Sunny San Diego seems like the ideal place to install some solar panels, save serious cash your electric bill, and bask in the glory of your eco- and wallet-conscious decision making. With 263 mostly sunny days a year, that logic certainly holds up in most cases. But there are many factors to take in account, such as the condition of your, your financing options, and the amount of unshaded roof space you have available. In this guide, we’ll help you assess whether or not solar panel installation in San Diego is right for you.

To create this guide, the Freshome team dove in headfirst: We analyzed the basic science behind solar panels, educated ourselves on the federal and California state incentive programs, and calculated your potential savings based on roof size and method of financing.

For homeowners, especially in Southern California, solar energy can save you money on your electric bill and help you decrease the impact of your carbon footprint. The state’s robust incentive program really gives you no reason not to install solar panels in San Diego. This article is an introduction to the solar panel options available in San Diego, the basics of solar technology, and a few of the top industry FAQs. Let’s get started.

Freshome’s Top 6 Solar Panel Installers in San Diego

Southern California has no shortage of solar panel installers, so we researched the top solar panel installers in San Diego and assessed them based on factors such as customer service, warranty offerings, efficiency and expected turnaround time.

Not surprisingly, there are some really great solar panel installation companies in San Diego. Given that the state of California is home to the majority of solar-powered buildings in the US, this makes sense. These two companies were by far the most popular. They impressed us with their customer service and personalized approach to installation — they all answered the phone on the first call, provided us with informed answers to our questions, and offered to send a professional out for a quote.

Sullivan Solar Power

Sullivan Solar Power is one of the most prominent solar panel installers in all of Southern California. We can see why: before they even get started, the company analyzes your electrical bills and conducts a comprehensive site evaluation to assess if solar panel installation is right for you. If Sullivan Solar Power concludes your home is suited for solar panels, it’ll then customize a plan for you and present you with a proposal. This is all before you’ve even agreed to sign on with them. What’s more, Sullivan fills out all the government paperwork — both on the state and federal level — for you. No headaches, no problem.

With Sullivan Solar Power, the numbers speak for themselves: 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 in black and navy.

Stellar Solar

The readers of San Diego Union Tribune have ranked Stellar Solar the best solar company in San Diego in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2015. They’ve been installing solar panel systems for over 18 years now, with the total number of residential installations clocking in at well over 100,000. All of this has led to an unparalleled expertise and reputation: they have a solid A+ rating on Better Business Bureau.

Bonus: they are experts in tile roof installations, which are slightly more complicated than their traditional counterparts. They also offer a Sunpower solar lease with 2.49 percent financing. They also carry LG brand solar panels.

Finding the best solar panels in San Diego

The saying “you get what you pay for” is especially apt when it comes to solar panels. We’re all for saving money, but in this case it’s better to shell out a little more cash for brands that are known for their quality. Cheap panels break more easily and their warranties are often valid for a much shorter time period. To get the highest efficiency and longevity out of your solar energy system, it’s best to invest in a solar panel that meets three standards: minimum efficiency of 16.5, minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25-year warranty.

If you want a more thorough overview of the solar panels on the market, make sure to ask your installer about the brands they offer. To get you started, Freshome has selected a few time-tested, highly recommended brands — many of them are offered by the installers we highlighted above.

San Diego’s Solar Policies and Incentives

The incentive program for San Diego (and all of California in general) is robust, meaning there are multiple opportunities to earn money back and lessen the initial cost of your solar energy system. You can read more about California-specific incentives here, but we’ll give you a quick overview: all taxpayers who install a solar system are eligible for a 30 percent federal credit the year they purchase their solar panel system. This dramatically reduces the initial cost of solar panels: the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit is a dollar-for-dollar tax reduction in the income tax of the person who applies for the credit. Sometimes installation companies will apply for the tax credit themselves, but this helps keep their prices low for you. If this is the case, you’re still indirectly reaping the benefits of the tax credit.

The California Incentive Program encompasses both an initial rebate on your system and a payback program based on several factors, such as your system size and the actual metered output of your system. The only thing California doesn’t seem to offer is a solar power tax credit, but they make good by not reassessing your property value after you install your system. This means your taxes remain the same despite your property value increasing a considerable amount.

