Are Solar Panels Worth it in California? (Detailed Overview)

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If you live in California and wonder whether solar panels are worth installing, you have come to the right place

Residential solar panel installation is reaching an all-time high. In fact, the renewable energy sector boomed by 45% in 2020, the largest annual rate of increase since 1999.

Solar energy continues to be the favorite renewable energy among homeowners, mainly for its ease and cost of installation.

The question herein lies, are solar panels worth it in California?

The Global Horizontal Irradiation (GHI) average for California is 5.2kWh/M2, making it one of the prime locations within the United States for residential solar panel installation. We absolutely recommend investing in solar energy if you live in California.

If you live in a different state within the USA you can find your GHI here.
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Are Solar Panels Worth it in California?

are solar panels worth it in California

California is blessed with incredible amounts of sun. In fact, on average there are about 284 sunny days in the state.

As long as your home’s roof has sufficient space and is not located in a shaded area, then solar panels are absolutely worth it in California.

In order to further establish the worthiness of solar panel installation, let’s talk a bit more about the overall climate in California.


Understanding The Climate in California

Much like the climate in Texas, California’s climate varies greatly, ranging from scorching hot desert to alpine tundra.

Most of the homes located near the coastline, Sierra Nevada foothills, and most of the Central Valley will experience a Mediterranean climate. This means warmer, drier weather in summer and cooler, wetter weather in winter.

The ocean has a massive influence on regulating temperature extremes, allowing for warmer winters and much cooler summers along coastal areas.

The cooling ocean effect has a substantially positive impact on solar production, as solar panels located in extremely hot conditions are less efficient than if they were cooler.

Generally, the best months for solar production in California range from May through to October, when clear skies and hot temperatures occur from day to day.


How Much Peak Sunlight Hours Does California Get?

Why is it important to know how much peak sunlight hours California receives?

Well, for starters this critical information determines how many solar panels your home will need and if it is a worthwhile investment in the first place.

If you live in an area with low amounts of horizontal solar irradiance (or peak sun hours) and you consume high amounts of electricity each month, then investing in solar panels may not be worth it for you.

That is why figuring out your area’s peak daily sun hours, is the first step in determining whether or not solar panels will be worth your money.

The State of California gets on average around 5.2 kWh/M2. That is a good amount of sunlight!

If you would like to see your exact peak sunlight hours we recommend checking out the map below:

Are solar panels worth it in California?

How Much Would a Solar System Cost in California?

The cost of your solar system depends on the four following things:

  1. How much electricity you use every month
  2. How many peak sunlight hours your home recieves
  3. The type of solar panels you choose
  4. Which solar brand you decide on

How Much Electricity Do You Use?

First things first, you need to establish what your monthly electricity consumption is. Simply look at your annual electricity bill and divide the kWh usage by 31 to get your monthly consumption.

If you do not have the reources to figure out your monthly electric bill, we have listed the average monthly consumption in California to be 532kWh, according to EIA.

How Many Peak Sunlight Hours Do You Get?

We have already established that California gets about 5.2 peak sun hours a day.

What Type of Solar Panels Do You Want?

Monocrystalline solar panels are by far the smarter more efficient choice and are growing in popularity worldwide. However, they are also slightly more expensive.

Your other option would be investing in polycrystalline solar panels, they are less efficient but more affordable. Perhaps price over efficiency makes investing in solar panels more worth it for you?

Which Solar Brand Do You Choose?

The solar brand you choose will have an impact on the overall cost of your solar panel system. Below we have featured a table that breaks down the cost per watt for all the solar manufacturers found in the United States.

Keep in mind that there is a big chance you won’t need such large solar systems, it is very possible that all you need is a 2.5 kW solar system to offset your energy consumption.

We will help you figure out your home’s individual solar panel requirements further down in the article.

