With an average of 283 sunny days a year, Orange County seems like the perfect place to harness solar energy for your everyday needs, right? It is definitely a viable option, but the answer isn’t quite so straightforward as a simple “yes.” There are a lot of factors to take into consideration: the size of your roof, solar panel cost, California’s state incentives regarding solar panel usage, and the company you choose to help you install the panels — just to name a few.

Luckily, we at Freshome have taken it upon ourselves to parse through the jargon, numbers, and basic science behind switching to solar so you can make an educated decision about the best solar panels in Orange County. Before we get started, we encourage you to read up on solar panels and make sure your home and living situation meet the following criteria: you have more than 100 square feet of unshaded roof space, you have a roof that is in good condition, and you own your home. Got it? Great.

For homeowners, solar energy can be a great alternative, saving you money on your electric bill and helping you to lessen your impact on the environment. If you get a solid return on investment through decreased energy bills and tax incentives, there’s no reason not to install them. In this article, we’ll give you some background on the best solar panel installers in Orange County and help you figure out if solar energy is right for you. Let’s get started.

Freshome’s Top 6 Solar Panel Installers in Orange County

We researched the top solar panel installers in Orange County and evaluated them based on criteria such as customer service, warranty offerings, efficiency and expected turnaround time.

What we found? There are a lot of really great solar panel installation companies in Orange County, which makes sense considering California accounts for the majority of solar-powered buildings in the US. The following five companies wowed us with their customer service and personalization offerings — rest assured that these installers will take care of you and get the job done. Plus, several of them have over 20 years of experience, which is a big deal in this developing industry.

Sullivan Solar Power
949-387-3399

There’s a lot to like about Sullivan Solar Power. Before you even get started, the company analyzes your electrical bills and provide a thorough site evaluation to determine if solar panel installation is right for you. It’ll customize the plan for you, based on your individual means and goals, and then present you with a comprehensive proposal. Bonus: Sullivan does all the government paperwork both on the state and federal level.

Sullivan Solar has a reputation that begets confidence. It has an A+ rating on BBB, has been in business over 10 years, and has installed over 4,000 solar power systems. It offers SunPower brand solar panels.

Petersen Dean
510-771-1775

Petersen Dean offers six packages for residential home installation, based on roof size. It use SolarWorld panels, made in Portland, Oregon, and offer a 25-year warranty on those panels, while the inverters are made by Fronius and come with a 10-year warranty.

It’s been in business over 30 years and is a Better Business Bureau accredited business with an A+ rating. Also, the company advises you on design layout — something that can require a lot of evaluation — after a free consultation. We talked to a representative over the phone recently and can vouch for an incredible level of customer service. We asked questions the staff member couldn’t answer, so she contacted her superior and immediately called us back.

HelioPower
951-790-0218

HelioPower purchases its solar panels from over 10 companies, meaning you’ve got plenty of options. The company uses many of our best solar panel companies listed below, including Solar World and Canadian Solar. Panel warranties vary based on which brand of solar panel you end up selecting, though they typically last for at least 25 years

HelioPower has been in business for over 15 years and in that time has managed to rack up over 4,500 solar system installations. It offers services across a large portion of southern California and knows the laws, regulations, and loopholes inside and out. A representative told us that while permit approval can take between 3 and 6 months, installation is as fast as 1-3 days. (Many of the companies we reviewed allot as much as two weeks for a completed project.)

RevCo
949-367-0740

RevCo is a family-owned and operated company that’s been in business over 40 years. It’s well established in Orange County and offer solar panel installation in addition to solar pool heating. It works with LG, SunPower, and Solar World (Freshome recommended) panels.

This company is a great option if you’re unsure of what financing method you’d like to pursue. It offers leasing, understand CSI rebate programs inside and out, and will work with you on power purchase agreements as well. It’s also an authorized dealer for many of our recommended solar panel brands. Bonus: you’ll get $1000 back when you refer a friend.

Renew Solar Electric
949-484-9245

Renew Solar Electric is an Orange County company through and through. This company has been in the area for over 20 years and were extremely helpful over the phone.

What’s nice about Renew Solar Electric is the thoroughness with which it approaches the consultation and evaluation process. First, it evaluates which systems will best integrate into your space (it typically uses SunPower brand solar panels) and then perform a feasibility study and energy audit to find out if converting to solar is truly a viable option based on your location. Once the company has confirmed you’re good to go on switching over to solar, you’re provided a detailed proposal with a cost-benefit analysis. You’ll see in specifics just how much you’re saving on your electric bill and the lifetime value of solar panels.

Finding the best solar panels in Orange County

When it comes to solar panels, it’s better to shell out a little more money for quality. Cheap panels don’t last: they can break, and warranties can run out. To get the most longevity and power out of your panels, it’s best to invest in a panel that meets three standards: minimum efficiency of 16.5, minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25-year warranty.

Always, always make sure to ask your installer about the panels that you’re purchasing. Here are Freshome’s top recommending brands — many of them are offered by the installers we highlighted above — you should ask your installer to provide more information on which one is right for you. Don’t limit yourself with these options, but they’re absolutely the best place to start your search.

Solar Power in Orange County

Orange County’s Solar Policies and Incentives

It’s no secret that California is a state that enjoys its fair share of sun. With 9 million people in the Greater Los Angeles area, it only makes sense to harness all that free energy pouring out from the sky. To help lessen the demand for electricity, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has ensured there are plenty of benefits and incentives in place to make putting panels on your roof worthwhile.

