Solar Power Systems

Parent Q&A

Solar installation "brokers" versus choosing installer yourself Jun 18, 2020 (3 responses below)
Looking for a solar consultant Mar 5, 2020 (6 responses below)
Solar installation Oct 19, 2017 (4 responses below)
PACE program for solar panels May 16, 2017 (1 responses below)
  • We are considering getting solar panels on our home (and replacing the roof so that it will last as long as the solar panels do).  Asking acquaintances for recommendations, I ended up talking to two companies (Pace Avenue and Straight Talk Solar) that seem to act as brokers for these services:  they advise you about designing the improvements you want, and then THEY find the contractors to provide the services.  Normally I would just do my own footwork and find the best combination of reputable/local/affordable contractors on my own, but the broker approach seems a lot cheaper AND possibly easier.  Still, it makes me nervous!  Does anyone have any experience with this, pro or con?

    I am also continuing my own research, so:  Does anyone have updated recommendations for a great solar-panel installation company?


    My sister who is an excellent analyst and researcher found Solar Technologies in San Ramon to be the best company in the Bay Area. Both she and my parents installed panels in their Berkeley homes. We are currently in the queue to have panels installed on our roof. 
    Contact Nick Bahrenburg at 510-417-0460 or nick [at] He is the absolute best consultant. No pressure tactics and all about educating the consumer.  

    it’s been two years for my sister and no problems at all. 

    Good luck!

    I recently installed solar and would be glad to share what I found in my research.  Before you have the roof done, make sure they run the wiring for solar before the panels go on.  With everyone selling solar I looked at about 15 proposals.  To offset 100% of my PG&E bill I was quoted $22,000 to $62,000.  If you go with a broker they will hire the cheapest installer and tack on another $3,000 to $8,000 for fees.  

    The other issue you have using a broker is they aren't liable or responsible for any problems.  Read the reviews and horror stores from posters.  The broker promises one thing and the installer does something else.  You call the broker who then has to try and deal with the installer to make it "right".  

    I was referred to "Steve, the Solar Guy".  Steve was great and did a wonderful job.  I just had one person to deal with from start to finish.  From permit to getting permission to operate took less than a month with Steve.  (I've read reviews where people are saying it took them 60 or 90 days to get permission to operate.)

    I would highly recommend Steve.  He's been installing solar of 30 years and has installed over 3,000 solar systems in the Bay Area.  He's tells you what you need, and doesn't try to up-sell you.  If you are willing to work with him to get the plans and building permit you can save another $5,000.  (For me this involved two trips to the city offices to get the building permit.)  Total cost for my system was just under $14,000.  (And this is before the federal tax credit).  This is for 6 additional panels Steve said I didn't really need.  I just looked and since January I have $616.32 in energy credit dollars with PG&E to "buy" electricity in the winter months.

    If you are a PG&E customer and an iPhone/iPad user I would strongly encourage you to get the "PG&E Toolkit" app.  You will want this app to figure out solar.  This is crazy, but PG&E has 12 different rate plans for residential customers.  Just by changing rate plans we saved $600 per year on our PG&E bill before going solar. Used the app for my MIL and just by changing rate plans, (no solar) she's saving $140 off her yearly bill.

    This is something the Solar Companies will not tell you.  They will show you a "before solar" quote with you being on the highest cost rate plan with PG&E.  Then for the "after going solar" they will put you on a lower cost rate plan which makes it look like installing solar will save you a lot of money.  The majority of the savings is the rate plan change and not going solar.  The app will show you this.

    Going with Steve my system will have paid for itself in just under 5 years.  (The solar companies were telling it would take 8-13 years to break even.)

    Bottom line.  I would NOT go with a broker.
    Give "Steve the Sola Guy" a try.  I gave him 5 stars.
    One more thing, PG&E is changing the amount of money they will credit you for electricity.  Right now I'm getting as much as $0.52 for a kWhr.  Then later in the day when PG&E is charging just $0.12 kWhr PG&E will give me 4.3 back later in the day.

    Feel free to message me if  you would like more info.

    I used Silverline Solar twice! For the home we sold summer in 2018 we had both a roof and solar panels installed. Was very happy with price, quality of work and efficiency of having solar. When I moved I used solar brokers and spoke to various solar vendors--hated the sales tactics of most, finally received a decent bid from a small but decent family run company out of Petaluma, took that quote to Silverline Solar (they told me they'd beat any price and they did). There were some glitches with the City of Oakland Building Permits (hopefully you don't live in Oakland) but Steven Biden the owner of Silverline Solar is top notch and took care of everything, put us up at the Claremont because the Oakland Building Permit fiasco resulted in the power being cut to my home for a week! Silverline Solar's Bay Area rep used to work for Tesla and Shawn is very knowledgeable about all aspects of solar. They were offering to cover 12 months of payments for new referrals but I'm unsure if that's still available (tell them Ana B. relayed that information to you). If interested please email info [at]

    Good Luck!

  • Looking for a solar consultant

    (6 replies)

    We're ready to take the solar plunge, replacing the gas stove with something electric, and doing what we can reduce gas consumption for heating the house and water.

    There are so many solar installers to choose from. They all sound somewhat like used car salesmen - to put it bluntly.

    I have several questions like:

    How many kW should I plan for?

    What about a PowerWall or other forms of battery?

    Could I use an electric car as a battery?

    Are there any ways to aggregate in a localized community?

    Is solar water heating a good idea?

