Compare Reviews for Solar Energy Companies
We’ve known light could be turned into electricity since 1839 when French physicist, A. E. Becquerel, discovered the photovoltaic effect. It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that the first solar cells were available commercially, when Bell Labs produced them for use in outer space.
In the decades since, improvements in solar technology have been tremendous, as have drops in solar power cost. Since 1977, the price of solar panels has dropped approximately 100 times over, and solar power is now cheaper than power from the grid for billions of people. Many consumers are turning to solar energy to save money with this renewable energy source.
Top 10 Most Reviewed Solar Energy Companies
|Read 812 Reviews|
Vivint is a technology and solar energy system company whose mission is to provide clean energy throughout the United States. It focuses on customer service and on providing affordable solutions to consumers with varying budgets.
|Read 441 Reviews|
Dividend Solar works with a preferred network of solar installers to offer $0-down loans to homeowners looking to go solar. It focuses on delivering value and quality to all of its customers.
|Read 397 Reviews|
SolarCity is a fast-growing solar power company. It was founded in 2006 by two brothers who wanted to provide solar power to residential customers. It serves customers in 15 states and is one of America's largest providers.
|Read 18 Reviews|
Servicing Massachusetts only, Solar Five is a local solar power installer providing all financing options; $0 down Leases & Loans, MA Solar Loan and Direct Purchasing while focusing on customers & supporting the local community.
|Read 13 Reviews|
SunLux was formed to help consumers switch to renewable energy by pinpointing what each individual needs to save them money and maximize efficiency. It has over 20 years of experience in installing solar energy systems and parts.
|Read 181 Reviews|
Complete Solar offers California residents custom solar solutions to deliver optimal energy output. Their proprietary software platform, HelioQuote™, can save you money with streamlined and fast installation.
|Read 92 Reviews|
SunPower is one of the oldest solar power companies in the United States, having first offered solar energy systems in 1985. Its solar-powered catamaran continually sails around the world without relying on external fuel sources.
|Read 83 Reviews|
Electricity costs are on the rise. Take control of your energy bill with solar by Sunrun. Plans start at $0 down & include free maintenance, repairs, monitoring, & insurance for 20 years. See why 100,000 customers chose Sunrun.
|Read 27 Reviews|
RGS Energy started out as a small business running a general store that sold solar paneling. It has currently sold over 22,500 solar energy systems to homes, businesses and educational and governmental institutions.
|Read 12 Reviews|
Verengo Solar helps customers throughout California convert their homes from electrical power to solar power and provides information about rebates. It is a top U.S. residential solar contractor on the Solar Power World List.
Solar Energy Contributing Editor
Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, and his key areas of focus are solar energy and electric vehicles. He has been referenced or interviewed by essentially every major media organization as a recognized global thought leader on solar energy.
What solar energy features matter most?
In some cases, people can simply buy their solar power systems with cash – but with a price tag comparable to a new car, most people will need to use a financing option. Many companies don’t make it clear there are various ways to finance your solar system, but the difference in savings can be huge.
- Solar leases and PPAs: Solar leases and Power Purchasing Agreements (PPAs) are financial agreements where a third-party developer owns, operates and maintains the solar system, and a customer agrees to affix the system on their roof (or elsewhere on their property). The customer then purchases system’s electric output from the solar services provider for a predetermined period.
- Loans: Solar loans are available at a number of banks and organizations across the country, with some available only in specific states or to bank customers only, while others are available nationwide but may have certain stipulations.
- PACE financing: Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing helps homeowners and commercial building owners cover the full cost of installing a solar system with a flexible repayment plan extending up to 20 years. Using PACE financing, the solar power system is paid off gradually via higher property taxes.
Do you want to own your solar power system? Just as with a car, you have options to personally own your solar power system by purchasing it from the solar company after a certain period of time, or you may choose to lease it indefinitely.
- Lease transfer vs. sale: If you intend to move after a few years and you have a solar lease, you will have to convince the new buyers to take over the lease – which isn’t always easy. If the solar system is already purchased, you can simply roll the cost of the system into the price of the home.
