While solar panels are still on the pricey side, they’re beginning to come down in cost, and their quality is increasing. Having a solar array installed is among the best ways for homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint, but this is a job for a specialist—an average building contractor typically isn’t well versed in installing or repairing solar panels.
Homeowners often have a general idea of what they’d like to accomplish by installing a solar array, but not understanding the technical aspects behind going solar can keep them from realizing their dreams. That’s where the best solar companies come in. They can give homeowners accurate estimates of the installation cost, explain how much power the new panels will generate, and even detail how much a solar array is likely to reduce their utility bills. Learn what to look for when selecting a solar company and why the following solar companies earned a spot in this lineup.
- BEST OVERALL: SunPower
- RUNNER-UP: Sunpro Solar
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Tesla
- BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE: Momentum Solar
- ALSO CONSIDER: Palmetto
What to Consider When Choosing One of the Best Solar Companies
For the best power-generating results, solar panels should be installed where they receive plenty of direct sunlight. But this factor varies depending on the home’s location, whether the yard has large trees, and the type and efficiency of the panels. Before choosing a solar company, it pays to consider vital factors that will affect both efficiency and cost.
Home Location and Roof Type
When installing solar panels, location is critical. In regions in the far northern U.S., short winter days may not provide sufficient sunlight to balance out the cost of having a solar array installed.
Location isn’t limited to the general area; it also pertains to whether tall trees or buildings will block the sun’s rays for a substantial part of the day. In addition, roof type is a consideration. A roof with a slope that faces south is optimal for installing solar panels, but the roof structure on some homes may not be structurally sound enough to support a solar array. The installer may need to modify the roof or install the panels on a freestanding ground unit rather than on the roof.
Type of Panels
Solar panels all generate electricity, but they do it differently. The two main types of solar panels are photovoltaic and thermal, and within those categories are a few more or less common varieties.
- Photovoltaic: The most common solar panel installed today, photovoltaic panels incorporate solar cells that convert sunlight to electrical power. Those looking to power a large percentage of their home’s energy needs will typically have photovoltaic panels installed.
- Thermal: Not as common but still useful, solar thermal panels incorporate mirrors that reflect and concentrate the sun’s rays to create electricity. Thermal solar technology is more likely to be used for small energy purposes, such as powering a solar floodlight.
- Monocrystalline: Produced from a single (mono) silicon crystal, these panels are dark black in color. They’re long lasting and compact, but they’re among the most expensive. They come with efficiency ratings of 20 to 25 percent (see “Efficiency and Performance” below). They are considered to be among the best solar panels for home use.
- Polycrystalline: These solar panels are less expensive because they’re made from silicon fragments rather than a large silicon crystal. They’re more affordable than monocrystalline but not as efficient. They range in efficiency from about 15 to 17 percent.
- PERC: The acronym stands for Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell, and it’s a new technology that improves the efficiency of monocrystalline panels. The highest efficiency of all, PERC panels can be up to 5 percent more efficient than traditional monocrystalline panels.
- Thin-film: Not quite as efficient as other types of panels, thin-film panels do not contain pricey crystalline silicon, which makes them more affordable. Depending on the quality of the individual panel, it will typically range from 6 to 15 percent efficiency.
On-Grid vs. Off-Grid
Homeowners can install a stand-alone, off-grid solar array or an on-grid (also known as a grid-tie) array. Both come with a few benefits and considerations.
An off-grid solar array is the best choice for those who want to be completely energy independent. It allows the user to generate all their electricity, and if a storm results in a municipal power outage, an off-grid system will continue to operate. Excess power is usually stored in large batteries, which can be thought of as renewable energy stocks, to help supplement electricity when it’s cloudy. However, if the off-grid system isn’t generating due to cloudy weather and battery stores are depleted, there is no alternate source of electricity.
Many homeowners opt for a grid-tie system because they can usually sell the excess energy back to the utility company (called net metering). If it’s cloudy, their home can draw power from the utility. However, if the utility company experiences an outage, a grid-tied system immediately shuts down. This is for safety reasons: It would not be safe for a lineman to work on a downed power line if someone’s home solar array was sending electricity into the line. Those who have grid-tie systems can minimize outages by installing batteries from which to draw electricity during an outage.
Efficiency and Performance
Solar panels are becoming more efficient as manufacturers incorporate better technology, but how can consumers judge whether a specific panel is better than another? It’s all about percentages. The majority of solar panels have efficiency ratings of 15 to 20 percent. When the sun’s rays hit the panel, it will convert from 15 to 20 percent of the sun’s energy into electrical power.
A few high-efficiency solar panels are up to 25 percent efficient, but for the most part, the top efficiency available today is about 22.5 percent. Cutting-edge scientists are working on methods to increase solar panel efficiency all the time, and lab tests show panels available in the future could be up to 40 percent efficient.
