The Best Solar Companies: Ultimate Guide
The solar industry is complex and hard to understand, making it tough for homeowners to choose the best solar companies. Installing solar panels can be an intimidating process with so many different companies and technical terms to learn!
Each sector of the solar industry differs substantially from the others, so most solar companies specialize in just one or two business areas.
The Best Solar Energy Companies Work Together
Whether you’re looking for the best solar panel manufacturer, solar financing company, or solar installation contractor, it’s hard to decide what company is best. Our comprehensive guide is here to help! Knowing how they work together allows you to pick and choose the best one for each task.
We’ve compiled a list of the most reputable companies in each category so you’ll know which one to turn to with any questions or concerns you might have. Avoid the 7 biggest mistakes when going solar by doing your research before signing a contract.
What Does Each Solar Company Do?
We’ll demystify the entire process of going solar, detailing exactly what each company does and how they work together so your solar installation project can go smoothly from start to finish!
Let this ultimate guide be your go-to resource for everything related to solar installations. It’s easy to navigate and has plenty of visuals that break down complicated concepts into bite-sized pieces anyone can understand.
How Many Solar Companies Are There?
The industry has hundreds of solar companies, so knowing which ones are the best requires in-depth knowledge or time-consuming research.
When you call your solar installation company with a question, they may direct you to another company to get the answer, and that’s when you realize there are other companies involved in your project.
Only one solar company does all parts of a solar project, so you’ll call them directly no matter what goes wrong. Keep reading to see which company it is.
Types Of Solar Companies
There are different categories of solar companies, and we will go into greater detail about each. All of them have sales integrated into them, either consumer, business-facing or both.
The types of solar companies are:
- Equipment manufacturing companies that make solar panels, inverters, and batteries
- Solar equipment wholesalers, distributors, and suppliers
- National solar companies that cover two or more of these categories, including sales
- Finance companies
- Solar panel installation companies. Most have a sales team, but not all do
Solar Equipment Manufacturers
Residential solar equipment manufacturers do research and development to create better solar products, and then they manufacture and ship them to distributors. Their work is key to the solar supply chain, pricing matrix, and cutting-edge technology in the industry.
Solar cells, solar panels, solar inverters, backup batteries, and monitoring are the major components of a solar system. Several companies manufacture these components, but only a few are worth working with.
Top Solar Panel Manufacturers
The top solar panel manufacturers create high-efficiency solar cells and assemble them into attractive and durable panels that produce energy for decades without breaking down.
The best of these solar companies create high-efficiency photovoltaic cells, produce then test their solar panels, and guarantee them with 25-year warranties. Some also cover labor and shipping costs if anything should break down over time which shows their confidence in the product.
Companies vying for market share always push the limits of technology to create more efficient panels with less degradation over time. They offer robust warranties and find ways to lower the price point.
Premium vs Standard Solar Panels
Premium panels aren’t that much more expensive than standard panels. Their comprehensive warranties and best-in-class performance are well worth it, especially when solar pays for itself!
Many budget-friendly models are on the market, most of which are manufactured in China or nearby countries. Their efficiency and degradation ratings aren’t as good as the premium solar panels, but they are viable options if you’re focused on price.
Keep in mind that solar pays for itself over time, so the big picture is less about today’s price and more about your 25-year return on investment.
Who Are The Best Solar Panel Companies?
The best solar panel companies on our list manufacture high-efficiency solar panels with low degradation, high-temperature tolerance, and rugged durability. They offer comprehensive panel warranties for both performance and materials, standing behind their products. All manufacture other solar products in addition to solar panels.
The Best Solar Panel Manufacturers:
- LG Solar
Sunpower – The One That Does It All
SunPower is the only solar panel company that manufactures solar panels and installs them on your roof. You read that right… a SunPower certified installation team can install your solar! This allows them to control quality from beginning to end.
A unique solar company that is the most vertically integrated, only SunPower dealers can sell the ultra-premium A-series panels, as they are unavailable through distributors and wholesalers.
The basic building block for Sunpower solar panels is the Maxeon solar cell, a highly durable copper-backed cell designed to resist corrosion and produce more electricity over time.
