Best Solar Companies 2024 – USA TODAY

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Many Americans are considering solar power to meet their residential energy needs. Our October 2023 survey of 1,000 solar customers revealed that 54% were concerned with saving money through solar panels.

Trinity Solar leads the pack in our ratings by providing one of the best customer support networks with high-quality solar panel installations, and Elevation is close behind, thanks to its impressive solar services catalog. If upfront cost isn’t your primary factor, you might favor SunPower, which comes in third thanks to its top-performing, highly efficient solar panels.

We’ve reviewed more than a dozen national and regional solar providers against our methodology that prioritizes the services and features important to homeowners. We evaluated each company’s history, panel options, installation process, customer service reputation and more. We interviewed solar experts, surveyed residential solar customers and conducted a detailed analysis of solar warranties.

Compare top choices for solar installation companies

Some go-to factors, such as industry certifications and robust warranties, determine what makes a quality solar installer. Before contacting providers for quotes, you also want to ensure you understand the most vital components of a solar energy system, such as inverters and panels. 

Solar energy systems use photovoltaic (PV) panels or solar thermal collectors to convert sunlight into usable electricity. The system includes solar panels, an inverter, a mounting system, optional batteries and monitoring systems. These components work together to provide a sustainable and renewable source of electricity while reducing reliance on traditional energy sources.

Based on our October 2023 survey, the average cost of solar panel installation is $11,734. Your location plays a significant role, as areas that receive extra sunlight make going solar more cost-effective. The size of the system, energy requirements, local regulations and your budget also play crucial roles in determining the overall cost of your system.

A quality solar installation company should have relevant certifications, licenses and accreditation demonstrating its knowledge and adherence to industry standards and safety protocols. A great starting place is to check whether its installers hold North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certifications.

A solar installer’s experience and track record installing various systems are crucial for handling diverse installation challenges, so we recommend you seek out companies with established reputations and portfolios.

Our recommendations for the best solar installation companies

Our rating methodology evaluates solar companies across factors that relate to its customer satisfaction, its suite of service options, and financing and warranty practices. Here are our top-rated solar installers.

Making an informed choice: A guide to going solar 

Checking for proper certifications, knowing what your home needs from a solar energy system, and being aware of solar incentives and typical cost factors will help you make an informed decision when hiring a solar company.

What licensing and certifications are needed?

First, you’ll want to ensure you’re dealing with a legitimate solar installation company. As Will White shared during our interview, the solar industry is just now starting to become standardized, with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) developing 11 new solar and energy storage standards. The first is planned for publication in early 2024 and will lay the foundation for solar training standardization across the industry.

You can ensure the installer you’re dealing with is legit by checking for the following:

  • Associations and partnerships: Quality companies often partner with industry associations like the SEIA and have affiliations with reputable solar manufacturers, such as Qcells or Maxeon. Some solar companies, such as SunPower, feature their own certification program for local contractors to provide higher quality solar panel installations with their products and services. If you notice an installer sharing a partnership or certification with a specific solar brand, you’re most likely in good hands.
  • NABCEP certification: Ask about certifications from the NABCEP. A NABCEP certification is well-regarded in the solar industry and ensures installers have undergone training and testing.
  • Years of experience: Another simple piece of advice Will White shared with us on receiving legitimate and trustworthy service is to ask the prospective installer, “How long have [you] been around?” More experience typically equals better installation quality and a long-standing customer reputation, and it protects your investment through the bankability of the products the company uses. For example, White shared with us how a new and emerging solar panel brand might provide an enticing price and opportunity, but if that company goes under, then all your warranty coverage is now void. Overall, solar companies with ample experience provide quality services and peace of mind for the investment.

What goes into a solar energy system?

You should know what constitutes a solar energy system. You might know that solar panels are vital components, but it helps you to understand other possible components a solar power system can employ and their use cases. Here are some common elements of a solar energy system and what they do.

