Every thought about harnessing the power of the sun? We’re here to tell you that with the right setup, solar panels can turn out to be a great investment. In fact, thanks to soaring energy prices and some amazing local incentives, it’s almost a no-brainer if you can swing the purchase. And thanks to the selection of installers in your city, there are plenty of solar panels to choose from that can save you money and help to preserve the environment.

There is a ton of information to consider before you make a confident purchase — the average cost of a solar system runs between $15,000 and $25,000. And that’s where we come in: to help you make the most informed decision possible. Keep reading for reviews on top companies in San Francisco, a breakdown of your financing options, clarity on how the local incentives can benefit you, and how much money you may be able to save on your power bill.

Freshome’s Top Three Solar Panel Installers in San Francisco

Here’s a fact:  The local installer you choose could either make purchasing solar panels a wonderful, money-saving adventure, or a miserable experience. It’s very important that you pick a company (if you do business locally there’s a $800 rebate available, read below for more info) that will provide you with great products and excellent customer service. With those two factors as our main focus, we reviewed three of the top local companies by researching each website, corresponding via email, and interviewing representatives from each company over the phone. The end result? We found three great companies that we think would be excellent choices to install solar panels on your home.

Luminalt Energy Solutions
(415) 641-4000

Since its inception in 2004, Luminalt Energy Solutions has established itself as provider of great products and excellent service – a fact corroborated by a bunch customer’s rave reviews that we investigated on yelp. Our direct interaction didn’t disappoint either. The brief phone conversation was friendly and helpful, while the email correspondence was prompt and informative. Overall, we can easily recommend Luminalt as a local installer of solar panels for your home.

Luminalt primarily installs SunSolar and Kyocera (one of Freshome’s top choices) panels, while a representative indicated that they were able to install panels from other manufacturers according to the customer’s wishes. As a local company, customers are able to participate in the GoSolarSF program (more on that below). Luminalt offers great warranties as they cover the installation for 10 years with a 2 year roof penetration warranty. Like most other companies, the panels  and inverters are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty (usually for 25 years). The company does offer solar leases, but encourages customers to purchase their own panels. After signing the contract, customers can expect to have their panels completely installed within 10 to 11 weeks.

Clean Solar
(888) 551-7652

A San Jose-based company that services the Bay Area (including San Francisco), Clean Solar has been in business since 2007. While the company didn’t return our email, when we reached out to a representative over the phone, we were very impressed by the attentive and friendly manner of its staff. All of our questions were answered in depth and the representative took the time to make sure we had all the information we needed. Since we were treated so well, we have no doubt that you would be as well..

Clean Solar has quite a few options when it comes to solar panels. The company installs brands like SunPower, LG, Solar World (Freshome’s top pick), and Q-Cell. It’s warranties are especially robust as they warranty all of their workmanship (including roof penetration and misc. hardware) for 15 years. Since Clean Solar is very confident that it has the best warranties in area, it offers to honor any other company’s warranty if you so choose. As always, the solar panels themselves are warrantied by the manufacturer. It’s important to note that since Clean Solar isn’t located in San Francisco itself, you may not qualify for the $800 rebate available for choosing a local company. Clean Solar expects to complete projects within 8 to 12 weeks.

Skytech Solar
415-826-2503

Skytech Solar has been installing solar panels locally for 8 years. The company was quick to return our emails, but they customer service over the phone was somewhat lacking. The representatives I talked to seemed rushed, and when we finally were able to reach someone, we weren’t able to get solid questions to our answers. However, the company does have a quality website which should provide you with the information that you need.

Skytech Solar installs Canadian Solar, Solar World, and LG panels. It provides a 10-year roof penetration warranty in addition the manufacturer warranty on the panels themselves. Currently Skytech is 6-8 weeks out on installations and, while a representative says that they have never sold one, it does offer solar leases.

Finding the best solar panels in San Francisco

While the sheer number of solar panels available on the market today is great for you, it also provides a challenge when trying to decide which brand will be best. Rather than picking the cheapest you can find out of a google search (we all know this strategy normally doesn’t end well), we recommend four top brands on the market today. For more information about our favorites and a full review of our top pick, Solar World, go here:

In order for your investment to pay off, you will need to purchase panels that will be efficient and last for 25+ years. Taking that into consideration, we did a bunch of research into industry standards and found that any panels you purchase should always meet or exceed these three standards: a minimum efficiency rating of 16.5, a minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25 year warranty.

Solar Power in San Francisco

What to Expect

The good news for residents of San Francisco keeps getting better. You already know that two things are true: the sun shines a lot in California and the cost of electricity is ridiculously high (an average price per kWh is 15 cents). That means that you can expect to come out way ahead if you choose to install solar panels on your home. Here are some examples of how much money’s worth of power you could produce in a year.

San Francisco’s Solar Policies and Incentives

California’s already a great place to invest in solar, as its already among the nation’s leaders in policies that encourage the growth of the solar industry. However, if you live in San Francisco, the perks are even better. When you combine the local and federal rebates, the helpful solar policies in California, and the insane cost of energy in San Francisco, you come up with a winning formula that makes solar panels a killer investment – keep reading and we’ll tell you why.

Federal Investment Tax Credit

No matter where you live, you can take advantage of this great program. However, you need to act fast as this policy is scheduled to expire in 2017 (unless it is extended by Congress). This is a simple (yet hefty) tax credit for 30 percent of the final cost of your solar system. So after subtracting any local rebates, expect to receive 30 percent of that cost at the end of the year in the form of a tax credit. In case you can’t use it all (for an average system, your rebate could end up being around $6,000) the extra rolls over into the next year.

