Solar Tribune

Choosing the Best Solar Company for You

If you’re thinking that it’s time to go solar, you’re not alone. Solar panels have never been less expensive, and the industry is booming. Wondering how to cut through the noise and find the best solar company for you?

We’ve consulted with solar experts and customers alike to identify the essential steps for choosing between solar companies. Following this checklist will help you create an action plan for going solar, so you can can start saving on your energy bills.

1. Know Your Priorities

Like in life, it’s important to know your priorities when going solar. That’s why step 1 is quite literally: understanding what you care about, and what you don’t.

Want sleeker, more power-producing panels? That’ll cost more.

Here are some of the tradeoffs you should be thinking about before you develop a short-list of companies.

Am I willing to pay more for greater electric output? If you have limited unshaded roof space, you’ll probably want to purchase higher-end, higher-efficiency monocrystalline solar panels.

Am I willing to pay more for a better looking system? Slicker looking panels that don’t jut out from the roof tend to cost a little bit more. It’s not unheard of to pay a 20% or more premium on some of the better looking system. If you really want to maximize curb appeal (or you just need a new roof), consider solar roofing shingles.

Am I willing to pay more for equipment made in the U.S.? Panels made here tend to cost more. They also tend to be the higher-end panels (sleeker, higher-efficiency). If you want to go with U.S. panels, be prepared to pay a small premium.

Do I want to work with a big company or a small company? There’s no universal rule here, but smaller companies tend to provide more personalized service–and often offer a wider range of home and roofing services. Larger companies are more proven, but are not always able to fully customize and tailor a solution to you.

Now that you know some key trade offs, start thinking about how you would rank each of the above priorities in order from most to least important.

2. Develop a short list

Now that you understand some of the big upfront decisions, you’re ready to start developing a short list of solar companies to decide from.

In our minds, data is the best tool for deciding which companies are right for you. So that’s why we’ve collected data for you to compare solar companies by cost, reviews, warranties and BBB ratings.

Use our company comparison data to develop a short-list of 2-3 companies that meet your criteria on for cost, customer satisfaction, and other key dimensions.

3. Get Competing Quotes

Have one or two companies you’re really excited about?

Before jumping on your #1 company pick, remember that you can always push for a better deal.

This is a negotiation. And in this negotiation, your biggest strength is knowing that there are other companies out there willing to it on the cheap.

You need to know just how much cheaper…and use that knowledge in your negotiations.

Let your number #1 pick know you have a lower offer, and they’ll be motivated to give up a little ground.

That’s why we love encouraging people to get competing quotes.

3. Compare Offers in Detail

What to compare when leasing vs buying

Comparing When Leasing. With a lease, you rent the solar equipment the company installs on your roof, and pay a monthly fee over the life of the agreement. The provider maintains ownership of the system and receives any tax credits. While the total cost is usually a bit higher than purchasing a system, you won’t need to worry about maintenance.

Solar leases are popular because you can usually get started for little to zero down. Prepaying the entire lease has its benefits, however. Because the provider assumes no risk, it’s often willing to tweak the terms of the contract in your favor. You’ll also reduce your monthly bill.

Key metrics to compare:

  • Down payment required
  • Monthly payment
  • Term length (15 to 25 years)
  • Maximum annual payment increase

Comparing PPAs. With a power purchase agreement (PPA), you pay for the solar electricity the company’s system generates. While similar to a lease, you pay for the energy on a per-kilowatt-hour basis, rather than a fixed monthly fee. The rate typically increases each year. Making a custom down payment on your PPA will lower your rate, and your provider may also waive the annual increase.

Key metrics to compare:

  • Price per kilowatt hour
  • Term length
  • Maximum annual rate increase, as a percentage

If you have an older house, ask if any electrical upgrades will be necessary to install solar panels, and consider the cost they would involve. Also look into how a solar system may affect your property taxes and home insurance.

Comparing When Buying. If you have the cash, paying for your system up front will spare you from paying interest.

Key metrics to compare:

  • Cost per watt of installed capacity

Comparing When Buying And Borriwing. Buying your system will maximize your savings and increase the value of your home. Keep in mind that you’ll need to pay for ongoing maintenance and repairs, however.

Your solar company will typically make the financing arrangements for you through a member of its lending network. Home equity loans are the most common way to finance a solar system. In some communities, homeowners can also finance solar systems through their local governments, and pay the loans back in small amounts over time as part of their property taxes. If you’re interested in this option, look for a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program in your area.

Key metrics to compare:

  • Cost per watt of installed capacity – This refers to the size of your system. The average home solar system generates about five kilowatts. Solar providers will use a site assessment and review of your energy bills to determine the size you need. The quote should give you the cost per watt; compare this number for the same size system across several installers.
  • Interest rate – Note the interest rate, and whether it’s variable or fixed. A fixed agreement will lock in a predictable rate, while a variable one will fluctuate.

Comparing solar companies based on service and quality

It goes without saying that you should research the company’s credentials, the quality of its products, and what guarantees it provides.

Warranties. Your system will require both panels and an inverter; ask about warranties for this equipment. Warranties typically cover solar panels for 20 to 25 years, and inverters for 10 years. In addition, some solar providers offer installation warranties and production guarantees.

Certifications and Ratings. Find out how long the company has been in business, and if it holds relevant certifications from organizations like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). Also look for regional credentials like the Bay Area’s Diamond Certified status. Diamond Certified companies are recognized for exceptional customer satisfaction and expertise. Be sure to check the company’s customer service rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) as well.

Services Offered. You may also want to consider whether the company handles solar exclusively, or offers several different services. Some homeowners prefer to contract with solar-only companies. However, finding a reliable solar company that also provides “whole-home” energy services like roofing, insulation, and efficiency upgrades can give you a leg up on other home improvements down the road.

Company Culture and Values. You can maximize the environmental impact of going solar by choosing a company that’s also dedicated to social responsibility in its own operations.

Companies like Clean Solar, Sungevity, and Sun Light and Power are Certified B Corporations, for example. These providers are certified by the the nonprofit organization B Lab for meeting its social and environmental performance standards.

Some companies support nonprofits through donations, sponsorships, and volunteerism. Others like Semper Solaris use equipment made in America or hire veterans. Look for information on these types of activities on the “About Us” page of a company’s website.

Comparing solar companies based on home integration

Many solar providers now offer related services like cloud-based monitoring platforms, battery storage, and smart home integration.

Monitoring. At a minimum, a monitoring service will track your system’s output. Most will also record your home’s energy usage. In some cases, you’ll need to access the data over the Internet, while other companies offer mobile apps.

Battery Storage. A battery will store the excess energy your system generates during the day, then release it during grid outages. When the grid shuts down during a storm or high-demand event, you’ll stay up and running for hours on clean, renewable power.

Smart Home. A handful of companies even integrate solar power with smart home technology. This allows you to power your home with solar and automate energy management at the same time. You can set up your preferences for heating, air conditioning, lighting, and security for different times of the day, and the smart home system will automatically control those conditions. Using smart home technology can maximize your energy savings and minimize your utility bills.

Comparing solar companies based on aesthetics and home appeal

While traditional solar panels have a black-and-white “checkerboard” appearance, some manufacturers now make sleek, all-black panels designed to blend in and maintain your home’s curb appeal. A few companies have also designed low-profile mounting systems that sit nearly flush with roof surfaces. If aesthetics are important to you, check out the photos on the company’s website, or ask about the appearance of the equipment.


Ready to negotiate and save up to 20%? Compare solar quotes from trusted installers near you.