Manufacturers vs. Installers
Many solar companies are certified to install one or more brands of solar panels, while a few solar companies both manufacture and install solar panels. The difference may not be significant to some consumers, especially those looking to get good deals on panel installation, but it often factors into the installation company’s guarantee. Companies that both make and install solar arrays are usually more likely to stand behind their product, benefiting consumers. On the flip side, a company that installs panels but doesn’t make them may require the customer to contact the manufacturer directly for warranty work.
Many solar installation companies are located in larger metropolises. Still, with the growing popularity of this energy-saving product, more and more companies are setting up shop in rural areas. A company’s service area will vary, but many will consider anywhere within a 30-minute commute from its home office to be in its area. Those living outside the company’s service area may pay an additional travel fee to have the company come out and install a solar array.
Most solar energy companies offer a free consultation. This includes but is not limited to analyzing and evaluating the home’s location and determining the amount of direct sunlight it would receive. As part of the process, the company will often recommend a specific type of solar panel array. It should be able to give the homeowner an estimate of how much they stand to save on their current utility bill.
Pricing and Financing
In general, the cost to have solar panels installed ranges from around $17,000 to $31,000, or more, depending on the number of panels required and their efficiency ratings. Most homeowners will pay an average of around $24,000.
Financing may be available through the solar company or a private lender. Homeowners may want to consider that a private lender will often want the homeowner to take out a second mortgage on their residence to secure the loan.
Some homeowners find leasing solar panels to be a reasonable alternative. This allows the homeowner to reduce their carbon footprint while the leasing company owns the panels. Leases can last anywhere from 5 to 25 years, but depending on the lease payments, the homeowner may not realize much of savings on their utility bill.
In many communities, a permit is necessary to have solar panels installed. The cost of a permit varies, but the installer will usually factor it into the installation price. In addition, the installer will take the steps necessary to pull the permit.
The homeowner lets the local building authority know they intend to install solar panels by obtaining a permit. The building authority will often send out an inspector to examine the panels, batteries, and wiring installation before giving the installer the green light to turn on the system.
The initial consultation and obtaining the permit are the first two steps in the solar panel installation process. Once those are complete, the installer can order the panels and any other equipment that will be necessary.
The physical installation is an exciting process, and the installer will make any modifications necessary to the roof to support the array. Next, the wiring system will be installed, and the panels will be mounted and connected to the system.
The final process of switching the new system on may have to wait until an inspector checks everything out. The installer typically notifies the inspector ahead of time, so there’s little downtime between the final installation and turning the system on.
In the solar panel industry, a limited 25-year guarantee is typical. This includes repairing the panels or replacing components that fail due to factory defects and installation errors. But be careful because not all warranties are as generous. Some cover only the cost of replacement parts, leaving the homeowner on the hook to pay the repair technicians. Others guarantee specific aspects of the system for shorter durations. For example, a company may offer a 25-year warranty on panel performance but only guarantee the inverter for half that length of time.
Rebates and Tax Incentives
The federal government offered a 30-percent tax credit for the years up to (and including) 2019, but that credit has since been diminishing. A tax credit means a percentage of what the homeowner spends on solar panels can be deducted from the amount of income they claim. When the tax credit was 30 percent—if the solar panels cost $10,000—the homeowner could reduce their income tax liability by $3,000, or 30 percent of $10,000. Through 2022, the tax credit will be 26 percent, and by 2023, it will drop to 22 percent. In 2024, the federal tax credit expires unless Congress takes steps to extend it.
Additionally, states and local communities may offer tax incentives, or solar companies and manufacturers may offer rebates, but this changes frequently. The solar company installer is usually the best source for up-to-date rebates and tax information.
Buying a solar array is a pricey prospect, and if something goes wrong, it’s good to know the solar company is there to handle the problem promptly. Virtually all solar companies have a call-in customer service number, and many have an emergency number for after-hours calls. Still others offer online consultations via chat or email, and some provide interactive troubleshooting to help the homeowner figure out the problem and schedule repairs (if needed). The more options a company offers, the higher the customer satisfaction in most cases.
Our Top Picks
We extensively researched dozens of solar companies that offer or multistate solar installation services for this roundup. The following companies were chosen on various aspects, including their service area, the type of solar panels they install, whether they offer financing, and client satisfaction.
Why It Made the Cut: SunPower is a national solar company that manufacturers and installs and services solar arrays in all 50 states—plus, investors consider it to be among the best solar stocks around.