  • EV chargers: Integrating an electronic vehicle (EV) charger with a solar panel system involves connecting the charging station to the electrical system where the solar-generated electricity is stored or used. This setup allows electric vehicles to charge directly using the power generated by solar panels, reducing your reliance on grid electricity.
  • Inverters: Solar panels produce direct current (DC) electricity, while most homes use alternating current (AC) electricity. The inverter converts the DC electricity generated by the solar panels into AC electricity, which you can use to power household appliances and devices.
  • Power meter: This device measures the amount of electricity generated by solar panels and a household’s overall energy consumption. In grid-tied systems, it helps track the flow of electricity to and from the grid. If you want to take advantage of net metering programs, you’ll want to ask about this component, as it helps determine your energy usage, which affects how much credit you receive. 
  • Microinverters: All solar energy systems require inverters, but many installers offer microinverters as an optional upgrade. Microinverters perform the same function as standard inverters but are installed on each panel, enabling independent operation. This means that the output of one panel won’t affect the output of other panels in the system. Overall, microinverters provide better performance and increased efficiency. They typically cost more than standard central inverters, though.
  • Mounting system: These structures support and hold the solar panels in place and are typically installed on the roof of a house or the ground. An installer might also refer to this part of the system as the racking system. Some mounting systems appear more unsightly than others, so if you wonder how a solar panel system might throw off your home’s style, be sure to ask what mounting system options an installer offers.
  • Solar batteries: Some solar energy systems include batteries to store excess electricity generated during the day for later use, such as at night or on cloudy days when solar panel production is reduced. Batteries allow for greater energy independence and can provide backup power in case of outages. Solar batteries are often optional components for a system as they help you if you want to take advantage of net metering or want to use solar energy during nighttime or power outages. Unfortunately, solar batteries sometimes cost as much as a solar panel system, but 58% of the 1,000 solar customers we surveyed opted to purchase one. 
  • Solar panels: These are the most visible and important part of a home solar energy system. Solar panels consist of PV cells that absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity through the photovoltaic effect. Therefore, they’re sometimes called solar PV panels. 

What are the common solar services?

It pays to know the common solar services when navigating the quote process. You should generally expect the following from the most reputable solar installers.

  • Consultation: Most solar consultations are free, and they’re either in-person at your home or virtual. Some companies offer virtual and in-person options for added convenience, but we recommend you undergo an in-person consultation. This option lets you interact with the installer more and ask meaningful questions, and it enables the installer to understand your home and its energy needs better. 
  • Design: Solar installation companies create customized solar system designs based on the site assessment and your energy requirements. This involves designing the layout, selecting appropriate equipment like panels, inverters and mounting systems, and ensuring compliance with local regulations and building codes.
  • Installation: Some companies only install panels, while others also install batteries and EV chargers. Professional technicians handle the installation of solar panels, inverters, mounting structures and other necessary components. They perform electrical work and wiring and ensure proper placement and alignment of panels for optimal energy production. Not all solar companies offer in-house installation, as some outsource to third parties. You don’t necessarily need to dismiss a solar installation company because it relies on third-party installers.
  • Maintenance and cleaning: Regular maintenance is crucial for the optimal performance of solar systems. Some solar service providers offer maintenance services such as cleaning panels, inspecting electrical components, checking for potential issues and ensuring the system operates efficiently. They even provide repair services to fix any malfunctioning or damaged components.
  • System monitoring: Many solar companies provide monitoring services that track the performance of solar systems in real time. They analyze data to identify issues, monitor energy production and provide reports to homeowners or businesses, enabling them to assess the system’s efficiency. You can monitor the system’s performance through desktop or smartphone applications. 

How much do solar panels cost? 

According to our survey conducted in October 2023, the national average cost of solar panel installation is $11,734. The price of a solar panel installation depends on factors such as location, availability of sunlight, roof orientation, shading and system size.

  • System size: The size of the solar panel system, measured in kWs, significantly influences the installation cost. Larger systems with more panels generally cost more but can provide greater energy savings.
  • Labor: Labor charges for installation significantly affect the overall cost. Installation costs vary based on location, labor rates and the experience of the installation crew.
  • Location: Obtaining permits and meeting local building codes involve fees that can contribute to the installation cost. Regulations and fees vary by location.
  • Roof orientation: Roofs with a south-facing orientation in the Northern Hemisphere (or north-facing in the Southern Hemisphere) typically receive the most sunlight throughout the day. This orientation allows solar panels to capture maximum sunlight, producing higher energy. Installing panels on such roofs generally leads to more efficient systems and potentially lower installation costs per unit of energy generated.
  • Sunlight availability: The amount of sunlight a location receives affects the system’s efficiency and the amount of electricity generated. Regions with more sunlight may require fewer panels to produce the same amount of energy, affecting overall costs.