    What's suitable for my neighborhood?


    I'm sure there are more that will occur to me or my friends.

    So before deciding on someone to install (and maintain it?), I would like to find a consultant who can help me scope the work. Does anyone have a consultant who they can recommend?

    Thanks, Philip

    Good questions Philip.

    I ended up designing and purchasing my own system, handling all the permit work and inspections, and having a solar company do the physical installation. Worked great and saved some bucks, but the permit paperwork is not for the faint of heart. My general recommendation is to collect a bunch of quotes using something like

    1. How big? (kW) - really depends on your usage (or roof limits). Generally, you want to produce slightly less than you use. Most companies will ask for electric bills to perform this sizing calculation.

    2. PowerWall/Battery - can be great for backup, almost impossible to justify otherwise. Generally won't reduce your bill. We have net metering, so the grid is your battery already.

    3. Aggregation. Not exactly sure what you're asking, as there are different meanings to aggregation.

    4. Solar Water Heating. Almost never a good idea. Very expensive. If you want solar water, it's generally cheaper (initial and running costs) to add more solar power (kW) and buy a heat-pump water heater. Solar Water only makes sense when roof space is highly limited.

    5. Suitable for your neighborhood? I don't understand the question. Why would your neighborhood matter?

    Best of luck!

    We recently went with SunRun through Costco. I got 3 proposals and Sunrun was the best. An advisor will come to your house and teach you everything. They calculate how much energy your system will need to generate based on your utility bills over the last 6-12 months. Other places can create a system for you over the phone based on what you desire battery/no battery etc.

    good luck!

    Terrific, Philip! Going solar is definitely the way to go, IMHO. I had a grid-tied solar electric system installed on my home about 12 years ago, and added it to it with the addition of a plug-in electric vehicle 9 years ago. The industry is constantly evolving, particularly as local jurisdictions and utility providers adjust and shift priorities. When my system was originally installed, I was not allowed to install a system that provided more than 80% of my anticipated use. Now, PG&E will pay me for extra power generation.

    I am a (retired) architect, so I knew a reasonable amount going into my projects. That said, I would not recommend hiring a consultant. Do your research to find qualified installers that serve your area - ask your neighbors, friends, colleagues, ask at the local building department which installers pull a lot of permits and they may share with you their opinion of which are professional and easy to work with. Read what you can from reliable sources on the internet. Then, choose three installers from which to solicit proposals. Go to them with a written outline of your project goals and let them know you are soliciting three proposals. They will send someone out to meet with you, see your property and take various measurements. They will provide you with a design and cost proposal. Evaluate the three - pretty much guaranteed they will be quite different.  Ask clarifying questions and get an additional proposal if you think you need it. Make your decision and enjoy watching your electric meter run backward!

    Good luck with your project!

  • Solar installation

    (4 replies)

    Does anyone know of a good company that can install solar panels? We want to do a solar system on our home but I am befuddled as to which firms might be reputable.

    RE: Solar installation ()

    We used Sun First Solar of San Rafael both to install and to re-install after we re-did our roof. (Pro tip DEFINITELY replace your roof before you install panels. Our roof was only 10 years old when we had panels put up but it was too old already for the life of the panels - it's expensive but saves $$ in the long run). Anyway we worked with Marty and he was great. Also recommend getting a metal roof from Berkeley Roof Services. It's a bit more expensive up front but you get way more use out of it and it's much more environmentally friendly (and you can do rainwater catchment too!)

    RE: Solar installation ()

    We were very happy with A-1 Sun.

    Matter of fact, we were so happy that when we did an addition on our house we had them install another set of panels.  Very nice, honest people. 

    RE: Solar installation ()

    Bill Wong - Interstate Roofing and Solar

    (510) 639-0833

    I'm a Realtor, Bill Wong have been in the roofing business for a long time, he is well respected in the community

    I talk to at least 3 companies, prices were similar, but Bill Wong will stay in business for a long time and can be on top of any problem that could arise....

    We are very happy, and yes my electrical bill  went from like $400 to $40. I will pay off the loan I got in around7 years...I think it was worth it and we are helping the environment!!

    Good luck!

  • PACE program for solar panels

    (1 reply)

    We have been contacted by a energy efficiency remodeling company that is proposing to replace our roof and install solar panels under the PACE program.  We are aware that this program creates a lien on the property as we pay through our property tax installments.  We are not planning on going anywhere soon, so we don't necessarily see this as a problem.  But we are wondering about the overall charges of the program over its lifetime. We like the idea of bundling a number of projects, i.e. replace roof and install panels, with one company who handles permitting and contracting, but wonder if in the long run this is the way to go.  Does anyone have any experience with companies using this approach to finance solar or would have any other suggestions?  

    RE: PACE program for solar panels ()

    We just finish our Roof and solar installation!! 

    We are so happy. We use Interstate Roofing, I'm a Realtor in Montclair and everyone in the business knows this reliable company. We financed with California First (Is that different than Pace?) Yes, we chose to pay it in 7 years and it gets attached to our property taxes. We hope the monthly cost will be similar to our electrical bill ans we are helping the environment and maybe this project will add value to our home...

    We talk to different companies, but I was convinced that working with a local contractor that needs to protect his reputation ( and has been doing that for the last 20 years) was important. The prices were similar..

    Feel free to contact me and I will give you all the details

  • I'm wondering if any BPN subscribers have any recommendations for solar panel installers.  Someone who actually installs the solar panels, not for solar companies.

