SunPower vs. Sunrun: Is one of these top companies right for you?
Individual panel prices
Prices of DIY kits
Installed system prices
SunPower and Sunrun are two of the biggest names in the U.S. residential solar industry. SunPower is famous for its high-quality products and full-coverage warranties (with prices to match). Sunrun—the largest solar installation company in the country—is famous for its full-service leases, BrightBox battery backup, and integration with Ford EVs.
So which of these two giants will come out on top in a head-to-head matchup? Read on to find out!
We compared Sunrun and Sunpower in six categories: Service territory, solar panels used, cost and financing, add-on services, warranties, and customer reviews.
|Sunrun details||Sunrun score||SunPower details||SunPower score|
|Service territory||22 states and Puerto Rico||3/5||Dealers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico||5/5|
|Solar panels||Many brands including Canadian JA Solar, Jinko, LONGi, Qcells, etc.||4/5||Mostly Maxeon, some Aptos, Canadian, and Waaree||4.5/5|
|Cost and financing||Avg cost $4.50/W||2/5||Avg. Cost $4.89/W||1.5/5|
|Add-ons||Monitoring, battery storage, EV charging||5/5||Monitoring, battery storage, EV charging||5/5|
|Warranties||Full coverage for lease customers, and partial coverage for purchase customers, with additional coverage available for cost.||4/5||25 years of full coverage for all systems, including product, workmanship, and power production||5/5|
|Sunrun total score||20/30 - 66.7%||SunPower total score||26/30 - 86.7%|
All data gathered as of July 13, 2023. Pricing data gathered for non-TPO systems as recorded in California DG Stats interconnected projects data sets for applications approved in 2022 and 2023.
There you have it, folks. If all you’re looking for is a number, our review of the data shows that SunPower is significantly better than Sunrun.
As keen observers of the solar industry, the most interesting things in our findings are the cost difference and customer review scores. SunPower is known for its premium products and prices, so it makes sense that its installations cost a little bit more. But Sunrun’s price is nearly as high, and both are quite a bit higher than the average cost per watt for residential solar in the United States.
As for customer review scores, it’s pretty clear that SunPower customers are much happier than Sunrun customers. We’ll get more into the nuances below.
These two companies are among the most prominent in the country. Each is publicly traded, and each has a long history of success. But digging deeper reveals some pretty big differences.
Sunrun was founded in 2007 with a business model that offers homeowners solar subscription services. It is headquartered in San Francisco, California.
The company obtained venture capital funding early in its history and went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2015.
Sunrun faced early competition from SolarCity and benefited greatly when Tesla acquired the latter company in 2016. The Tesla acquisition led to a long period of transition, during which Sunrun took the mantle as the country’s largest solar installation company.
In 2020, Sunrun expanded its customer base when it acquired Utah-based Vivint Solar. Vivint was well-known for its door-knocking sales force, and Sunrun representatives now sell solar to homeowners on streets all across the country.
The company also has a partnership with Home Depot, and its sales staff can be found in Home Depot and Costco stores throughout the country.
SunPower was founded in California in 1985 by a Stanford electrical engineering professor named Richard Swanson. The company began as a research-based institution working on improvements to silicon wafers and other solar technologies but is now best known for developing its Interdigitated Back Contact (IBC) Maxeon solar technology.
Today, SunPower is a solar installation company and service provider with a network of dealers nationwide. The company spun off its Maxeon technology division in 2020, now operating as a separate company. As part of the split, Maxeon agreed to provide its solar panels to SunPower exclusively for several years, but that agreement has since ended. Now, Maxeon solar panels are available to any U.S. solar installer.
A new deal with Maxeon does ensure that SunPower will continue to have exclusive access to Maxeon 6 solar panels, which SunPower sells as part of its M Series.
Now let’s dig into the data for things all solar companies have in common:
A map of states where SunPower Master Dealers, SunPower Elite Dealers, and SunPower Authorized Dealers are located. SunPower dealers may not service the entirety of the state.
SunPower both completes its own installations and offers a three-tiered dealer model. This structure allows SunPower products and services to be sold nationwide by a wide range of installers with the same equipment, monitoring, and warranties.
The company’s highest-tier partners are called SunPower Master Dealers and can be found in the 21 states shown in the image above (and also on the SunPower website). SunPower Elite Dealers and SunPower Authorized Dealers serve at least some parts of the remainder of the country.
A map showing Sunrun’s locations and states served.
Sunrun’s service territory includes 22 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. They don’t serve everyone in those states, but if you live in a major metropolitan area in any of the states in the map above, chances are good you’ll be able to find a Sunrun office near you.
As we mentioned, SunPower was once a vertically-integrated company that both manufactured and installed its Maxeon solar panels for homes and businesses. In 2020, the company split into two halves, with the SunPower name being kept for the installation and service business and the Maxeon name being used for the manufacturing business.
Maxeon solar panels are known as the highest-efficiency home solar panels on the market and have led in that category for a decade. SunPower still uses Maxeon solar panels in about 90% of its U.S. installations and calls it the M-Series.
The company has recently begun offering so-called “U-Series” solar panels made by third-party manufacturers like Aptos, Canadian Solar, and Waaree. These panels are not as efficient as Maxeon panels but still maintain very high marks for performance and longevity. In fact, two of the three are in our top 10 solar manufacturers of 2023.
