CSI—Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the California Solar Initiative (CSI)?The California Solar Initiative (CSI) provides a financial incentive for the installation of solar on a home or business. CSI incentives vary by incentive type, customer segment and system size. Incentive amounts gradually reduce over time. Application process is to first reserve funding, then once the installation is complete, the incentive payment is made.
- How much are the incentives?CSI incentives vary according to system size, customer class, and performance and installation factors. The subsidies automatically decline in "steps" based on the volume of MW of confirmed incentive reservation applications approved within each utility service territory. There are two incentive structures available to consumers: Expected Performance Based Buydown (EPBB) and Performance Based Incentive (PBI).
Expected Performance Based Buydown (EPBB)
Solar systems less than 30 kW* may apply for a one time, up-front cash incentive known as the Expected Performance Based Buydown (EPBB)**. Program Administrators calculate a customer’s incentive using the expected performance of the owner’s system based on equipment ratings and installation factors such as geographic location, tilt, orientation, standoff height, and shading. Customers receive their incentive payment in a lump sum after their system in fully installed and interconnected.
Performance Based Incentive (PBI)
Solar systems 30 kW** or greater must apply for the Performance Based Incentive (PBI) structure. PBI incentives are monthly payments for a period of five years determined by the actual output of the system, as metered and reported to the utility.
* As of January 1, 2010, only systems less than 30 kW in size will be EPBB eligible.
**Note, the PBI incentive path is available to ANY size system. Customers under 50 kW may apply for PBI incentives or EPBB incentives.
See the table to see the effect on incentives as these step declines occur. Governments, non-profits and other tax-exempt organizations receive a slightly higher incentive because cannot qualify for Federal Investment Tax Credits on their solar systems. Information on real-time rebate status is available at www.csi-trigger.com
- Which solar technologies are covered under CSI?CSI program is available for solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies (roof-mounted, ground-mounted and building-integrated PV,) non-PV electric displacing systems, and non-PV electric generating systems, sized to meet actual or forecast on-site load.
- How do I apply for CSI incentives?In most situations, the solar contractor handles the application process on the customer’s behalf. Applications proceed through several stages before payment - from Reserved to Completed. Upon approval of the application, it is considered reserved, meaning funding has been set aside for the project. Once the system is installed, is fully operational and has been interconnected to the grid, the second set of documentation must be submitted to claim the incentive. Upon approval of this, the project is considered complete. Please note, there may be subsequent steps to the application process in between. A qualified solar contractor understands the application process and can optimize the customer’s incentives by completing the application properly.
Residential and small commercial applicants with systems sized under 10 kW, apply through a simple two step application process—the first step is to apply and confirm your incentive level by submitting a Reservation Request Form and the second step is to provide documentation of an installed system to receive a rebate by submitting an Incentive Claim Form. Larger commercial projects with systems sized 10 kW or greater, apply using a three-step process, which has an interim application step. A proof of project milestone to review progress and confirmed the reservation, making it a three-step process before payment is issued. This allows them to enter into contract after they have received the initial reservation which is conditional to submitting the contract with the proof of project milestone. The final step of the rebate process is the incentive claim form submission, signifying that the project is installed and ready for inspection (if applicable), documentation review, and payment.
- Do I need a special meter to get CSI incentives?The CSI Program requires +/-5% accurate performance meters for all projects that receive CSI Program incentives. This performance meter is usually inverter integrated. Accurate measurement of solar energy output is of paramount importance to ensure optimum value for both solar owners and ratepayers. For systems receiving PBI payments, a separate interval, utility grade data meter with accuracy of ±2 percent is required.
- I’m interested in a solar water heating system. Can I get incentives for this?The CSI Thermal Program was approved in January 2010 by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and will provide rebates to residential, multifamily and commercial customers who install eligible solar water heating systems in their home or business. Visit our CSI Thermal website for updates at http://www.pge.com/csithermal.
- Where is my incentive?To receive payment, the Applicant must submit the Incentive Claim Form package, complete with all required documentations, to the Program Administrator prior to the Reservation Expiration Date. Upon final approval of the Incentive Claim Form and documentation, the Program Administrator will issue the incentive payment within approximately 30 days for EPBB incentive payments. For PBI payments, the Program Administrator will issue the first incentive payment within 30 days of the first scheduled performance output meter read. All CSI application may be subject to a field verification inspection, which must be completed prior to issuing payment. Payment will be made to the Host Customer or a third party as designated on the Incentive Claim Form, and will be mailed to the address provided.
