Looking to install rooftop solar panels? Finding the right company is important. We rank the best national solar installers and offer solar shopping advice.
Andrew BlokEditor I
Andrew Blok has been an editor at CNET covering HVAC and home energy, with a focus on solar, since October 2021. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make smart energy decisions. He's a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
ExpertiseSolar providers and portable solar power; coffee makers, grinders and productsCredentials
The companies providing quotes may differ from those described in our independent reviews.
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, multiple solar battery choices and good customer service. Every solar installer on our best list offers quality equipment and gets high customer service marks, but ADT Solar's 25-year warranties for workmanship and protection against leaks lead the group and give it the edge. ADT Solar operates in 23 states (with seven more coming soon), 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. As we publish reviews of more solar companies, this best list will be updated to reflect our current top choices. 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 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.)
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Elevation has a few things going for it that might make it a good fit for you. Alongside strong equipment offerings (Qcells solar panels and Tesla and Enphase batteries), Elevation offers energy efficiency improvements before installation. By addressing energy efficiency first, you may be able to get by with a smaller solar array and, at the very least, won't be wasting as much energy each month. Elevation also offers energy monitoring for your home that can look at energy consumption down to specific devices, a finer resolution than most monitoring apps.
Elevation also uses only in-house employees for installations. While its warranties on the installation work and weatherization of the penetrations in your roof could be longer, it offers extended warranty options for a price. And, while Elevation could be more upfront with its pricing (like the rest of the industry), it does offer a price match guarantee, while the majority of companies don't.
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.
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.
NRG Clean Power operates in California and Texas, the two most populous states and two of the biggest markets for solar panels in the United States. Despite only operating in two states, NRG Clean Power actually received the highest score of any solar company we've reviewed.
That's in large part thanks to its industry-leading 40 year warranty on the installation work they do at your house. That protects you against leaks caused by the penetrations drilled in your roof and unsatisfactory production due to faulty installation. That's 15 years longer than the longest workmanship warranty offered by competitors and 30 years longer than some offerings.
NRG only offers solar panels for purchase, and not power purchase agreements or leases, but it installs panels from respected manufacturers such as Qcells. It also installs multiple batteries and both string inverters and microinverters.
Renu Energy Solutions services just North and South Carolina, but does so with quality equipment and well-regarded customer service. Renu installations using Solaria and other top line solar panels can be purchased but not lease or accessed through a power purchase agreement. The firm works with multiple battery manufacturers and installs both microinverters and string inverters.
Reliable and thorough customer satisfaction data is hard to come by for the solar industry, but from what we can tell, Renu gets high marks from its customers. It gets an A+ from the Better Business Bureau, and customers there rate it 4.79 out of 5. It's warranties are a bit shorter than the industry average though.
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'.
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.
Ask your installerquestions: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Are solar panels worth it in my state?
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. And 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'll 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.
This answer is specific to you and depends on how much energy you use and how much sunlight you get. Depending on your local regulations and electricity rates, installing more panels than you strictly need may not be allowed or even worth it.
To calculate how many solar panels you need determine your average daily energy use in kilowatt hours. Divide that by the peak sun hours your home gets to find how much solar capacity you'll need to install in kilowatts. Divide that capacity by the size of your solar panels (400 watts, or 0.4 kilowatts, is a common size) to get the number of panels you'll need.
This is just a rough estimate and a reputable solar installer should be able to offer you a rationale for the number of panels they propose installing.
What is net metering?
Net metering is the way that utilities compensate you for energy your solar panels generate but you don't use. Since this energy flows back to the grid for someone else to use, it's fairly common for utilities to offer you bill credits for that energy to offset what you buy from them. These credits save you even more money on electricity than solar panels would without.
Net metering will look different from utility to utility and the incentive has been challenged and even eliminated in some states, like Indiana.
How long do solar panels last?
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.
Should I hire a solar panel installer?
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.
How do I know if the quote I have is a good one?
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.
Are local solar installers a good option?
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.
Will solar panels work in my climate?
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.
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.