- Lease to own: Even if you choose the leasing or PPA route, some companies allow you to buy the system for a fair market value once the leasing period has ended.
- Solar panel longevity: Many people don’t consider the benefits of an investment beyond 15-20 years, but it is worth noting that solar panels are very durable and can produce electricity close to the initial factory specs for many decades. Your long-term savings could be three or four times higher if you buy solar panels rather than lease them for a 20-year period.
Costs and savings
Just about every solar installation company has a “solar calculator” on their website to quickly estimate how much a solar system will cost and how much it will save you over time. Each solar calculator will yield very different estimates, so compare as many as possible and feel free to ask each company what factors they’ve used to come up with their estimates.
- Electricity costs: Calculators may estimate electricity costs in different ways. Numbers can be based on the national average, regional averages, or based on information you provide – and each input can result in very different overall cost and savings estimates.
- Incentives: Calculators may or may not include federal, state and local incentives which, if you’re eligible, can mean big savings.
- Generation potential: Some calculators take a satellite photo of your roof and offer a close estimate of how much electricity you can generate. Some calculators use your regional solar irradiation to create the estimate, while other calculators simply use the size of your roof or your typical electricity consumption with no other factors included.
- Financing assumptions: Cost calculators also make different assumptions regarding financing (for instance, whether you'll use a flat-rate cash purchase, a lease, a loan or PACE financing). Your actual cost will vary if you choose a different financing method.
There are many different solar panels on the market – each with their own benefits and disadvantages. Solar panels used for the rooftop solar market are less varied, but there are still considerable differences between each brand. Find out which manufactuerer's solar panels the company installs.
- Price vs. efficiency: The biggest price differences among solar panel brands generally reflect variations in efficiency, but efficiency doesn’t usually matter unless you have very limited space on your roof.
- Warranties and reliability: How reliable are the chosen company’s panels known to be – and is the company likely to be around in 10 years? Will they guarantee the panels and service them if they become faulty?
- Options: Does the installer give you a choice between different types of panels, or at least disclose where the panels are manufactured?
Does the company offer service beyond installation? Some companies only install solar panels, while other companies manage every aspect of the process, including servicing them regularly and replacing parts as needed.
- Maintenance and warranties: Some solar companies will install the solar panels, provide maintenance and offer warranties on both the panels and the work. These additional services may come at a cost, but it is often worth it.
- Financing: Some companies will even assist you during the financing process, whether that be a lease, loan, or PACE financing. Check to see whether you will save money by financing through the solar panel company, or if it would be a better financial decision to seek financing elsewhere, such as through a home improvement loan from your bank.
- Incentives: Some companies help you find and take advantage of incentives you may be eligible for on the federal, state and local levels, such as tax breaks or rebates.
- Manufacturing: A number of solar installers also manufacture the solar panels and solar cells they use.
Some companies have dedicated customer service representatives available to help you with any questions or problems. Others will refer you to an automated 1-800 number for everything.
- Dedicated salesperson: Your solar company may provide a dedicated salesperson or customer service representative from day one or after a certain stage in the process – or maybe not at all.
- Post-sale: Ideally, your initial point-of-contact will be available if you need something after sales, but you may be assigned to a different representative at a later time.
- Service fees: There’s a good chance premium services will also come with an additional cost, but there should be no fee for asking questions.
What are the different types of solar panels?
Crystalline solar panels
Crystalline solar energy panels make up the majority of solar panels used for residential solar power. Crystalline silicon is the semiconducting material used in solar electric technology to produce solar cells. These solar cells are then built into solar panels. The purity of the crystalline silicon determines how efficient a solar panel is.
Monocrystalline solar panels
Monocrystalline solar energy panels are the most efficient panels on the market.They produce the highest power outputs and require the least amount of space when compared with other panels (15-20 percent efficiency rating). They have the longest lifespan of any panel on the market. Most companies warrant them for around 25 years.
Polycrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline solar energy panels cost less than monocrystalline panels because the process to make them is simpler and less expensive. They’re less efficient than monocrystalline panels (13-16 percent efficiency rating). You will need to cover a larger surface area with polycrystalline panels to get the same amount of power as you would from a monocrystalline panel system.