When considering solar, homeowners might inquire, “Are there solar companies near me?” With SunPower, the answer is likely to be yes. That’s because this national company has branches in all 50 states. The company both manufactures and sells monocrystalline solar panel arrays. And it offers a wide range of online services, including a design studio, where potential clients can see what a solar array would look like on their own homes. Plus, it features an estimation service that calculates how much customers are likely to save on utility bills. The company’s panels are among the most efficient on the market, with ratings up to 22.8 percent. For those who want to find out more about going solar without having to visit a showroom or have a consultant come out, SunPower also provides virtual consultation where the homeowner can interact with a solar pro to get all their questions answered. The equipment is certified bronze by Cradle to Cradle, a high third-party standard of sustainability, meaning this is an excellent option for homeowners interested in solar for environmental benefits.
- Type of panels: Maxeon monocrystalline
- Service area: 50 states and Washington, D.C.
- Financing available: Lease, loan
- Guarantee: 25-year complete system warranty
- Customer support: Phone
- 22.8 percent efficiency rate
- Equipment is certified bronze by Cradle to Cradle
- Online design studio feature
- Nationwide availability
- Prices are relatively high
Why It Made the Cut: Sunpro Solar is another top solar company operating in 21 states with a price-match guarantee to get customers the best price on their solar system.
Sunpro Solar is a growing company currently operating in 21 states. Sunpro Solar offers free home-energy audits so customers can learn exactly where their power usage is going and how to save money. The company provides a competitive price-match guarantee where it will not only meet a competitor’s price but also include an additional monetary incentive for customers who choose Sunpro Solar. Sunpro Solar installs LG monocrystalline panels, which have won industry awards for efficiency and innovation for the past 2 years. Customers interested in power storage options can select from multiple sizes of Enphase and Tesla batteries—the most popular brands available—to get the battery system that works best for their home.
- Type of panels: LG monocrystalline
- Service area: 21 states
- Financing available: Lease, loan
- Guarantee: 25-year guarantee on labor, power production, panel module performance, and microinverters
- Customer support: Phone, email
- Flexible power storage options
- Price-match guarantee
- Award-winning LG panels
- Free home-energy audits
- Warranty information on battery is not readily available on website
Why It Made the Cut: Tesla manufactures, sells, and installs monocrystalline solar panels—and the prices are surprisingly affordable.
Everyone’s heard of Tesla, and that’s a good thing when it comes to solar panels. While customers may be most familiar with the company’s pricey electric cars, they may be surprised to hear that the cost of Tesla’s solar panels falls below the national average price per watt. The company also offers a price-match guarantee, and customers can easily obtain an online instant quote without scheduling a consultation. Tesla sells and installs its solar products in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. Interested homeowners should be aware that many customers have experienced installation delays and customer support that’s difficult to get in touch with, but these issues seem to be improving.
Tesla offers solar panels and roofing tiles that are designed to be attractive and nonintrusive, so they won’t make the roof stick out like a sore thumb. The company doesn’t offer a leasing option, but it offers 120-month loans starting at a 3.65 percent interest rate. Users can receive online quotes for solar arrays.
- Type of panels: Tesla monocrystalline
- Service area: 50 states and Washington, D.C.
- Financing available: Loan
- Guarantee: 25-year performance guarantee, 12.5-year inverter warranty
- Customer support: Live chat
- Relatively affordable equipment
- Price-match guarantee
- Instant online quotes
- Nationwide availability
- Reports of poor customer service experience
- No solar leasing option
Why It Made the Cut: Going solar is an investment in a home’s energy independence, but it can be confusing. Luckily, Momentum Solar company takes the guesswork out of going green.
Momentum Solar is available in 10 states and rapidly expanding, and the company is all about ensuring its customers receive the best service around. Momentum’s unique “concierge” service means that customers interact with one representative throughout the entire process, eliminating any miscommunication that might arise when interacting with a different representative every step of the way. Momentum is licensed to install multiple brands of solar panels, so customers have options, making the company more flexible in meeting the needs of homeowners. While the website offers somewhat limited information, customers can take advantage of this stellar customer support experience to contact the company directly with any questions. Momentum also offers battery storage, but only in select states, so customers interested in off-grid power solutions should verify that they can have power storage installed along with solar panels. For homeowners who prioritize the customer experience, it’s worth getting a quote from Momentum.
- Type of panels: Monocrystalline (various manufacturers)
- Service area: 10 states
- Financing available: Lease, loan
- Guarantee: 25-year equipment and labor warranty
- Customer support: Phone, email
- “Concierge” service offered
- Multiple solar panel brands available
- Somewhat limited information available on website
- Battery storage not available for all customers
Why It Made the Cut: Palmetto has branches in 24 states, and it offers services from installation to lifetime panel maintenance.
For customers who are concerned about solar panels’ ongoing maintenance, not only does the company install solar energy systems, but it also offers relevant maintenance services like panel cleaning, pest control, and roof repairs. Customers can also sign up for Palmetto Protect. This tiered subscription service ranges from the Free package, which includes energy monitoring, to the Premium package that includes annual panel cleaning and on-site inspections.
