Best Solar Panel Installation Companies in Illinois

Generous state incentives such as the Illinois Shines program and Solar for All make Illinois one of the best states for rooftop solar purchases.

The companies providing quotes may differ from those described in our independent reviews.
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Whether you're in Chicago, Peoria or anywhere else in Illinois, solar panels can make financial sense, thanks to state and federal incentives.

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Powering your home with solar energy can help slash your utility bills and reduce your carbon footprint, but the average $24,000 price tag can be a nonstarter for many homeowners. On the other hand, going solar could be a big benefit, especially considering Illinois ranked in the top 10 nationwide for fastest-rising energy bills from November 2021 to November 2022, according to data from CNET sister site SaveOnEnergy. The average energy bill in Illinois rose 20.5% during that time. 

In Illinois, as in the rest of the country, you've got the federal tax credit legislated into existence by the Inflation Reduction Act, which will cover up to 30% of the cost once tax season rolls around. But in the Land of Lincoln, there are also state programs offering major help.

One, Illinois Shines, provides up-front funding for solar panels through the purchase of renewable energy credits. Another, Illinois Solar for All, pays for folks who meet lower-income requirements to install solar panels with no up-front cost, said Vito Greco, director of solar programs at the clean energy advocacy group Elevate, which administers the program. 

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Here's what you need to know about Illinois solar incentives and how to choose the best installer

Best national solar panel companies in Illinois 

There are 341 solar companies operating in Illinois, including 73 installers and developers, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association. So which one do you choose?

If you're receiving state incentives, you'll need to choose one of the approved vendors of Illinois Shines or Illinois Solar for All, whichever program you're using. Get quotes from multiple installers, and check reviews and do other research to make sure you're getting the best deal from a reputable company. Here are a few from our research and our list of best solar companies

Palmetto Solar

Best overall

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Solar panels are typically low maintenance equipment, but they're also unfamiliar. If you want to reap the benefits of solar but will have a bit more peace of mind if someone else is making sure it's working, Palmetto might be a good fit for you. Just remember to add the cost of Palmetto's monitoring service in to your payback period calculations.

  • Equipment 9.3 / 10
  • Warranty 6 / 10
  • Service 10 / 10
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SunPower Solar

Best solar panels

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If you're looking for top-of-the-line solar panels, SunPower is your best choice. But don't write it off if you're looking for a less flashy installation that will get the job done. This year it started installing Qcells panels, which should make an installation from the longest-tenured company on our list available to more people.

  • Equipment 8 / 10
  • Warranty 8.5 / 10
  • Service 7 / 10
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Freedom Forever

Best for cash customers

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Include Freedom Forever in your search if you want the backing of a national company that installs a wide variety of the most popular solar equipment available. Freedom Forever also extends a couple of products that take some of the pain and risk out of going solar, like a production guarantee and an escrow option with cash purchases. Online reviews say customer satisfaction has been low of late, though the company says that's changing.

  • Equipment 9.3 / 10
  • Warranty 7 / 10
  • Service 5 / 10
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Tesla Solar

Most affordable

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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.

If price is the thing you won't budge on, consider Tesla. By all accounts, Tesla installs quality panels and makes the closest thing there is to a household name in solar storage: the Powerwall.

Where you might miss out is customer service. Discussion online seems to suggest Tesla's service is a bit of a gamble.

  • Equipment 7.3 / 10
  • Warranty 6.5 / 10
  • Service 8 / 10
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Local solar panel companies in Illinois

Nelnet Renewable Energy offers solar installations for pitched roofs, flat roofs and ground-mounted solar. It also offers Tesla Powerwall installations. The company offers financing options, as well as leasing and power purchase agreements.

Based in Chicago, Windfree Solar has been in business since 2009 and operates across the Midwest. The firm, an approved vendor for both Illinois Shines and Illinois Solar for All, provides design, installation and monitoring services. It also sells battery systems.

How to determine which solar company in Illinois is best for me

The best solar installer for your needs is an installer that has experience working on the type of solar project that you're interested in. You'll want to make sure your installer has experience working with the type of roof that your home has, and the type of system you want installed, like on-grid or off-grid. 

You should look for solar installers that are certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and have the proper licensing and bonding to do their work. Reading online reviews can also help you get a better understanding of an installer's reputation. A few common places to start looking for solar company reviews are Google, Yelp and Angi (formerly Angie's List). Ben Delman, a communications director with Solar United Neighbors, recommends looking for installers that have at least 20 to 30 reviews. If you know someone who has solar panels on their home, ask them for solar installer recommendations too.

