The abundant California sunshine is probably high on the list of reasons you call Sacramento home. But the sun’s light can do more than lift your spirits and grow your garden — it can be converted into energy to run the dishwasher, heat the pool, and keep the lights on at night.

Investing in a solar panel system is the safest bet you can make. Over the course of your panels’ lifespan, you’ll save tens of thousands of dollars in electricity costs. And in this guide, we’ll show you how to profit off of solar energy without spending a dime of your own money.

Not only will you save a ton of cash, you’ll help to save the planet. Solar energy is clean and sustainable energy, and harnessing more of it helps to reduce our reliance on sources that pollute the air and water. So you can feel good about your electricity usage, make some extra money, and raise the value of your home all at once. That’s what we call a win-win situation.

Freshome’s Top Solar Panel Installers in Sacramento

Sacramento has plenty of sun, and therefore, plenty of solar contractors. Searching for someone to install your panels can be overwhelming, so we’ve gone ahead and vetted a couple of Northern California’s most popular solar installation companies for you. We dove deep in their websites, read consumer reviews, and even called them up to make sure their customer service was up to snuff.

Aztec Solar

Aztec Solar has been in Sacramento’s solar business for over 35 years, and they’re proud to have served over 10,000 customers. They know your time is precious, so they have a unique sales approach — a free, in-home solar consultation that promises to tell you everything you need to know in 28 minutes flat.

Aztec Solar stocks Freshome’s top pick of solar manufacturers, and has high ratings on GuildQuality, although their Yelp score is a bit lower. The representatives we spoke to were willing to help and knowledgeable about the industry, although be warned — some reviews mention both overzealous and unresponsive salespeople.

Brands Available: Solar World, Winaico
Colors Options: Black, Navy

Valley Solar

Valley Solar may be a local business, but their solar installers are all nationally certified. They take pride in every installation, and have rigorous quality standards that insure your setup will be efficient and long-lasting. And with five stars on both Yelp and SolarReviews, their customers seem to appreciate their attention to detail.

Valley Solar stocks SunPower panels exclusively. While they’re not one of our top picks for solar manufacturers, you should be able to find a panel that meets our qualifications.

When we called Valley Solar to test out their customer service, their representative was friendly, knew the answers to all of our questions, and wasn’t pushy, so you should feel comfortable calling to get a quote.

Brands Available: SunPower
Color Options: Navy

Finding the best solar panels in Sacramento

Since solar panels are a long term investment, you want to make sure you start with the best product you can afford. A more efficient panel will save you money over time, and buying a quality brand with a solid warranty means you won’t have to worry about your panels malfunctioning.

You should have a conversation with your solar contractor to determine exactly which panels are right for you. Here at Freshome, we think you should stick to the following standards as a baseline for a quality solar panel: Minimum efficiency of 16.5, minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25-year warranty.

Most solar contractors will have plenty of brands to choose from, while a few have exclusive partnerships with one manufacturer. We poured hours of research into figuring out the best products the solar industry has to offer, and came up with this list of our four favorite solar panel manufacturers:

Solar Power in Sacramento

Solar Policies and Incentives in Sacramento

You may have written off solar energy as too big of an expense, but did you know that you can actually have solar panels installed on your home without spending a single dollar? This may sound too good to be true, but there are actually a couple of easy and painless ways to make it work.

First, let’s look at what your expenses/savings will be if you decide to shell out cash for your solar panel system. A 5-kW solar system will generally run you about $19,050. You’ll get an instant rebate from SMUD for $500, bringing that number down to $18,550. When it comes time to file your taxes, you’ll get a 30 percent credit from the federal government which comes in at $5,565 in this scenario. And in your first year of solar energy, you’ll save about $1,334 in electricity bills. That brings the cost of your system down to $11,651 in year one. After approximately nine years, the money you save in energy bills will have offset this initial expense. And after 25 years, you’ll be looking at a tidy profit of $38,966. That’s a 14.2 percent return on your investment. Not bad for an environmental good deed. Oh, and the value of your home will skyrocket about $27,000. Don’t worry, you won’t owe property taxes on the increase in your home’s value due to solar.

Now here comes the exciting part — how you can do this all without spending a dime. If you get a 15 year home equity loan at five percent or lower for $18,550, your monthly payments will be around $146 per month. But you’ll also save about $111 in monthly energy costs. That means you’re looking at a total monthly loan payment of just $35. And even though you didn’t spend your own money on your new solar panels, you’ll still get that $5,565 tax credit at the end of the year. Over time, the cost of electricity will raise an average of three and a half percent per year, but your loan payments won’t budge. That means that after ten years, your monthly savings will be greater than your loan payments, and you’ll start to see a return on your investment. Then at year 15, your loan will be paid off, and you’ll be earning bigger profits. A lot bigger. 25 years after installing solar panels, you’ll be looking at a total profit of $31,612. That’s not quite as high as if you’d paid for your system in cash, but it’s an incredible return on an investment that didn’t cost a dime upfront. And you’re still looking at an additional $27,000 added to the value of your home.

