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The Best Solar Companies
Ultimate Buyers Guide

The Best Solar Energy Companies

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Solar power is an ever-growing resource that many companies are turning to, but just what are the best solar companies?

After all, the top solar companies - including Vivint Solar, Solar City, and Sunrun - should be providing you with fantastic service, quality solar panels, incentives, and other features because getting residents to switch to solar is still proving to be a little bit of a challenge.

However, Solar power is growing to the point that, according to FastCoexist, twice as many people now work in the solar industry compared to the coal industry - that's impressive. But which solar companies should you personally approach as you adopt solar power as your home's energy source?

Fortunately, I'm here to provide you with all of the necessary information that will help you analyze which solar company is right for you.

Solar Energy Companies: Our Top Picks

Vivint Solar

  • Pros
  • Provides you with flexible options
  • Customers can save between 10 and 30 percent
  • Provides additional services such as home security and automation
  • Professional and efficient staff
  • All-in-one solar provider
  • Cons
  • Only available in 14 states
  • Power purchase agreement limited to 20-year term

Vivant Solar, which was originally a home security and home automation company back in 1999, expanded its services to include solar power back in 2011. Like any solar company, Vivant Solar provides its customers with simple and affordable renewable energy, but it goes above and beyond by offering flexible payment plans and supplies the consumer with solar panels. The company also takes care of installation and maintenance, making Vivant Solar an all-in-one company. You also don't have to worry about DIY solar panels or solar panel kits.

Vivint Solar works by providing you a free and simple consultation. A representative will take a look at your energy needs and tell you how much you can save by adopting solar power. Vivant Solar will then make a second visit to examine the roof and gather information for the solar team. The team will then design a customer solar system that will help you save money on your bill, and your Customer Success Manager will ensure that all permits and paperwork for the city and the local utility company are complete.

After the panels are installed - these panels will be ready for use between and eight hours. Finally, your local utility company and municipality will need to give Vivant Solar final permission to connect your panels to the grid. Once Permission to Operate has been granted, you can turn on your panels.

Vivant Solar not only provides you with top-notch customer service - but it will not outsource installations or cut corners. Not only that, but its solar plans are rather flexible. You can either purchase the solar panels outright (Solar Purchase), own your solar panels with an affordable monthly payment (Solar Loan), receive solar power without owning the panels for little to no upfront cost and lock-in low energy rates (Solar PPA), or lease solar panels for no money down (Solar Lease).

SolarCity

  • Pros
  • Flexible payment options
  • Contract transparency
  • Offers more products than solar panels
  • Cons
  • Known installation issues
  • Customer service complaints

SolarCity, which is considered to be one of the largest solar providers in the country, is available in 20 states. This company offers flexible payment plans similar to Vivant Solar, including Loan, PPA, Cash, and Lease. Each plan provides details such as who the owner of the solar panels will be, the down payment, tax credit availability, monthly payments, payment terms, and more. SolarCity provides not only solar panels but also solar roofs and Powerwalls, which provides you the backup you need in the case of a grid outage (the Powerwall also can use batteries).

This service is clear with its contracts, providing you with all the required information while leaving nothing out. These contract terms feature a variety of benefits, including locked-in rates once the agreement is complete, moving options, and free roof repair in the case that a solar installation or removal goes wrong.

Unfortunately, when viewing consumer reviews, several people aren't exactly happy with SolarCity's services. Many customers complain about SolarCity's billing practices, poor customer service (customers who lie), and more. Not only that but SolarCity is also known for its installation issues. Several consumers have filed complaints relating to SolarCity's installation. Some people have faced leaks in homes, no changes in the electricity bill, and loss of power in several areas of the home after installation.

Sunrun

  • Pros
  • Payment flexibility
  • Warranties
  • No money down
  • 20 percent savings with the utilization of BrightPath
  • Offers rebates and credits
  • Cons
  • Outsourcing
  • Available in only 13 states

Sunrun, which has existed since 2007, is considered to be one of the best solar panel companies available. First of all, Sunrun offers a few financing options to suit just about any consumer. You can choose among five plans (more plans than several other available solar providers): BrightSave Monthly, BrightSave Prepaid, BrightAdvantage, BrightBuy, and BrightBox.

Sunrun also offers a 20-year maintenance coverage if you choose a plan that gives Sunrun ownership over your panels. Even better is that Sunrun will refund customers if the solar panels ever underperform as well as provide you with a 10-year warranty on systems that are purchased or leased, a 20-year warranty on systems that are leased, and 24/7 system monitoring.

Unfortunately, while most installations are done in-house, Sunrun may also contract other installers to work on homes that cannot be reached by Sunrun. However, Sunrun does train and approve the contractors, but performance may still differ and may even be lesser.

Dividend Solar

  • Pros
  • No money down on loans
  • Warranty
  • Real-time performance monitoring
  • Cons
  • Is not flexible in plans (no lease, PPA, or outright purchase)
  • Not the most experienced in the industry
  • Relies on outsourcing for installations

Dividend Solar is a newer company, having been established in 2013, but it's a thriving one. With Dividend Solar, you'll receive energy savings from day one, tax benefits, and no pre-payment penalties. You'll also be able to enjoy full-service, performance guarantee, a system warranty (25-year warranty, to be exact with a 20-year workmanship warranty), real-time monitoring, and installer quality assurance. These installers are also completely certified.

