Tesla vs. SunPower: Which Major Solar Company Is Best?
Two of the biggest players in the solar game face off, with industry-leading solar panels versus prices that almost can't be beat.
Two of the biggest names in the solar world, Tesla and SunPower, are both worth a close look if you're considering a new solar system. Tesla seems to make headlines all the time, largely for its electric car business and its, er, colorful CEO, but it is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to residential solar as well.
Meanwhile, SunPower is more quietly one of the largest solar installers in the country, bringing the cutting edge of solar technology to the residential market.
Strangely, SunPower's premium panels and warranties make it something like the Tesla Roadster of solar installers. You might pay a little more for its top-of-the-line product, but you'll almost certainly get more out of the ride. Tesla's solar offerings, on the other hand, offer value that's hard to beat, but we hear it might come at the cost of some potential added headaches.
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If you're looking to squeeze the maximum amount of energy out of your solar panels, SunPower is one of, if not the best option on the market at the moment. This is due in large part to the industry-leading efficiency of the company's solar modules from sister brand Maxeon that achieve 22.8% conversion rates. It's hard to do better in the residential market in 2023.
Maxeon also goes a step farther with its warranties that guarantee those panels will continue to produce at least 92% of that original efficiency for 25 years. That's also an industry-leading promise -- most other installers promise around 85% of original production for the same period.
SunPower operates nationwide and has also begun offering a wider selection of modules made in the USA by Qcells. The company relies on its in-house branded SunVault line for batteries and Enphase inverters. The company's track record isn't perfect, but it's hard to find an unblemished solar company in this crowded and competitive market. SunPower's reputation and rankings are nearer to the top among national solar companies than the bottom.
Tesla's name recognition makes it a popular choice for solar nationwide, and it also offers some of the best value, with relatively low prices and a price match guarantee. However, paying less for panels could come at the expense of customer service, where the company has a less-than-stellar reputation. To be fair, individual experiences vary widely and online reviews aren't the best source of information. There are plenty of satisfied Tesla customers out there as well.
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Tesla also offers some unique products, like its Powerwall storage system and a solar roof made up of proprietary solar tiles. By most accounts, Tesla offers quality equipment for the best prices around, with warranties that are in line with industry standards.
If anything goes wrong though, you might be in for more of a headache than with other companies. Tesla's lack of a broad selection of equipment might also be considered a knock on the company for the more discerning energy aficionado.
SunPower vs. Tesla at a glance
At a glance, SunPower offers top-of-the-line equipment and warranties, but Tesla's offerings certainly aren't that far behind, and plenty of consumers will place a premium on the popular company's price match policy.
Maxeon with industry-leading efficiency, less expensive and efficient modules from Qcells
Sleek-looking, slightly less efficient Tesla panels, solar tiles
SunVault in four sizes: 13, 19.5, 26 and 39 kilowatt hours
13.5 kilowatt-hour Powerwall, which can be stacked
Panel max. efficiency
92% panel production for 25 years; 86% panel production for 25 years (Qcells); 70% charge for 10 years for batteries; 12 years for roof penetrations, 25 years for other equipment
85% panel production for 25 years; 70% charge for 10 years for Powerwalls; 10 years for roof and workmanship
Number of states available
The bottom line
If you're the type of person looking to get the most out of your solar system for as long as possible, and you're willing to pay a little extra for that privilege, SunPower makes a strong case for itself with its efficient modules and strong warranties.
But if you're looking for value backed by a company that is a force in multiple industries, not to mention pop culture, Tesla is worth a close look. The average consumer isn't likely to notice a huge difference in performance between systems, and Tesla's panels and Powerwalls arguably look a little cooler, if that matters to you.
We've outlined our concerns about customer service with Tesla, but the evidence for this is largely anecdotal. Be sure to do your own research and due diligence and ask around about both companies. Always get multiple quotes from local installers before signing any contracts.
How we evaluate solar companies
CNET does not directly review any of the equipment mentioned here, nor do we go through the ordering or installation process with either of the companies. The reality is that homeowners' situations are so unique, even if we did have panels installed, it would only capture a tiny fraction of the many variations of experiences with the solar industry.
Instead we rely on our knowledge of the industry, in-depth conversations with company representatives and our own research to evaluate companies. (Tesla doesn't operate a press office, so our review of it is based on information available on its website.) We do so with a particular emphasis on three categories: equipment, warranties and service.
Each company has its own strengths. Tesla has a strong national brand and price match guarantee on its equipment that's generally considered high quality. SunPower offers efficient panels and warranties that are among the best in the industry. SunPower may be more expensive, but Tesla's value may come at the expense of customer service.
Does SunPower use Tesla products?
At the moment we're unaware of SunPower offering any Tesla equipment.
What's the best solar company?
Each consumer has their own needs that may be ideally filled by different companies. That said, we've reviewed and scored numerous solar companies here.
Is SunPower a good solar system?
SunPower offers some of the most efficient solar panels available in the residential market, which can be married with its SunVault line of batteries. Both are well regarded in general.
CNET staff -- not advertisers, partners or business interests -- determine how we review the products and services we cover. If you buy through our links, we may get paid.
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Eric MackContributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is firstname.lastname@example.org.
ExpertiseSolar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects. CNET's "Living off the Grid" series. https://www.cnet.com/feature/home/energy-and-utilities/living-off-the-grid/Credentials
Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.