There’s a third option for solar energy, in case you’re not sold on paying for a system out of pocket or with a loan. You can sign a solar lease. Your solar contractor will install panels on your property for $0, and you’ll owe them a monthly payment that’s slightly lower than your current electricity bill. You won’t add as much to the value of your home with this method, but you’ll save up to $18,000 over the course of 20 years, and you’ll be doing a big favor for mother nature.

What to Expect

As you probably already know, you’re paying a ton for electricity. SMUD’s rates range from $0.11 per kWh to an astounding $0.19 per kWh (kilowatt hour). Those rates are about 30 percent higher than most of the country. But cheer up, because those astronomical rates are about to make you a lot money. Since the extra energy your solar panels produce will feed back into the grid, you’ll get compensated for every kWh of surplus your panels generate. And your payment will be calculated at the same high rate you’re currently forking over. For the purposes of these calculations, we’ll average your price per kWh to $0.15.

Sacramento gets approximately 1800 harvestable kWh of sun annually. That’s plenty of sun to save you a bundle. We’ve done some sample calculations depending on how many panels you have in the table below.

It’s easy to find out how many solar panels your roof will fit. Panels will typically be 3 feet by 5 feet, so just divide your square footage by 15. And remember that you don’t need to fill your roof. You may choose to install a small solar setup on just a portion of the roof, or even opt for a free standing system in your yard.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels are made up of PV cells, which is short for photovoltaic cells. Made up of crystalline silicon (or sometimes another material,) PV cells absorb photons from the sun’s rays. When photons are absorbed, electrons discharge from their atoms and enter the electrical circuit, creating energy.

We’ve known about this process (called the photovoltaic effect) since the 1800’s, even though solar panels only recently became widely available. You could spend all day learning more about the photovoltaic effect, but you don’t need more than a basic grasp on solar science to have a system in your own home. If you’re interested in learning more, check out this article on how solar energy is produced.

Should I go on the grid or off the grid?

Staying on the grid, otherwise known as net metering, is crucial to profiting from solar energy. Your solar panels will be wired to your home, and also to the grid that feeds to and from your power company. When you have a deficit of solar energy, your system will automatically pull from the grid and continue your supply of electricity without interruption. And when your solar panels produce a surplus of energy, it will automatically be transmitted back to the grid, and you’ll be compensated for every kWh you provide, at the same rate you pay for electricity.

Off the grid solar panels, otherwise known as battery systems, only make sense if you live in an area that can’t receive electricity in a traditional manner. These systems are much less cost-effective, and your ability to keep the lights on will be at the mercy of mother nature. While some of your surplus energy will be stored in a battery, a prolonged period of cloudy weather could run through your supply and leave you in the dark.

There are plenty of decisions you’ll have to make when you’re ready to install a solar panel system, but this is by far the easiest.

How long does the install take?

The actual process of installing solar panels is pretty quick — it usually takes just a day to secure panels to your roof, and then another day to wire everything to your home and get you hooked up with solar energy.

Unfortunately, everything else isn’t so speedy. It typically takes about one to two months to get all of your paperwork in order and approved. Don’t worry, your solar contractor will handle all permits and applications, including any issues that may need to be taken care of with your HOA.

Does color matter?

You may have only seen solar panels in navy or black, but they actually come in every color of the rainbow. But there’s a reason you don’t ever see bright hues of panels on homes and buildings — they’re less efficient than the traditional neutrals. Plus, while solar panels will greatly increase the value of your home, an outrageous color could scare potential buyers away when it comes time to sell.

Typically, navy panels are polycrystalline, and black panels are monocrystalline. Monocrystalline is more efficient and can save you money in the long run, but it also costs more upfront. It’s smart to discuss the potential savings with your solar provider to see how long it will take you to recoup the extra investment.

Take Action

Installing a solar panel system in Sacramento is an investment in your future — both economically and environmentally. It’d be a shame to let all of that California sun go to waste, so why not harness the sunlight’s energy into electricity for your home? It’s easy to get started — just request quotes online or over the phone from a few solar contractors, and figure out the best financial strategy for you.

If you’re looking for a place to start, check out our recommended Sacramento solar installation companies, and look into our favorite solar panel manufacturers:

Portland’s Top Local Installers: Aztec Solar, Valley Solar

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