You can read all about how to apply for incentives here, but we’ll break it down to the basics for you: all taxpayers who install a solar system are eligible for a 30 percent federal credit for qualified expenditures. The Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit is a dollar-for-dollar tax reduction in the income tax of the company or person who applies for the credit. A lot of times, the installation company uses this credit to keep their costs low.

The installer typically does the state work too and will apply to the California Incentive Program on your behalf — their rebate and payback system evaluates several factors, including utility territory, system size, and performance and efficiency of your solar system. And though California does not offer any solar power tax credits, they will not reassess your property value after you install your system, so your taxes will stay the same.

What’s more, California is so psyched on solar that they offer a plethora of financing options. You can lease your solar panels from the installation company if you don’t want to shell out for a solar system upfront — if you can sign a contract with a small yearly increase, your monthly payments will typically be smaller than the reduction of your electricity bill. They also offer secured and unsecured loans (no collateral required). For secured loans, you typically use your home as the collateral. So long as you keep an eye out for high interest rates, loans could be a great option, especially for those able to pay them back quickly. Forewarning: your energy bill may actually be higher for the first few years if you opt for a loan, but the long-term savings (think over 25 years) will be more than worth it.

Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) are regulations that require increased production from renewable energy sources, and California has the most aggressive regulations in the country. The state is required to source at least 33 percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2020 and as of 2010 was well on its way with a 20 percent share. To increase that percentage, they want residents like you to benefit from a solar energy system — it helps everybody in the long run.

What to Expect

Orange County receives 2200 harvestable kWh per year, plus the average price per kW is 16 cents. Given that the average panel is 3 feet by 5 feet, and each panel produces about 190 watts, this makes solar energy in Orange County a solid investment no matter which way you spin it.

We made some conservative calculations to see how much you’d save based on the size of your roof (how many panels you can use), you’ll see solar panels in Orange County are well worth your consideration:

How do solar panels work?

Understanding the mechanism behind solar panels can get confusing quickly. There’s a lot of science backing up the validity of solar energy systems, but it’s a lot to digest for those of us whose eyes glaze over the second we see words like “photovoltaic.”

Speaking of “photovoltaic,” that’s what you call the cells on solar panels that convert the sun’s energy into electricity.  The photovoltaic material is typically made of either monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon, which absorbs the sun’s energy. That energy then causes the electrons within the solar panel cell to escape and create an electrical current.

An inverter then converts that direct current to alternating current , which circuits energy into the fuse box that powers your house. The other components include a controller, which protects the batteries from surges and regulates the electricity, and the batteries themselves.

While batteries are essential for homes located in remote areas, other solar energy systems can be tapped into the “grid,” or your municipality’s power source. If your utility company utilizes net-metering, you can send whatever solar energy your home doesn’t use back into the grid — you’ll then receive credits for that energy when your home is in need of extra electrical energy. So, a surplus of solar energy in the summer will make up for the potential need to tap into the grid during the winter.

As far as installation time goes, it typically takes about one to two weeks to start harvesting energy, depending on the size and complexity of your system. The average panel size is 3X5 feet — the number of panels you’ll use will depend on the square footage of your roof. And remember, it’s not all or nothing — you can partially outfit your home with solar panels and reap benefits.

We mentioned silicon panels earlier, but sometimes panels are made of what is called “thin film” — this option is cheaper but involves toxic chemicals. To address this, manufacturers offer free recycling services at the end of panel’s life. The benefit to thin film is aesthetic: it looks more like roofing shingles and is available in a “peel and stick” or spray-on application.

FAQs

What is net metering?

Staying “on the grid” is synonymous with net metering. Basically, when you’re at work and the sun is at its brightest, your solar system is garnering more energy than you are using up. Net metering allows you to route the surplus energy back into “the grid,” which the utility company then pays you back for. Then, when the sun goes down and your home is in need of some extra energy, the utility company repays the favor.

Think of net metering  like a solar piggy bank — it allows your meter to spin

backwards so you have energy to use when the sun goes down.

What’s the difference between a Kilowatt (KW) and a Kilowatt-hour (kWh)?

A kilowatt-hour is the amount of energy equivalent to one kilowatt running for 1 hour. Kilowatt-hours are the units electric companies monitor to bill you.

Do I need batteries?

Not in Orange County. It’s actually more affordable to “stay on the grid” in California. Your installer will take care of all of this for you.

Does color matter?

Yes — colored panels are a bit less efficient than their more traditional (navy blue and black) counterparts. Navy panels are typically made of polycrystalline, while black are made of monocrystalline material. Monocrystalline is both more efficient and more expensive. Take Action

There’s a strong argument for switching to solar if you live in Orange County. Tax credits, an abundance of sunshine, and plenty of financing options mean that you’re very likely to be saving money in the long run with solar energy.

So what are the next steps? Contact an Orange County installation company and get a personalized quote from them — they’ll be able to walk you through the specific logistics of installing solar panels in your home.

Take Action

So what about next steps? We recommend getting a quote from one of our top installers. With the potential savings, what do you have to lose?

Local Installers: Sullivan Solar Power, HelioPower, Petersen Dean, RevCo Solar, Renew Solar Electric

Freshome’s Top Solar Manufacturers: Solar World, Canadian Solar, Axitec, Kyocera Solar