    I've been on the fence about installing solar.  I've received bids from the solar companies of between $30,000 -$45,000 to install a system on my roof.  Just doesn't make financial sense to me to spend $30,000 or to get locked into a 10-20 year power purchase agreement. Not what I'm looking for.

    After talking to several people in Berkeley and Oakland who installed solar on their own they've convinced me to install it on my own.  That $40,000 solar system the solar companies are selling me is really about $8,000 in material, $3,000 for labor and the building permit is just $271.  I think I would rather keep the $28,000 the solar company is making in profit and hire someone to do the work. So after the 30% tax rebate that $40,000 system will only cost me $8,000.  Now I'm interested.

    I visited the city planning office and contacted PG&E to make sure a homeowner could install their onw solar system and was told I could.  If anyone else is thinking of doing the same the city has an excellent check list of everything that needs to be done which makes it really easy. 

    ​I'm wondering if any BPN readers have installed their own PV solar system?
    ​Did you install the panels or have someone install them for you?
    If you hired someone to install the PV solar panels who did you use?  And were you satisfied?
    ​Who did you buy your solar panels from?  Solar Wholesale looks good.  In the news from CES the Chinese manufactured solar panels are just as good as the American made panels and the  cost is one-third to one half the price of the American panels.  I have a neighbor who purchased and installed Chinese panels and they've been working perfectly for him.  If you purchased Chinese panels do you have any brand recommendations or advices on where to buy them?

    Thanks - Looking to save $32,000 in going solar.

    Check out the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, CA (  They have been around for DECADES, are nonprofit and offer fabulous classes and resources for how to build, install, maintain solar.  A day trip to visit their site is a joy because you can tour many acres of permaculture, try out fun things like their bathrooms and bike to create electricity, browse the store, talk to EXPERTS and more.

  • I've been looking at solar for my home trying to decide if would make sense.  I just received quotes from solar company who would install solar on my home and I would pay $0.15-$0.22kWhr.  I've signed a tentative contract and but just received a notice city councils in many Bay Area cities have voted to have citizens buy renewable electric power for only $0.07 kWhr.  

    From what I've read once the city council votes everyone is AUTOMATICALLY switched from buying electricity from PG&E to an organization called MCE?  If you want PG&E you have to opt out of the program.  This has already happened in Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Benicia and many other cites in the East Bay,  (But not the city I am in.)

    There's a cryptic billboard on 680 in Walnut Creek about the program.

    If MCE sells renewable (solar, wind) electricity for $0.07 kWhr it seems like it would be silly to install solar on my roof and pay 3 times as much to the solar company for electricity.  

    Does anyone know about this program?  Am I right not to install solar now as our city council might be switching us in a few months?


    It is more efficient to get solar through the utilities- whether it's PG&E or a community choice aggregator like MCE. California requires that 50% of electricity sold will be from renewable sources, so all the utilities are purchasing more solar and the trend will only point being that if you live in California, you can do nothing (other than voting for and supporting candidates with strong values about addressing climate change) and still be pretty green. If you want to support solar development, invest in projects in other states without such strong environmental laws. That said, if you can lock into a $0.15 per kWh rate, with no upfront costs and no other hidden monthly charges, you'll probably save money over the long haul. Utility rates go up every year. Because of net metering, the more electricity you use, especially during peak times, the more putting solar on your roof will help you.

    While your community's proposed switch to Community Choice Aggregation such as MCE will increase the proportion of renewable energy your monthly bill pays for, you may still benefit from your  own rooftop solar installation as 100% of that energy will be renewable.  Whether or not you save money is complicated. As the initial response suggests, you will lock in a price and it is most likely that rates will go up over time.  However, PG&E will still be responsible for your grid infrastructure.  So there may be increased charges (Minimum bill or fixed charges) beyond the price per kilowatt hour consumed as the CPUC decides what PG&E can charge over the next several years.You should look at the contract you are signing to see how subsequent charges for grid infrastructure will affect the bill your solar installer will charge you.

    By the way, I suspect the quote of $ .07 per kilowatt hour relates to the wholesale purchase price for larger scale solar not what MCE will be charging you...

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Advice about Solar Systems Related Pages

2010 - 2013 Recommendations

Need a new roof. Should we also go solar?

May 2013

We definitely need a roof so I'd like recommendations but what about installing solar panels as well? I know nothing about either so I'd be interested in hearing from the BPN network to find out if going solar ended up being worthwhile. Is there there extra upkeep needed for solar panels? Do the roofers work with the solar panel installers? Are there any resources to see if going solar would be right for our house? What about special considerations for when we have the roof installed? Who would you recommend for doing the roofing and solar panel work? If we go solar, we really can't spend a lot of time doing special maintenance and I really don't want to end up with a leaky roof and the roofer and solar panel company installers blaming each other. Anonymous

After putting on a new roof is a good time to get solar. You definitely don't want to put on solar and then a few years later get a new roof.

If you do put on a new roof, I would recommend going with asphalt shingles. That is going to make installing a solar roof a lot easier with less chance of a leak.

We replaced our roof with lightweight concrete tiles (not spanish tiles, but flat tiles that look like shingles) a few years ago and then put on solar. The solar installers had lots of trouble working on the roof because when they stepped on the tiles wrong they broke. Eventually everything got installed properly and we are very happy with our solar roof.

There is no maintenance with a solar roof so don't worry about that. Eventually the inverter that converts the DC power to AC power will have to be replaced, but a contractor will do that.

