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California Solar Initiative FAQs

Solar Technology FAQs

What is a solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) system and how does it work?

Solar electric or PV technology uses the sun’s energy to make electricity. When sunlight strikes an array of solar panels, electrons are freed by the interaction of sunlight with semiconductor materials (typically silicon). The movement of electrons creates current, thus creating direct current (DC) power.

DC is the only type of current produced by solar cells. Appliances and machinery, however, operate on alternating current (AC) as supplied by your utility. The DC energy produced by the panels is fed into an inverter that transforms the DC power into AC power, which then feeds into the main electrical panel that powers your house or business.

A bi-directional meter connected to the electrical panel measures both the amount of electricity your system is producing and how much electricity you are consuming.

Is my home or business a good place for a PV system?

First consider how much sunlight your property receives. Your property should have a clear, unobstructed access to the sun for most of the day, and throughout the year.

In California, the sun is in the southern half of the sky and produces more PV electricity than in the northern part. Because shading will reduce the amount of electricity your system will produce, PV panels ideally should be installed in a location that is not shaded by trees, chimneys or nearby structures.

The best orientation for a PV system is on a south- or southwest-facing roof. Flat roofs can also work because the PV array can be mounted on frames tilting south or southwest. In addition PV array can also be mounted on the ground.

Do I have enough roof area?

The amount of roof space needed is based on the size, or generating capacity, of the solar energy system. Residential solar energy systems can vary in size from 50 square feet to 1,000 square feet. A rule of thumb is that a square foot of PV module area produces 10 watts (W) of power in bright sunlight. For example, a 2,000 W system would require about 200 square feet of roof area.

What size PV system do I need?

Several factors will influence the size of the solar electric generating system. The first step in determining the appropriate size is to conduct a free energy efficiency audit and implement measures to reduce the amount of electricity you need. The second step is to review your previous 12 months of electricity usage. Typically,  solar installers and contractors will be able to help you with these steps.

For CSI systems the average residential solar energy system size in our service territory is about 5 kilowatts (kW), and the average non-residential solar system size is 262 kW. The CSI program allows customers to size a solar system up to their previous 12 months electrical requirements, but in most cases homeowners only need to size a system to avoid the upper three billing tiers.

How much electricity will a PV system produce?

In California, a PV system will produce the most electricity in spring through fall when sunlight hours are the longest and the sun is positioned higher in the sky. A 1-kW system can produce from 1,400 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to 2,000 kWh per year depending on the location within the state. Generally, a PV system in Southern California will produce more electricity than one in Northern California.

What is a kW?

A kW is a basic unit of measure of real electric power or a rate of doing work. A kW is 1,000 W.

What is a (kWh)?

A kWh is a basic unit of energy consumption. For example, ten 100W light bulbs burning for one hour will consume 1,000 W-hours, or 1 kWh of electricity.

How much do solar systems cost?

A. The cost varies depending on many factors, including the solar energy system’s size, equipment options and labor costs. Typically, the installed costs are determined based on the size of the system’s output. The “cost per watt” ($/W) is often used for comparing systems of different sizes.

It is difficult to predict how much an individual system will cost. Visit California Solar Statistics to find out the current average $/W for systems installed through the CSI program.

Can my city, homeowners association or neighbor prohibit me from installing solar on my roof?

The California Solar Rights Act, enacted in 1978, limits the ability of covenants, conditions and restrictions (typically enforced by homeowners associations) and local governments to restrict solar installations. Get more information on the California Solar Rights Act.

What cleaning and maintenance costs I incur?

Yes. PV output can be impacted by dirt accumulation. The frequency of cleaning depends on the location. For example, locations closer to freeways or industrial facilities, or in high-wind areas are likely to accumulate dirt more rapidly and should be cleaned more frequently.

Is a solar generating system difficult to operate?

No, a solar generation system operates automatically, and shuts itself on and off automatically.

What happens during a power outage?

