What is the best overall solar company?
ADT Solar is CNET’s best solar company for 2023 for its above average warranties, quality solar panels and solar battery choices and good customer service. The solar installers on our best list offer quality equipment and get high customer service marks, but ADT Solar’s 25-year warranties for workmanship and protection against leaks lead the group and puts it over the top. ADT Solar operates in 23 states (with seven more coming soon, it says), but if you’re not in its service area, or another solar company offers a better deal or a better fit, we’ve included other high-scoring alternatives and guidance for finding your best fit, too.
Best solar companies of 2023
This best list draws from national and notable installers of (mostly rooftop) solar panels. Our selections might change as we review more companies. I’ve written or edited each of the reviews this best list draws from and developed our scoring methodology. Throughout this process, I’ve spent dozens of hours reading equipment spec sheets, looking at national trends and speaking with representatives from many of these companies to rank them on criteria that matters to you.
These companies were rated on the variety and quality of equipment and products they offered, their stated warranties and apparent commitments to customer service. (Customer service is difficult to pin down and therefore makes up a smaller portion of the score, even though it’s a significant part of the purchasing process.)
Besides our top pick, ADT Solar, several other companies ranked above the competition. They all offer solid equipment, but stand out in specific ways: Palmetto, for customer service; SunPower, for premium solar panels; Tesla, for lower prices; and Momentum, for its in-house installers.
If you’re looking for a solar installer, be sure to get multiple quotes, including ones from local installers. The specifics of a solar array could change given the shape and angle of a given roof or the energy usage and habits of a given household. Solar can be a great investment, but you need to do some research on your own.
Best regional or local solar companies
Some of the companies we’ve evaluated have scored highly, but aren’t available to as many people because they operate in just a couple of states. While the number of people served doesn’t affect a company’s score, we’ve separated these out because fewer people will be able to access their services.
Compare the best solar companies of 2023
This table compares how companies rate by some (but not all) of the criteria we use to judge them. To get the full picture, click the company name to visit their review.
Other companies we reviewed
We’ve reviewed other solar companies that don’t appear in our best list above, including some that scored higher overall than Tesla’s solar panels. Given the nature of the solar panel industry, which shifts from state to state and roof to roof, some of these other companies might be better suited to your situation.
- Blue Raven: Now a part of SunPower, one of our favorite solar companies, Blue Raven installs a variety of panels alongside SunVault batteries using all in-house installation teams. Like its parent company and many other solar installers, Blue Raven could offer a price match guarantee and greater price transparency, but gets strong marks for customer service.
- Primitive Power: Operating on a brokerage model, Primitive Power goes between the customer and installer, promising to offer better prices through a competitive bidding model. Because the business model doesn’t fit our scoring methodology, Primitive doesn’t get a score from us, but could be a good place to get multiple quotes all at once.
- Qcells: This solar panel manufacturer with factories in Georgia will connect you with an installer that works with its products. It doesn’t have in place the same guarantees or policies most of the installers on this list have, so it doesn’t get a score, but if you’re interested in its high-quality, American-made panels, we wrote up all the details.
- Smartflower: The solar sunflower is a beautiful way to install solar panels. Unless you’re trying to advertise your green commitments or find a statement piece for your yard, it’s likely too much money for too little solar.
- Sunnova: Sunnova recently gained loan guarantees from the US government to help low and moderate income families adopt solar. If you have less-than-stellar credit, Sunnova might be a good option for you, though you should still shop around. It installs a wide variety of batteries and offers some strong warranties. It has had customer service issues in the past and lost its Better Business Bureau accreditation, an issue the company and the bureau both said they were working to rectify.
- Sunrun: The biggest solar company in America. Sunrun offers quality panels, a choice of a couple of batteries and quality inverters. It also offers strong warranties. Most of its business is in leases or power purchase agreements, and Sunrun provides stronger warranties for power purchase agreements than purchases. Its overall score is higher than Tesla’s, but just missed edging out the others due to its lacking a price-match policy.
- Tesla Solar Roof: Tesla’s Solar Roof is an exciting way to imagine solar. It’s sleek, it’s low profile, but it’s very expensive. Depending on the size of your roof and your location, it can be several times more expensive than solar panels.
- Trinity Solar: For a while, Trinity was CNET’s top company for customer service and still receives top marks for there. It also offers quality equipment and warranties, though some of its warranties, like its workmanship warranty, are a bit weaker than other companies’.
Why are people buying solar panels now?
If you’re planning to buy solar panels to avoid rising energy costs and blackouts or to invest in renewable energy, you’re not alone. Residential solar installations grew by 40% in 2022 from the previous year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
You can get 30% of the cost of solar panels back on your taxes and participate in local incentives and net metering (where available). The Inflation Reduction Act that was passed last year opened up more rebates for energy-efficient home improvements, electric appliances and other renewable energy solutions, which could help you save even more with solar panels.
Improvements in solar panel technology and manufacturing have also brought the prices of solar panels down significantly from where they were a decade ago, and industry experts say that trend should continue. Coupled with newly expanded tax credits, solar panels have never been more affordable.