If an Incentive Claim Form package is incomplete or required clarification, the Program Administrator will request the information necessary to process that application further. Applicants have 20 calendar days to respond to the request with the necessary information. If after 20 calendar days, the Applicant has not submitted the requested information, the request for payment may be denied. If an Incentive Claim Form package is not received by the expiration date of the Incentive Claim Form, or the Incentive Claim Form package indicates that the project is otherwise ineligible, the Program Administrator will send a written notice stating the reasons why the project is ineligible and the project will be rejected. If this is the case, the Applicant or Host Customer may reapply for a incentive reservation but will be subject to the eligibility requirements, incentive levels, and funding available at that time of resubmittal.
The application status may be checked by the applicant by logging into PowerClerk, our online application database or by contacting the assigned Project Manager.
- What about tax credits?The federal government currently offers a 30% tax credit on the total system cost for residential and commercial solar systems. For more information about the Federal Incentive Tax Credit please consult a tax professional or visit energytaxincentives.org
- Who is eligible for the CSI program?All retail electric customers of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) are eligible to apply for CSI incentives. This includes residential homeowners, commercial, industrial and agricultural enterprises, and local governments and non-profit organizations.
To be eligible, residential properties must have a Permit of Occupancy from their Building Department prior to submitting a Reservation Request Application for CSI incentives. Planned residential new housing construction, including residential new housing development projects and new custom homes, may apply for incentives through the New Solar Homes Partnership program, if eligible and all requirements are met. All non-residential properties are eligible, regardless if it is retrofit or new construction.
- Who manages the CSI program?California Legislature granted regulatory authority to the California Public Utilities Commission to institute a formal Rulemaking Proceeding to govern rules and procedures pertaining to the California Solar Initiative. The day-to-day administrative policy and activities, including application processing and incentive payment, are handled by a Program Administrator for each of the three Investor-Owned Utilities.
- Pacific Gas & Electric is the Program Administrator in its territory.
- Southern Calfornia Edision the Program Administrator in its territory.
- The California Center for Sustainable Energy is the Program Administrator in San Diego Gas and Electric territory.
- How much are application fees?There is no application fee for any projects less than 10kW in size. For non-residential applications 10kW or above in size, the application fee is based on the system size. See the table below:
kW ≥ kW < FEE 10 - 50 = $1,250 50 - 100 = $2,500 100 - 250 = $5,000 250 - 500 = $10,000 500 - 1,000 = $20,000
This fee applies to both EPBB and PBI applicants. The application fee must be paid at the time of the Reservation Request. An invoice will be sent and payment must be received within 30 days to keep the Reservation Request activate. Applications received without payment within 30 days will be cancelled. If a project is withdrawn or cancelled after receiving a reservation is granted, the Host Customer will forfeit the application fee.
Application fees will be returned in full to the Host Customer upon completion of the project. If upon eligibility screening, the project does not qualify for the CSI Program or if a project that has received an Incentive Claim Form from the Program Administrator is withdrawn due to extenuating circumstances beyond the applicant’s control, the application fee may be returned pending a discussion and agreement of the Program Administrators. This will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
- How can I check on the status of my application?Your solar contractor can provide you with regular updates regarding the status of your application. The application status may be checked by the applicant by logging into PowerClerk, our online application database or by contacting the assigned Project Manager.
- How long will the process take?Under normal circumstances, the Program Administrators take fewer than 30 days to confirm the Reservation Requests and approve payment of the Incentive Claim Form. Upon approval of the Reservation Request, residential customers have 12 month and non-residential customers have 18 months to submit their Incentive Claim Form. Application processing time is dependent on the Program Administrator reviewing paperwork, as well as the applicant responding to any requests for additional or missing information or application corrections.
Some of the most frequent types of problems encountered with applications are:
- Listed equipment does not match EPBB print out
- Mailing Address vs. Project Site Address
- Missing signature(s)
- Incomplete or missing documentation
- What is a CEC-AC watt?To measure nominal output power of photovoltaic cells or module to determine the system’s rating and subsequent incentive calculation, the Program Administrators will use the California Energy Commission’s CEC-AC rating standards. The CEC-AC rating is the product of the number of PV panels, the PTC rating per panel and the inverter efficiency. The CEC-AC rating is lower than the Standard Test Conditions (STC.)
