Your Guide to Going Solar on the West Coast

Solar continues to be king in California, and its potential in the Northwest is finally being recognized.

Rooftop solar panels in front of a desert cliff.

Solar panels in eastern Oregon are expected to generate more electricity than on the coast.

Mark Miller Photos/Getty Images

It should be no surprise that California leads not just the West Coast but the entire contiguous US in solar energy. The Golden State continues to be a pioneer in renewables, generating a staggering 26% of its energy from solar, which is enough to power over 11 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association

But Oregon and Washington are quickly shaking their overblown reputation for gloomy skies and climbing the ranks in terms of solar installations as well.

Among the many factors driving solar installations in California could be the state's high average electricity bills, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration. Oregon and Washington, on the other hand, both have relatively inexpensive power bills. 

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In Washington in June 2023, the average cost of electricity was 11.21 cents per kilowatt-hour and a typical monthly bill was $83.98. In Oregon the going rate was 13.08 cents a kilowatt-hour and the average monthly amount due was $96.90. Electricity is more than twice as expensive in California, where the rate was 31.22 cents per kilowatt-hour. Significantly lower average usage mitigates the monthly bill shock somewhat, but those payments are still larger at an average of $131.37. 

The exact amount a household can save by installing solar panels depends on a number of factors, including your utility's net metering rules and available roof space. 

Best national solar panel companies on the West Coast

Residents of California have their pick from a number of national installers, regional companies and local solar outfits as well. There are fewer options available in Oregon and Washington, but residents still have choices. We've highlighted three companies here that operate in all three states.

SunPower Solar

SunPower operates nationwide, including the West Coast, and offers the most efficient panels around, backed by some pretty strong warranties as well. It's one of the top three scoring solar companies under CNET's review system, but it may be a bit pricier than some other options out there. 

Tesla Solar

Tesla is perhaps the most well-known solar company on the market thanks to the high profile of its sister electric carmaker and its Powerwall storage system. That strong brand and vertical integration allows the company to offer competitive prices and well-regarded equipment. The downsides include a lack of choice and customer service that doesn't have the best reputation. 

Sunnova is a potential third option; it's another national operator that uses a solar-as-a-service model. Essentially, it gets your solar system installed and pledges to keep it producing as it should for at least 25 years. Our review did identify some potential customer service issues with the company, so be sure to do your research. 

Other solar panel companies on the West Coast

Many solar companies have strong ties to California but ignore the Northwest. Blue Raven is the rare solar company that works in Oregon and Washington but not in California. When we reviewed it, we were impressed by its strong reputation for customer service but would like to see some stronger warranties. 

On the other hand, if you're in California, you'll have the option of NRG Clean Power, which scored highly in our review for its 40-year warranty and price match guarantee. The company also installs a wide variety of equipment. The biggest downside: It operates only in California and Texas.

How to choose the best West Coast solar company for me

Installing solar systems in California comes with some considerations that don't apply in many other states, including Washington and Oregon. If your installation is in California, you'll want to be sure to read our comprehensive guide to solar companies there that covers all the key ins and outs. Don't forget to dig into all the tax credits and other incentives available in the Golden State as well. 

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Don't worry if you're farther north up the coast. Oregon has arguably better incentives than California. You can also find details on a few regional installers in the Beaver State and other considerations in our guide to navigating solar there. Washington is playing catch-up by the numbers to its coastal neighbors, but that doesn't mean there's a shortage of incentives or installers. CNET has also broken down companies and considerations there

Be sure to perform proper due diligence before signing any agreement with a company. You can start your research here, but be sure to actually get multiple quotes from local installers in your area before making any decisions. 

Average West Coast solar panel costs

Consulting firm Wood Mackenzie found the average price-per-watt of a solar installation in the US was $3.28 per watt for the first quarter of 2023. Similar data from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds the typical solar system installed generates 8.6 kilowatts and costs $31,558 to install (before incentives), for an average of $3.67 per watt. Generally speaking, the cost of a system on the West Coast doesn't fall too far from this average.

