California's SGIP solar battery rebate explained

Like solar panels, lithium batteries have dropped rapidly in price, and more homeowners are installing them. Here's how you can get a discounted or even free battery in California.

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As solar panels have become mainstream in the United States and especially California, energy storage has become more and more important.

California is trying to deploy as much energy storage as possible, with gigawatts worth of batteries coming online.

Homeowners can get in on the act too. Even if you have solar panels, your home won’t have electricity during a blackout unless you have a battery.

The Self-Generation Incentive Program is operated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). It provides significant cash incentives for installing batteries. In some cases, you can even get a battery for free.

Figuring out how the program works can be a confusing mess: there are categories for residential, non-residential, residential equity, non-residential equity, equity resiliency.

If you’re a California homeowner, this article will help you make sense of it and figure out if you’re eligible for a solar battery rebate.

What is the SGIP?

The Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) provides rebates for utility customers to generate or store their own electricity. It covers a wide range of technologies including wind turbines, fuel cells, gas turbines, and others. Many of these are only of interest to commercial or industrial customers. Because of this, if you’re on the SGIP website and trying to find information relevant to solar batteries for homes, you might find yourself scratching your head.

SGIP is funded and operated by the California Public Utilities Commission. CPUC is the agency that regulates privately owned utilities in California. This means that if you’re a customer of a municipal or cooperative utility, the SGIP won’t be available to you.

The utilities that participate in SGIP include: Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas, and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Which SGIP incentives are available to homeowners?

SGIP’s energy storage incentives refers to the sort of batteries that a homeowner would install with a solar array. There are many options available: popular ones include Tesla Powerwall, Enphase IQ Battery, sonnen, Generac Pwrcell, Sunpower SunVault, and LG Chem.

Homeowners fall under the small residential storage category. In this case, “small” means 10 kW or less of power output. To be clear, this rating refers to power delivery and not storage capacity, which is measured in kWh.

For example, the Tesla Powerwall has a power rating of 5 kW, and the Enphase IQ10 has a rating of 3.84 kW. This means that you can install multiple batteries, as some homeowners do, and still fall within the small storage category.

You can actually install more than 10 kW of batteries and still be eligible, but you have to demonstrate a need for it based on your historical electricity usage.

What are the eligibility categories for SGIP?

There are three eligibility categories. Unfortunately, the budget has been reached for the General Market category, which means that you will need to fit into either the Equity or Resiliency category (or both) to receive an SGIP incentive for your battery.

General Market Residential

This category is for any customer of one of the four utilities mentioned above.

Residential Equity

The equity category is designed to assist people who are low income, live in Indian Country (as defined by 18 USC 1151), rely on critical medical devices in their daily life, or rely on a well and electric pump for their water supply.

Resiliency

Resiliency refers to homeowners living in a high fire threat area (specifically Tier 2 or Tier 3 HFTD) or have experienced at least two Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events.

How do I qualify for an SGIP incentive?

Unless the budget situation changes, to be eligible for a battery rebate you’ll need to qualify under either the Equity or Resiliency category, or both. You may qualify if one or more of the following applies to you:

  • Live in low-income affordable single family housing. For example, if you are eligible for SASH, DAC-SASH, MASH, or SOMAH, you may qualify. (Equity)
  • Live in Indian Country, as defined in 18 U.S. Code § 1151. (Equity)
  • Live in a Tier 2 or Tier 3 High Fire Threat District (Resiliency)
  • Have experienced at least two public safety power shutoffs (Resiliency)
  • Participate in your utility’s Medical Baseline Program and have critical medical equipment. This includes sleep apnea machines, motorized wheelchairs, oxygen generators, and more. (Equity)
  • Qualify as low income (defined above), have a electric well pump for your water supply, and don’t have a municipal water supply available to you. (Equity and Resiliency)

Residential Storage Soft Target Cap

The General Market category mentioned above is sometimes also referred to as the Residential Storage or Small Residential Storage category. Confusing, right? To clarify: General Market = Residential Storage = Small Residential Storage. They all mean the same thing. I’ll call it Residential Storage from now on because that’s how the budget category is labelled on the selfgenca.com website.

The current budget for the Residential category mentioned above is unfortunately closed for new applications unless you live in a High Fire Threat District. Half of the Residential Storage budget is reserved for homeowners in this situation.

How do I know if I live in a High Fire Threat District?

You can enter your address into this interactive map to find out if you live in a HFTD. Tier 2 is colored orange and Tier 3 is red: https://ia.cpuc.ca.gov/firemap/

(That map dosn’t work that great on mobile devices, by the way.)

Alterately, you can go to the CPUC website and download a map of the HFTDs in PDF format.

How much are the incentives?

It can be confusing to figure out how much your rebate could potentially be.

The incentive structure is organized first by utility company, then by budget “steps”. Each step has an allocated budget; when the budget is spent, the program moves onto the next step, which will usually have a smaller incentive.

You can view the currrent steps and incentives at the selfgenca.com website.

For example, let’s say you’re a PG&E customer who qualifies lives in a Tier 2 HFTD district but does not qualify under any of the equity rules. According to the SGIP Program Metrics page, PG&E is currently on Step 7 for Small Residential Storage, which has an incentive of $0.15 per Wh.

If you bought a Tesla Powerwall with a 13.5 kWh capacity, you would receive an incentive of $2,025.

But let’s say that you not only live in a Tier 2 HFTD but are also a Medical Baseline customer. That would mean you would qualify under both the Equity and Resiliency categories, which corresponds to a $1.00/Wh incentive. That would earn you a $13,500 rebate. Depending on the installation costs, your Powerwall would either be free or pretty close to it, especially if you factor in the 26% federal tax credit.

Where to find the latest information

Here’s a recap of where you can find the latest status of the SGIP program, as well as some useful links:

Next steps

If all of this seems rather confusing, well, that’s because it is. Hopefully this article clarified things a bit, but for the very latest information as well as guidance on choosing a storage battery for your home, talk to a qualified solar installer.

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