- Do I have to go on a specific rate as a condition of the CSI, such as a time-of-use (TOU) rate? What is the best rate for me?Currently, recipient of CSI incentives are not required to go on a specific rate or tariff. Customer may choose any available rate schedule for their customer segment. If a customer is on a rate schedule that is no longer available prior to interconnection, they may retain that rate schedule as they are “grandfathered” in. If they elect to choose a different rate schedule, they cannot go back to the closed rate schedule.
The best rate schedule should be determine on a case by case basis and should take into consideration energy load profile and lifestyle. TOU rates are designed to value daytime peak energy usage and production higher than off-peak energy usage at night and in the morning. Therefore, some customers who install solar systems that coincide with California’s peak electricity demand may benefit from TOU rates, because solar production replaces peak load and is credited to the customer at the higher-cost peak price.
- My project failed inspection—now what?The CSI Program requires field inspections to be done randomly on projects. It is important that the solar system be accurately represented in the CSI application and the EPBB calculator. However, there are tolerances in place to allow for slight discrepancies that have minimal effect on performance. If there is a failed inspection because the verified system is not in compliance with the system as stated on the project application, the Applicant, Host Customer, and/or System Owner will have 30 calendar days to accept the revised incentive based on our inspector’s finding or may dispute the accuracy of the findings. The program administrators will not adjust the incentive amount even if the system is brought within compliance.
- What is Net Metering?PG&E's Net Energy Metering (NEM) program provides customers the ability to offset the cost of their electricity with energy their solar generating system exports to the grid. Typically, solar generating systems export more energy during summer months than a customer consumes. This surplus energy then generates credits for use during winter months when the system may not meet the customer’s energy needs.
The way it works is that PG&E will install a "net meter" on a customer’s solar system that measures the difference between the amount of electricity supplied by PG&E and the amount of electricity exported over the course of a billing month. After 12 billing cycles, the corresponding amounts are reconciled, and any remaining charge is then billed.
- Can my city, homeowners association or neighbor prohibit me from installing solar on my roof?No. The California Solar Rights Act, enacted in 1978, limits the ability of codes, covenants, and restrictions to restrict solar installations.
- Does a solar PV system have to meet local building codes?Yes. You will have to refer to your local jurisdication to obtain the required building and/or electrical permit from the city or county building department to legally begin installation. A solar contractor should be able to assist you with local permitting issues.
- How do I determine which incentive rate I can qualify for: Government, Non-profit, Commercial or Residential?Residential properties are only eligible for the residential the incentive rate. For non-residential properties, the incentive rate is determined by the customer segment of the system owner. So if the system owner is a commercial entity, they will receive the commercial incentive rate and if the system owner is a government or non-profit entity, they will receive the government/non-profit incentive rate.
Quarterly Public Forum
- Are the CSI Public Forum presentation slides publicly available?All CSI Public Forum presentations slides are posted before the event on Go Solar California and the CPUC webpages.
- When is the next CSI Public Forum? Can I attend?
- What is a solar electric system? How does it work?The basic building blocks of a solar electric system are photovoltaic (PV) cells that generate electricity when light (photons) interact with the semiconductor materials that make up the cells. Most PV cells designed for outdoor use are based on crystalline silicon-similar to the silicone wafers used in computer chips. Other types include thin film and organic polymers. Since a single PV cell produces only a small amount of electricity, cells are usually combined into larger units, called panels or modules. These panels or modules are then linked together into a large group(s) called an array. This makes up the PV system and can generate enough electricity to power your home or business.
To complete the system, an inverter is used to stabilize the voltage and change the direct current (DC) produced by the cells into alternating current (AC) that is compatible with your home’s electrical devices and the grid. This then feeds into the electric meter to first serve the electrical load of the home or business and any excess generation sent into the grid.
- Why should I go solar?There are many reasons a customer may decide to install solar, below are some of those:
- Some solar finance experts suggest that every 1,000 watts of power from PV panels adds $20,000 to the resale value of your home
- Solar systems are extremely reliable, able to produce clean energy from the sun for up to 25 years or more
- By using solar to power your home or business, you dramatically reduce your carbon footprint as you are using clean, renewable energy
- You have several financing options including incentives and tax credits in California, act now as they will decline as more systems are installed. Get the best incentive you can—go solar now!
- How much money will I save on my electric bill?The potential savings from a solar system will depend on several factors, including your current rate structure, the size of the solar system you install and the amount of sunshine your system will receive. Your solar contractor should be able to provide you with an estimate based on those and other factors.
- How much does a PV system cost?Although many factors affect the price, an average PV system currently costs $7-9 dollars a watt, including installation, or about $16,000 to $20,000 for a 2kW system before rebates.