West Coast vs. the US

System size (kW)Price per wattInstalled cost
California 5$3.93$19,650
Oregon 8$3.68$29,440
Washington 9$3.59$32,310
Nationwide 8.6$3.67$31,558

How to pay for solar panels on the West Coast

A solar system is a large purchase that can be financed using conventional instruments as well as a few created especially with solar in mind. 

Cash: The simplest way to get anything done is to plunk down a big pile of cash (or a shiny debit card). With interest rates where they are in 2023, you might also consider contributing to a high-yield savings account on a regular basis to amass that stack a bit quicker. 

Solar loan: Installers may be able to finance your solar project in-house. Many solar companies also partner with banks and credit unions to offer financing. Don't assume that the installer you go with offers you the best rates, however. Be sure to shop around, as a number of credit unions and other programs work directly with consumers to fund solar installations. 

Other types of loans: Solar companies are also used to working with more conventional financial products, including a personal loan, home equity loan or HELOC.

Lease or power purchase agreement: It's also possible to have a system installed that you lease for a set amount of time. A similar arrangement is a power purchase agreement in which a solar company or utility essentially leases your roof and places panels on it or agrees to purchase the power your solar system generates. This option presents less of a commitment and fewer upfront costs but can be tricky to get out of should you find yourself needing to relocate.

West Coast solar panel incentives and rebates

Just like the rest of the country, solar projects on the West Coast are eligible to receive the federal residential clean energy credit, taking care of 30% of the total cost. There is an abundance of additional statewide and local incentives to navigate that can save you thousands more dollars. 

A few big ones include battery rebates for customers of some of California's biggest utilities and incentives for low-income customers in disadvantaged communities in the state. 

While California is relatively awash in solar panels, it underperforms its neighbor to the north in terms of incentive programs. Oregon is among our top five states in the nation when it comes to tax incentives. Statewide and utility-based tax credits and rebates can save several thousand dollars per installation, with an extra incentive if you're considering adding solar to a newly constructed home. 

There are fewer incentives to be had in Washington, but both it and Oregon enjoy more favorable net metering programs than in California, where new laws have slashed the amount you can earn from sending solar power to the grid. 

Workers install solar panels on a home in California.

California is known for its sun, and that means more opportunities to generate your own power with rooftop solar panels.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The solar potential of the West Coast

The Northwest's reputation for being gray and overcast most of the year is largely overblown. Much of central and eastern Oregon and Washington are actually quite sunny and arid. California is a king of solar in terms of wattage installed in total and per capita, but many may be surprised to learn that Oregon and Washington are also both in the top half of solar states per capita

Brandon Smithwood, senior director at Dimension Renewable Energy, which builds solar farms around the country, told me that solar today makes sense even in truly rainy parts of the Northwest.

"The technology really is at the point that it's viable pretty much anywhere," he said.

Solar may seem more attractive in California, where energy costs are higher and the solar potential is a bit higher, but recent changes to net metering there along with solid incentives throughout the West Coast mean it's worth considering no matter where you are. 

Installation factors to keep in mind

Each home has a unique situation and suitability for solar. The first consideration is how much sun your roof or other area is capable of receiving, but also be sure to check some other things:

  • The condition of your roof: If yours has less than 20 years of life left, you may want to consider replacing it before putting panels on. 
  • Always look into HOA and neighborhood regulations where you are and know your basic solar rights and relevant easement rules in your state. 
  • Find out how adding solar may impact your homeowners insurance coverage. 
  • A key part of calculating how long it will take to pay off your investment through energy generation involves determining the average sunlight hours for your location.


Do solar panels save money?

Solar panels save money by preventing you from having to purchase the energy you consume from a utility. Many utilities will also allow you to sell the excess energy solar panels generate to them for others to access from the energy grid, further lowering your energy bills. 

What is net metering?

Net metering is the term used for programs that allow homeowners to release energy their solar panels generate onto the grid and be compensated by the local utility. 

Article updated on August 31, 2023 at 3:45 PM PDT

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Written by 
Eric Mack
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Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects, and CNET's "Living off the Grid" series Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
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