Aside from reviews and certifications, there are a few other things to look for in a solar installer. A good installer, Delman said, will be able to:

  • Provide good word-of-mouth references
  • Clearly explain the project deadlines
  • Easily define technical terms for your understanding
  • Be transparent about pricing and how system financing works
  • Understand the local permit requirements and the process for system interconnection with your local power company
  • Understand homeowners association regulations and restrictions to help you navigate through that process

A trustworthy solar installer should be able to answer any questions you may have, no matter how difficult your questions are. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification on project and pricing details. Make sure to shop around and gather multiple quotes to get the best price possible. Delman recommends comparing at least three quotes before choosing your installer. 

Cost of solar panels in Illinois 

Here's a look at the average cash price for a typical solar panel system in Illinois before factoring in tax credits and incentives, according to data from FindEnergy.com.

Average cost of solar panels in Illinois

Typical system size (kW)Price per wattTotal installed costCost after 30% federal tax credit
Illinois 6$3.76$22,560$15,792
National average 8.6$3.67$31,558$22,091

The map found below displays the average total price, cost per watt and system size for rooftop solar in different states, according to data from FindEnergy.com. The prices shown do not represent fluctuations from tax credits or state solar incentives. If FindEnergy doesn't have solar data for a particular state, it appears grayed out on the map.

Illinois solar panel incentives and rebates

Illinois has some robust incentives for clean energy, implemented in two recent state laws: The Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016 and the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act of 2021. These laws created programs around utility-scale renewable energy, electric vehicle infrastructure and more. 

If you're interested in residential solar, these laws implemented a pair of incentive programs that can make a significant dent in the cost of panels. Illinois Shines provides upfront funding for your solar system by prepaying for 15 years of renewable energy credits, which you receive for producing clean energy. That can offset about a third of the cost of a solar system, Greco said.

Illinois Solar for All, meanwhile, makes sure residents don't pay upfront costs for a solar panel system if their income is less than 80% of the area median income. 

Illinois Solar for All and Illinois Shines supplement the major federal tax credit, the residential clean energy credit, which was expanded and extended in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. That credit covers as much as 30% of the cost of having a solar system installed. Because it's a tax credit, you'll claim it on your return the following year, and you can only receive as much as you paid in federal tax that year.

Illinois solar incentives

Program Description
Residential clean energy credit This federal tax credit will reimburse you for 30% of the cost of a solar system, and the Inflation Reduction Act extended it for another decade. There's no limit on how much you can claim, except you'll only be able to get a refund for what you actually paid in federal income tax that year.
Illinois Shines The Illinois Shines program is open to everyone in the state, and it provides upfront funding for 15 years of renewable energy credits. That will likely cover about a third of the cost of a system, Greco said.
Illinois Solar for All Illinois Solar for All is a state program that will cover all of the upfront costs of a solar system for those whose income is below 80% of the area median income.
Net metering Net metering is the process by which you can sell excess power generated by your solar panels back to the grid. In Illinois, utility companies are required to provide credits on your bill at the full retail rate -- meaning one kilowatt-hour you sell will be at the same price as the kilowatt-hours you consume.
Property tax adjustment When you have a solar system installed, you can ask the tax assessor to calculate the property's value as the lesser of whether it had the solar system or a conventional heating and cooling system.

How to pay for solar panels in Illinois

The combination of state and local tax incentives in Illinois means your out-of-pocket expenses for a solar power system should be lower compared to other states. But you'll likely still have to pay something -- and even a fraction of the cost is still thousands of dollars. Here are some ways to pay: 

Cash: Paying with cash allows you to avoid financing costs and ongoing bills. If you aren't ready for solar just yet, consider putting money away in a high-yield savings account so you have more cash to work with when you are ready.

Solar loan: Solar installers often work with financial institutions to offer loans. These can be a good idea if you don't have the cash on hand, but shop around to make sure you're getting the best terms and interest rate.

Home equity loan, or HELOC: One popular way to finance home improvements is through a home equity loan or home equity line of credit. These loan types differ from each other -- loans are a lump sum you receive up front, typically at a fixed interest rate, while HELOCs are more akin to a credit card. What they have in common is that both are secured against the equity in your home, meaning if you fail to pay them back, the lender can foreclose on your house. 

Personal loan: If you don't want to put your home at risk, you can also use a personal loan. These, offered by many financial institutions, are unsecured. Personal loans tend to come with higher rates and often shorter terms than home equity loans because they're riskier for banks. When looking at any financial product, be sure to shop around to make sure you're getting the right deal for you.

