How to Compare Solar Companies (And Our Top 5 Picks)

If you're like the 90% of American who have yet to switch to solar, you're paying too much for electricity. Between 2005 and 2015, residential electricity prices increased by 34%, and they continue to rise at an accelerating pace.

That means there's no time like the present to switch to solar, which could save you anywhere from 10-70% on electricity costs.

But with so many solar companies on the market, it behooves you to do your homework to get the most bang for your buck.

Think about how you'll pay and be sure to shop around when you decide to 'go solar'

When you're shopping different solar companies, you'll want to make sure you know the difference in payment options, and how that can affect how much you'll eventually save on utilities.

If cost and payments are taken care of, your next logical step is to compare the best solar panels on the market.

Top 10 Major Solar Companies Worldwide (2016)

Choose the right solar payment option. There are three different options when it comes to purchasing solar: buying the system outright, leasing, and power purchase agreement (PPA).

Buying outright will allow you to save more as you'll own the system (which can cost anywhere from $15,000-$30,000 before rebates and incentives).

In the long run, you can potentially save 40-70% on utility costs over the lifetime of your system. With a lease, you're basically renting the solar equipment and paying a monthly fee.

In a power purchase agreement (PPA), you'll pay for the solar electricity generated by the system on a per-kilowatt-hour basis. Both agreements usually last 20-25 years and will net you 10-30% savings on electricity.

Shop around to find the best deal. It pays to get quotes from multiple companies, as you can save about 10% if you get three or more quotes.

Avoid these three pitfalls when shopping for solar

A lot of solar customers fall into the following traps when shopping for solar:

Don't always go with the big brand. Bigger, nationwide companies aren't always best. For one, there's a reason you've heard the company's name: advertising.

And you'll pay for that name, too. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000-$5,000 more expensive than small solar companies.

Also, smaller, local companies often offer more loan options to customers.

Fix any roof damage before installation. Just think: solar systems are meant to last 25-30 years. Your costs can skyrocket—and therefore, any savings potential can evaporate—if you have to uninstall (and then re-install) the system to fix your roof.

Study your rebates beforehand. Different states offer different tax rebates and incentives for different systems. If you don't know these ins-and-outs, you could miss out on big-time saving opportunities.

How we picked these solar companies

In doing our research on the best solar companies, we took the following into consideration:

Broad area of operation. The majority of solar companies operate in only a handful of states. We limited our search to companies operating in at least 10 states.

Robust menu of offerings. All of these recommended companies offer the complete package in terms of solar energy: solar installation, payment options, and maintenance options.

How Much Was Invested In Solar Energy Technologies Globally?

1. Vivint Solar is perfect for people who value flexibility

Vivint Solar, which services 19 states, has perfected the art of customer-focused service.

The Utah-based company is a rarity in that it's a one-stop-shop for the design, installation, and maintenance of solar panel systems, as most other companies outsource at least one of those tasks.

Also, the company recently partnered with Mercedes-Benz Energy to provide customers top-of-the-line storage. But perhaps the biggest upside to Vivint is the flexibility it offers to its customers in terms of payments and services.

Why Vivint Solar may be the best option for you

Here's a quick quiz for you:

  • Do you value flexibility?
  • Do you want one company handling all aspects of your solar power system?
  • Do you want to weigh your options between owning, leasing, and signing a PPA?
  • Do you plan on moving in the next 20-25 years?

If you answered yes to these questions, then Vivint is the solar company for you.

People love Vivint Solar because it provides options

Vivint shines for many reasons, but the reason it's the best option for so many people is because it offers far-and-away the most flexibility.

Payment options for all customers. No matter your budget or finances, you can still go solar through Vivint. The company accepts all types of payment options, including cash purchase, loan, lease, PPA, and PACE financing.

Flexible moving options. Leasing or signing a PPA in order to get solar energy is a tough call for homeowners. Many a homeowner asks: What if I move before the 25-year agreement is up?

Well, Vivint is one of the few companies to offer you options should you move: transferring the agreement to the new owner, pre-paying the agreement, relocating your system at no additional cost, or purchasing the system outright (after six years).

People hate Vivint Solar because of delays in service

Of course, not everything is all rosy when it comes to Vivint, which falls short in some ways.

Unavoidable annual price increases. Vivint has a pre-determined price increase of 2.9% annually with PPAs, which accounts for the inflation of the cost of electricity year-over-year.

How Much Do Americans Pay for Electricity?

Costly delays in services. When it comes to servicing and maintaining already installed systems, Vivint leaves much to be desired.