The other significant portion of your solar journey that determines overall cost-effectiveness is your financing option. All the companies on this list provide the standard solar financing options, but full purchases and solar loans are more cost-effective than solar leases or PPAs. The difference is due to who owns the solar panel system with these options. 

JD Dillon explained it well during our interview. When you opt for a PPA or lease, he said, “Somebody else owns the equipment that’s on your roof, and you’re buying power from that. [The option] seems attractive because it’s zero down. I think it’s got a hidden challenge that most homeowners don’t know about, which is when you go to sell your house.” He explained that not only would a potential homebuyer have to qualify for a loan on your home, but they would also have to qualify for the lease or PPA on the solar panel system.

He mentioned that he’s known real estate agents to completely avoid homeowners who don’t own the solar panel system because of this problem. He concluded, “If you can buy it and own it, that’s the best scenario.” This hidden challenge is in addition to the fact that leases and PPAs don’t let you qualify for tax incentives or achieve a payback period with your panels. Roughly 57% of solar customers we surveyed opted to purchase their system in its entirety because of these challenges. 

Here is a rundown of the most common payment methods and what they entail:

  • Full purchase: The most cost-effective option is to pay the entire price of your solar system upfront. This allows for the quickest possible payback period when your solar panels start generating electricity and paying for themselves. Additionally, paying upfront enables you to access all solar tax incentives. Although it may require a larger initial investment, a full purchase can help you save more money in the long run.
  • Solar loan: A solar lease is another excellent option if you want the most financial benefit from your solar panel system. This allows you to finance your system if you don’t want to pay a lot upfront. However, you’ll have to pay more over time due to interest rates. Some solar companies have an in-house financing department, which is good because they’re more involved with your investment. Lastly, this allows you to use tax incentives.
  • Solar lease: If you’re interested in using solar energy but don’t want to own the system or deal with incentives, leasing is ideal. You can work with a solar installation company to determine a fixed monthly rate that you pay for the solar panels. In return, you’ll experience a decrease in your monthly electric bills.
  • PPA: A PPA is an alternative to a solar lease agreement. Instead of a fixed monthly rate, you pay for the energy you consume from the solar panels at a fixed rate per kWh. This means that you only pay for the energy that you use.

What are solar incentives?

Solar incentives are various financial benefits, tax credits, rebates and programs offered by governments, utilities and other entities to encourage the adoption of solar energy systems. These incentives aim to make solar power more accessible, affordable and attractive for homeowners, businesses and organizations. The following solar incentives are available:

  • Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC): The ITC allows you to deduct a percentage of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes. Through the Department of Energy and IRS, you receive a tax credit that covers up to 26% of the installation cost, including the cost of solar batteries. This incentive reduces the amount of federal taxes you owe; it doesn’t provide upfront monetary compensation.
  • State and local rebates: Many state and local governments offer rebates or cash incentives for installing solar panels. These rebates often provide a direct monetary reimbursement or discount on the upfront cost of purchasing and installing a solar energy system. We recommend you visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency to search for what incentives you can use.
  • Net metering: Net metering is a program that enables you to sell surplus electricity produced by your solar panels back to the power grid. In return, you receive credits on your utility bills for the amount of electricity you contribute. This effectively offsets the cost of the electricity you consume when solar production is low. Feed-in tariffs work in a similar fashion but involve selling excess energy to utilities at predetermined rates.

Final take: Trinity Solar is our top choice for best solar company

Trinity Solar sets the bar high with its affordability and services and is our top choice for a solar installation company. The company is the best for ongoing customer support, and it maintains a positive customer reputation by using quality solar panel brands and certified installers. 

Elevation is your go-to if you’re primarily concerned about getting as many energy upgrades as possible. SunPower is a fine choice if your priority is panel performance and you want the most optimized system possible. The company’s close relationship with Maxeon has helped it make a name for itself due to its efficiency rates breaking most averages. 

We encourage you to get at least three quotes from solar companies that service your home’s address. This approach lets you take the time to closely compare pricing, warranty coverage and service options against your budget and energy goals. 

Our rating methodology for solar systems

You benefit most from working with a solar installer that is responsive and transparent and that offers a breadth of service options. We evaluate solar installers on a variety of key factories, including their customer service, breadth of services, consultation process, website experience, panel quality, payment options, financing availability and warranty coverage. 

We rate and compare solar installers using our in-depth methodology. Installers are scored out of 100, and we then divide the final score by 20 to get the 5-star rating we include in our reviews.

BBB information is current as of January 2024.

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