Find the best solar companies in the Inland Empire

If you live in the Inland Empire, you've probably had solar sales people knocking on your door. Which company should you go with, and is solar even a good choice?

Photo of Riverside, California (Inland Empire)

The Inland Empire is a part of Southern California that lies east of Los Angeles. With lots of sun and an arid climate, the Inland Empire is one of the best regions in the country for solar.

For example, the city of San Bernardino averages around 16 inches of rain and 280 sunny days a year. In comparision, the US average is 38 inches of rain and 205 sunny days.

What is the Inland Empire?

The Inland Empire is the region to the east of Los Angeles, and covers 27,000 square miles. It includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties, but does not include Los Angeles county.

The largest cities in the Inland Empire include:

  • Riverside
  • San Bernardino
  • Fontana
  • Moreno Valley
  • Rancho Cucamonga
  • Ontario
  • Corona
  • Victorville
  • Temecula
  • Murrieta

How much can I expect solar to cost in the Inland Empire?

The cost of a solar system for your home will depend on how much electricity you use and want to replace with solar power.

In California, the average home uses 532 kWh per month. The median price for solar in California is $3.80 per watt, but it varies greatly: the low range is around $3.10/watt while the high range is around $4.50/watt.

This means that in the Inland Empire, a house with average electricity use can expect to pay between $8,098 and $11,755 for a home solar system before incentives.

Of course, you might use more electricity, or your roof might not be perfect for solar - you could have shade, or your roof doesn’t face exactly south. You can use The Solar Nerd calculator to get a better estimate very quickly.

Again, this will vary a lot with different installers. See below for detailed pricing of solar companies in the Inland Empire.

How good is the Inland Empire for solar?

The Inland Empire is one of the best places in the country for solar. As long as your property is a good site - suitable roof, little shade - you can expect to generate a lot of electricity with a smaller array than you would need in other parts of the country.

Here’s a graph of how a typical home solar array would perform during the year:

riverside
Graph of solar power generation for an average size home solar array.

As you can see, the power generation is fairly steady throughout the year, even the winter. Other locations see larger dips in the winter, but southern California stays sunny throughout the year.

Top solar installers in the Inland Empire

The California Energy Commission has collected data on every solar installation in California since 1998. That includes residential and commercial installations, and both purchased and leased systems. In the Inland Empire alone, that’s a total of 169,561 solar arrays in service.

Top 20 solar installers in the Inland Empire (all time)

Below is a list of the top 20 installers in the Inland Empire by the number of installations performed since 1998. That includes residential and commercial installations, and leased systems too.

(Note that this database goes back more than two decades, so it includes company names such as SolarCity, which was acquired and is now part of Tesla Energy.)

The last column is the total number of megawatts installed by the company.

Installer# of Inland Empire InstallationsTotal mW
SolarCity17,134106.4
SunPower12,98769.3
Vivint Solar11,57571.3
SunStreet bankrupt10,34227.9
Horizon Solar Power8,31957.1
Solcius4,62023.2
Verengo Solar bankrupt4,54325.0
Tesla Energy4,23921.9
Sunrun4,21825.3
Renova Energy4,08541.6
SolarMax2,86419.9
Sungevity bankrupt2,21312.7
Freedom Forever1,91112.0
Solar Service Center1,89210.9
PetersenDean bankrupt1,69010.4
GRID Alternatives1,4455.3
HelioPower1,38111.5
Suncrest Solar1,2936.9
V3 Electric1,2176.1
Infinity Energy Inc1,2017.5

As you can see, SolarCity is the all-time leader in installations in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The company was acquired by Telsa in 2016 and no longer exists in name, so installations since then are under Tesla Energy.

Another thing to note is that many of these top companies push leases and power purchase agreements on their customers - basically, the homeowner is renting their solar panels. It’s inferior for the homeowner, but is a business model that many high-growth solar companies use.

The table below excludes leased systems, and as a result the top companies are quite different.

Top 20 solar installers in the Inland Empire since 2020

This is a list of the top residential solar installers that have installed purchased systems since January 1, 2020. Unlike the table above that included all systems, here’s what’s excluded from this table:

  • Only residential systems
  • No leased systems
  • No battery systems (which throw off the pricing data)
  • Installation completed January 1, 2020 or later
Installer# of Inland Empire Installations since 2020 (non-leased)Average $/watt
SunPower2,063$4.52
Energy Service Partners450$4.38
Solcius374$5.02
SolarMax371$3.51
Sunrun275$4.32
Tesla Energy270$2.62
Freedom Forever267$5.10
Semper Solaris223$4.27
Vivint Solar190$4.06
Renova Energy185$3.71
Pro Custom Solar140$3.42
Sea Bright Solar134$3.82
Sunergy123$4.63
Infinity Energy115$5.31
Precis Development107$3.26
New Day Solar107$3.25
Sunlux106$3.90
James Petersen Industries104$3.14
Blalock Electric & Solar96$3.93
Option One94$3.98

The table also includes the average price-per-watt that the company charged to their customers, before incentives. (For this calculation it’s AC watts of the system, which is the final power output of the system, after in the inverter.)