Sunrun buys its solar panels from multiple manufacturers for installation across the country. Just looking at California installations completed in 2022 and 2023, the company used panels from JA Solar, Jinko Solar, Qcells, and others.
These companies all make fine solar panels (all are in our top 10 manufacturers), but they can’t compete with SunPower’s Maxeon solar panels for efficiency, power output, or annual degradation.
Based on California’s Distributed Generation Statistics from between January 1st, 2022 and May 31st, 2023 (the latest available date at the time of writing), the average SunPower installation was 5.56 kilowatts (kW), and cost about $26,700, for a per-watt price of $4.89. These numbers represent the average cost of a purchased (as opposed to leased) solar system.
That’s quite a bit higher than the national average cost of about $3 per watt, but these are supposed to be premium products and should command a premium price, right?
Well… in further analysis, we discovered that the per-watt price of SunPower installations that used non-Maxeon panels was actually a bit higher than the Maxeon installations. Installations using Maxeon panels averaged $4.68/W. Installations with Aptos modules came in at $5.03/W, and with Waaree modules, the price was $4.77/W.
The discrepancy between the quality of the panels and the price paid could have something to do with financing. SunPower offers in-house financing through its SunPower Financial lending arm. Like other solar loans, SunPower’s come with a dealer fee that increases the up-front cost of the system, likely by around 20% to 30% (SunPower doesn’t publish its fees and rates).
We speculate that installations using U-Series solar panels are more likely to be financed, which would account for their seemingly higher up-front costs. CA statistics don’t record whether a system is purchased using cash or a loan, so we can’t know for sure the reasons why.
During the same period examined above, Sunrun’s average system was 6.68 kW in size and cost about $30,050, or $4.50 per watt. This number is about 14% cheaper than a SunPower system but still significantly higher than the national average.
In theory, choosing one of these big solar companies gets you the benefit of interesting add-ons and excellent warranties, so let’s compare each of those things now.
Both SunPower and Sunrun offer system monitoring, battery storage, and EV charging. Our survey of U.S. solar installers revealed that 63% of installation companies now offer solar battery and EV charger installations, rapidly becoming the industry's standard.
According to a recent study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), between 19% and 31% of new solar installations come with battery storage. That number looks to increase in the coming years as changes to net metering and the introduction of Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) continue to improve the economics of storage.
The only other thing to note about add-ons is that Sunrun has partnered with Ford to bring bi-directional EV charging to the home for owners of the F-150 Lightning. This may give Sunrun a slight advantage over SunPower for the small subset of F-150 Lightning drivers.
Part of the benefit of choosing a large installer is getting a warranty from a trusted brand with some staying power. SunPower’s “Complete Confidence” warranty covers materials and workmanship of the modules, the racking and roof penetrations, and the monitoring system.
In addition, the company offers a power production warranty that guarantees its panels will perform with at least 98% of their rated output in the first year and retain between 84.8% (U-Series) and 92% (all others) of their maximum output after the 25th year.
If materials and workmanship fail to meet the warranty stipulations, SunPower will repair, replace, or refund the prorated cost of the equipment, including labor and shipping.
Sunrun’s warranty is another good one, with some caveats. The company covers materials and workmanship on installed equipment and power production for 25 years… as long as you lease the system.
The company offers its “Protection Plus” service at an additional cost for purchased systems, which covers the same things it does for leased systems.
Sunrun also makes available a warranty it calls “bumper to bumper,” with “free equipment replacement and system repairs including all parts and labor, and the guarantee that… roof penetrations are watertight for a full decade.” Whether it can fulfill those promises is another matter which can be partially uncovered in customer reviews.
As of this writing (July 2023), SunPower receives a rating of 4.56 out of 5 stars from 1,262 reviewers. That’s an awfully high number, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Remember, Sunpower runs on a dealership model, with installers across the country selling SunPower products under their own name. Luckily of the parent company, SunPower dealers also often have very high review scores.
Perhaps more interesting are the reviews for Blue Raven Solar, which was acquired by SunPower in 2021. It is currently rated 4.47/5 by 1,740 reviewers. Of course, everyone gets some bad reviews sometimes, but by and large, SunPower and its dealers score very highly on customer satisfaction.
It’s long been true that Sunrun has struggled to meet all its customers’ needs. Its 1.59/5 rating from 910 customers on our website (as of July 2023) shows the largest residential solar company in the country seems to have some trouble keeping all those customers happy.
To its credit, Sunrun has responded to many of the negative comments and reviews its customers have passed along in various places, assigning “escalation specialists” to handle sensitive situations. We’re hopeful this commitment to answering customer concerns will increase scores soon, but for now, the difference in customer reviews of the two companies could not be much greater.
So, which should you choose, SunPower or Sunrun? If you ask us, you should choose neither. Both companies offer prices significantly higher than the national average, and both have their shortcomings.
Instead, you should get multiple solar quotes from local solar companies and compare them based on several important factors. The best solar companies are not so large that they forget how to care for their customers with a personal touch, nor so small that they don’t have good systems in place.
However, if you’re looking for the best equipment and willing to pay for it, SunPower seems like the obvious choice. Its prices aren’t much higher than Sunrun’s, and they seem to know how to satisfy customers while providing world-class products that are still unmatched on the market. Just be careful not to choose U-Series panels unless you absolutely know that you’re getting a really good price.