SunPower recently spun off its solar panel manufacturing division. It’s called “Maxeon”, named after their industry-leading patented Maxeon technology.
SunPower Maxeon panels are premium high-wattage solar panels. The 400-watt A-Series is guaranteed up to 22.7% efficiency, more than most other panels on the market today.
Their panels ship with factory-mounted microinverters, which maximize energy production by converting DC electricity into AC right on your roof. SunPower partnered with Enphase to create their proprietary SPWR-A4 microinverters.
25-Year Comprehensive System Warranty
SunPower’s 25-year warranty includes servicing all your solar energy system components, including shipping and labor to replace defective parts. One call covers it all! Although many companies offer service and product warranties, SunPower combines everything into one comprehensive, complete system warranty.
SunPower panels come bundled with the Sunpower Equinox System, a complete solar system that integrates all necessary components seamlessly and features a minimalist design.
LG Solar – Global Leader & Tech Innovator
LG is a household name that’s known for quality home appliances and electronics. You probably have something made by LG in your home. In the mid-1980s, LG began to explore solar technologies in its research division.
UPDATE! LG IS NO LONGER MANUFACTURING SOLAR PANELS AND IS RETIRING FROM THE SOLAR INDUSTRY. They promise to stand behind their warranty on the remaining products that are still on the market.
Today, LG Solar manufactures the Neon solar panel product line. There are 3 variations of LG Neon panels:
The LG Neon 2 series is a budget-friendly offering. Visible busbars cover the front of the solar panel, making them more prone to issues and less attractive. The degradation rate is relatively low, and they are guaranteed to produce 90.6% power after 25 years. The highest efficiency panel in the Neon 2 line hovers around 21%
LG Neon R series has no copper busbars on the front, making them more attractive and durable than the Neon 2. The degradation rate is an impressive 92.5% power after 25 years. Panel efficiency in the Neon R line reaches 22.1%
Neon R Prime
LG Neon R Prime has an extra row of cells (66 instead of 60 cells), making this panel slightly longer than the Neon R. Everything else is the same.
Finally, all 3 come with LG’s 25-Year Limited Product Warranty which covers up to $450 of labor costs. The enhanced performance warranty guarantees the power output over 25 years as noted above (90.6% and 92.5%, respectively)
LG Solar makes other solar power equipment, including solar backup batteries and microinverters that are factory-mounted on their AC modules.
The LG Chem battery has been widely installed and is a popular solar battery option. However, LG microinverters have not yet garnered widespread acceptance in the industry. In my experience, the monitoring hardware and software for their microinverters falls short of Enphase’s microinverters.
LG’s 400 plus watt series panels are higher priced than their other offerings, so one should compare it with SunPower when shopping for ultra-premium solar panels.
Panasonic – 100+ Years of Visionary Manufacturing
Panasonic’s mission is to create “a better life and a better world, continuously contributing to the evolution of society and the happiness of people around the globe.” They’ve contributed to lives for over 100 years, manufacturing cutting-edge devices as technology evolved for over a century.
Why Choose Panasonic Solar Panels Over LG?
Panasonic designs reliable and durable solar panels backed by innovation, experience, and rigorous testing.
Panasonic solar panels are uniquely designed to be weather-resistant and deliver best-in-industry performance and reliability you can depend on. In fact, their full system warranty is almost as good as SunPower’s.
Panasonic achieved industry-leading 20% efficiency with its HIT panels several years ago. Their newest line is the Evervolt series of panels and the EverVolt backup battery. EverVolt 380 watt solar panels have a 21.7% efficiency rate and one of the lowest degradation rates. Their warrantied power output of 92%, guaranteed by a 25-year warranty.
Speaking of warranties, their complete system warranties rival SunPower: The AllGuard and TripleGuard warranties cover many components of your system. You must use a Panasonic Premium Installer to get the warranties.
Panasonic Premium Installers
While they don’t install solar, they do have a network of high-quality installers that do. The installers provide their installation warranty, unlike Sunpower-installed solar power systems. Sunpower’s warranty also covers the installation.
