We compared the solar panels, inverters, batteries, warranties and customer service these national solar installers offer to jumpstart your solar panel research.
ADT Solar is CNET's best solar panel company for 2023, for offering strong warranties, quality solar panels, backup batteries and well-regarded customer service. Each company on our best solar companies list offers quality equipment and gets strong customer service marks, but ADT Solar's 25-year warranties for workmanship and weatherization are at the top of the group and drive its score up. ADT Solar operates in 23 states (with seven more coming soon), but if you're not in one of them, or another company might offer a better deal, you'll find alternative options and guidance to get your best fit here.
If you're planning to buy solar panels to avoid rising energy costs and blackouts or 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.
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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 are a significant investment. 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 by a few different parameters. However, with 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 a home solar panel array after it's installed. 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.
This best list draws from national and notable installers of (mostly rooftop) solar panels. As we publish reviews of more companies, this best list will be updated to reflect our current top choices. These were rated the best solar companies for 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.)
If you're looking for a solar panel installer, be sure to get multiple quotes including from local installers where possible. 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 family. Solar can be a great investment but requires you to do your own research.
ADT Solar checks most of the boxes in our methodology for evaluating solar companies. It has strong warranties, offers a variety of quality solar panels, solar batteries and inverters, and gets high marks from the Better Business Bureau for being responsive to customer complaints. The solar panels it installs (from Canadian Solar, Silfab and Qcells) include the most widely installed residential solar panels (Qcells), a leading efficiency option (Canadian Solar) and solar panels from a company starting to offer a 30-year warranty (Silfab).
What puts ADT Solar ahead of all the other companies on our list is its warranties. It's the only company we've reviewed that offers 25-year warranties for the workmanship on its installations and against leaks caused by it.
I'd like to see more upfront pricing information (as I would from almost all solar installers), which is the biggest mark against ADT. It's just more proof that you should get multiple quotes before choosing a company to install your solar panels. Read our ADT Solar review.
Palmetto Solar has strong solar equipment offerings and more robust service for after installation than most other companies, though it might cost you a bit. Palmetto offers a few tiers of service under the brand name Palmetto Protect. All customers receive third-party monitoring and proactive communication when some part of their solar system malfunctions. While lease and power purchase agreement customers get a power production guarantee and certain labor costs covered for no extra charge, loan and cash purchase customers can get them for $20 or less a month. Palmetto also receives an A-plus from the Better Business Bureau.
Palmetto does offer quality solar equipment and is one of the few companies to tell us they offer Sonnen's batteries. Like many companies, Palmetto's workmanship warranty (10 years) and weatherization warranty (5 years) could be longer and lag behind the industry. Read our Palmetto Solar review.
SunPower Solar lands in our top three, thanks to its top-of-the-line solar panels and strong warranties. The solar panels SunPower offers have industry leading efficiency marks (22.8%) and a warranty that guarantees at least 92% production after 25 years. It earns an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau. SunPower now installs batteries in four sizes, all of which come with strong warranties, not limited by the number of times you charge and drain it.
SunPower's solar panels might be a bit more expensive than others (though accurate pricing industry wide is hard to come by). The company has said it plans to continue rolling out more accessible solar solutions and started installing solar panels from Qcells this year. Read our SunPower review.
Tesla's solar branch seems to be the least loved of Elon Musk's ventures. Even Tesla's Solar Roof seems to get more love. Still, solar panels from Tesla are likely to be the cheapest option where they are available. You can save thousands of dollars, without sacrificing on quality of equipment or the warranties that protects it
What you might sacrifice is customer service. From delays to price changes, to slow responses, to system malfunctions, social media reports of negative experiences aren't hard to find, including some who regret their choice. This is true of all solar companies, but the quantity of reports concerning Tesla is concerning. Others describe experiences that aren't so bad, to be sure. The general consensus is that going with Tesla is a gamble.
Even with concerns about customer service and a few warranties that could be longer (workmanship and the weatherization of your roof), Tesla's solid equipment is enough to land it on our best list.
Momentum Solar puts Qcells solar panels on roofs in 11 states, and installs Enphase batteries alongside them in five of those. While there isn't a ton choice in the Momentum's preferred installations, Qcells and Enphase are two widely installed brands, though Enphase more for its microinverters, which Momentum also installs.
Momentum is one of a few companies that will price match quotes from other companies. It also receives an A-plus from the Better Business Bureau. The company also uses only in-house, Momentum-trained installation teams and backs that work up with a workmanship warranty that lasts 25 years, matching the longest warranty terms in the industry. Read our Momentum Solar review.
Most residential solar customers up to now have solar panels mounted on racks bolted to their roofs. That's something GAF Energy is trying to change with Timberline Solar shingles, its solar roofing product. Attached with nails instead of bolts and installed at the same time and by the same team as a new roof, the solar power-generating shingles sit flush to the roof. They look a bit sleeker and could be less prone to leaks than traditional solar panels.