- Can you finance a PV system?Yes, subject to your ability to secure credit. One way to finance a home PV system is with a first or second mortgage or home equity loan. If mortgage financing is not available, consider other sources such as conventional bank loans. Some counties also offer financing through your property tax credits. Check with your local jurisdiction for availability.
- Where can I install a PV system?Your site must have clear, unobstructed access to the sun. Buildings, trees or other vegetation should not shade your site. South-facing roof exposure is best, but roofs facing west or east may be okay. If a rooftop is not available, your PV system can also be mounted on the ground or even on a patio cover or garage.
As a rule of thumb, 100 square feet of PV area produces one kilowatt of electricity. A typical home system would need anywhere from 200 sq. ft. to 600 sq. ft. of roof space. For those concerned about appearance, there are new technologies that look like roof tiles and can disguise the panels within you house’s roofline. Both options are more expensive than traditional solar panels.
- Are PV systems reliable?Yes. Stationary PV systems have no moving parts; there is nothing mechanical that can wear out. They operate silently, and require no fuel, filters or other costly parts and are low maintenance. Solar modules are essentially silicon cells (similar to a computer chip) embedded inside a protective layer, usually a sturdy tempered glass panel. They are made to withstand hot, direct sunlight and harsh weather conditions; they will continue to work as long as sunlight falls on the surface. They do need to be cleaned periodically to ensure maximum performance- dust and dirt can reduce a system’s performance.
Solar panels usually have an expected life of up to 25 years or more and inverters can last about 15 years. Plus, systems receiving incentives under the California Solar Initiative are required to have a 10- year equipment warranty.
- What size solar system do I need?Several factors will influence the size of the solar system you need. Energy efficiency should be the first step. Since minimizing your home’s total energy use is important, making your home as energy efficient as possible first allows you to install a smaller sized PV system, saving you even more money. Once you’ve implemented all energy efficiency measures, a solar contract can help determine the proper system size required to off-set all or a portion of your electricity needs. For more information on energy efficiency, please visit our website.
- Is the power produced by the solar system any different from the utility power? Will it hurt my home appliances or business equipment?No. The electricity generated by your solar system is no different from electricity delivered through the grid.
- Do I need a battery backup for my solar electric generating system?A battery backup for your solar system is unnecessary when your system is connected to the utility’s electric grid. The grid services as a backup during times when your system is not producing electricity, for example, at night and on very cloudy days.
- What happens during a power outage?Your solar electric system is designed to shutdown immediately for safety reasons, unless it includes a battery storage system.
Solar Contractor Information
- How do I find a solar contractor I can trust? Are there "bad" solar contractors out there?Solar Contractors are required to register with the CEC to be listed on the Eligible Retailers/Solar Contractors List. To participate in the CSI Program, eligible companies that install equipment must also be with the Program Administrator. Except for those systems that are self-installed, all systems must be installed by appropriately licensed California contractors in accordance with rules and regulations adopted by the California Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB.) Installation contractors must have an active A, B, C-10, or C-46 license for photovoltaic (PV) systems. All systems must be installed in conformance with the manufacturer’s specifications and with all applicable electrical and building code standards.
Qualified contractors are your key to getting the most productive PV system for your home or business. Choose a reputable solar contractor by interviewing at least three potential solar contractors and obtain bids before making your selection. You may also check with your local Better Business Bureau and ask for referrals from previous clients.
- Can I install a solar PV system myself?Self installations are allowed so long as proper building permits are obtained and local codes are followed and will be subject to field inspection by the Program Administrators.
- When I get my solar system installed, will I be "off-grid?"No. The CSI Program only provides incentives to grid-tied solar systems, thus CSI participants are not off-grid; rather, their systems produce energy that flows back onto the grid, which they conversely draw from whenever their systems are not generating energy.
- Are there classes offered in solar PV systems?PG&E offers a range of classes including a monthly CSI Workshop, a solar basics class for homeowners, as well as specialty courses on topics related to the CSI, solar energy systems and energy efficiency. Please visit the CSI Solar Education Opportunities page for a description and link to upcoming workshops and classes.
Solar Customer Service Center 1-877-743-4112
PG&E Solar and Customer Generation - CSI
PO Box 7433
San Francisco, CA 94120
Street Address (for overnight deliveries)
PG&E Solar and Customer Generation - CSI
245 Market St., MC N7R
San Francisco, CA 94105-1797