"I have been trying for months to have Vivint come out and remove 5 panels so that a leak in our roof can be repaired," writes Lauire Zabel of South Plainfield, NJ.

The question everyone is asking now: "How big is Vivint Solar?"

Vivint has installed more than 100,000 solar systems across 19 states.

The smartest way to apply is a phone call

The quickest way to get started with Vivint Solar is to head to the company's website. But, the smartest way is to call customer service at 877-404-4129. By calling, you can personally talk over options with a representative.

As noted before, you can save more if you have multiple quotes. If you think Vivint is your best option, it would be ideal to call armed with a few quotes to help get the best deal.

2. SolarCity is a great option for those who find comfort in big names

SolarCity's biggest draw comes with one name: Elon Musk, who has backed the company publically and financially.

But there's also a lot of value SolarCity offers customers, from long-term warranties to transparency in contract negotiations, not to mention the fact that it's been around more than 10 years.

It also boasts 20 locations across the U.S., which means that it can offer in-person support and feedback.

If you're interested in SolarCity, then you have to read our in-depth review.

Why SolarCity may be the best option for you

Here's some self-analysis to perform quickly:

  • Does the name Elon Musk/Tesla offer you added confidence?
  • Do you value transparency?
  • Are you more comfortable dealing with one company, no matter your location?

Well, if you answered in the affirmative to these questions, then SolarCity is the company for you.

People love SolarCity because of its name recognition and service

There's a lot of upsides when looking at SolarCity.

A simple and transparent contract. SolarCity has an open book philosophy in regards to contracts, which is helpful for customers who would like to have all the information before they consider working with SolarCity, according to bestcompany.com

A plethora of payment options. SolarCity provides all four types of payment options, including purchasing, loaning, leasing, and PPA.

A trusty name friends will recognize. A lot of customers find Elon Musk's backing to be the cherry on top. "They're also backed by Elon Musk, which is the coolest part in my opinion," writes Justin R on Yelp.

People hate SolarCity because of its poor customer service

Name recognition and quality installations aside, SolarCity really lacks in how it deals with customers.

Poor and slow customer service. A lot of customers complained about the lag time in getting responses from customer service reps. "Once SolarCity has your money, their customer service disappears," writes one reviewer on solarreviews.com.

The question everyone is asking now, "What is the difference between SolarCity and SunPower?"

Perhaps the biggest difference is that SolarCity finances and installs your system, while SunRun partners with local installers to build its solar systems.

The smartest way to apply is by calling

While you can get a free quote on SolarCity's website, we'd recommend calling customer service at 888-765-2489 to get started.

This is the fastest way to get answers, and, like previously mentioned, speaking to a customer rep armed with quotes from other companies can help you get a better deal.

3. SunPower is the best option for those looking for top-of-the-line sun panels

One of the oldest (started in 1992) and largest (operates in 37 states), SunPower offers two main things: reliable energy and long-term peace of mind.

SunPower manufactures some of the most high-quality solar panels, which many other companies in the industry also install.

It offers some decent payment options, but the biggest potential drawback is that the company outsources most installations.

Rooftop Solar Sales on the Rise

Why SunPower may be the best option for you

Take this quick quiz:

  • Do you value product reliability over all else?
  • Do you not mind if the manufacturer is different from the installer?
  • Do you live in a state that doesn't have many other options?

Well, if you answered in the affirmative to these questions, then SunPower is the company for you.

People love SunPower because of its name recognition and service

As previously mentioned, Sunpower shines when it comes to product reliability and quality.

Multiple payment options. SunPower offers three different payment options: lease, loan, and purchase.

Innovative, cost-saving design. SunPower's X-Series solar panels deliver 44% more energy per panel than panels from some competitors, according to bestcompany.com.

Why does that matter?

Because SunPower can provide more power for your home with fewer solar panels, so an investment in SunPower systems can potentially pay off more.

Online monitoring with a sophisticated app. SunPower offers a helpful, convenient app for customers to monitor their system's performance throughout the day.

People hate SunPower because of its outsourced installations

Let's see how these positives stack up against the negatives.

No PPAs for residential customers. SunPower only offers PPAs to commercial customers, meaning those who can't really afford to buy or lease solar are left in the dark.

Outsourced installations equal complications. SunPower only performs installations in select areas of California, meaning the majority of installations are outsourced to other companies. This can lead to problems down the road.

"The company that installed the system has since gone out of business. SunPower will only cover the product replacement - NOT the service involved in getting it replaced," writes Ryan of Bloomfield, IN, on consumeraffairs.com.

