The C-46 license is for solar contractors that specialize in the installation, modification, and repair of solar energy systems. The solar industry has seen explosive growth over the past 30 years and continues to grow each year as the planet moves toward more sustainable energy alternatives.

Solar energy is generated by the capture of the sun’s rays through devices that convert the energy into electricity that can power a home, business or factory. 

An image of blue sky, a bright shining sun and a solar panel absorbing the UV rays

The solar industry has seen explosive growth over the past 30 years and continues to grow each year as the planet moves toward more sustainable energy alternatives

As local, state and federal governments move more and more towards offering incentives for homeowners and small businesses to go solar. Contractors that hold the C-46 license will become more in demand. 

This article will provide you with every single detail you need to know about C-46 license requirements, the contractor license exam, practice tests, and even how to fill out the California State License application.

What is a Solar Contractor?

"A solar contractor installs, modifies, maintains, and repairs thermal and photovoltaic solar energy systems. A licensee classified in this section shall not undertake or perform building or construction trades, crafts, or skills, except when required to install a thermal or photovoltaic solar energy system" - CSLB.GOV

The C-46 license is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to bid on solar panel installation or repair projects where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500.

Duties associated with the C-46 license

Sometimes referred to as solar installers or solar specialists, Solar contractors engage in a variety of different duties associated with solar power including:

  • Fabrication and installation of solar panels
  • Testing and configuration of PV systems
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    Educating clients on solar energy
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    Trouble shooting and repairing existing solar panel systems
  • Installing hot water and pool heating systems
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    Maintaining and repairing energy storage system
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    Installing ground mount collectors
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    Identifying and correcting unsafe work site practices
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    Evaluating thermal systems
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    Interpreting blueprints and plans
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    Bidding, estimating, accounting and book-keeping

While many Solar installation contractors may work primarily in a residential or commercial setting, often they are subcontracted by counties or municipalities to install solar energy systems on government buildings as well as industrial structures. Solar Contractors that hold the C46 license may use a variety of technology and equipment including:

Two construction workers outside wearing blue hard hats inspecting a solar panel system. One is holding construction plans and pointing to the bottom of the solar panel system as the other construction worker looks on. The C-46 license for solar contractors includes a wide range of duties

Solar Contractors looking to get the C-46 license must be familiar with a ride range of duties

  • Ground Mounts
  • Racking Systems
  • Roof Saws
  • Central Inverters
  • Ladders
  • Cranes

To obtain the C-46 license, you will be tested on all aspects of installation and repair of solar energy systems. It will be essential to your success to become familiar with all the areas of expertise that fall under this highly specialized trade

Solar Subcontractors

In many cases, solar contractors that hold the C-46 license work directly with with homeowners installing and repairing solar panels. In some cases they act as an RMO for an established solar installation company. However, they may also function as a sub to a General Contractor or General Engineering Contractor to continually do solar panel design and fabrication work on multiple projects over an extended period of time. 

General Contractors oversee that the solar subcontractor has executed their duties in adherence to code as well as to the specific requests of a client. Learn more about the General Contractor License.

What is the California Solar Initiative

The California Solar Initiative, more commonly known as Go Solar California is a state funded program that began in 2006 to offer cash incentives to home owners and businesses for switching to solar.  Getting the incentives is a pretty simple process, below are the steps are required:

  • 1
    Do an energy efficiency audit
  • 2
    Find a solar installer
  • 3
    Apply for rebates
  • 4
    Have your solar system installed
  • 5
    Claim your incentive
Logo for the california solar initiative. Known as go so california. The california solar initiative provides cash rebate incentives for homeowners and businesses that switch to solar

The California Solar Initiative, more commonly known as Go Solar California is a state funded program that began in 2006 to offer cash incentives to home owners and businesses for switching to solar

Customers of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) are all eligible to apply. For more information on the California Solar Initiative, check out their website.

Can a general contractor install solar in California?

No. A general contractor may not install solar in California. A general contractor may bid on a construction or remodel project that includes solar panel installation but the actual duties of installing or repairing solar panels must be performed by a contractor that holds the C-46 license. Learn more about the Contractor LAW.

The CSLB

Logo of the contractors state license board. The governing body for contractors in the state of california. Logo has an illustration in blue of a paint brush, saw and cement truck with the letters CSLB above

The contractors state license board is the governing agency for contractors in the state of california

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California. Their sole responsibility is to protect the consumer public and ensure that anyone charging over $500 for construction services is qualified and registered with the state of California.

The C-46 license is issued to contractors by the CSLB. The CSLB administers applications, exams, and maintains a database of all active and inactive contractor license numbers which are public domain.

EPA Certification

When making alterations to a structure built before 1978 solar contractors must know how to contain lead paint if it is present. Knowing the correct processes and procedures required by the Environmental Protection Agency is critical for those looking to get the C-46 license.

Lead paint can travel miles through the air, rest on soil, and even enter air ducts causing potentially fatal damage to those that come in contact with it. Solar contractors looking to build a profitable business must position themselves as experts and the authority within their industry. Contractors must be a source of information for their clients and community if they want referrals and repeat business. Learn more about the EPA Certification for Lead Safety

It is critical for solar contractors to be able to follow specific designs and symbols on construction blueprints when making alterations to a structure. Construction blueprints communicate important information about how a structure has been built as well as what materials are necessary or have been used for its construction.

Being comfortable with construction blueprints is an invaluable skill for all tradesman but is especially important for those looking to get the C-46 license. For a Basic Blueprint Reading Course.

