San Francisco Department of the Environment

Solar PV Consumer Guide

Saving Money with Solar

Installing a solar system on your property allows you to use the electricity it generates when needed – reducing your utility use and cost – and receive credit from the utility for feeding excess electricity back into the grid when you you’re using less than it is producing. This is called “net-metering.” Your meter can spin backwards and your electricity bill is reduced to the difference between the value of the electricity you use from the grid and the value of the solar energy you send to it.

Using solar also provides savings due to long-term price stability. Utility rates increase over time because of increasing fossil fuel costs, but the cost of sunlight never changes. It’s always free! As electricity from the utility becomes more expensive, your solar system saves you more money and pays for itself even faster.

Reduce Before You Produce

Decreasing the amount of energy you use by increasing the energy efficiency of your building and the appliances and equipment you use should come before installing a solar system. Using less electricity means you’ll need a smaller – and cheaper – solar system to meet your need. Energy efficiency improvements often pay for themselves within a couple years and combining them with solar increases your overall economic benefit.

Incentives Are Available!

The City of San Francisco, State of California, and federal government are offering financial incentives for solar PV systems. Combined, they can decrease system cost significantly and make solar power less expensive than electricity from the grid. For a complete list of incentives, click here.

Financing Options

There are a number of ways to finance your solar project. Cash purchases offer the best return on investment, but come with a steep up-front price tag. Solar leases and power purchase agreements are third-party ownership options that require little or no money up-front, so you can start saving day one. These options also allow non-profits to take advantage of tax-related incentives. Several local banks and credit unions offer solar financing products, such as solar home equity lines of credit and unsecured loans. Commerical installations are eligible for San Francisco's PACE financing program, GreenFinanceSF. For more information about financing options, click here

Solar PV Installers Serving San Francisco

Selecting a solar contractor can be an daunting step in deciding to install solar. While there are many qualified solar contrators out there, it’s important to note that only GoSolarSF certified installers are eligible to receive the local GoSolarSF rebate. For more information about chosing an installer, click here.

How Is System Size Determined?

The shade-free area of your roof will limit how large your PV system can be, and your yearly electricity usage will dictate how much solar power you need. For your system to work best, the panels should face south or southwest and have no shading from trees, mechanical equipment, or other buildings. In San Francisco, it’s ideal for panels to be tilted up to receive the maximum amount of direct solar radiation, but they also work well when laid flat. In addition to roofs, parking lots or other open spaces can make good locations for PV systems. All of these factors are taken into account to determine an appropriate system size for you.

Environmental Benefits

Since solar energy allows you to reduce the amount of electricity you use from the utility, you’ll be decreasing the demand for fossil fuel power and the amount of carbon dioxide emissions and other air pollutants produced by power plants. Reducing emissions helps prevent climate change and other environmental and public health threats from burning fossil fuels. Large power plants also have a significant impact on our water resources. Decreasing our reliance on them reduces their effect on the water supply and the health of our waterways, and the life that depends on both.

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