If a power outage occurs, your solar energy system is designed to immediately shutdown for safety reasons. A grid-tied solar electric system does not provide power during outages unless it includes a battery storage system. Your power will be reinstated moments after grid power is restored; however, you may need to manually reset your solar system’s inverter back to service after your power is reinstated (most auto reset after power is restored).

Where can I get more information?

For additional information on going solar, visit  CSIor Go Solar California.

Incentive/Application FAQs

How much and what types of rebates are available?

A. California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebates vary according to system size, customer class, performance and installation factors. The incentives decline in “steps” based on the number of megawatts (MW) of confirmed incentive reservations issued in SCE’s service area.

CSI provides two types of incentives for consumers: (1) the Expected Performance-Based Buydown (EPBB), which is the incentive for solar projects of less than 30 kilowatts (kW) and is a one-time, lump-sum, up-front payment based on the expected performance of the solar energy system; and (2) the Performance-Based Incentive (PBI), which is the incentive for solar projects between 30 kW and 1 MW, is paid to the customer over a period of 60 months and is based on the actual output of the solar electric generating system.

Additional information on incentive amounts is available at Statewide Trigger

Who is eligible to receive incentives under the CSI program?

All SCE customers, including residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural enterprises, as well as local governments and non-profit organizations, are eligible to apply for CSI incentives.

Planned new housing construction, including new housing development projects and new custom homes, may be eligible for the New Solar Homes Partnership program. In addition, CSI now includes a Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program that is managed by GRID Alternatives in our service territory. The goal of the SASH Program is to provide qualifying income-eligible homeowners with access to photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems.

Are tax incentives available?

Yes. In addition to rebates available through the CSI, you may be eligible to save on your new solar electric generating system by taking the 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (Act), signed by former President Bush in October 2008, extended the commercial and residential solar ITC through Dec. 31, 2016, and removed the previous residential limit of $2,000. For additional information, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, DSIRE library. For the most current status of these or any other tax credits, you should contact the Internal Revenue Service and/or your tax advisor.

Which solar technologies are covered under CSI?

The CSI program is available for solar PV technologies (roof-mounted, ground-mounted and building-integrated PV), non-PV electric displacing systems, and non-PV electric generating systems, sized to meet actual or forecasted on-site load.

Are incentives available for solar water heating systems?

Yes. Incentives are available to customers who install eligible solar water heating systems. For more information on how to offset the cost of installing a solar water heater, visit the CSI Thermal Program Web Page.

Are incentives available for non-PV solar systems?

CSI incentives are available for both electricity-displacing systems and electricity-generating solar systems, such as Dish Stirling, parabolic troughs, dish and lens, and concentrating solar systems up to 1 MW.

How do I apply for CSI incentives?

In nearly all situations, the contractor submits the application on the customer’s behalf. Applications proceed through various stages before payment—from Requested to Reserved to Completed. Qualified installers understand the application process and can optimize customers’ incentives by completing the application properly.

Residential and small commercial applicants can apply through a simple, two-step application process, while larger commercial projects have an additional milestone step.

How much are application fees?

Residential projects and other projects less than 10 kW require no application fee. For non-residential applications and projects greater than 10 kW, the application fee is a standardized amount based on the system size (CEC-AC). The application fee must be paid by check within 30 days of the Reservation Request to activate the application. The application fee will be refunded to applicants following interconnection. Please refer to the CSI Program Handbook for additional rules regarding the application fee. The system size (CEC-AC) criteria for the application fee is as follows:

Application Fees
kW Fee
10 - 50 $1,250
51-100 $2,500
101 - 250 $5,000
251 - 500 $10,000
501 - 1,000 $20,000
How can I check on the status of my application?

Your installer can provide you with regular updates regarding the status of your application. You can also review details of your application online at PowerClerk.

How long will the application process take?

SCE strives to confirm both residential and non-residential reservation requests in less than 30 days. Application processing time depends on a number of factors, including the speed with which applicants respond to requests for more information or application corrections.

