Choosing a solar company takes care. So does reviewing them. Here's how we do it.
CNET's approach to solar reviews follows from its tradition of testing and reviewing new technology: the exciting, the over-hyped and the world-changing. Through it all, CNET has had a commitment to honest, fair, transparent and editorially independent testing.
Those commitments inform our reviews of solar companies. While we can't conduct hands-on testing or go through the purchasing process with these companies, we thoroughly research them and conduct interviews with company spokespeople, focusing on the things we can measure and ignoring the noise and spin. It's all filtered through our ongoing reporting on the industry.
Here's a detailed look at how we conduct each solar company review.
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
The list of solar companies we choose to review is created with input from a variety of sources.
Some companies are chosen because our editors and writers recognize them as companies the public needs to know about. They could be companies with large market shares, like Sunrun or Tesla, that readers are likely to encounter when searching for solar panels. Or they could be offering a new and potentially disruptive solar solution, like GAF Energy.
The selection of the companies we review is also influenced by which companies the public is most interested in learning more about as measured by search volume. We also review this list when new affiliate partnerships are made between solar panel companies and CNET or its parent company, Red Ventures. While partnership status might prompt us to review a specific company, it does not influence the scores or recommendations we give. No advertiser, affiliate partner or business interest dictates what we write or how we review it.
Reviewing solar companies in a hands-on way is difficult, if not impossible. Instead, we rely on thorough research, our ongoing coverage of the industry and conversations with people at the company. We crafted our methodology to accurately measure things that matter to our readers, ignore those things that don't make a difference and do so in a way that allows for meaningful comparison between companies.
Solar companies are scored on criteria that fall into three general buckets: equipment, warranties and service.
Within the equipment category, companies receive scores for the panels, inverters and batteries they install. Warranties include the guarantees on the panels, workmanship and weatherization against leaks. Companies earn points for service if they offer a price match, a meaningful level of price transparency and a well-rated app for monitoring solar production. They lose points if there are major issues pertaining to customer service (lawsuits, investigations or clear reputations for shoddy service). These issues will always be detailed in the review.
Here's how the scoring breaks down. Each category we consider in scoring gets a score out of five, sometimes on a simple scale, other times by gaining points for offering equipment or services with specific characteristics. Each category counts for 5 or 10% of the final score.
In some cases, we lacked the information needed to accurately score a company. Either the information was not publicly available, we could not get in contact with the company or it declined to provide the necessary information.
We do not consider average prices in our score. While price is clearly a consideration for you, it's hard to measure in a way that makes for useful comparisons between companies. The price of a solar installation varies from state to state because of differences in the size of a solar system, labor and permitting costs and other regional factors. You should always get multiple quotes when shopping for solar panels, because prices can vary so much. We do consider whether a company is transparent about pricing or offers a price match, as those are easily verifiable and will translate across regions.
We also don't consider how many states a company operates in (though our list is made up of companies with a larger service area). We assume that you care that a company operates in your state, not others.
We've rated and reviewed companies in a way we find to be most helpful to solar panel shoppers. However, you should always shop around, getting multiple quotes before deciding to move ahead. You should also go in informed: Understand your energy use and costs, the local and national incentives available to you, like net metering or tax breaks, and your likely payback period.