With climate change expected to fuel severe weather that can cause more power outages, solar panels with a backup battery can keep your home powered.
Solar panels cost a lot, in most cases. Since few people can build their own solar panels, you’ll need to carefully research which installer is best for you. Below are my choices for the best solar companies. But when you’re making a purchase as big as solar panels, don’t let this list be your only stop. Solar panel companies, because their products require lengthy, professional installation, are tested a bit differently than other categories on CNET.
This list and the reviews it draws from aren’t based on any hands-on testing. There’s no feasible way to do hands-on testing of the purchase process, installation or performance of a solar array. Instead, these solar company reviews rely on interviews with company spokespeople, publicly available data and analysis of trends (like solar panel prices). While the reviews are as thoroughly researched as possible, the nature of the product means there are some limitations compared to another category like portable power stations.
Factors to consider when choosing a solar installer
Choosing a solar installer is like choosing a contractor for any home improvement project. You have to ask a lot of questions, get multiple quotes and make a decision on some combination of who’s giving you the best deal and who you feel most confident in working with. There are some tips for choosing a solar installer, though.
- Get multiple quotes and compare: This is possibly the single most important step. You can’t know if you’re getting ripped off without checking a quote against something else. To get a sense of the price variety, compare at least three quotes.
- Understand your local incentives: Make sure you know whether your local government and utility have solar-friendly policies that can make solar a safer financial bet.
- Read reviews and complaints: Online reviews aren’t the gospel truth, but they’re useful for educating yourself on the issues that might crop up and common experiences that customers have had with a company. Google and Yelp reviews are a couple good places to start reading customer reviews.
- Talk to your neighbors who have solar panels: Ask your neighbor how well their chosen company communicated, stuck to the schedule, navigated the permitting process and supported them after installation. If the company has a referral program, you could kick a few hundred dollars your neighbor’s way, too.
- Check licenses and certifications: You can check the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners for certified installers near you. There are other certifying organizations though, so ask installers where their licensure comes from.
- Ask your installer questions: A reputable installer shouldn’t be afraid of questions. If you feel you’re getting the run-around, ask other installers the same and compare their answers. Your installer should be able to answer all your questions, even the difficult ones. Make sure to ask your installer about project deadlines and how financing works.
- Calculate your savings: If a company seems to be promising too much, it might be less than honest. Solar panels can save you a lot of money in the long term, but not in all situations. Find out how to calculate your expected savings with solar panels. If your calculation comes in much lower or higher than a salesperson’s, ask about it.
How does solar panel installation work?
The process of getting solar panels looks a little different from company to company, but the broad strokes are the same.
After initial contact with the company, someone should visit your home. While parts of the design and quoting process might involve looking at satellite imagery, having a professional actually visit your house allows them to take into account trees that might have grown since the aerial images were taken. They’ll also be able to assess the health of your roof and whether it needs to be replaced or not and identify any other barriers to going solar.
Then the system will be designed, sized, approved by you, and permitted. After the company receives permits from the necessary authorities, your installation will be scheduled. Installation typically takes a day or two.
Installation, unless you’re installing certain solar roofs, requires drilling holes through your roof and into the joists that support it. It’s necessary to keep your solar panels securely attached, but you’ll want to pay careful attention to how long your installer guarantees those penetrations will remain watertight.
Installation will also require new wiring to be installed. Sometimes that means new conduit being attached to the outside of your house, though some companies will install it in your attic for free or for an additional charge.
After installation, you’ll need to get permission to operate from your utility, which needs to approve new electricity generation in their service area, unless your system is off grid. Once you’ve received permission, you’ll transition to generating energy, monitoring your array’s performance and maintaining your solar panels to keep them up and running for decades.
While the timeline will vary, it usually takes several months to design, permit, install and switch on residential solar arrays. You should ask installers you interview for their estimated timeline.
How much do solar panels cost?
The average cost for a residential solar installation is $2.99 per watt for an 8-kilowatt system, according to an analysis by Wood Mackenzie. That means that 8-kilowatt solar panel system would cost about $23,920. But that’s just an average – the cost of solar panels varies by location, thanks to so-called soft costs, like permitting, inspection fees and labor. It also depends heavily on what kind of solar panel system you get and whether you buy a battery to go with it. Batteries, which can cost $10,000 or more, add significantly to the price tag.
Solar panel incentives and rebates
There are plenty of incentives to reduce the cost of solar panels or your tax bill. The Inflation Reduction Act increased the federal tax credit for solar panels to 30% and made it available for 10 years. Other local tax exemptions or incentives could be possible, too. If your utility has a net metering program, you could receive credits on your utility bill that will help you save money.
How much can going solar save you?
The answer depends on your own personal energy usage, the solar panel system you choose and a variety of other factors such as net metering policies. There are a few things you can calculate to help you find out how much you can save. The first is your payback period, in which you calculate the cost of installing solar panels after tax credits and incentives, and divide that by how much money in energy costs you expect to save each year. That will give you a period, in years, after which your solar panels will have paid for themselves in savings.
