March 5, 2024

California’s Orange County is known for its sun: Disneyland, beautiful beaches, popular state parks.

That sun is also powering the homes of many residents, with more than 93,000 homes in the county of 3.1 million people using solar panels, according to Bernadette Del Chiaro, the executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association.

“The sunnier where you live, the better your solar system works,” Del Chiaro said. “The further south you go in California, the better it is for you to go solar. Orange County with its sun and surf is one of the best places in the world to go solar.”

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Orange County’s geography makes it a good place for solar panel installation. Not only because that sun means you can generate power, but because you’ll need that power to run the air conditioner. “Orange County is a hot place so you are using a lot of energy and you are getting a lot of sunshine,” Del Chiaro said. “That cross section is pretty special when you are making the decision to go solar or not.”

If you are interested in solar energy at your home, there are incentives and credits available. That coincides with a steep drop in solar prices going back to 2010. Solar could be of particular interest in California, where electricity costs have risen sharply in recent years.

Best national solar panel companies in Orange County

There are many national solar panel installation companies operating in Orange County, including some of the top national solar companies. Here are CNET’s top picks.

NRG Clean Power brings one of the solar industry’s most confident approaches to its work, offering a price match and 40-year warranty. NRG Clean Power is a solid bet as long as you live in Texas and California. NRG Clean Power does not offer leases or power purchase agreements, but they do provide solar panel cleaning and roofing services as well as a reliable equipment menu.

Solar panels are typically low maintenance equipment, but they’re also unfamiliar. If you want to reap the benefits of solar but will have a bit more peace of mind if someone else is making sure it’s working, Palmetto might be a good fit for you. Just remember to add the cost of Palmetto’s monitoring service in to your payback period calculations.

Elevation’s focus on your home’s energy efficiency isn’t the norm in the industry. If you’re planning on addressing energy efficiency first, working with Elevation allows you to keep the whole process with one company. Elevation’s solar equipment comes from well-established and well-regarded companies. Elevation’s warranties on workmanship and weatherization could be a bit longer.

If you’re looking for top-of-the-line solar panels, SunPower is you best choice. But don’t write them off if you’re looking for a less flashy installation that will get the job done. This year it started installing Qcells panels, which should make an installation from the longest-tenured company on our list more available to more people.

Include Freedom Forever in your search if you want the backing of a national company that installs a wide variety of the most popular solar equipment available. Freedom Forever also extends a couple of products that take some of the pain and risk out of going solar, like a production guarantee and an escrow option with cash purchases. Online reviews say customer satisfaction has been low of late, though the company says that’s changing.

Tesla’s solar branch seems to be the least loved of Elon Musk’s ventures. Even Tesla’s Solar Roof seems to get more love.

If price is the thing you won’t budge on, consider Tesla. By all accounts, Tesla installs quality panels and makes the closest thing there is to a household name in solar storage: the Powerwall.

Where you might miss out is customer service. Discussion online seems to suggest Tesla’s service is a bit of a gamble.

Momentum installs in 11 states without using subcontractors. While using in-house installers doesn’t guarantee a better experience, it does suggest you’re likely to get a more uniform experience from them. The fact that Momentum backs its installations with a 25-year workmanship warranty hints at a strong belief in their crews’ ability. If Momentum is part of your search, consider the warranties against leaks that other companies offer. Momentum’s is five years, which can be beat.

Local Orange County solar installation companies

Orange County Solar says it offers potential customers a series of maintenance options including a system diagnosis, inverter replacements, a monitoring system replacement, uninstalling and reinstalling solar panels, and solar panel cleaning among other benefits.  

The company’s website says representatives will meet with you to provide an estimate of potential monthly savings. 

The Big Deal Solar promises installation services for solar electricity, pools and battery storage on its website. It offers both five- and 10-year solar service plans to its customers. The company’s website offers a free consultation. 

How to determine which solar company in Orange County is best for me

If you have concluded solar panels are the right call, the next step is hiring an installer.

Del Chiaro suggests you get multiple bids and make sure the installers are properly licensed with the California Contractor Licensing Board to ensure they’re legitimate.

A good contractor will come to the home and explain why a home is a good candidate for solar, and they should give a bid in writing detailing how much you will save and what the benefits will be from installation as well as the available incentives, she said.

“Good contractors take the time and they will do that for free,” she said.

How much do solar panels cost in Orange County?