We got our solar roof when there was still federal and state rebates so it made a lot of sense from an economic point of view. The rebates covered about 1/3 of the cost. We will pay off our solar roof in about 8 years. After that the money we save on electricity will be gravy. I'm not sure what rebates are available now.

We looked at leasing, but really you are just borrowing money from the solar company. If you can afford it, owning your roof has a better return on investment. Our roof is producing slightly more than kilowatt hours than they predicted and the value of that electricity (because of the way PG's time of use metering works) is more valuable than their simple calculation using the average cost of electricity.

Like any contracting project, get three bids. Even if you think one company is better before you start, you'll learn something.

Some roofing companies also do solar, but we didn't go that route. If you put on asphalt shingles, there is no problem putting on a solar roof unless your roof is very steep.

Solar companies will look at your roof on Google Earth and let you know for free if your roof is a good candidate for solar. That is where I'd start. Contact three solar companies and get a free evaluation. They'll also want to know how much electricity you are using. If you aren't using over a certain amount, it won't pay to get solar.

When you get bids for replacing your roof, I would let the roofing contractors know that you are going to put on solar.

We ended up going with Solar City. They did a good job even with all the trouble with our tile roof. -solar roof household

Full disclosure - I am an engineer for Sun Light & Power, a local solar company.

The best time to get solar for you roof is definitely when you are replacing it. The solar installers will work with in conjunction with the roofer and ensure that the roofer maintains the warranty for the roof. If there are leaks, the roofer is solely responsible. As for maintenance, there is basically none. The only thing to worry about is the panels getting dirty, but rain will wash them off just as well as you with a hose. Ideally, you'll want a large south-ish facing roof without any vents, without trees shading it. There are ways to work with non-ideal situations as well, so don't rule yourself out if there is a chimney in the way or something like that. Any solar installer worth their salt will give you a free estimate of both cost and power production, and check your electrical service and roof to make sure both are good as-is for adding solar or if an upgrade is likely. You'll also have to think about a lease vs. owning the system outright. In general, the benefit to a lease that it's cheap to free up front, but owning the system saves you significantly more over the life of the system. The installer should also take care of the permitting and any dealings with PG or the city, etc. And you should get a copy of anything they submit.

I would have at least a couple of installers give you a quote, and make sure you're comparing apples to apples in terms of power, cost, warranty, included services, short-term benefit and long-term benefit. Ben

We just went solar and I would recommend it.

We went through paramount roofing and solar the sales guy we dealt with was Garrett Johnson 916-740-4288. Petersen Dean is also one of the companies involved. they do all the research about how the sun hit your roof, slope of the roof, shadows etc.

Like you, we have no interest or time to maintain/trouble-shoot solar panels. So we leased them for 20 years. Do do have to agree to get up on the roof and clean the panels twice a year. when you lease, you do not get the tax rebates but, depending on the contract you sign with them, you get flat or reduced electric bills for that period of time. We paid the highest up front cost without buying them outright, but there are many different levels you can do including paying very little up front, all the contracts have advantages and disadvantages) right now our electric service is costing us nothing because we are producing more energy for the grid than we use. the hook up costs a couple dollars a month so we came out ahead over $30 last month. this will be applied to our winter bills when our production will be less and we expect we'll owe a couple months worth of old electric bills by the end of the year (april 2014 since we just went live a month ago). You should know that it is a long process. We started last October. there are many steps. the solar guys did almost all the work - permits, contracts, etc but there was a lot of waiting for us. The service is great, they are available any time for questions and I can log on to see how our production is doing any time. We did not get a new roof - didn't need one. but they do roofs as well. good luck gone solar

You are right that the time to add solar is when you re-roof. That is the best way to make sure there are no leaks. As a long time general contractor in the area, my favorite team is Chuck at Caldwell Roland Roofing and Larry at A-1 Solar. They have done a number of jobs for us, working together to make sure the roof is water-tight and the solar system works perfectly. Highly recommended. Michael McCutcheon

Our Alameda Green Certified solar company name was referred to as: A-1 Solar in the 5/23 recommendation. If you would like to contact us in Berkeley, you'll find us listed as: A1 Sun, Inc. Thank you. Larry Giustino info [at]

Solar hot water?

Oct 2012

we just bought a small house and since it needs a new hot water heater, we thought why not go solar for our hot water. It seems to be a daunting process to figure out and most places we've called have tried to interest us in solar heat (a much more expensive project than we're interested in) or have told us they only do big projects, not small single family homes. Does anyone have advice on who to call, someone who does good work and can also help us thru the rebate application process. anon

I don't know anyone doing solar hot water. There is a reason that it is difficult to find contractors to do this work. In the 1980s, solar hot water was all the rage. The problem with it is that if the collectors don't drain when the temperatures get down to freezing, they break and become useless. They are generally designed with an automatic backup system to drain on cold nights, but those systems fail with no warning after a few years. Then when an usually cold winter hits, and the whole system is destroyed. I suspect that most of the hot water solar systems put in during the 1980s where there were tax incentives are now broken and useless. They are low tech and very efficient, but need regular monitoring to make sure that they are working properly. Anon

Local Solar Company Who Will Work with Condos

Aug 2012

My husband and I live in a 75-unit condo complex; our building contains three flats. We're interested in solar energy, but the local Sungevity people said they only install systems in single-family buildings, and another outfit we consulted said our building was too small. Does anyone out there have experience with good local firms (including those who rent out the panels, etc., instead of selling them) who are willing to work with apartments and condominiums? Melanie

I highly recommend Kevin Good of Sunsfree Solar. I know he's done other condos working with the HOA president. You can reach him at kevin [at] He offers different payment options like a lot of the companies do now. Heather

Going solar - which company?

Jan 2011

I'm thinking about going solar, but there are a lot of solar companies out there. Can anyone recommend a reliable/affordable solar company. I live in Lafayette.

We went with SolarCity. They are big enough and have enough financial backing (Elon Musk who made his money starting eBay is a founder) to be in business for a while. The crew that worked on our house was very professional and they have first rate materials. After a year we had a problem with our inverter and they replaced it under warranty at no cost or hassle. Elon Musk also founded Tesla; so he believes in electric cars and generating your own electricity. We bought our system. It is generating about 10% annual return (tax free) which is much better than a bank CD. --Happy Solar Homeowners
Elon Musk may be wonderful but he did not start Tesla.. Marc Tarpenning and partner, Martin, did. Marc graduated with and EE/CS degree from CAL. This is not to take anything from Elon Musk but he was not the founder of Tesla. Nora
I recommend giving Clary Solar a call. They are local, have a lot of experience, and are really nice people. Their prices are fair and honest, you can own your system rather than leasing it, and when you meet with them, they will tell you everything you need to know about going solar. Their number is 510 962-6366. Joan
We used Super Solar and were very pleased. They also installed the solar for two other friends and gave us a bit of a discount because they bid on the three jobs at once. We are in Lafayette, so you would be welcome to come see our installation if you would like. I work for the EPA and got a bit obsessed with the details, and I liked Super Solar because the owners are NABCEP certified and do all the work themselves rather than subcontracting it out. I also was impressed with Sun Light and Power in Berkeley, so I would recommend checking out both of them. Vali
There are a myriad of solar installation companies out there, and more cropping up all the time. I went through this process a couple of years ago, and got estimates from several companies, from the venerable Sunlight and Power to the new-at-the-time Sungevity (as well as a few others). I ultimately opted for a company called Vista Solar at (408) 844-7149 or They are located in the South Bay but work throughout the Bay area. I did not investigate the companies that rent the panels.

Advice on comparing bids: As far as I could tell, there is no significant quality difference across the brands of panels used by reputable companies. But because different companies use panels with different ratings, it can be difficult to compare costs. The best way to do this is to compare the cost per watt. Set up a spreadsheet with each company\xc3\xa2\xe2\x82\xac\xe2\x84\xa2s bid for the total system capacity and the total cost. But be careful to compare bids using the same rating system, as there is more than one type of unit used to express capacity. I made sure all the bids were expressed in KW CEC - that is California Energy Commission kilowatt ratings. Divide the total cost by the total number of watts (the CEC rating times 1000). The differences then are readily apparent. For instance the full per watt cost of the systems I considered ranged from $7.83 to $10.75. After rebate and tax credit, the final cost per watt of the system I selected was $4.19.

Other factors: cash rebates from local jurisdictions and/or power companies vary, and are subject to change, but are significant. The companies you interview can advise you of the rate that would apply to you. As an added incentive some companies will file the paper work and get the reimbursement themselves, deducting the amount from your out-of-pocket costs. (Vista Solar and Sungevity both did this at the time I was looking.) Others simply supply you with the paperwork to file and get reimbursed yourself.

I went with Vista Solar because their bid was by far the most attractive. I was very happy with their work. They have a computer monitoring system that allows me to see how much energy my panels are generating, on an hourly, weekly, monthly etc basis. Their chief of installation, Joel Lusk, lives in the East Bay and has extensive local experience as well as positive BPN refs - which is how I found my way to the company. I hope this is helpful. optimoms

Installing solar and new roof at the same time

Jan 2011

We are interested in installing photovoltaic roof panels but also need to replace our roof. We'd appreciate any advice on whether this is a good time to install solar panels (rather than waiting for technological advances!) and also on consultants/contractors (should we do roof first, then panels, or can it be integrated into one job?) Berkeley resident

When to do solar - now or wait? Of course there is no absolute way of predicting the future, but from what I could tell there don't seem to be game-changing developments in solar technology on the horizon. Presumably with volume the costs of panels, inverters, and installation could change (in either direction) but on the other hand so could the various tax credits and rebates currently available. We installed our system about 2 years ago, right at the beginning of the tax credit change that is part of the TARP stimulus package, which made it much more affordable.

Doing along with a roof. The optimal installation is to coordinate the roofing job with the panel installation, so that the panel supports are integrated with the roof. First the roofers put down the sheathing, then the solar company installs the panel supports and flashing, and finally the roofers return to do the shingling. Thus the two companies need to coordinate their work schedules, which in my experience they are happy to do.

I got multiple bids for both parts of my project, and selected Nicholas Roofing and Vista Solar. I was very please with both companies. Contact me for further information or for advice on comparing solar bids. optimoms

2007 - 2009 Recommendations

City of Berkeley Solar Resource

May 2009


My name is Christina C. and I am with an environmental non-profit based in Berkeley, Rising Sun Energy Center . We run a summer program called California Youth Energy Services. It's a free service which provides homeowners and renters all around the bay area with a free energy efficiency audit and free energy saving equipments (such as CFLs, clotheslines, and efficient flow showerheads, etc.)

