In 2021, Sunrun performed 13% of all residential solar panel installations in America. Should they put in your rooftop solar panels?
When it comes to residential solar panel installations, one company has put in more renewable energy than anyone else. In 2021, Sunrun captured about 13% of the residential solar market, according to a Wood Mackenzie analysis, about double the share of its two closest competitors, Titan Solar Power and Freedom Forever, combined. Sunrun's place atop these market share rankings is thanks in large part to its 2020 acquisition of what was the second largest solar installer, Vivint. With the acquisition, the company has a footprint in 21 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico.
Most of Sunrun's business is in solar leases. That means you can rent panels from it for a monthly fee, though it'll sell you solar panels too. While there are dozens of solar panel providers and installers around the country (experts recommend getting multiple quotes), it's worth looking at the major players. Sunrun provides strong offerings among the national players.
Sunrun's warranties are top of the line if you're going the route of power purchase agreement or lease. While it hasn't named a new preferred panel after LG left the market, it's looking to fill that space with tier one panels. They also offer strong battery options with Tesla's Powerwall and LG's RESU batteries.
Sunrun, like most other solar providers, doesn't give much pricing info up front. It also offers shorter warranties for customers who purchase panels rather than lease or enter a power purchase agreement. These points, and the fact that it doesn't offer a price match, keep Sunrun's score lower.
Below I'll give you the essential information about Sunrun and, when it's possible, let you know how it compares to the competition.
Sunrun is different from the average solar company in the way it conducts business. Its bread and butter is solar-as-service. This means the vast majority of its customers (80 to 90%, according to a 2021 presentation to investors) lease panels for a monthly fee.
If you're going to buy panels from Sunrun, you're likely to get quality equipment. A Sunrun spokesperson confirmed the company uses multiple suppliers for solar equipment. Its preferred panel manufacturer, LG, stopped making solar panels in early 2022, so Sunrun is now working "with their other module manufacturing partners to supply tier one panels," a spokesperson said. Tier one panels typically come from established companies with a long track record of quality. You should receive panels with high efficiency ratings and strong warranties. Likewise, Sunrun should be able to accommodate a preference for a specific panel.
Before you buy, make sure you read your purchase agreement and warranty. That's especially important, because while Sunrun offers "bumper-to-bumper" coverage, maintenance and monitoring for its solar-as-service customers, those who purchase solar arrays from them are left to rely on manufacturers' warranties. While 25 years is becoming more common, it's still not ubiquitous. Sunrun also offers a 10-year workmanship warranty against damage to your roof or installation problems.
Sunrun offers Tesla Powerwall for whole-home backup and an LG Chem battery, which the company says can back up "just the essentials," or four circuits (a circuit is everything connected to a breaker in your breaker box or electrical panel). Sunrun also offers battery storage to its solar-as-service customers through its program called Brightbox. Neither of the battery options are exclusive to Sunrun, so it shouldn't be your deciding factor. Both battery options come with a 10-year manufacturer's warranty.
Powerwall batteries can be installed indoors or outdoors. They're about 6 inches deep, 2.5 feet wide and almost 4 feet tall, so they'll fit most places. LG Chem batteries are a bit smaller, though they're also deeper.
Powerwall holds 12.2 kilowatt hours of usable energy, while the LG Chem batteries offer 9.2 to 16kWh of usable energy, depending on the model. (LG Energy Solutions has recalled some of its batteries for a possible fire risk.)
It's not clear which inverters Sunrun will use now that their preferred option, LG again, is no longer available. (Again, be sure to read your agreement and make sure you're happy with the proposed equipment.)
Sunrun also has an app through which you can monitor your system's production. Since I'm not a Sunrun customer, I wasn't able to test it out. Some reviewers in Apple's App Store and Google Play (the mySunrun app gets 2.5 stars and 2.2 stars, respectively) say the app is difficult to use and has limited features. Multiple users noted difficulty logging in, poor customer support and no live monitoring of their solar panels' production, as is available elsewhere.
Sunrun provides a lot less public information about pricing compared to Tesla, so it's a bit harder to nail down an answer here. Given that prices change with location and industry experts suggest getting multiple quotes when you're shopping for solar panels, including from non-national players, that's probably OK. Still, we can start to get at that question without a quote in hand.