Your solar panel payback period can vary widely. But after you hit that date, any energy you don’t have to pay for is money saved.
It’s also entirely possible that, because of your home, your energy usage or other factors, solar panels might not save you money. In that case, if you want to go solar, you can consider other options such as community solar.
Read more: Want something smaller than a whole-home solar system? See our picks for the best portable solar panels and solar generators.
What solar equipment goes into a solar system?
While the panels are the most visible and well known component of a solar array, there are other necessary and optional pieces of equipment you’ll need to know.
Nearly 100% of the residential solar panels installed today are monocrystalline, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (PDF). Some polycrystalline panels are still installed though. They’re cheaper but less efficient, though it likely won’t be a concern for you.
Solar panels produce electricity in direct current. Our houses and all the appliances within them use alternating current. The solar inverter converts the electricity from direct to alternating current.
There are two main types of inverter in use: string inverters and microinverters. String inverters transform the electricity from a group (or string) of solar panels. This means you only need one per residential array, typically, but the entire array is affected by the lowest performing panel. If one of your panels is shaded, it will reduce the output of the rest of the array. String inverters are typically cheaper to install, but come with shorter warranties.
Microinverters operate on the panel level, which means if one is shaded, the rest can keep producing at full capacity. Because they are installed on the roof with the panel, they’re typically a little harder to service, but produce a bit more energy. Microinverters cost a bit more to install, but often come with 25-year warranties.
String inverters can also be installed with power optimizers, which perform a similar role to microinverter. The energy is still translated to alternating current at the central string inverter, but the power optimizer lets panels work independently of each other.
Solar backup battery
Backup batteries are becoming a more popular addition to solar arrays. Time of use rates from utilities (where electricity is typically cheaper when solar panels are producing and more expensive when they’re not) make batteries a more financially feasible choice for many. Solar panels won’t generate electricity during a blackout unless they have a battery that allows them to go off the grid temporarily, a process called islanding.
Backup batteries don’t always make financial sense, so make sure you understand whether or not it does for you before diving in. If you’re hoping to have power during a blackout, the financial calculation may be less important to you.
How to pay for solar panels
Solar panels come with a hefty price tag so, just like other major purchases, a few financing options have become commonplace.
Paying for solar panels with cash
Paying with cash is the most straightforward and fee-free way to pay for solar panels. You won’t pay interest or loan fees and you’ll lock in the 30% federal tax credit. The obvious downside is that you’ll need to drop a huge chunk of cash all at once, which not everyone can do.
Paying for solar panels with a solar loan
Most solar companies offer financing options, including third-party or in-house loans. If you purchase solar with a loan, you’ll get the federal tax credit, too. Loans of any sort come with interest and fees and, while it’s hard to paint all solar loans with the same brush, it pays to compare fees and interest rates. You can also pay with a loan you bring from elsewhere, like a personal loan from your bank.
Paying for solar panels with a home equity loan
Home equity loans or home equity lines of credit let you borrow money against the value in your house. This can secure you a lower interest rate, but introduces some other risks. If you default on a home equity loan, your home can be foreclosed on. Since you’re still purchasing your solar panels, you’ll qualify for the federal tax credit.
Getting a solar power purchase agreement or solar lease
If you see ads touting homeowners going solar with zero money down, they’re probably for solar power purchase agreements and leases. But what is a PPA? It’s the less familiar cousin of a lease.
With a lease or PPA, you don’t actually own the solar panels on your roof. Instead, you agree to pay a monthly fee for the equipment (a solar lease) or to buy the electricity the solar panels produce (a PPA). This means you can go solar without a hefty price tag (and often zero money up front). It’s common for these rates to increase each year, so pay careful attention. If the escalation rate is too high, you may end up saving less money than expected over the lifetime of the deal. Since you don’t own the panels with these agreements, you won’t be eligible for the federal tax credit.
How we evaluate solar companies
Reviewing solar companies in a hands-on way is tough. Each project is as unique as the house it goes on and the family that will use its electricity. To evaluate these solar installers in a meaningful way, we had to focus on what we could measure and what would be useful to you.
We rate companies on three categories of criteria: equipment, warranties and service.
In the equipment bucket, companies get scored on the panels, inverters and batteries they install. Warranties include the guarantees on the panels (which typically come from the manufacturer), workmanship and weatherization against leaks. Companies gain points for service for offering a price match, a meaningful level of price transparency and a well-rated app for monitoring solar production. They lose points for major customer service issues (lawsuits, investigations or obvious reputations for shoddy service). We’ll always detail these in the review.
You can read a detailed look at how the scoring breaks down.
We don’t consider the average price of a company’s installations in their score. Average prices are hard to find and compare place to place (or even roof to roof). Companies are often slow to disclose it, too. We also leave out information that’s easy to find, but not useful to you, like how many states a company operates in.
Solar panel FAQ
Correction, Jan. 31, 2023: An earlier version of this article misstated the Better Business Bureau’s grading process. Any company can receive a grade from the Bureau, regardless of whether it has paid to go through the accreditation process.