Palmetto installs Q-Cells and REC monocrystalline panels, which are well-regarded products in the industry. Customers interested in solar batteries should keep in mind that the battery Palmetto installs is not weather rated, so it will need to go in a garage or under cover to keep it protected from the elements. There’s no information about financing readily available on Palmetto’s website, but customers can reach out to a representative by phone, email, or live chat.
- Type of panels: Q-Cells or REC monocrystalline
- Service area: 24 states
- Financing available: Not specified
- Guarantee: 25-year product warranty
- Customer support: Live chat, phone, email
- Palmetto Protect and panel maintenance services available
- Customer support conveniently available through live chat, phone, and email
- Financing information not readily available on website
- Battery is not weather rated
While any of the solar companies that earned a spot on this lineup are good choices for installing solar panels, our top pick, SunPower, ticks all the boxes with its nationwide service area, financing options, and 25-year complete warranty. Runner-up Sunpro Solar is quickly expanding across the country, and it prides itself on its customer service and financing plans.
How We Chose the Best Solar Companies
We looked at dozens of solar companies to find the top picks. We considered various factors, including a company’s coverage area, whether it offered a comprehensive warranty, and customer satisfaction. The companies that made this list all offer monocrystalline panels, which are the most efficient on the market, meaning customers will receive a better return on investment. We also looked for companies with flexible financing options to make this investment more digestible.
Before You Use One of the Best Solar Companies
Not every home is suitable for solar panel installation. Some roofs (and yards) simply don’t receive adequate direct sunlight to make the investment in solar panels feasible, which must be considered.
Homeowners deserve a warning about solar panel companies that come to town, leave flyers on doors or on car windshields, and make a lot of promises. While this marketing tactic alone shouldn’t discourage anyone from hiring a new solar company, homeowners should do their due diligence and research the company first. Homeowners can ask for a list of references and contact them. Customers shouldn’t pay the company before the job is completed. They will also want to contact the local building authority to see if the company is licensed to do business in the area.
Cost of Using One of the Best Solar Companies
Having solar panels professionally installed is an investment in a home and the environment, but it’s costly for most families. A typical price range is around $17,000 to $31,000, with $24,000 being the national average.
Many things can affect the final cost of solar panels, including the steepness of the roof slope, the quality of the panels, and whether a grid-tie or stand-alone system is installed. Those who do not live within a solar company’s immediate service coverage area will likely pay an additional travel fee. Many companies offer financing options, including leases and loans, to make this investment more affordable.
The Advantages of Using One of the Best Solar Companies
Installing solar panels—unless it’s in a limited capacity, such as a panel that operates a well or gate-opener—is a job for a qualified pro. Unfortunately, many fly-by-night solar installers are around that take advantage of a trusting homeowner. Hiring a reputable solar company, such as those in this lineup, comes with some distinct benefits, including:
- The peace of mind that comes with knowing a reputable company will be doing the work.
- Full service, including designing a plan, filing the paperwork, pulling the permit, and installing the panels.
- Long-term guarantees on materials, performance, and workmanship.
Many homeowners want to go solar, but the high cost is a consideration despite investors’ increasing interest in buying solar stocks. The good news is that solar panel technology is growing while the expenses are dropping (slightly). Those seriously thinking about taking this eco-friendly step will likely have some questions about solar panels.
Q. Do solar companies service the equipment for free?
Some do—at least for an introductory period. After that, most companies will perform routine service for a small fee but will provide repairs at no cost for the warranty duration.
Q. Do solar companies charge a subscription fee?
If the customer purchases the panels, no. However, solar companies that offer leases may charge a monthly fee.
Q. Do solar companies offer a free consultation?
Almost all solar companies are happy to provide a free consultation that will help assess the location, roof needs, budget, and owner desires.
Q. Do all solar companies offer the same efficiency rate?
No. Some solar companies install high-efficiency panels, while others install various panels with different efficiency levels. Investment in solar power stocks has become increasingly popular over the past decade, and that’s likely to boost the efficiency of solar panels in the future.
Q. What is the efficiency rate of a solar panel system?
The efficiency rate applies to the percentage of the sun’s rays the panel transforms into usable energy. Currently, an efficiency rate of around 22.5 percent is about as much as most panels provide.
Q. Can I install a solar system on my own?
Probably not, unless it’s for limited use, such as for an outdoor water pump. Solar panel installation in homes requires knowledge of wiring and electrical currents. Plus, most community building codes require a licensed electrician to make the connections.
Q. How do I know if my house is suitable for solar panels?
The easiest way is to call a reputable solar company and ask for a free consultation.
Q. How often do I need to replace my solar panels?
Solar panels last 25 to 40 years, depending on the brand and quality. However, because the technology is increasing rapidly, homeowners may find that solar panels in 15 years are so much more efficient than their current ones that it’s worth swapping them out.