The cost of a solar panel installation depends on the size of the system put into place: A larger system will cost you more. Therefore, it’s advantageous to get to know the price-per-watt costs, as systems range in size via kilowatt.

The average residential price-per-watt is approximately $4 in California, according to Del Chiaro. She said for a typical Orange County house, that would lead to a startup cost of roughly $24,000 if you install a 6-kilowatt system. That’s before the federal tax credit.

Orange County residents can expect to break even on a solar investment with a standalone system in about 11 years, Del Chiaro said.

Another cost that should be considered is the purchase of a solar battery. Batteries can protect you if there is a blackout, but Del Chiaro places the cost at likely another $15,000.

“The battery adds roughly $15,000 to the cost but is also eligible for the federal tax credit, so it adds $10,500 to the cost of the system. But because the battery makes your solar system ‘shine’ in the evening when rates are highest, it can save you more money than the stand-alone solar system,” she said.

More than 7,600 batteries are attached to those solar systems built to date in Orange County, Del Chiaro said.

Here’s a look at typical costs and system sizes, according to

California solar panel costs

Typical system size (kW) Price per watt Total installed cost Cost after 30% federal tax credit
California 5 $3.47 $17,350 $12,145
National average 5 $3.67 $18,350 $12,845

Solar incentives and rebates in Orange County

There are assorted federal and state and programs to make solar a more affordable option. If you live in Orange County, you can look into possible ways to ease costs.

The biggest incentive, of course, is the federal solar tax credit, known officially as the residential clean energy credit. This tax credit provides you with up to 30% of the total cost of a solar installation back on your taxes the next year. 

Orange County solar incentives

Installation factors to keep in mind

There is a series of other considerations homeowners have to consider before moving forward with solar installation. These include the angle of a roof, homeowners association regulations and permitting.

Roof conditions: Del Chiaro said the biggest roofing-related issue is whether a roof is overly shaded, possibly preventing enough sunlight from reaching a home.

The second issue is if your roof faces south or west.

“If you have a flat roof we can work with that, but if your roof only faces north with shading on the south side, that would not be very good for solar,” she said.

Homeowners association regulations: If you live in a residence where there is a homeowner association, that can be an issue. “They can be a real pain in the butt,” Del Chiaro said.

There is a law in California that blocks homeowners associations from keeping members from solar, but your HOA may still push back or have other restrictions, she said.

Permits: Acquiring the permits to go solar in California can be a laborious process. Del Chiaro said you might have to deal with a building department or a local fire department. “Oftentimes, our local governments don’t take the time to streamline that process and it creates a lot of red tape,” she said.

All of the separate governing bodies in California can lead to potential issues. “Each of them have their own building department, so it is a patchwork quilt of chaos,” Del Chiaro acknowledged.

Energy Requirements of a Property: If a customer lives in a small house or apartment building and doesn’t use a lot of electricity, it might take awhile for the solar investment to pay for itself, Del Chiaro said. Anyone who spends more than $100 a month of electricity is probably a good candidate for going solar, she said.

How to pay for solar panels in Orange County

While there are ways to decrease the costs, solar panel installation is a large investment involving thousands of dollars. You have to decide which is the best way to finance the project.

Cash: If you have the cash on hand, this is the most straightforward way to pay for a solar panel installation. While this will require spending a lot of money at first, it eliminates interest and fees down the road.

Solar loan: Some solar companies offer solar-specific loans, providing the opportunity for financing and installation from the same company, simplifying the process.

Other types of loans: Some homeowners take out a personal loan or look into home equity loans or lines of credit to finance installation. Be careful of high interest rates, and if you’re borrowing against your home equity, note the risk of losing your home if you fail to repay it.

Power purchase agreements: Power purchase agreements create a system where a third party owns your solar system and they sell electricity to you at a discount. California does permit power purchase agreements. 

How we found the best solar panel installation companies

The companies we listed above as “the best” are curated from CNET’s best solar companies list. Companies making the best list are scored on the equipment, warranties and customer service they offer. Then, we make sure these recommendations are available in your state. You can read a full breakdown of how we review solar companies here.

Companies listed under the local installers were chosen in a less rigorous way. We chose them because they offered something unique or notable to customers in the state, they seemed well-regarded by internet reviewers or because they were one of the few installers we could find information on in the state.

Whether we’ve completed a full review on a company or not, it’s always a good idea to get multiple quotes from different installers before choosing a company.