GAF Energy's solar shingle, installed in 16 states with more to come, could make the decision to go solar easier by rolling it in with the purchase of a new roof. If you don't like the look of solar panels, Timberline Solar shingles have a subtler look, though they're not invisible. You also get a solar roof without the major markup of other options, like the Tesla solar roof. Read CNET's GAF Energy review.
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.
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.
|Company||CNET's score||Financing options||Prefered Panel(s)||Battery options||Weatherization||BBB Rating|
|ADT Solar||8.7||Purchase||Canadian Solar, Qcells, Silfab||Enphase, Tesla||25 years||A+|
|Palmetto||8.3||Purchase, lease, ppa||Qcells, REC Alpha||Sonnen, Tesla||5 years||A+|
|SunPower||7.7||Purchase, lease, ppa||SunPower Maxeon, Qcells||SunPower||12 years||A+|
|Momentum||6.9||Purchase, lease, ppa||Qcells||Enphase||5 years||A+|
|Trinity Solar||6.6||Purchase, lease, ppa||Qcells||Generac, Tesla||10 years||A+|
|Sunnova||6.5||Purchase, lease, ppa||No specified preference||Enpahs, FranklinWh, Generac, SolarEdge, Tesla||10 years||Not rated|
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
Residential solar installations cost $2.99 per watt for an 8-kilowatt system, according to a Wood Mackenzie analysis. That means a 7-kilowatt solar panel system would cost about $20,930. (The cost of solar panels varies by location, thanks to so-called soft costs, like permitting, inspection fees and labor.)
There are plenty of incentives to reduce that cost or give you money back on your taxes, though. 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 faster than without.
Solar panels will likely be worth it, depending on the details of your specific situation. If you use very little energy or have very cheap energy, you won't be saving as much money each month and it will take longer for your panels to pay for themselves. Likewise, if you live under deep tree cover, rooftop solar panels likely won't generate enough electricity to be worth it.
However, solar can pay off in energy savings for decades. Lowering the cost with rebates and tax credits will help pay off your solar panels faster. How you pay for your solar panels will affect that calculation, too. It will take longer to recoup your costs if you take out a loan, which will accrue interest and come with fees. You can calculate your payback period if you know the cost of solar panels after rebates and how much you'll save on energy costs each year.
If you buy solar panels today, there's a good chance they'll be under warranty for 25 years. You'll often see that listed as the lifespan of the panels, but that's not quite accurate. That warranty covers production from your solar panels. Solar panels lose their ability to produce solar electricity as they age for any number of reasons, so a warranty will guarantee a certain level of production after a certain number of years. For example, Q Cells offers a 25-year warranty, which guarantees that your panels will produce at 86% of their rated capacity at that point.
This doesn't mean those solar panels die at the end of 25 years, they'll just produce less. Solar panels can produce well after their warranty expires, though given that large numbers of solar panels are just now being installed, we'll continue to get a better idea of how they age in years to come.
While skilled do-it-yourselfers might be able to pull off a solar panel installation, it's definitely not recommended. Going through a reputable and licensed solar installer gives you a number of protections. Installing solar panels is not as simple as plugging in a large appliance. A qualified solar installer will be able to navigate local code and ordinances, and ensure that the warranty on the panels remains intact. They will also be able to tell you if you need a new roof or other upgrades before installing solar panels.
A solar installer will also be able to design your solar system to best fit your goals and habits by identifying the most productive locations on your roof and angling panels to collect the most sun. Further, your installer should be able to help you troubleshoot any problems that arise after installation.
The best way to tell is to get multiple quotes. With a purchase this big, you should get several, including one or two from local installers who might be able to offer you greater choice.
There are also resources from the federal and many state governments to guide you through the process. You can look out for a few red flags from salespeople, too.
Local installers typically have less costs for advertising and sales than the large, national corporations. That represents possible savings that could be returned to customers. On the other hand, with a long-term investment like solar panels, it may feel safer to have the backing of a large corporation. And larger companies may be able to offer cheaper prices due to the volume of installations they do.
When you're gathering quotes for a solar panel installation, be sure to contact local installers, too. The solar industry is a competitive one, and checking around could save you thousands.
Identical solar panels will produce different amounts of electricity when they're exposed to different levels of sunlight. So, solar panels in sunnier places (like the American southwest) with more direct sunlight (like in the south) will produce more electricity. But other factors make solar a good deal for homeowners.
New England has one of the highest regional adoption rates for residential solar in the US. That's not because it has a ton of sunshine year round, but because it has favorable solar policies, like net metering and rebates. Solar panels might make financial sense even if they'll be installed under frequently cloudy skies.
The federal tax credit for solar panels is still around. For any solar panels installed in 2023, the federal government will give you 30% of the cost back on your income taxes. As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, passed in 2022, the credit was bumped up to 30% and will stay at that level through 2031.
Besides the federal tax credit, there might be state and local incentives you can take advantage of.
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.