What does solar cost in the Inland Empire?

The average price-per-watt of solar in California is $3.80. (This means that if you installed a 6 kW system, on average it would cost $22,800.) As you can see in the table above, the price-per-watt varies considerably between installers.

Some observations:

Going with the largest installers doesn’t mean getting the lowest price.

Even though theoretically their scale and purchasing power should mean their prices would be the best, the largest companies often cost more.

This seems to be particularly true of companies that do a significant amount of lease business, such as Sunrun, Vivint, Freedom Forever, and Infinity Energy. All three have prices that are higher than the state average. I have a couple theories why this might be true.

One, the companies may be raising their prices on purchased systems to make leases more attractive. Leases mean predictable, long term revenue and are more lucrative than their installation business.

The other is that these high-growth companies spend a lot of money on operations and marketing in an effort to grab as much market share as possible. The result is that sometimes their costs are so high they go out of business. For example Sungevity, Verengo Solar, Suncrest Solar - top 20 companies in the list above that all did significant lease business - no longer exist.

Premium solar is often more expensive per watt, but not always

SunPower, the top installer in this list, comes in at a fairly pricy $4.52/watt. One thing to know about SunPower in particular is that you can either buy a SunPower system directly from SunPower, or you can work with a company in their dealer network.

The $4.52/watt price is for installations from SunPower Corporation, but SunPower dealers may actually offer you a better deal.

For example Sea Bright Solar, an excellent quality SunPower Master Dealer, has an average price of $3.82/watt. Keep in mind that SunPower dealers can and do sell other brands of solar panels, but generally their main business is SunPower products.

Tesla Energy is really cheap - but there are reasons for it

By a wide margin, Tesla Energy is the cheapest installer in the list, coming in at an average of $2.62/watt. The price is real, but there are some caveats.

One is that the system sizes offered are limited. They seem to come in 4 kW increments. If that works for you - great. But if you need a custom size to fit your roof or energy requirements, you might be out of luck. This means you might have to buy a larger or smaller system than you need.

The other issue is reports of poor customer service. Many Tesla Energy customers report getting a hassle-free installation experience. Others don’t, as you can read in the Yelp reviews.

Issues such as very delayed projects and being unable to get in contact with customer service after the installation are some common complaints.

Another issue that Telsa Energy currently only offers a Tesla inverter with their system. While their system can support power optimizers, microinverters apparently aren’t available. While this is fine for many installations, there are some advantages that microinverters offer.

Poor reviews aside, you might get lucky by going with Telsa and end up getting a home solar system at a great price. However, the question is what kind of customer support experience you’ll get if you have an issue down the road.

Solar industry bankruptcies shows that size and experience aren’t everything

While you might think that it’s a safer choice to choose one of the large national companies to do your home solar installation, the history of bankruptcies in the solar industry shows that’s not necessarily the case.

For the reasons mentioned earlier, the largest solar installers often seem to have high overhead, and sometimes that high overhead turns into a big debt burden for a company that eventually leads to bankruptcy. It can happen even to giant companies such as PetersenDean, which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020.

To be clear, you can find many small solar installers around the country that have gone out of business. It’s a competitive industry, and with thousands of contractors fighting over your business, not every company will survive.

It’s a risk even today. For example Sunrun - the largest residential solar installer in the country - lost $173 million in 2020 and has had negative free cash flow the past four years. It also had quite a bit of debt.

Is Sunrun carrying too much risk? I’m not a financial expert so I can’t say, but I will tell you that in contrast there are many smaller companies around California that focus on building sustainable businesses. Instead of trying to make their companies as large as possible, they instead focus on basics: high workmanship quality, good customer service, and small marketing expenses. Many of the installers in the Solar Nerd network rely primarily on referrals and spend relatively little on sales and marketing.

Which are the best solar installers in the Inland Empire?

If you live in the Inland Empire - cities such as Riverside, San Bernardino, Fontana, Moreno Valley, Rancho Cucamonga and others - you’ll find many solar installers vying for your business. You’ve probably had a lot of salespeople knocking on your door.

Those companies often aren’t the best choice. Not only are they typically more expensive, but you’ll get worse customer service, and even risk having the company go bankrupt on you, leaving you in a bind if you need warranty service on your system a few years down the road.

Instead, choose smaller companies that aren’t so fixated on rapid growth, but instead focus on building on sustainable businesses and delivering good customer service.

The Solar Nerd network screens out the largest national companies and instead finds high quality solar installers that have a good track record but aren’t so growth-focused that they lose sight of customer service. To get connected with these installers for your home solar project, use the link below.

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