Solar Inverter Manufacturers
Two manufacturers make the best solar inverters for residential systems: Enphase Micro-Inverters and SolarEdge hybrid inverters with power optimizers. There are pros and cons to both, and we do a deep dive in our article The Best Solar Inverter: Enphase or SolarEdge? and the Best Inverter for High Power Solar Panels.
A solar power inverter converts DC power from the panels into AC power for your home. That is to say inverters convert power so that you can use it. Micro-inverters can be factory mounted on solar panels, so both are covered under one warranty. Another perk is that they are factory tested before shipping out to your project.
Solar Equipment Distributors
The solar equipment distributors are middlemen who supply and ship components like solar panels, inverters, batteries, racking systems, monitors, and other necessary supplies to solar installers.
The wholesalers receive equipment in bulk from manufacturers like LG and Panasonic, then deliver materials for each job to solar installers. Manufacturers do not ship materials directly except for SunPower who has a different business model.
4 Steps Of The Solar Supply Chain
Creates solar equipment: solar panels, inverters, batteries, racking, etc.
Intermediary between the equipment manufacturer and the solar installer
Designs, procures, and installs solar to relevant jurisdiction standards
Qualifies and lends solar contract funding for the homeowner’s project
You Might Get A Pre-Lien Notice
If you’re shopping for solar, it’s helpful to know which distributor your installer uses since they can place a lien on your home if materials aren’t paid for. Most installers buy on a credit account, so you may receive a pre-lien notice when they ship your equipment.
This notice is not a lien, it’s a legal notification of their rights to file one if needed. You can ask your installer for a lien release after your installation is complete and paid for.
Distributors and Installers Work Together Daily
Although they are invisible to most solar shoppers (until a pre-lien arrives), distributors play a major role in the US solar industry. They factor heavily into the value chain overall and should not be ignored when looking at energy prices or other costs associated with going solar.
They are the first to know about equipment shortages and forecast supply and demand in the industry. The major US distributors include Wesco, CED Greentech, BayWa r.e., and Soligent.
The Best National Solar Companies
The lines start to get blurred when reviewing national solar companies because most cover 2 or three industry categories, providing sales, financing, and in some cases, installations.
While local solar installation companies sell and install the system, few offer in-house financing and use third-party financing. Our list summarizes offerings from the biggest solar companies in the US.
Formerly known as SolarCity, Tesla Energy has been completely overhauled since Elon Musk took over the company and rebranded it.
Tesla has gotten rid of the leases that SolarCity was known for and now focuses on cash or loans. They also got rid of their recently rolled out “solar rental” program.
They’ve steered towards a cookie-cutter approach to selling solar, and it’s available online in Tesla’s self-service fashion.
Based on your energy consumption, you can pick one of these pre-set systems:
Tesla Solar Panel System Sizes
|SIZE||POWER RATING||NUMBER OF PANELS||TYPICAL ROOF AREA COVERED|
|Small||4.25 kW||10||235 sq ft|
|Medium||8.50 kW||20||470 sq ft|
|Large||12.75 kW||30||705 sq ft|
|X-Large||17.00 kW||40||940 sq ft|
The current Tesla-branded solar panels are 425-watt all-black panels. However, this type of panel is extra large in size to achieve the 425-watt rating. In other words, they have an average efficiency rate.
Tesla Solar Panels Specs
The efficiency rating is 19.6, and they are guaranteed to produce 85% over 25 years. These are standard solar panel ratings and are much lower than the premium panels made by Sunpower, LG, and Panasonic. Rumor has it they are made by Hanwha and are an all-black version of the Q.Peak Duo L-G8.2.
While the production of 85% is a 25-year warranty, their product warranty is 10 years and is bundled with the installation and roof warranty.
Tesla customers also get a Tesla Powerwall installed with their system. In fact, if you want a Powerwall, then going solar with Tesla is the best way to get one. This is the strongest selling point, in my opinion.
The Tesla Powerwall
If you don’t know what a Powerwall is, it’s Tesla’s battery backup system. It ensures power even if a blackout occurs outside during an emergency or if you want to be “off the grid” when the sun isn’t shining. That’s right--whether or not the sun is shining, these batteries provide enough juice to power your critical loads and keep you energized in outages.
