This article provides a quick guide on how to compare solar companies using five key factors. It also includes our top 3 options depending on the type of solar installation you need.
Solar energy is booming in the United States. In the last 10 years, solar has enjoyed an average growth of 42% a year thanks to declining costs, federal tax credits, higher energy costs, and a demand for clean energy. However, there are also more than 10,000 solar companies in the United States, so it can be challenging to compare solar panel companies and have confidence you found a good deal.
Best solar company 2021
How to compare solar companies
The United States residential solar industry is highly competitive, so there are probably several companies competing for your business in your area. Do your homework before you make your choice.
Here are five factors to consider when comparing solar panel companies.
If you’re like most homeowners, price is one of the top considerations when comparing solar panel installers. The good news is the cost of installing solar panels has fallen by more than 70% in the last 10 years. However, don’t assume the first company you check will have the best deal. The terms and conditions that solar companies offer vary depending on the firm and technology used. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples when checking quotes. For example, a cheaper installation may provide a lower energy output and save you less on your electricity bill. So, you need to check the fine print when calculating the overall cost and the savings you will receive over time.
How much can you save by going solar?
It’s smart to do your homework and carry out a background check on the solar company you plan to use before you commit. Request references and look up how long they have been in business.
Look for companies with as much experience as possible. Solar companies that have been in business for many years are preferable for two reasons. They are more likely to have the technical expertise and still be in business if you need warranty service years or decades in the future.
Every time you get a quote, check the company is licensed and insured. Go to your state’s consumer protection office and make sure they are in good standing. It is also a good idea to find out if they are members of solar energy trade associations, such as the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
Choosing the right technology and installation technique is crucial when it comes to saving money over the long run. It will also affect the curb appeal of your solar panel installation. The cheaper prices of conventional solar systems are attractive. However, you can double the power you generate and extend your battery life if you choose higher-end equipment, such as solid copper solar cells and lithium iron phosphate batteries.
High-efficiency solar panels also require a smaller footprint, which saves on maintenance and installation costs. It’s also preferable to choose solar energy companies that provide an integrated solar panel and storage solution designed and guaranteed by the same company.
When comparing quotes, check what mounting system solar installation companies use. Providers that use mounting hardware that is designed specifically for the solar panels used are preferable to solar installers that mix and match mounting systems based on price and availability.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the materials and products your solar installer will use — quality matters. For example, ask what type of wire management they plan to use when you get a quote. Anodized metal clips are more likely to secure your investment than plastic ties.
Make sure the solar companies on your shortlist provide a solid warranty. Ideally, your solar energy system will work flawlessly for decades. But if something goes wrong, you want a long-term warranty to fall back on. Look for companies that provide long (25 years) warranties that include labor, equipment, and performance assurances. Performance assurances guarantee your solar system will continue to perform throughout its lifetime. Look for warranties that cover 100% of the repair and replacement costs (including labor, shipping, and parts), and that guarantees their solar system’s output will not decline by more than 10% after 25 years.
Read the fine print and check for expensive loopholes in warranties. For example, ask whether you have to pay to ship the defective and new panels. Some companies use products from multiple manufacturers, which means you may be responsible for contacting several companies when there is a problem. Whenever possible, go with solar companies that manufacture and install their products since this will simplify everything when it comes to making a warranty claim.
Also, ask if there are exceptions to the warranty. For instance, some warranties will not cover installations on homes near the sea or solar panels in the shade.
Best solar companies of 2021
Here are our top three options for the best solar companies in the industry based on the type of solar system you are looking for.
Best overall solar company: SunPower
SunPower is our top choice for residential solar energy systems. It is a publicly traded company that has been in business since 1985, which makes it the only major U.S. solar company that has been around longer than its 25-year warranty. The company has more than 1,300 employees and over 14,000 dealer employees working in 40 states.
SunPower has one of the highest solar panel efficiency rates in the industry (22.7%) and one of the lowest degradation rates (92%). That means your solar installation should not drop by more than 8% after 25 years. SunPower panels provide more energy, which means they require a smaller footprint. That leaves you more room for future expansion if needed.
We like that it designs and installs an integrated solar panel and storage solution. It also has the best warranty we have seen, which backs the entire system. The warranty offers 25 years of protection for everything on the roof (including labor, parts, and shipping) and 10 years for everything that isn’t on your roof, such as storage and monitoring hardware.
Best for DIY aficionados: Grape Solar
Grape Solar was founded in Eugene, Oregon, in 2009. It is one of the leading retail providers of DIY solar installation kits and portable solar panels and provides an affordable and convenient option for DIY homeowners. What differentiates Grape Solar from other manufacturers is that you can buy their products at places like Costco, Amazon, or Home Depot, as well as through their network of dealers and installation companies.
You can buy Grape Solar mounting systems, solar panels, and inverters straight off the shelf at very competitive prices, which is great for homeowners who prefer to do their own installations. It has more than 100,000 customers, and its solar energy systems generate 78,000 megawatts a year.
However, their warranties are a mixed bag. Their kits only offer a five-year warranty on materials and labor, which is competitive for DIY installations, but well below the 15 to 25 years guarantee that most solar panel installation companies offer. However, they offer a 10-year 90% and a 25-year 80% power output assurance.
Installing your own solar panel installation will be appealing to many. However, check what permits and assessments are required in your area before you make a decision. Remember you will be responsible for designing and assessing the needs of your setup. You will also need a certified electrician to sign off on your system if you plan to hook it up to the grid.
Best for RVs and the outdoors: Renogy
If you are looking for a solar company to power a campsite or RV, Renogy provides great value. It specializes in compact, durable, and flexible solar systems for people who love the outdoors and are serious about being off-the-grid. Renogy products are also a good option for cabins and tiny homes.
Renogy started in 2010 as a small project by students at Louisiana State University supported by the Louisiana Business and Technology Center. It’s still a small company (around 50 employees). However, it is a solid option for consumers looking for an integrated off-grid power supply that is affordable and easy to install.
Investing in a solar energy system is often a smart financial move for homeowners who plan to stay in their homes for several years since it pays itself in lower utility bills and increases your property’s value. However, not all solar energy companies are made equal. Price should be an important factor when comparing solar companies, but it’s not the only one. Experience, credentials, technology, and warranties are also important factors to consider.
We found that SunPower provides the best value if you live in one of the 43 states where they operate. Homeowners who want to do their own installation or who are looking for an campsite, RV, or tiny house installation should consider other companies, such as Grape Solar and Renogy.
Andrew is the managing editor for SuperMoney and a certified personal finance counselor. He loves to geek out on financial data and translate it into actionable insights everyone can understand. His work is often cited by major publications and institutions, such as Forbes, U.S. News, Fox Business, SFGate, Realtor, Deloitte, and Business Insider.