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.
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:
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:
- Ground Mounts
- Racking Systems
- Roof Saws
- Central Inverters
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
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:
- 1Do an energy efficiency audit
- 2Find a solar installer
- 3Apply for rebates
- 4Have your solar system installed
- 5Claim your incentive
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 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.
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.
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:
You must also have:
What is a Journey level experience?
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:
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
- Material Order Invoices or Receipts
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:
- Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays)
- Criminal History
- Proving Experience
- 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:
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:
- San Jose
- 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
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.
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.
For a detailed explanation on this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman.