The event was held at a home at 2061 Magnolia Way in Walnut Creek, where residents received a rebate check for $1,140, said John Reed, spokesman for Berkeley's Sun Light & Power company.
Company founder Gary Gerber said he expects the program to create huge growth in the solar water heater industry and to have a major impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
Residential customers who replace natural gas water heaters with solar water heaters will be eligible for rebates of up to $1,875. Commercial and multi-family units will be eligible for up to $500,000 in incentives, according to Sun Light & Power.
Customers who replace electric water heaters will be eligible for smaller rebates: up to $1,262 for single-family homes and up to $250,000 in incentives for commercial or multi-family units.
Customers who install solar water heaters will also be eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit.
Gerber said he believes the combination of the tax credit and the rebate will make it possible for more people to have solar water heaters in their homes and businesses.
He estimated that a solar water heater at a single-family home could save about $1,000 a year in gas bills, or more depending on the size of the system.