To help ensure your application is processed quickly, make sure that your application does not contain these common errors: missing energy efficiency audit; listed equipment not matching the EPBB tool calculator printout; missing copy of executed contract for system purchase and installation; missing signature(s); and incomplete or missing documentation.

Residential retrofit customers get a reservation period of 12 months to complete their project. Non-residential construction projects are given an 18-month reservation period.

Does SCE offer classes in solar PV systems?

A. SCE hosts classes for Contractors and Commercial Customers at its Energy Education Center in Irwindale and provides free residential classes throughout its service territory. For more information, please visit Solar Classes.

Do I need to obtain a building permit?

You probably will, but you should contact the agency responsible for issuing building permits in your specific city or county to determine your local requirements. Typically, contractors will handle this responsibility on behalf of customers.

How do I find a solar installer I can trust?

Qualified contractors are your key to getting the most productive solar energy system for your home or business. Choose a reputable installer by interviewing and obtaining bids from at least three potential installers before making your selection.

The California Energy Commission Web site contains a list of registered solar installers eligible to apply for CSI rebates as does California Solar Statistics.

Except for those systems that are self-installed, all systems must be installed by appropriately licensed California contractors in accordance with rules and regulations adopted by the California Contractors State Licensing Board. All systems must be installed in conformance with the manufacturer’s specifications and with all applicable electrical and building code standards.

Where can I get more information?

For additional information on going solar, visit CSI or Go Solar California.

NEM & Interconnection FAQs

When I get my CSI-funded solar system installed, will I be “off-grid”?

No. The CSI Program only provides incentives to grid-tied solar energy systems, thus CSI participants are not off-grid; rather, their systems produce electricity that flows back onto the grid, which they conversely draw from whenever their systems are not generating energy.

What are utility interconnection standards?

Connecting your solar energy system to the utility grid will require you to enter into an interconnection agreement. SCE has developed a standardized interconnection agreement that includes the terms and conditions under which your solar energy system will be connected to the grid, including technical requirements to ensure safety and power quality. The application and additional information can be found here.

What is net energy metering (NEM)?

Net energy metering (NEM) is a tariff designed to benefit SCE customers who generate their own electricity. Learn more about Net Energy Metering.

How does NEM work?

The NEM program uses a bi-directional meter to measure and/or track the “net” difference between the amount of electricity you produce and the amount of electricity you consume during each billing period. This can be accomplished on a cumulative basis or on a time-of-use basis, depending on your rate schedule.

At the end of each billing period, you will receive a credit for any electricity you have generated that exceeds the electricity you have consumed. If your energy consumption is greater than your energy produced you will be billed for the net difference. You will be billed for certain other applicable charges whether or not you are a net energy metering customer. At the end of each 12-month period, you will either owe a balance for excess energy consumed or you will have the option to receive Net Surplus Compensation. Additional information on net energy metering is available.

Do I need a special meter to receive CSI incentives?

The CSI Program requires accurate energy production meters for all projects that receive CSI Program incentives. Accurate measurement of solar energy output is of paramount importance to ensure optimum value for both solar owners and ratepayers. For solar energy systems receiving an EPBB incentive, a basic meter with accuracy of ±5 percent is required. For systems receiving PBI payments, an interval data meter with accuracy of ±2 percent is required.

See the list of all incentive-eligible solar equipment—PV modules, inverters and meters.

Must I go on a time-of-use (TOU) rate as a condition of CSI? Will this cost me more?

CSI applicants are not currently required to take service on TOU rates unless otherwise required by other terms of their service until the CPUC develops and makes effective TOU tariffs that meet the requirements of Public Utility Code Section 2851(a)(4). Entities that receive the CSI incentive after the new TOU rates are established must go on the new TOU rates. Most solar customers benefit from TOU rates because solar production replaces peak load and is credited to the customer at the higher-cost peak price.