We can do all of this for free because we also hire and train local youth for the summer to become energy specialists and perform this audits. We are funded as a workforce development program for youth.

I am writing because we were hoping to get the support of the Berkeley Parents Network. Hopefully some of you have heard of us or have taken advantage of our services before. If not, we encourage you to come by our office on 2033 Center Street to check out our operation and sign up for a summer appointment!

We also have a new program that we are launching called Smart Solar, which is funded by the city of Berkeley to be an unbiased informational resource for residents who are interested in adopting solar for their homes. I could send you some information on this program as well if you think community members are interested.

Christina C.

Any regrets installing photovoltaic (solar) panels?

May 2008

Any regrets with installing photovoltaic (solar) panels? How expensive is the maintenance? trying to be green

I wan't sure from your question if you were looking for reasons NOT to put solar panels on... We are very happy with ours--they provide 95%+ of the electricity for our family of four. In obvious dollar terms, in 7-10 years, it'll pay for itself (depending on future power costs), and it's profit after that... In more intangible ways, I feel that we are FINALLY doing SOMETHING--and it feels great! What maintenance!? We just hose it down every month in the dry season (lots of firs with pollen in our area). Just make sure your installer carefully studies potential shading from trees. We trimmed a couple on our lot, and are living with some winter shading from our neighbor's trees (otherwise, we'd be getting more than we use). kr
Solar City put solar panels on our roof last May and I have no complaints or regrets. They monitor the system for us at no additional charge and were quick to respond with the one maintenance issue we've had. (The inverter died and they replaced it no charge.) Trying to do our part
We have NO regrets after installing solar panels. We scheduled the installation the same time we put on our new roof. We also picked a location where there are no tall trees above/near the panels. We are now paying $5 a month to PG for the use of their wires. No other cost for electricity. We worked with Sunlight and Power and they did a great job helping us with the cost/benefit analysis and guiding us through the whole process. We are very happy with our decision. Kay

Can you recommend a solar power installer?

March 2008

Hello, We'd like to install a solar electric system. Its really hard to distinguish one system from the next when doing an internet search, so I was wondering if anyone highly recommends the company they used? Thanks a bunch!! Elaine

I live in Berkeley and am interested in having solar power panels installed for my house and am looking for people who have already done this and had a good experience with the company they chose. I understand that Berkeley is in the process of approving a loan (lien on the house) to home owners who can repay over 20 years and might want to go that route. Any info is appreciated. Thank you! Heidi

I highly recommend Sesco Electric for Solar Installation. They are honest and reliable. They can be reached at 510-883-0988. Email: sesco1992 [at] web: Jen
Sungevity in Berkeley made the process of going solar incredibly easy. They are based in Berkeley and know a lot about the upcoming loan program. Their staff and crew are incredibly nice, knowledgeable and professional. They guide you through options, the financing process, pg issues, and rebates, and they have state of the art calculating equipment, and discussed many options with us. It is a total kick to see our meter running backwards now. The whole process took a very short time to get us going solar, too. info [at] or call +1 510 845 5660.Candace Neufeld is their main rep. to talk to first. happy with solar, Carol
We just had solar panels put on our house in December. They were installed in about 2-3 days and the people that installed them were great. The company is Sun Light and Power: . We live in El Cerrito, so I am not sure about the Berkeley loans. There are some rebates you can get from the state as well. We are very happy with our solar and are on track to zero out.

Solar panel installation

Feb 2008

We are determined to install solar panels on our El Cerrito house this year, and are looking for a company that can both design and install a system. Have you had any experience with this? Can you recommend (or recommend against) a particular company? Thanks for any input! Solar Happy

Regrid is a local solar panel company that does exceptional work at reasonable prices. I've worked with Peter Gregory who spent several years designing and installing and is now on the sales end. He can be reached at (510) 499-4688 or Paul
Hi there, We just had Borrego Solar design and install our solor system at home and we are so so happy with the result. Their customer service, attentiveness, the cleaniness of the job, etc... was great. I can't recommend them highly enough. We spoke to four firms and Borrego was the cheapest as well. If memory serves, I think they did the solor system at Head Royce. They are wonderful and their Bay Area Office is in Berkeley. Jason Venotoulas was the project manager on our job. Completely professional, low pressure crowd. Shelley
We had our system installed in October by REC Solar & are very pleased, both by the system & with our experience with REC. We had quotes from both REC & Borrego & were impressed by both of them, though in the end REC were able to give us a better deal & the panels were higher quality. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Good luck with your decision. Katherine
We just put a solar system on our roof in North Berkeley. We worked with Sungevity, a new company based in Berkeley. We were pretty energy efficient before we got the system, and Sungevity was one of the only companies willing to design a system small enough for our energy needs. They were eager, customer-oriented, cost competitive, and focused entirely on residential customers. Their sales and installation team was friendly and professional. We worked with Candace Neufeld (877-257-8648; cneufeld [at] Ask for a password to access their website (currently in Beta test mode) - it's a very cool resource for learning about solar. Martin
We just got our solar system from Sungevity. They are a new local solar sales and installation company that does all it's work through a cool online system that makes it really easy to choose a solar system and get it installed. They gave us a great price on a system that meets our needs and the installation was smooth and looks great. They took care of all the paperwork to get the state solar rebate, which made it really easy. Many of the people at the company are from non-profit advocacy groups and they are really committed to making solar accessible to everyone. We love our Sungevity solar system and would recommend them to anyone. Catharine S