The question everyone is asking now, "Which of these solar companies is better: SunRun or SunPower?"

While both are in the top five solar companies in the country, SunPower etches it out over SunRun as it offers higher-quality sun panels.

The smartest way to apply is over the phone

You can get started by heading to the SunPower website, but your quickest option is to call customer service at 800-786-7693. Again, be prepared with previous quotes from other companies for the best chance at getting a lower quote.

4. SunRun is the best option for those looking for additional security

SunRun is one of the largest solar companies, having installed more than 100,000 systems and helping customers save more than $100 million in energy costs.

The company shines when it comes to warranties and treatment of customers.

Why SunRun may be the best option for you

Here are a few questions:

  • Are warranties important to you?
  • Do you want as little worry and hassle as possible when going solar?
  • Do you want flexibility in paying for your solar system?

Well, if you answered in the affirmative to these questions, then SunRun is the company for you.

People love SunRun because of its warranties and treatment of customers

SunRun offers a variety of warranties and protections that eliminate a lot of worry for customers.

Long-term maintenance coverage. For customers who opt for a PPA, SunRun is responsible for all maintenance and repairs of the system for at least 20 years.

Additionally, Sunrun will refund customers if the system on their roof ever underperforms.

Other long-term panel and roof warranties. Here are some other upsides that ease worry for customers: a 10-year warranty on systems that are purchased, a 20-year warranty on systems that are leased, and 24/7 system monitoring.

People hate SunRun because of their poor communication

Most customer complaints about SunRun because of poor customer service communication.

Lackluster communication and service. "They have attempted to send several techs out and each gives a different excuse why it's not working," writes Demishia of Bay Shore, NY, on consumeraffairs.com.

The question everyone is asking now, "How do SolarCity and Sunrun compare?"

SunRun, unlike SolarCity, installs the majority of its own systems. Also, SolarCity is a bit more technologically savvy in terms of panels and systems.

SolarCity vs. SunRun's (2015)

The smartest way to apply is, again, over the phone

You can get started by heading to the SunRun website, but your quickest option is to call customer service at (855) 910-8650. Again, be prepared with previous quotes from other companies for the best chance of getting a lower quote.

5. Dividend Solar is the best option for those looking to buy their solar system

Dividend Solar, which is available in 25 states, is unlike a lot of the other solar energy companies, as it mainly specializes in solar loans and financing.

Why Dividend Solar may be the best option for you

Here are a few questions:

  • Do you know you want to buy your solar system?
  • Would you like to benefit from a $0 option?
  • Do you not mind that installations will be done by third parties?

If you answered in the affirmative to these questions, then Dividend Solar is the company for you.

People love Dividend because of its purchase options

Since Dividend focuses most of its efforts on financing, it offers pretty robust options for those looking to buy.

$0 down out of the gate. Dividend offers two types of loans: EmpowerLoan and PACE. Both loans are $0 down, can be paid off early, and include certified installers, a performance guarantee, and a warranty.

Lengthy warranty eases anxiety Dividend Solar systems come with a 25-year warranty attached, which covers repairs and defects, performance, and maintenance services through its installation companies.

There's also a 20-year workmanship warranty covering all labor.

Real-time monitoring. Dividend Solar monitors your system 24/7, alerting customers to any problems.

People hate Dividend Solar because of poor communication

Outsourced installations lead to hiccups. "The outsourced installation, in our case, has proved to be seriously problematic," writes Paul Runge of Moraga, CA on bestcompanies.com. This can also lead to poor communication.

"Spoke to salesman and he said that a local contractor would contact me. I'm still waiting," says David on bestcompanies.com.

The question everyone is asking now, "What is the biggest benefit to the EmpowerLoan?"

The two biggest benefits of Dividend's EmpowerLoan are $0-down and a low, fixed interest rate.

The smartest way to apply is by phone

You can get started by heading to the Dividend Solar website, but your quickest option is to call customer service at (844) 805-7100.

Again, be prepared with previous quotes from other companies for the best chance of getting a lower quote.

Picking the right solar company dictates how much you'll save on energy

When it comes to going solar, it's important to know your payment options the different payment options offered by each company and to shop around.

The more homework you do, the more money you'll save in the long run.

Since you're interested in solar power, then you may want to check out these reviews and articles.

Ready to go solar? Check out our Complete Guide to Solar Panels, and get tips from the pros on The Best Solar Panels For Home, According to Experts.

If you've gone solar, what's your experience with your company been like?

Any great tips (or nightmares) to share with the rest of us?

Let us know in the comments below.


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