a PV installation.

When you consider the fact that there are well over 2,000 solar contractors in the state of California alone while a handful of large companies control more than half of the state’s market share, you may begin to question the company recommended by your local town or city for those considering going solar. Could it be that many of California’s customers may have decided on a different solar installer if they had been aware of the vast number of other options and lower prices? Again, remember that the higher $4.45/watt revealed by NREL’s data is hugely impacted by the weight of a few dominant solar companies while the $3.80/watt figure on EnergySage reflects the pricing trends of hundreds of small companies in CA.

3. Different products for different people

Just as a Lamborghini might not be the right choice for everyone in the market for a car, the same concept applies with solar: not everyone needs to shop for the most expensive solar PV equipment. There are many different types of solar panels and inverters for different needs and preferences. For the price-oriented, value focused consumer, it is easy to save thousands simply by choosing standard solar panels instead of a premium top-of-the-line brand.

There is a hefty list of solar panel brands that offer a wide range of features and prices and they’re all available for review on EnergySage. You can check out our Solar Buyers Guide to see how they stack up in terms of quality, performance and warranty as well as how to choose the best solar contractor for your installation, or try our Solar Calculator to get a free instant estimate based on your roof and recent quotes in your neighborhood.

 

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