Solar Lights Life Expectancy

Feb 2008

Solar Lights Maintenance: I have a motion-detector solar light on my house to light my driveway and several along my walkway which have ''burned out.'' I've searched the directions that come with them to see if there are bulbs or re-chargeable batteries that need periodic replacement but can't find any info. Anyone know if they just have to be tossed and replaced or is there something that can be done? Thanks. In The Dark in Berkeley

I am a handyman and have had mixed success with solar lighting. Often the batteries go bad within a year and the initial (first use) charging on certain batteries is crucial to their effectiveness (install new batteries on a sunny morning BEFORE your first cup of coffee). Since the technology is still in it's relative infancy (though i have some solar cells that are 40 years old)... the directions and maintenance instructions are often insufficient. I have replaced the batteries in the units with about an 80% success rate. Also, cleaning the solar collectors is a good idea but often the plastics are degraded by the elements. Use precaution with cleaning as windex/ammonia reduces the transparency of many plastic surfaces. Oren

Thinking of going solar (PV) any suggestions?

May 2007

We live in the Montclair hills and are thinking of having photovoltaic solar panels put on our roof (a large part faces south and it's unobstructed). We've done some web surfing, but haven't found a lot of information from local solar contractors. Does anyone have experience with this or recommendations or places to look on the web? Thanks. L

A friend of mine works for Build it Green - it's a non-profit in Berkeley which works with home-owners, builders, contractors, etc to promote and educate on green-building (and remodeling!). ''Ask an Expert'' is a huge component of it. You can talk to them in Person (they're on University Ave near Sacramento St.), on the phone, or on-line.
They will talk you through everything from what you need to who to talk to. Green Friend
We completed the solar electrical system for our house last November. The system was designed to completely replace any electricity we have been buying from the utility grid and generate ''green'' electricity.

The most remarkable part - our system reduces carbon dioxide emissions equal to permanently REMOVING 11.1 CARS from our congested highways. It would require 17.16 ACRES OF NEW TROPICAL RAINFOREST to reduce an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. This project, over its design life, will offset the emission of more than 63 TONS OF DANGEROUS POLLUTANTS, such as NOx, SO2, and CO2.

The cost of putting it together was $29k, of which $7k was reimbursed by the state of Cal directly to the solar company, so we only had to write a check for $22k. Those taxpayers NOT in alternative min tax (''AMT'') could also get a $2k federal tax credit if installed this or next year, others won't get it b/c the credit can only reduce regular tax and not the AMT.

We talked to 6 different companies, got quotes from 3 companies we liked to work with, chose the lower (by $3k) quote of the 3 given to us, and the other two companies were willing to match it, so this seems to be the price.

The quote is calculated based on the number and kind of panels & other equipment with labor cost as a % of materials. Neighborhood doesn't matter.

It took 3 days to install, about 45-60 days b/w signing contract and being completely done (permits etc - all taken care of by solar co.).

At the current electricity rates our payback is 10 years, for most people it is shorter than that (we are big energy savers), plus it will be shorter since electric rates keep going up every year.

Alameda county does not increase your tax base by the value of solar system, for real estate tax purposes.

We had a great experience with our provider - SPG Solar, a large company with lots of experience and great customer service. Our contact was Ted Walsh, ted.walsh [at]

Cheers, Maria

2004 - 2006 Recommendations

Solar electricity system - is it worth it?

Sept 2006

We're considering installing a solar electricity system on our roof and are curious about others' experience and advice. The threshold question is, ''is it financially worth it?'' That is, does it have a reasonable rate of pay back. We'd like to do it for environmental reasons, but don't want to get taken to the cleaners in the process. For those who have installed systems, do you have any recommendations of the best companies to use? We've started inquiring with Real Goods and Berkeley Solar Electric Systems, but I'm sure there are others, and it's quite difficult to choose. While we're on the subject, we're not really thinking much about solar hot water heating, but if people have had really good experience (or bad) with that, we would be curious as well. Thanks! Jamie

I self-installed thirty solar panels on my Rockridge bungalow in 2001. Ideally, this should generate a peak of about 3000 watts. In practice, the maximum power output has been 1600 watts (Noon on June 21st).

Typically, my 30 panels generate about 11KW/day on clear summer days; 7KW/day on clear spring/fall days; 3KW/day on clear winter days. Divide these numbers by ten for cloudy days. If my house were better situated, these numbers might be 20 or 30 percent higher.

Our PG ''time-of-use'' meter runs backwards whenever the sun makes more power than we use. Last year, our total electric bill was $150, or about $12 per month. Quite a savings - we used to pay $35 to $75 per month. (some of this savings, however, is simple conservation - using compact florescent lamps, throwing away electric heaters, doing our wash in the evening, etc)

There are downsides of solar electric. First, solar panels are ugly. (One reason why my panels aren't efficient is that I didn't install them facing the street) Second, they require maintenance. (Every few months, you wash off the dust, leaves, and bird poop. This means a trip up the roof. And don't ask me about the raccoon nest under my solar panels!) Third - shadows from trees will drastically reduce solar output - even an overhead cable's shadow can have negative effects. A fourth problem is the roof itself - cutting holes through the shingles. If not done properly - and intellegently flashed - these will spring leaks in a year or two. And all the walking & work on your roof shortens the life of the shingles. Shingles aren't made for foot traffic, alas. Which is another problem: when you need to replace your shingles, those fragile solar panels make it a tougher job.