4 construction workers analyzing a construction blueprint on a table that has other tools, plans and architect scales

Being comfortable with construction blueprints is an invaluable skill for all tradesman but is especially important for those looking to get the C-46 license

How to get the C-46 License

To get a C-46 license in California, you must prove a minimum of 4 years journeyman level experience and pass a two part state exam with the Contractor State License Board. To qualify for an exam date you must meet the the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
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    Not Currently be on probation or parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Qualifying Individual to sign off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation

What is a Journey level experience?

A construction worker wearing blue overalls and a white tee shirt, and white hard hat. He is outside standing on top of a solar panel using a drill to tighten one of the panels. Journey level experience is required to get the C46 license

Journey level experience is gained working un-supervised full time performing all the duties associated with a construction trade

Journey level experience is gained working unsupervised full time for either a solar company, general contractor, union, or directly under someone that holds the C-46 license. Some Journeyman level tradesman have also completed apprenticeship programs.

A Journeyman level tradesman can perform all the duties associated with his or her trade. The state will want to see 4 full-time years experience within the last 10 years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be 4 years in total.

Signature of a Qualifying Individual

The following people may be used as Qualifying Individuals to sign off on your experience when applying for the C-46 license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-46 License Holder
  • Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
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    Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
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    Business Associate
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    Fellow Journeyman
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    Union Representative

Filling out the C-46 License Application

  • Your Qualifying Individual will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skillset. The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted. For example:

“Jeff has repaired solar panels” is not descriptive enough.

 The CSLB will want to see something like: "Jeff has installed, modified, maintained and repaired solar and photovoltaic systems".

Proving Your Solar Experience

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have. The Contractors State License Board gives you a few ways that you can prove your experience.

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts
A house made of brown bring with eight dark blue solar panels on the roof. The contractors state license board may request to see documentation of your solar installation experience

You may be asked to prove your solar experience

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something. 

The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.

Application Processing, Fees and Criminal History

The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year. Typically you can expect:

  • 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
  • 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date

I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and some where they got their test date much later.

The most common reasons your application would get held up are:

  1. Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays) 
  2. Criminal History 
  3. Proving Experience
  4. Mistakes on your application 

Application costs for the Solar License

The Current CSLB fees are: 

Can you get a Contractors License with a Felony in California?

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-46 License. I have personally helped guys with all types of criminal records obtain multiple licenses. The key is to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting. The CSLB handles criminal records on a case by case basis. Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public. In my experience, they primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with: Fraud, Embezzlement or Forgery

The C-46 License Exam

The exam will be:

  • 115 Questions on Contractor LAW
  • 115 Questions on Solar
  • You will have 3 hours to complete each portion
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    The exam is multiple choice and is taken on a computer
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    Closed Book

The Solar (C-46 license) Examination is divided into six major sections:

1. Planning and Estimating (21%)

  • Evaluate client needs and site feasibility
  • Design and engineer systems
  • Interpret plans
  • Estimate job costs

2. Solar Collector Installation (15%)

  • Install roof mount collectors
  • Install ground mount collectors
  • Make weatherproof penetrations

3. Solar Thermal Installation (9%)

  • Install hot water systems
  • Install pool heating systems

4. Photovoltaic (PV) System Installation and Commissioning (22%)

  • Install basic PV systems
  • Install energy storage systems (ESS)
  • Interface with the utility grid
  • Install stand-alone PV systems
  • Label PV components
  • System testing, configuration, and monitoring; educating the client

5. Service and Maintenance (18%)

  • Evaluate PV systems
  • Evaluate thermal systems
  • Repair and replace components

6. Safety (15%)

  • Protect the public from safety hazards
  • Identify and correct unsafe working conditions
  • Handle hazardous materials

CSLB Test Locations

Currently there are CSLB testing locations in the following cities:

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego

 The state exam is not available online. You are allowed to bring a pre-approved translator with you. The CSLB will grant you 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations. You must wait three weeks before retaking the state exam ( $60 per retake ) A 70% score will be required to pass. Learn more about the Contractor LAW Exam

C-46 License Practice tests and Study Guides

Two construction workers one wearing a suite and a hard hat and the other wearing a yellow construction body suit holding construction plans. They are outside standing in front of a large solar panel system pointing into the distance

Know all aspects of your trade

Some things to remember:

  • The questions you will see on the exam may use outdated terms
  • Processes may be completely different from how things are done on the job site
  • You will see questions about things you may have never done before
  • Questions will be presented to you as if you are running a large scale construction business with several employees and jobs happening all at once. 
  • Know all aspects of your trade

Being prepared is the most important thing you can do in ensuring your success on the contractor license exam. Studying C-46 license practice tests a long with explanations and diagrams for as little as 10 minutes a day is a small investment to make, but will increase your likelihood of success. Be sure to read this before choosing a Contractor License School.

Solar Training

If you don’t have the 4 years required journeyman level experience to obtain a C-46 license, your journey begins here. The solar industry offers unlimited income opportunity.

Whether you are brand new or may have worked for a solar company in the past there are books, certification classes, and courses are available in most cities and online to get you up to speed.

Finding a solar apprenticeship would be a good first step. Getting hired by a solar contractor would be your next step. 

A white house with a red roof. There are scaffolds surrounding the exterior and a large solar panel system on the roof

An apprenticeship is an excellent first step in beginning a career in the solar industry

For a detailed explanation on this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman.

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