Thin-film solar panels
Thin-film solar energy panels are made by layering thin solar cells on materials such as glass, metal or plastic. They are cheaper to manufacture than crystalline-based panels, so they’re easy to mass-produce.They can be made flexible, and are therefore used for multiple applications. High temperatures and shading don’t affect them as much as other panels, and they’re great for wide open spaces like farms and fields. Since thin-film panels require a lot of space, they’re not ideal for residential use. They also degrade faster than crystalline panels.
Who should use solar power?
A large percentage of homeowners would benefit financially from going solar, but only a tiny percentage have made the switch. Residential solar installations have grown exponentially, and as more people see friends and family go solar, the number of installations continues to grow. Falling solar costs also make the offer enticing to more and more homeowners. Homeowners wanting to switch to solar may be limited by options offered in their particular state, as some solar companies do not operate nationwide.
Small and large businesses
Small and large businesses that switch to solar can save on energy costs while making a big statement about helping the environment. Solar power is often cheaper than electricity from the grid, making solar a logical (and even obvious) option for businesses. Many large companies such as Walmart, IKEA, Google, Facebook, Apple, Kohl’s and Walgreens have begun transitioning to solar on a large scale in recent years. In certain areas, PACE financing may be available for building owners.
Government agencies and nonprofits
Government agencies and nonprofit organizations are not able take advantage of very useful tax incentives, but solar companies that offer innovative financing options can help these organizations switch to solar as well. Dropping solar costs have made solar power a financially-beneficial option in some locations – even without any tax incentives.
Cash and loan consumers
Individuals or organizations that benefit from (or prefer to) purchase their solar power systems may have limited options. Some companies simply don’t offer the option to pay upfront for the solar system, or may only allow customers to purchase the system after a certain period of time. Those who choose to purchase their systems are usually looking for a long-term energy solution and are comfortable taking responsibility for the maintenance of their solar panel system.
Leasing and PPA customers
Many consumers don’t have thousands of dollars laying around to purchase their own solar system, so they’ll need to explore financing options that will make it possible. Some solar companies (or states) simply won’t offer solar leasing or PPAs, and others will offer these options but could tend to push consumers towards a different financing option instead. Solar lease or PPA payments will typically be lower than current utilities, so these customers will notice a cash savings right away and usually won’t have to bother with the maintenance of a leased solar system.
DIY solar users
Solar panel systems can be extremely durable and require little to no maintenance. Those who plan to install and maintain their own solar system may have a different set of criteria in choosing a solar company. If you plan to install and service the system yourself, you’ll likely need to purchase the system with cash or with a loan, as companies who offer solar leases and PPAs are more likely to require installation and even maintenance to be handled by their company or a partner company.
Many consumers wanting to switch to solar have little to no experience with solar systems. Choosing a company that offers both installation and maintenance services is likely the best route for those who want more of a hands-off solar experience.
Expert reviews about solar companies
Dividend Solar is a solar financing company that began in San Francisco. Its mission is to give investors a way to invest in solar and to provide homeowners another source of financing. Basically, through crowd-sourced investments, a homeowner can get a competitive loan to cover the cost of a rooftop solar system.
- Low-cost financing: Dividend Solar reportedly offers one of the most competitive loans on the home solar market.
- Low-risk investment: On the flip side, it offers an investment option that has relatively low risk (compared to stocks, for example) but typically a good rate of return.
- Huge emphasis on customer service: Almost no business can get by these days without good customers service, but as Dividend Solar notes, it is “quality-obsessed” and aims to deliver “the highest quality experience to each of our customers and partners.” It’s sort of like your “mom and pop” solar financing and solar investment option.
- Innovative: This term is a bit overused these days, but Dividend Solar deserves it. It has brought to market a solar financing and solar investment solution that is unavailable from any other entity on the market.
- Focused on quality: Dividend Solar doesn’t seem to be tied to any particular solar brand when it comes to the solar panels or the installation service, but it is passionate about delivering the highest-quality products to its customers. The idea is that doing so will result in the happiest customers.
