Types of solar energy companies
There are several different types of solar companies, and there are significant differences between them.
Large corporate solar companies
These are companies like Tesla, Sunrun and Vivint Solar with corporate ownership and wide geographical coverage.
When residential solar took off back in 2012, they were the first to offer zero-down solar options and thus
gaining massive market share. However, these companies grew too quickly and were unable to maintain the quality
of their customer service; this is reflected in their poor review scores on SolarReviews and other sites.
Furthermore, these large companies face stiff competition from local solar companies who now offer zero-down
financing via specialist solar loan companies. Indeed, in a bid to stay competitive, in July 2020 Sunrun and
Vivint, the largest companies by market share, announced they were merging.
Local and family-owned solar installation companies
These companies are typically one-stop shops that both sell and install solar systems. They are more likely to
employ their own installation team rather than outsourcing the task. This is a good thing: our reviews indicate
that customers are more satisfied with jobs performed by in-house crews.
Solar sales companies
These are companies that sell solar to homeowners over a large geographical area, but rely on outsourced
installation labour to supply all the equipment, manage the permitting, and perform the installation. For
example, they may sell you a solar system for $15,000, but then pay an EPC contractor $12,000 to supply and
install the entire job. These companies also tend to have super-aggressive sales tactics, and we generally see
low customer satisfaction for consumers who sign with them.
EPC contractors do all of the permitting, installation and inspections for solar jobs that other companies sell.
They became common as large corporate solar companies like SolarCity sold zero-down systems across vast parts of
the country where they had no installation teams of their own. Large corporate solar companies still tend to use
outsourced installation labour to protect themselves from any liability in the case of accidents. Like all roof
work, solar panel installation carries large safety risks for workers.
Solar panel manufacturers
These are the companies that make the solar panels. Unfortunately, very few solar panel manufacturers still make
solar panels in America. Even San Jose-based SunPower now makes all of its panels overseas. Ironically, probably
the only major company making panels in the US right now is Jinko Solar, a large Tier 1 Chinese-owned
manufacturer with a factory in Jacksonville, FL. The leading solar panel manufacturers are LG, Panasonic,
QCells, SunPower, LONGi, Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, JA Solar, GCL, and Hyundai.
Solar inverter manufacturers
Inverters convert the DC power made by your panels to AC power that your home can use. Inverters cause far more
warranty issues than the solar panels themselves. If there’s one piece of advice we have for those going solar,
it’s to buy a good inverter brand. The rapid shutdown rule now in force in most jurisdictions means that micro
inverters or power optimizers need to be used, rather than string inverters.
(This is unfortunate, as string inverters have far fewer warranty issues). We recommend the brand Enphase for
micro inverters, and SolarEdge for power optimizers. If string inverters are allowed where you live, then we
suggest either SMA or Fronius.
Solar finance providers
Consumers who want to buy solar panels (instead of lease them) can now access loans from many different
companies. Buying solar is preferable to leasing as it allows you to keep the 26% federal solar tax credit; if
you lease panels, the credit goes to the lessor instead. Solar loan applications are made through your solar
installation company, who acts as the dealer for the financing company. Leading solar loan providers include
Mosaic, Dividend and Greensky.
Which solar company should I choose?
The reviews scores for the largest solar companies are far worse than those for local, family-owned solar installation companies.
The best solar companies meet the following criteria:
- Less than 50 staff
- Has an office near you
- Been in business longer than 5 years
- Employs their own installation crews
- Uses Tier 1 solar panels
- Uses inverters from Enphase, SolarEdge, SMA or Fronius
The solar industry is full of fly-by-night solar companies — both big and small — that open one year and are
gone the next.
Solar panels last for 25-30 years, so you want an installer who will help you with any problems or system
faults. For this to happen, your installer needs to be able to stay in business
Local solar companies, as a group, have the highest reviews score on our site and also have lower overheads than
corporate installers, making them more likely to survive in the long term.