Beyond the post-installation incentives, California also provides several financing options so you have the option to switch to solar even if you don’t have 25 thousand dollars to buy a system outright. If you’re not ready to purchase a system in full, you can lease your solar panels from the installation company—your monthly loan payments will almost always be smaller than the amount of money you save on your electricity bill. California also offers secured and unsecured loans, which require no upfront collateral. So long as you own your home, you can typically use your home as the collateral with a secured loan. Just keep an eye out for high interest rates. Loans are a great option, especially for those who are able to pay them back quickly, but your energy bill may actually be higher for the first few years. You’ll still be saving money in the long-term, it’ll just take a bit longer to get there.

So why is California so amped on solar energy? The answer lies in the state’s Renewable portfolio standards (RPS)—these are regulations that require the state to obtain a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources. California’s requirements are the most aggressive regulations in the country, which means they’re highly motivated to help residents make the switch over to solar. 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. If they don’t hit those numbers, the state gets hit with major fines. You might even consider switching to solar power your civic duty!

What to Expect

San Diego receives 2200 harvestable kWh per year. The Average Residential Price per kW is 16 cents. That’s a relatively high cost for electricity, compared with other states. Considering that and the fact that the average 3 feet by 5 feet panel produces about 190 watts, this makes solar energy in San Diego a solid investment no matter which way you look at it.

We made some calculations to see how much you’d save based on the size of your roof if you install solar panels in San Diego.

How do solar panels work?

The science behind solar panels is actually pretty straightforward. There’s a lot of literature out there if you want to get into the nitty gritty, but these are the basics: Solar panels are comprised of tiny compartments known as photovoltaic cells. These are typically made of either monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon, which absorbs the sun’s energy. The photons from the sun cause the electrons within the silicon to get excited, move around, and create an electrical current.

Once that reaction takes place, an inverter converts that direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC). This is what circuits energy into the fuse box that powers your house. Some systems, especially for homes located in remote areas, include batteries. More often, however, solar energy systems are tapped into the “grid,” or your municipality’s power source. Most utility companies in California offer net-metering, meaning you can whatever solar energy your home doesn’t use back into the grid—you can earn money on that energy, further reducing your electricity bill.

Installing a solar panel system typically takes about one to five days, and the system will need two weeks to start harvesting energy, depending on its size and complexity.

Got more questions? We’ve got answers:

Will my solar panels be okay during storms?

Yes. To illustrate: solar panels are typically 3×5 feet and contain a 3.2mm thick tempered solar glass panel. This glass is designed to withstand all sorts of weather: rain, hail, and high winds. That being said, solar panels may increase your monthly home insurance bill. It’s not all bad, though, as your insurance company may cover your solar panels in addition to your provider’s warranty. Check with your homeowners insurance before you install your panels to determine whether they’ll be covered through inclement weather.

How do solar panel systems benefit the environment?

To create standard electricity, utility companies burn fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. These emit toxic gasses known as greenhouse gas emissions, which are the leading cause of pollution and climate change. By harnessing the immense power of the sun, we no longer need to burn fossil fuels for energy. Currently, the electricity industry is responsible for 33 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The more solar panels there are, the less greenhouse gases emitted.

What is net metering?

Net metering, also known as “staying on the grid,” is a simple system wherein solar panels are connected to a public-utility power grid. We mentioned this above, but unused energy is transferred into the grid which leads to further savings for you, the homeowner.

Does color matter?

For a long time, solar panels were only available in navy blue. Recently, engineers have been able to design panels in a variety of color options. Now there are plenty of colors to choose from, but be aware that selecting for aesthetic does come at a cost  —  colored panels are less efficient than their more traditional counterparts. Freshome recommends opting for navy panels — they’re made from polycrystalline which tends to ensure the least energy loss.

Take Action

Switching to solar energy is a great option for most homeowners in San Diego, especially when you consider the relatively pricey electricity rate in San Diego (37 percent higher than the national average). An attractive state incentive program and an abundance of sunshine also sweetens the deal quite a bit—there’s a strong likelihood your system could end up making you money in the long run. Plus, you’ll be doing your part to preserve our beautiful earth—that’s priceless.

So what do you do now? Contact a San Diego solar panel installation company and get a personalized quote from them — they’ll be able to guide you through the logistics and costs of installing solar panels in your home.

Local Installers: Sullivan Solar Power, Stellar Solar

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