The Tesla Solar Roof
The Tesla solar roof is a high-end option with not enough installations to have real data to judge it by. The cost has skyrocketed, and installation timelines are painfully long. Pass on the Tesla solar roof unless you are a die-hard early adopter with tons of cash to spare and can wait months for your solar.
If you’re looking for a low-priced, attractive, low-profile solar system, and you really want a Tesla PowerWall, then Tesla Energy’s is the best solar company for you!
SunRun offers a variety of purchase options, including power purchase agreements and leases. They also install some of the solar energy systems that they finance. They are primarily involved in solar financing, and in some projects, the installation process too.
Sunrun may have approached you at Costco. They offer no money down solar energy systems financed with a prepaid power purchase agreement, a monthly lease, and other payment options.
While SunRun has an installation division, they offer financing through local installers who sell their leases and PPAs and then install the systems.
Leases and PPA’s from Sunrun are 20-25 year agreements. The monthly payment should be 20% or more below your monthly utility bill for instant savings. In addition, the electrical power it generates should offset your electricity usage without leaving a substantial residual bill.
Annual Payment Escalator
Sunrun’s solar leases can have an annual escalator. The price goes up annually on the monthly payment by 2.99%, or whatever the escalator is.
You can opt for a fixed payment over the term of the agreement. It will start higher than the one with an escalator, but around year 8, the payment with an escalator becomes more expensive. Opt for the fixed payment if you plan to stay in the home for over 10 years.
Power Purchase Agreement
Their power purchase agreement is a prepaid lease. You pay upfront for all the power it will produce over the term at a fixed price per kWh. It’s the most inexpensive option but requires cash.
SunRun Financing Programs
Vivint was acquired by Sunrun late last year so it will be fully integrated into Sunrun over the next few quarters. With similar solar power products and financing options, it seems like a perfect fit, and makes Sunrun the largest solar company in the United States.
Sunnova Energy International Inc
Sunnova offers financing options similar to Sunrun. They also offer solar batteries and reroofing bundled with solar. They have strict industry-standard quality control guidelines that installers must abide by.
Sunnova does not install solar but partner with solar installers. They simply provide solar financing options. They offer “solar as a service” leases and PPA’s as well as loans.
Sunnova Home Solar Service
|Equipment Lease||Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)||Equipment Purchase|
|A flat, competitive monthly bill based on equipment cost.||Pay for the power your solar system produces at a low, locked-in kWh rate.||A predictable monthly bill with APR’s as low as 0.99%|
|Sunnova owns||Sunnova owns||Homeowner owns|
|Balanced billing||Variable or balanced billing||Balanced billing|
|No upfront payment option||Upfront payment option to reduce rate||No upfront payment option|
|Sunnova keeps incentives||Homeowner not eligible for incentives||Homeowner eligible for incentives|
|Sunnova insures||Sunnova insures||Homeowner insures|
|Full 25-year system coverage||System coverage for 25 years||25-year system coverage|
|No roof replacement||No roof replacement||Roof replacement option|
While we are on the subject of financing, most folks don’t know the difference between a solar lease and PPA. They operate almost identically. You pay a fixed monthly fee for your solar with a lease, and with a PPA, you pay for the power the system produces.
Sunnova has responded to the demand for solar battery backup systems and bundled them into a lease and purchase program. Be sure to compare pricing to programs without the battery so you can decide if the extra cost is justified by your need for backup emergency power.
Sunnova Solar + Battery Storage Service
|Equipment Lease||Equipment Purchase|
|Pay a flat, competitive monthly bill based on equipment cost.||Pay a predictable monthly bill with APR’s as low as 0%|
|Sunnova owns||Homeowner owns|
|Balanced billing||Balanced billing|
|Customer not eligible for incentives||Homeowner eligible for incentives|
|Sunnova insures||Homeowner insures|
|Full 25-year system and battery coverage||25-year system and battery coverage|
|No roof replacement||Roof replacement option|
Powur is a relatively new national solar company, however their growth has been impressive over the last two years. Powur’s model differs from other National solar companies in that they are primarily a sales organization that brings the best financing, materials, and installation partners under a unified umbrella.