In November of 2021, Sunrun reported an installation cost of $3.93 per watt. The median cost in 2022, according to Wood Mackenzie was $2.99 per watt for an eight kilowatt system.
"This is not an apples-to-apples comparison," Wyatt Semanek, a Sunrun spokesperson, said via email. Sunrun's price per watt includes the cost of batteries with some systems, while many other available averages do not. One Tesla Powerwall can add $10,000 to the cost of a system, a significant addition. Semanek also noted that geography has a significant influence on price.
Although it's a different beast than purchasing panels, there are a few things to know about the solar-as-service options that comprise the majority of Sunrun's business. CNET has looked into power purchase agreements before, and Sunrun's lease options are a different flavor within the category of third-party ownership.
According to a November 2021 Sunrun document, while about 70% of residential solar panels nationwide are customer-owned, between 80% and 90% or Sunrun's business is solar-as-service. That means homeowners don't own the panels, but agree to rent Sunrun-owned equipment installed on their roofs. Homeowners can get solar panels on their roof for little to no money up front and then pay a monthly fee to use them. When this fee is less than what the local utility charges for electricity, homeowners save money.
Because the cost of energy changes over time, leases include what's known as an escalator, a year-to-year increase in the lease fee. Escalators in Sunrun leases vary from customer to customer, but a Sunrun investor presentation in May set the average escalator at 2% with a range of 0% to 2.9%. As long as your local energy price goes up by more than that each year, you'll continue to save money.
While electricity prices vary by region and utility, the average American has seen prices go up by less than 2% per year, though recent years have seen much higher increases. Some years, utilities have requested much larger rate increases. If your lease increases by 2.9% and your utility rate only goes up by 2%, your lease could be more expensive, or at least less profitable, by the end of your 25-year term. A solar lease is "usually cheaper" than paying your utility for all your electricity and provides stability in a budget, Semanek said.
As always, make sure you understand the details of your agreement and how the math will work out for your specific situation, if it does at all.
Sunrun also offers the option to pay in full for a lease upfront. That financial math is harder to make work. If you can afford to pay the lease in full, it might make more sense to instead purchase a system outright and take out a small loan for anything above and beyond that.
Sunrun operates in 21 states and Washington, DC and Puerto Rico.
Once you've confirmed Sunrun operates in your state, enter some basic information online (name, zip code, address) and wait for a call. While I didn't go through the process of getting a quote, I did take this first step. I received a call less than two minutes after submitting my information.
Sunrun asks for a year's worth of electricity bills to understand your needs and check your roof's solar panel capacity using satellite images. The company sends someone out to your house to check the quality of your roof and electrical panel. Then you'll hammer out any design details, get your questions answered and confirm the final design. The company handles permitting, and installation typically takes a day. Sunrun uses in-house installation teams and subcontractors.
As with any major choice, it's best to follow the expert advice to shop around. Get multiple quotes for systems and financing (if you need to finance), including quotes from local, non-national installers.
Third-party ownership generally saves you less money over the long haul than buying panels outright, which is usually the best option if you can afford the up-front cost or secure a favorable loan.
Leases can offer some savings over paying your utility and if buying solar is financially out of reach for you, a lease might be a fine option. This, again, depends on your local energy prices, the terms or the lease, including escalators and your energy usage. In this case, a lease from Sunrun might be your best choice, though you should still compare it with other lease options. Third-party ownership isn't allowed in every state.
If you're looking to purchase, you'll likely get quality equipment from Sunrun. Likewise, Sunrun's workmanship warranty matches Tesla's at 10 years.
Sunrun's solar offering gives you a range of options under strong warranties. It also offers choice on batteries. Like most solar providers, unfortunately, it's hard to get an idea of costs before reaching out for a quote. This makes sense, given the variety of roofs and energy needs, but it would be nice if the industry was more transparent up front. If you enter a lease or power purchase agreement with Sunrun, you should receive quality care. Sunrun's warranties aren't as strong for purchases as they are for leases or power purchase agreements. If you decide to buy, you can find stronger warranties elsewhere.
It's important to note that, while I researched this as deeply as was practical, I haven't been through this process as a buyer and I haven't tested Sunrun's offerings in any empirical way. Solar services are difficult to review in the traditional sense, so be sure to get multiple estimates from different installers before you make a decision.