San Francisco Solar Power Rebates

This is where it get’s really good (and a little confusing). The bottom line is that if you live in the city or county of San Francisco you will be getting a rebate of at least $2,000 for installing solar panels on your home  – any additional rebates will depend on several factors.

  • Using a local installer will net you an additional $700.
  • If you participate in the California Alternate Rates Energy and CalHome programs, or if you live in either the 94107 or the 94124 zip code, you get another $800.
  • If you fall below the median income and pay lower electricity costs through the PG&E CARE Program, or if you qualify for the Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program, there’s a whopping $7,000 rebate available.

The total amount of rebates possible for residents of San Francisco is over $10,000. That’s about equal with or more than any other city in America. Overall, it’s definitely worth your time to research which rebates you qualify for under the GoSolarSF Initiative.

California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard

The State of California has mandated that all power companies must source at least 50 percent of all their energy production by the year 2030 or face some pretty serious fines (up to 20 million per year per utility). Since it’s cheaper for the companies to provide you with cheaper rates if you install solar panels on your home (which counts toward their renewable energy production) then it would be for them to build a bunch of solar farms themselves, this policy serves to give the companies great motivation to encourage you to install solar panels on your home. One of the ways they do this is by charging you less for the amount of power you still use from the grid.

Net Metering

California has an excellent Net Metering program which makes sure electric companies are required to pay you full retail price at the end of the year for any energy you feed back into the grid. California also has a great Interconnection Policy which serves to make sure there aren’t any unnecessary hassles with getting your home connected to the grid.

Property Tax Exemption

While California does not exempt consumers from paying sales tax on their solar panel purchases, you won’t have to pay extra property tax on your home after your solar panels are installed. Since opting for a solar system makes so much sense in the San Francisco area, it also instantly adds a ton of value to your home (think $20,000 for an average system). Thankfully, you won’t see a huge jump in your property taxes as a result.

FAQ’s

How do solar panels work?

Here’s how the process goes: The sun strikes the pv (photovoltaic) cells which excites the electrons and causes electrical flow. The inverter then converts the DC power into AC power which can be used by your home. The excess energy is either stored in batteries or sent to the grid.

Should I go off-grid?

Unless you have no other choice, we recommend an “on-grid” system (“grid” refers to the system of power lines that connects your neighborhood to the electricity produced by the power company). The most obvious and important reason is that the incredible cost associated with going “off-grid.” Batteries are super expensive, and could even double the cost of your system (according to one local installer).

In our opinion, the cost greatly outweighs the benefit of having backup power if the grid goes down in a storm or the like. Besides, if you aren’t connected to the grid and something goes wrong with you solar panels, even if they are still under warranty, you would be out of power until they could be fixed or replaced. San Francisco is a great place to go solar, and with the ability to get full retail price (or savings) for every drop of solar you produce, we can’t find a good reason to go off-grid.

What are my financing options?

Although solar panels don’t cost anywhere near the amount that they used to, most people don’t have enough spare change to purchase a decent-sized solar system with cash . While that’s still the best way to get the greatest return on your investment, there are other great ways to still make a killing without putting a huge chunk of (or usually any) money down.

One of the unique benefits to residents of San Francisco (and many neighbouring areas) is the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. This program provides relatively low interest rates with no money down to those installing solar panels on their home. The cost is spread out over 20 years and is assessed with a special property tax. Rather than taking out a second mortgage, your loan is actually tied to your property. If you sell your property, the new owner would take over the property tax payments just like they would normally. Thanks to the high cost of electricity, PACE payments are almost always lower than your energy bill would be giving you an immediate savings with low risk. With no minimum credit score, it’s a great option for those without a lot of equity that would otherwise have to settle for a higher interest loan.

If you do have around $20,000 equity, you may also want to consider a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) to finance your solar panels. The most important factor to consider is the overall amount of money you will be paying, so you always want to find the lowest interest rate on your loan as possible. For some people, a HELOC loan may provide a lower interest rate, so it’s worth your time to investigate your options.

Because of the availability of the PACE program, most people do not choose to go with a solar lease. One local installer who has been in business since 2008, told us that even though they offer them, they have never sold one. However, you should know you have the option to lease your roof space, and keep the energy the solar panels provide. The installer will actually own the panels (which means you wouldn’t have to worry about damage to your panels), and you will pay them a monthly fee which will be lower than your energy bill would have been. Of the three options, this carries the least risk, but also offers the least reward.

What’s the installation process like?

Once you decide which company you want to install your solar panels, you will have to go through a consultation (usually at your home) where you will finalize your choice of solar panels and the specifics of your system. Once your financing secured, the local installer will start obtaining the necessary permits. Depending on which jurisdiction you fall into, you may have to wait more than 6 to 8 weeks before you see your new solar panels.

Does color matter?

When it comes to the actual amount of energy produced by your solar panels, color actually doesn’t matter – that’s not to say that it’s not important, however. We think that anything that you spend that much money on and will have to look at for that length of time should add to the beauty of your home rather than detract from it. Thankfully, many manufacturers agree as there are numerous brands with stylish, sleek panels that still maintain reliability and performance.

Take Action

If you have unshaded roof space without resident solar panels, than we strongly encourage you to consider solar power. Get a quote from one of the companies below and find out exactly how you can make the sun work for you.

Local Installers: Luminalt Solar Energy Solutions, Clean Solar, Skytech Solar

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