- Best for: homeowners.
The #2 residential solar installer in the United States, Vivint Solar is a public solar company that launched in 2011.
- Combined services: Vivint offers various home services such as security and automation systems, so you can bundle solar with these products through Vivint at the same time.
- Customer acquisition and installation efficiency: Vivint Solar is reportedly very efficient when it comes to customer acquisition, allowing it to theoretically offer customers lower prices than its competitors.
- Solar panel flexibility: Vivint Solar isn’t tied to any particular solar panel provider, so it’s able to adapt to changes in the market and provide customers with a wide variety of options.
- Financing model: Vivint Solar's most popular financing option is their PPA structure.
- Best for: homeowners, small and large businesses, government agencies and nonprofits, leasing or PPA customers and solar beginners.
SolarCity is by far the largest residential solar installation company in the United States. It is also one of only a few companies vertically integrated, offering installation and financing while also including a manufacturing arm.
- Market share: With 26 percent of the residential solar market in 2013, SolarCity had more than 3 times the market share of #2 Vivint Solar and about 4.5 times the market share of #3 Verengo Solar. A strong market share indicates the company is performing well and attracting customers, and the wealth of experience can also be very useful for customers.
- Vertical integration: Vertical integration can (theoretically) allow SolarCity to offer customers a better deal. Greater efficiencies, economies of scale and a more secure process can mean lower prices for customers.
- Various financing options: Homeowners, businesses, or organizations can get solar leases, PPAs, loans, or pay for their systems in cash with SolarCity.
- Leasing: SolarCity has a strong preference for solar leasing and PPAs, as it makes more money from these options. SolarCity may try to steer customers towards leasing or PPAs when it would actually be in the customer's best interest to use a loan to purchase a system.
- Acquisition: SolarCity reportedly has relatively high customer acquisition costs, which could result in higher costs for consumers.
- Best for: homeowners, small and large businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, leasing and PPA customers, solar beginners and cash and loan consumers.
Solar Five is a Massachusetts-based company providing affordable solar energy to homeowners, businesses and government. Solar Five manages the installation process from start to finish for an easy transition to solar power. They have completed over 400 solar energy projects of all sizes and can customize a solar package to meet every consumer’s needs.
- Solar Five Ambassador Program: Solar Five will give customers a $500 Visa gift card if the person they refer ends up going solar. There is no limit to the amount of referrals a customer can make.
- Community focused: Solar Five believes in building a stronger community by supporting neighborhood businesses that employ local residents. They also support local initiatives.
- Weekly check-ins: Once the sales period has closed, Solar Five will keep you updated with weekly check-ins so you always know the status of your solar project.
- Financing options: Solar Five has a range of financing options available for commercial and residential customers. They will walk you through all of your options and help you pick the best one to suit your needs and situation.
- Free online quote: Get a free quote for your solar energy project using Solar Five’s online quote form. Input your address, contact information, average monthly electric bill and any additional information you want to provide to receive your quote.
- Best for: Solar Five is best for residential, commercial and government solar projects.
Sunrun, founded in 2007, was a solar leasing/PPA pioneer and now serves 11 states, making it one of the most widely spread solar installers.
SunLux Energy has over 20 years of experience in installing quality solar energy systems and components. Understanding switching to renewable solar energy can be expensive, It focuses on helping consumers save money but pinpointing their properties exact energy needs. Whether you’re a homeowner wanting to make the switch to renewable energy or a Californian commercial property or business owner, SunLux Energy will work with you to develop a system to meet your properties needs.
- Installation process: Upon signing a contract, SunLux will do a site evaluation, measuring your roof and conduct a shading study. Once the evaluation is complete, its team of engineers will design a system that fits your property and send it to you for approval. They will handle all permits that are needed through your city and once the proper permits are obtained, they will install your system. Finally, SunLux will do a final inspection with the city manager to check for proper installation.
- Leasing options: SunLux Energy partners with solar leasing programs and offers leasing options for people paying over $100 per month on their energy bills. Its customers who use a leasing program save over 30% on their energy bills and an average of $500 by the end of the first year.