Summary - I've enjoyed installing & maintaining my solar rooftop panels. They will payback their cost in seven to twenty years. But it's a hobby, not a one-time investment. Cliff

August 2006

We had Joel Lusk (Lusk Construction) install pv solar panels on our new roof and are very happy with his workmanship. It didn't take long once the panels arrived and we're generating lots of electricity (which feeds back into the grid) on lovely sunny days like today! His number is 510 981 9721

Radiant system with solar panels?

June 2005

Hi, we're doing a major remodel and thinking about putting in hydronic radiant heat under our existing hardwood floors (there's a crawlspace under the house). In our dreams, this would be powered by solar panels on the roof (along with the rest of our hot water needs). There wasn't anything too recent in the archives, so just wondering if anybody has done hydronics and or solar panels lately and has suggestions/recommendations/advice. Thanks! Overwhelmed Mama

Overwhelmed Mama: Of course it is possible to completely have your radiant heat & domestic hot water needs met by a solar system. But a lot depends on your budget... Aside from the cost of the panels & controls It is possible your roof will need to be significantly reinforced to carry the load of the panels, which potentially adds a significant cost.

I do hear that going completely solar would be your dream setup; there are many possibilities to incorporate solar hot water at different budget levels. I am currently doing a major remodel at my inlaw's house and I will be installing a hydronic radiant system using a high (92%) efficiency boiler and passive solar strategies. The budget prevents us from incorporating solar panels into the radiant system but I will be installing solar panels for the domestic hot water needs, with a Takagi tankless water heater as a backup. Using solar panels for domestic hot water gives the most bang for the buck, and in all likelihood would not require modifications to the roof framing. Feel free to contact me if you wanted to get more info: 510-228-7410 Jeff ecobuilding AT

In response to the message by Overwhelmed Mama:

The common wisdom is that underfloor radiant heat is a pleasant and effective way of heating rooms. Since much of the heat transfer occurs by direct irradiation rather than through contact with warm air, it can keep people warm with a lower fuel consumption. The heating is less bursty than with forced air, it's quieter, and potentially more efficient since it uses water at low temperature and the boiler may take advantage of this.

It's highly doubtful that adding solar panels to such a system would be cost effective. To be useful the panels would need to collect heat at relatively low outside temperature, which makes them expensive (glazed metal). Also consider that placing the panels on the roof will make your roof maintenance more expensive. If anybody convinces you that a solar system will save you money, double check their figures and try not to delude yourself into it.

A solar system to help heat your domestic hot water may be a better bet since you would use it also in the warm seasons. But I don't think those are cost effective either. Anon.

2003 & Earlier

Rebates for installing solar panels?

Nov 2002

We just bought a fixer-upper in berkeley and when we replace the roof we are thinking about adding some type of solar panels, ( any advise on those is greatly appriciated too...) I have heard talk at different times about california and or Berkeley having some money set aside for residents to convert to some renewable energy sourse. Is this true? does anyone know anything about it PG? Any leads are great! - crisbiss

We have both solar electric and solar hot water heaters on our roof. The state gives a $750 subsidy for solar hot water heaters, and about a 50% subsidy for solar electric systems. The cost of completed systems is ~$3,000 dollars for hot water systems, and ~$15,000 dollars for solar electric systems. See

Berkeley considered low cost loans, but I don't know if the program was finalized.

It is much easier and cheaper to put in these systems while doing a major refurbishing of your house. You must have an unblocked South facing roof.

Solar hot water heaters are cost-effective. However, solar electric systems are dubious economic propositions. You can put one in for feel-good reasons, but don't expect to get your money back anytime soon. There are other ways to spend your money first, like an ultra-efficient furnace, which are far more cost effective and environmentally sound before putting in a solar electric system.

- Karen and Joel

For information on solar incentive (rebate) programs, see the City of Berkeley's online information at:

The link to Residential ''Renewable Energy Buydown Program'' (a statewide incentive) will probably be the most useful.

- renewable energy fan

Considering solar panels for energy production

July 2002

Hi, We are considering getting solar (photovoltaic) panels put in on our roof for home energy production. We have an estimate from Solar Depot in San Rafael who provide the equipment and Sun First in Muir Beach who install the equipment. Has anyone had these panels installed? Any experience with Solar Depot or Sun First? Any problems with solar (not thermal) panels? Any positive comments? If we do have solar panels put in, it will be a large expense and we would like to be pretty sure we want them before we make a decision, so any input would be helpful. Thank you, Richa

We installed a photoelectric system on our home a year ago. My husband did extensive research on the available systems, and designed our mounting system himself. The panels were installed by a combination of our regular contractor, our roofer and my husband. (The contractor was enthusiastic about the project, but had never done one before. The roofer rejected the standard mounting system, which is why my husband designed one he would accept, i.e. would still guarantee our year-old roof.) We have had no problems with our panels.

This is a big, expensive project. You have to file a long report to get a permit from the City of Berkeley. You have to file another load of paperwork to get the rebate from the state. There are only about 10 solar powered homes in Berkeley.

April 2002

We are thinking of putting solar power for electricity (photovoltaic) in our house. I'd like to hear from others their experience installing/using solar power, especially with the companies that install the systems, getting the State rebates and working with PG

We have photovoltaic cells that generate power for our house. We installed them last year. It was an extremely time consuming and somewhat expensive process. My husband and our contractor installed the system, we got the state rebate (at least 100 pages of paper work), have a permit from the city of Berkeley, and are working with PG Karen