Lease or power purchase agreement: These two options will save you from having to purchase the solar panels yourself, but there are tradeoffs. You can lease panels from a solar company, paying them to rent the panels. Or you can have a power purchase agreement, in which a company installs panels on your house and you pay them for the power generated.

Read more: Just looking for an emergency backup? Check out portable solar panels and solar generators

Installation factors to keep in mind

Solar panels can save you a lot of money -- but only if done right. Not every home is right for solar panels. Greco estimated that as many as three-quarters of homes aren't a good fit. There are a few ways to tell, but they won't prevent you from doing your part and working to lower your bills. That's because Illinois also has strong community solar opportunities, in which you pay for a share of energy from a separate facility. "For people who can't put solar on their roof, they can subscribe to a community solar array, and you're getting virtual solar," Greco said. "Typically right now you're seeing 20% savings off of community solar."

Here's what you should consider before getting solar on your roof:

  • The condition of your roof: Your roof needs to be in good shape to be ready for solar panels. And beyond just its age and any damage, it should be facing the right way and at the right angle. Solar panels in the northern hemisphere do better on a south-facing slope, and the US Department of Energy says they're ideal at an angle between 15 and 40 degrees. Different angles and directions will affect how efficient your panels may be. 
  • HOA and neighborhood regulations: Illinois law prevents homeowners' associations and other neighborhood groups from outright banning solar panels, but they may have some limited restrictions or requirements. Check with your HOA and local government to make sure you're following all the guidelines.
  • Insurance coverage: Your homeowners insurance should cover your solar panels, but you should call first and make sure you can add them to the policy.
  • Your location: In addition to the pitch and angle of your roof, you need to consider what's around you. If you've got a tall building next door that casts shade for half of the day, or a lot of big trees around your house, solar panels may not get enough rays to make them worth it. A reputable installer should tell you if you have too much shade.
  • Rentals: If you rent your home rather than owning it, you won't be able to get solar panels unless your landlord or property manager is OK with them. In any case, you can always sign up for community solar, which doesn't require you to change the property at all.

How we found the best solar companies 

Our methodology

The companies we listed above as "the best" are curated from CNET's best solar companies list. Companies making the best list are scored on the equipment, warranties and customer service they offer. Then, we make sure these recommendations are available in your state. You can read a full breakdown of how we review solar companies here.

Companies listed under the local installers were chosen in a less rigorous way. We chose them because they offered something unique or notable to customers in the state, they seemed well-regarded by internet reviewers or because they were one of the few installers we could find information on in the state.

Whether we've completed a full review on a company or not, it's always a good idea to get multiple quotes from different installers before choosing a company.


Is Illinois a good state for solar panels?

Illinois has some robust incentives that can make it a lot easier for you to afford putting a solar system on your home. The state also has community solar options, which make it easy to take advantage of the sun's power even if your home isn't a perfect fit for panels.

Should I get batteries with my solar panels?

Batteries don't have to be included. Without batteries, your system will just be tied to the grid, meaning you'll sell any excess energy to your utility system at the retail rate. But batteries may be useful if you want a backup source of power. "Residential customers want batteries in case the power goes out," Greco said. 

Kim Porter contributed to this article. 

Jon Reed Senior Editor
Jon Reed is a senior editor for CNET covering home energy, including solar panels and energy efficiency. Jon has spent more than a decade making a living by asking other people questions. He previously worked as an editor at NextAdvisor, focused on home loans and the housing market; as a statehouse reporter in Columbus, Ohio; and as a reporter in Birmingham, Alabama. When not asking people questions, he can usually be found half asleep trying to read a long history book while surrounded by cats.
Expertise Solar | Home Energy
Jon Reed
Jon Reed is a senior editor for CNET covering home energy, including solar panels and energy efficiency. Jon has spent more than a decade making a living by asking other people questions. He previously worked as an editor at NextAdvisor, focused on home loans and the housing market; as a statehouse reporter in Columbus, Ohio; and as a reporter in Birmingham, Alabama. When not asking people questions, he can usually be found half asleep trying to read a long history book while surrounded by cats.

Article updated on February 14, 2024 at 1:59 AM PST

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Jon Reed Senior Editor
Jon Reed is a senior editor for CNET covering home energy, including solar panels and energy efficiency. Jon has spent more than a decade making a living by asking other people questions. He previously worked as an editor at NextAdvisor, focused on home loans and the housing market; as a statehouse reporter in Columbus, Ohio; and as a reporter in Birmingham, Alabama. When not asking people questions, he can usually be found half asleep trying to read a long history book while surrounded by cats.
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