MANUFACTURERCOST PER WATTPRICE RANGE (6KW SYSTEM)PRICE RANGE (10KW SYSTEM)
Axitec$2.53$13,680 - $16,680$22,800 - $27,800
Aptos$2.46$12,960 - $16,560$21,600 - $27,600
Canadian Solar$2.96$16,380 - $19,140$27,300 - $31,900
CertainTeed Solar$2.74$15,540 - $17,340$25,900 - $28,900
First Solar$2.53$14,940 - $15,420$24,900 - $25,700
Hanwha SolarOne$2.80$16,800 - $16,800$28,000 - $28,000
Heliene$2.89$15,540 - $19,140$25,900 - $31,900
Hyundai$3.03$15,180 - $21,180$25,300 - $35,300
JA Solar$2.66$13,920 - $18,000$23,200 - $30,000
Jinko Solar$2.79$14,280 - $19,200$23,800 - $32,000
LG Solar$2.75$14,220 - $18,780$23,700 - $31,300
LONGi Solar$2.81$14,460 - $19,260$24,100 - $32,100
Mission Solar$2.62$13,980 - $17,460$23,300 - $29,100
Next Energy Alliance$2.44$13,800 - $15,480$23,000 - $25,800
Panasonic$2.71$14,400 - $18,120$24,000 - $30,200
Peimar Group$2.65$14,160 - $17,640$23,600 - $29,400
Phono Solar Technology$2.89$15,780 - $18,900$26,300 - $31,500
Q CELLS$2.70$13,920 - $18,480$23,200 - $30,800
REC$2.76$14,160 - $18,960$23,600 - $31,600
Risen$2.30$13,800 - $13,800$23,000 - $23,000
S-Energy$2.57$13,740 - $17,100$22,900 - $28,500
Seraphim$2.65$15,900 - $15,900$26,500 - $26,500
Silfab Solar$2.81$14,880 - $18,840$24,800 - $31,400
Solaria$2.86$14,640 - $19,680$24,400 - $32,800
SunPower$3.35$18,840 - $21,360$31,400 - $35,600
Suntech$2.53$12,840 - $17,520$21,400 - $29,200
Tesla$2.72$14,700 - $17,940$24,500 - $29,900
Trina Solar$2.82$14,880 - $18,960$24,800 - $31,600
VSUN$2.11$11,940 - $13,380$19,900 - $22,300
ZNShine Solar$2.99$15,540 - $20,340$25,900 - $33,900

How Much Solar Panels Do I Need For My Home in California?

In order to figure out how much solar panels will cost for your home in California, we need to teach you the formula for sizing your solar system.

You already have all the information stated in the 4 points above.

Now we just have to put it all together.

You will need to use this formula to figure out the number of solar panels your home needs: Monthly electricity usage divided by monthly peak sun hours x 1000. You then divide that answer by the power rating of your proposed solar panel (400 watts, for example).

Using the above formula let’s walk you through the steps you will need to take (simply replace your information where applicable).

Step 1 – Figure out your electricity usage

  • For this example, we will use 532kWh per month.

Step 2 – What is the monthly peak sun hours in California

  • We know that is 5.2 hours a day as an average for the entire state of California, we then multiply that by 31 days to get the monthly value: 5.2 x 31 = 162.1 peak sun hours.

Step 3 – Decide what wattage your solar panels will be and what brand you will use

  • Most homes in California install 400 watt solar panels. Lets use Canadian Solar as a brand for this example.

Step 4 – Apply the formula above

532kWh divided by 162.1 sun hours = 3.2
3.2 x 1000 = 3200 watts

3200 watts divided by 400 watts = 8

8 Solar panels will need to be installed on your home in California.
  • If we buy our panels from Canadian Solar at $2.96 per watt, the total cost of our 3200-watt solar system will amount to $9,472.

As you can see, the cost of your solar system largely depends on your electricity consumption and sun hours. If you were to live in a place with fewer sun hours than in California but use the same amount of electricity, you would need to install an even bigger solar system to offset your energy usage. This would mean a higher initial investment, as you’d need more solar panels.


How Long Before Solar Panels Pay Themselves Off in California?

This depends on the amount of electricity you consume each month and the size of the solar system you bought.

In California, the average monthly electricity consumption is 532kWh per month. The average cost per kWh in California is 22.75 cents per kWh (some of the highest costs in the United States).

Therefore the average home in California could expect to pay about $121,03 a month for electricity.

As already discussed, you would need a 3.2kW (3200 watts) solar system to offset this amount of consumption. Your total cost for a 3.2kW solar system in California would be $9,472 (before tax incentives).

The Californian government allows residential customers to claim a 26 percent tax credit for the purchase and installation of solar systems.

Therefore, your total solar system cost would be $7009,28.

$7009,28 divided by $121,03 = 58 months.

58 months divided by 12 months = 4.8 years.

It will take a solar panel system 4.8 years to pay itself off, assuming you use around 532kWh a month. On average solar panels last between 25 – 30 years.

This means you will enjoy 25 years of free electricity and will save around $36,309 within that time span!


Is The Investment Worth it?

We have giving you the ability to determine how much your own home’s solar system would cost, whether solar panels are worth it or not is entirely up to you. Only you know what you can afford and how much solar savings would benefit your lifestyle.

In our opinion, if you live in California, investing in solar panels will be one of the smartest decisions you can make!

Do you live in California and already own solar panels? Share your experience with the rest of us and let us know your thoughts on whether solar panels are worth buying in California or not.

We would love to read your feedback!

Kyle Browning

Kyle is a researcher and content specialist at Climatebiz. He has a strong interest in green technology, particularly in photovoltaic systems. Kyle believes in a future where everyone has affordable access to renewable energy, regardless of their race, religion, or social status. This ideology led Kyle to found Climatebiz - with the goal to provide free information for anyone, anytime.

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