Powur’s vision traces its roots back to a spiritual experience in the Amazon Rainforest. The charismatic founder and CEO, Jonathan Budd, had a revelation that became the catalyst for building his clean energy company. After that, he devoted himself to his vision.
Fastest Growing Solar Company
As of August of 2021, Powur PBC became the fastest-growing national residential solar company, making Inc. Magazine’s 5000 list at #61.
Powur plans to become “the largest clean energy platform on planet earth and then the largest global decentralized utility.” To that end, Powur is building a large, multi-level salesforce across the country.
Powur’s leadership has an idealistic and powerful vision and is building a cloud-based solar platform unlike any other in the industry.
SunPower also installs solar and finances it with a wide variety of competitive options. They are a National Company headquartered out of San Jose. See more about SunPower and if their solar panels are truly the best.
SunPower is one of the biggest installers and producers of residential solar energy solutions, but they rank #1 in commercial solar. The list of companies that use SunPower panels is impressive:
- Dow Jones
- Pepperidge Farm
These industry giants know the value in addition to the return on investment that SunPower solar panels offer.
Top Solar Financing Companies
The solar financing landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade. In 2012, there were less than a handful of U.S. residential solar finance companies, and now there are dozens! Below we list some of the best solar financing companies that homeowners can work with to get their system installed affordably today.
Solar offers many benefits, but not everyone has the money to pay cash upfront. With zero out-of-pocket, you can’t even calculate the ROI! Whether you’re looking for loans with low fees or low interest rates, some great options will get you solar with no money down.
We covered how some big national companies have their own financing arm, like SunRun and Sunnova. In addition, other top independent solar and energy efficiency lending companies are Loanpal (now Goodleap), Sunlight, Mosaic, Energy Loan Network, Enerbank, GreenSky, Sungage, TechCU, and Dividend. All have great lending programs but check the fees.
Solar loan companies tailor their programs to work with the Federal tax credit. Solar financing from these companies is available through your solar installer.
Top Solar Installation Companies
The solar company that you will interact with the most is your solar installation company. It is important to choose one that is reputable and reliable. We show you exactly how to pick the best solar company in detail.
The installation process has many steps, with various companies responsible for each aspect (panels, inverters, wiring, etc.). Even the smallest hiccup during this process could mean huge setbacks down the road. Nobody wants to buy solar panels to find out later that they don’t work or have been improperly installed.
Above all, the design of your solar system and placement of the panels is crucial to getting the best results and most power from your rooftop solar system. Always review your design priorate permitting!
We reviewed the 7 Best solar companies in California, making it easy for you to get quotes from the best solar installation companies in your area. In addition, the reviews are unbiased and unsponsored and come from our knowledge of the industry.
Will Solar Even Work For Me?
Solar works for most homeowners, but not for all of them. However, while solar is a no-brainer for most, keep in mind the following considerations:
- Utility Bill Expense: Your bill must be $150 per month on average, and your utility needs to be solar-friendly. In other words, Net-metering is a must for maximum solar value.
- Roof Considerations: Ideally, panels will face south, east, or west, without shading from trees or obstructions like chimneys. In other words, solar design matters! Likewise, the roof needs to be in good condition and big enough for the panels you need to offset your bill.
- Financials: Your credit score should be over 650 unless you have cash. The tax credit is to offset taxes owed, so you won’t qualify for it if you pay no taxes. How much the solar panels cost is also a big factor along with cash flow when using financing.
In conclusion, when you’re looking for the best solar panel manufacturer, solar financing company, or solar installation contractor, it can be hard to decide which are the best. This guide has outlined how these three types of solar companies work together. Pick and choose the best ones for each task.
Do your research on solar panels and financing so that you can customize every aspect of your solar project to your liking before it’s on your roof. Most solar contractors will try to pick your financing and equipment for you, then sell you in it. Compare offers from local contractors by using the EnergySage solar marketplace. Their online tools let you customize your quotes and dictate what panels and financing you want.