Getting started with solar


Ready to find out if solar is right for you? Follow these steps to get started.

Step 1: Run the numbers

Our Solar System Estimator combines satellite information about your rooftop together with your current monthly bills in My Account to lay out a cost-benefit analysis of solar and battery storage. Don't have My Account? That's OK. You can still get a general estimate without your bill information.

Get your estimate in My Account     Learn about financing options

Step 2: Make your home energy efficient

Make sure the energy you make from solar isn't wasted. Discover ways to save energy and earn rebates.

Explore rebates

Step 3: Select a contractor

Once you've made the decision to get solar, it's important to choose the right contractor.  Once you select a contractor,  they will need to complete an online application.

Get contractor tips

Step 4: Approval and installation

Have more questions? We're here to help.

Contact customer care at 888-742-7683.

Find a licensed contractor

One of the most important steps to a successful solar energy project is finding the right contractor. Here are some helpful resources and tips to point you in the right direction for selecting your contractor.

Check contractor recommendations online

Finding a good contractor requires references. As a starting point, you can go to a number of websites for help:

  • Angi is a membership service that compiles consumer ratings of local service companies and contractors.
  • The Better Business Bureau lets you research companies to see if they are the subject of complaints filed with the BBB.
  • lets you gather price quotes from service companies that work with HomeAdvisor.
  • offers community ratings and comments for a wide range of businesses. 

Tips for hiring a contractor

  • Hire only CA state-licensed contractors with a valid license, photovoltaic (PV) generation system: C-10 and C- 46 or B (general) license.
  • Get at least three bids or quotes.
  • Get at least three references from each bidder and be sure to call or visit each reference.
  • Check contractor license numbers online at or by calling 1-800-321-CSLB (2752).
  • Confirm the contractor carries worker's compensation and liability insurance policies.
  • Inform the contractor you are interested in participating in SMUD's solar incentive program.
  • Verify the contractor is informed about SMUD's solar incentive requirements and understands SMUD's electrical grid interconnection requirements.
  • Get all project expectations in writing including the solar systems expected yearly output.
  • Sign a contract only if you completely understand the terms.
  • It is recommended that you never make a down payment of more than 10 percent.
  • Keep a job file of all papers relating to your project, including all payments.
  • Ensure that the contractor applies for a building permit.
  • Make sure SMUD has approved the solar PV system for electrical interconnection to SMUD's electrical distribution grid before you sign off on the project.
  • Finally, do not make a final payment or sign off on the installation until you are completely satisfied with the job and understand the warranties and services that are included with the installation.
Please note that SMUD does not endorse or warrant any workmanship, installation, labor, cost or materials of the contractor you select. SMUD also does not work directly with any solar contractors. If you have questions, please go to for more information.

Forms and guidelines

 Solar rates, credits, billing

  Solar industry resources

Need more answers? See our Frequently Asked Questions.
Couple reviewing their bill  

Understanding your bill

Solar electric bills differ from standard electricity bills. Learn more about how your bill will change.

See a solar bill

Financing options

Learn what options you have to finance your solar system and see what incentives we offer to new solar customers.

Purchasing a solar system for your home means paying for the system up front or financing your purchase through a bank loan. You own the system and are responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the system. The purchase of a system will help increase the value of your home and provide tax credits and other deductions.

Leasing a solar system for your home means paying monthly to use it over a specified period of time and enjoying the benefit of electricity produced by the system. Ideally, you would pay less for the energy produced by the system over the term of the lease than you would have paid for the same amount of energy from SMUD.

PPAs are similar to leases because the homeowner pays for the energy produced by the system, but not for the system itself. The difference is that lease payments are about the same every month whereas PPAs vary each month based on the amount of energy produced by the system. Under a PPA, a customer pays only for what is produced during a given month, and will therefore pay more in summer than in winter.

Things you should expect from a leasing or PPA agreement

  • Guarantee the amount of energy that will be delivered per year, and over the life of the contract, in exchange for the lease payment or PPA price. Since the amount of electricity a solar electricity system generates declines gradually over time, the power guarantee should take this into account.
  • Specify that the vendor will operate, maintain, and repair the system in a way that ensures that you get the energy yield promised over the life of the contract.
  • Provide a clear statement of what you will pay per kWh produced by the system. A PPA agreement will state the amount but the number needs to be calculated for leased systems.
  • Estimate the value of net metering at your current level of electric use
  • Specify the process and costs of removing the system and restoring your roof when the contract terminates.
  • Specify what you will be required to pay if you move or decide to remove the system prior to termination of the contract.
The payback time on your solar system is determined by many factors, most importantly the amount of your current electricity bill. Customers with lower bill amounts typically have a 20-plus year payback period. Customers who have larger bills may see a return on their investment in as little as 7 to 10 years.