- Financing options: SunLux Energy partners with finance companies to offer financing for its energy systems. No down payment is required and you can choose between 5- to 25-year terms. Additionally, financing your system earns you a 30-percent tax credit and allows you to own your own solar panels, which has an average return on investment of 20 percent.
- Commercial project development: SunLux Energy works with commercial clients in the state of California to maximize energy savings and return on investment. Its engineers work with your company during the design phase to develop a customized energy solutions for your business.
- Qualification: Interested customers can visit the SunLux website and fill out a form with their basic information and the amount of their average electric bill to see if they qualify to switch to solar energy.
- Best for: individual property owners looking for a customized solar energy solution.
SunPower is one of the world’s leading solar cell and solar module manufacturers, and it’s also a leading solar installer. It was one of the first solar companies to become vertically integrated, and was the first U.S. company focused on the home solar market to do so. Aside from residential solar installations, SunPower is routinely one of the top commercial solar panel installers in the United States.
RGS Energy is part of Real Goods Solar and sold some of the first solar panels to the public, over 35 years ago! Real Goods Solar was the 5th-largest residential solar installer in the U.S. in 2013.
Complete Solar is a company devoted to designing and installing residential solar power systems. The company offers a range of services, and much of its success comes from a proprietary technology that helps clients choose specific features while staying within their budgets.
OneRoof Energy is a young solar company founded in 2011. The company only provides solar leases, and doesn’t sell solar outright or manufacture any solar panel components.
PetersenDean is a residential and commercial roofing and solar company founded in 1984. It entered the solar market relatively recently, but is the #1 residential roofing contractor in the U.S., with over 1 million roofs installed.
Founded in 2008, REPOWER by Solar Universe has been around for several years yet pursued a different business model than most of its peers – franchising.
Sungevity was one of the first solar installers to offer solar leasing, but it is not tied to that financing model. It uses a unique, efficient, satellite-based system for providing customers with an initial solar quote.
In 2012 and 2013, Yingli Solar held the title as the #1 solar module manufacturer in the world in terms of annual solar module capacity sales.
As one of the leading providers of solar power installation in Southern California, Horizon Solar Power is dedicated to offering residential homes a renewable energy system at discount pricing. Their unique take on solar installation helps more homes reap the benefits of solar energy without the high cost of panels.
EnergySage specializes in obtaining customer quotes for solar systems and their installation. The marketplace company provides helpful price comparison charts, and it also offers extensive educational resources about the environmental benefits of solar power.
Go Solar, Inc., is a Colorado-based and Colorado-focused full-service solar company. It has partnered with high-quality US-based companies to offer great solar products made in the USA.
- Supports the US economy: Focused on supporting the U.S. economy, Go Solar, Inc. uses solar panels and solar inverters from top U.S. solar companies such as SunEdison and Enphase.
- Industry knowledge: The company’s leadership knows solar technology and solar financing in depth, which leads to a high-quality product offering and competitive financing options.
- High-quality industry partnership: With SunEdison as a dedicated partner, Go Solar, Inc., presumably gets a good deal on its solar panels, thus allowing the company to offer customers a good deal on high-quality solar technology (which includes a 25-year warranty).
- Complete service: Go Solar, Inc. keeps the customer experience smooth and pleasant with in-house contractors, financing, maintenance, monitoring and even roof repair (with a 20-year “bumper to bumper” warranty).
- Mutual benefit with growth: The company also offers a $500 reward for referring new customers.
- Best for: homeowners, small and large businesses, government agencies and nonprofits, cash and loan consumers, leasing and PPA customers and solar beginners.
Verengo Solar was the #3 residential solar installer in 2013 in terms of residential market share. The company has installed over 12,000 residential solar power systems, however, the company is reportedly up for sale.
Pick My Solar is a unique solar company that is focused on assisting homeowners who want to go solar. It collects bids from various solar installers, evaluates them and makes recommendations to the homeowners.
Information in this guide is general in nature and is intended for informational purposes only; it is not legal, health, investment or tax advice. ConsumerAffairs.com makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from its use.