Furthermore, Dividend Solar offers the $0-down EmpowerLoan, which provides homeowners with the "maximum economic benefits of solar ownership," such as a low, fixed interest rate and savings on your utility bill. Not only that, but you'll receive federal, state and local tax incentives, maximized financial returns, free maintenance, real-time monitoring, and a system performance guarantee.

Unfortunately, Dividend doesn't exactly offer leases or PPAs, instead focusing on EmpowerLoan. Those who want to not worry about ownership of their home solar panels may not find Dividend Solar appealing. Not only that, but the company hires local contractors for installation purposes.

Sungevity

  • Pros
  • Financing options
  • Mobile app
  • Fantastic customer service
  • Cons
  • Available in only 12 states
  • No backup in the case your power goes out

Sungevity, which is available in 12 states, has been in the business for roughly a decade, and for good reason. Sungevity offers custom and quality systems while also providing you with flexibility and reliability for 20 years.

Even better is that you can enjoy your system's performance through the Sungevity Energy System (OurSungevity) app for Android and iOS. You are able to view your power generation in real-time, so you can adjust as needed. You can choose from several financing options, including cash purchasing, solar loans, solar leasing, or going PPA. All plans come complete with a 25-year manufacturer warranty on the panels, as well as 24/7 system monitoring.

Finally, Sungevity provides you with excellent customer service, sporting a profession, efficient, and helpful team. Not only that but Sungevity is highly accommodating, especially when you plan on moving from your home.

Key Considerations When Choosing a Solar Company

Solar panels, as well as solar contracts, are an investment, so you need to make sure you're in a partnership with one of the best solar companies. There are several aspects to consider when you're planning to adopt a solar panel company.

Pricing/Incentives

This is the most important factor to consider when selecting a solar company. After all, switching to solar should be enticing not only because you'd be doing the earth a favor but because you'd also be making your wallet lighter.

The best solar companies offer savings in the form of greater efficiency of services, rebates and credits, no down-payments, referral bonuses, and more.

Availability

Availability is also important. Companies receive points for being available to a vast array of customers all throughout the United States.

Customer/Technician Service

Finally, customer and technician service is absolutely essential in retaining a customer. The best solar companies come with quality assessments and monitoring. If technicians see a problem, they will fix the issue ASAP and may even offer a rebate.

The Pros & Cons of Solar Energy

Solar is becoming a much sought-after source of energy - according to Inhabitat, India has recently placed more effort into securing solar power with its capacity increase at the solar parks. With everything in life, there are a set of pros and cons. You should review the pros and cons of becoming a solar company customer before you leap into the waters.

Pros of Solar Energy

  • Solar energy is renewable and abundant. Solar energy is a renewable energy source. No matter the case, unless the sun dies out (which won't be for another 4.5 billion years, give or take a billion, if I'm relying on information from a NASA expert), you'll never run out of solar energy. Furthermore, the surface of the earth receives 120,000 terawatts of solar radiation, which is 20,000 times more power than what is required to supply the entire world.
  • Solar power is environmentally friendly. Collecting solar energy doesn't actually cause pollution (in most cases), but there are emissions involved, thanks to the manufacturing and transportation of solar panels. However, you're facing fewer emissions compared to non-renewable energy sources, which is good when the world is trying to slow down climate change.
  • Solar energy is available no matter where you are. Solar energy is available all over the world, from the Equator to Germany.
  • Electricity cost is reduced. Thanks to net metering and feed-in tariffs, homeowners are able to receive bill credits when they produce more electricity than what they consume. Overall, solar is effectively cheaper, so you'll certainly be saving money.
  • Customers can receive financial support from the government or state. Rebates are plentiful when solar energy is involved. If you purchase a residential photovoltaic system, you can save up to 50 percent if you rely on rebates.
  • Solar panels are low maintenance. Solar systems do not require a lot of maintenance. In fact, residential solar panels only need to be cleaned a couple of times a year. Solar panels also typically ship with either 20 or 25-year warranties.

Cons of Solar Energy

  • Solar energy is not always reliable. Unfortunately, sunlight access may be limited at certain times. Weather, such as overcast, can also hinder the harnessing of solar power. That is why you should prepare for such cases by following weather reports.
  • Solar power also causes pollution. While solar energy is not as polluting compared to fossil fuels, the manufacturing processes relating to solar power affect greenhouse gas emissions. Solar panels emit nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride, which are extremely potent greenhouse gasses and have a greater impact on global warming compared to carbon dioxide.

Methodology

Choosing the best solar companies is no easy task: plenty of them offer incentives, valuable customer service, and flexible options that will bring you savings and peace of mind. With an estimated 1 million homes relying on solar power as of February 2016 (according to Business Insider), more solar companies are blooming.

Here are the factors I relied on when determining the top five solar companies:

Customer Service

How is the customer service? Do the representatives go above and beyond the call of duty? Does the service offer plenty of incentives? The best solar companies are able to provide you with at least decent customer service, though there may be incidents here and there.

Incentives

The best solar companies should provide you with a variety of incentives, whether they are in the form of tax credits and rebates, free monitoring around-the-clock, free roof repair if the roof is damaged during installation or the removal of solar panels, and more.

Flexibility of Plans

Plans should be flexible, but if there is one option, it needs to be an enticing one. A few of the best solar companies offer several types of financing options, allowing you to either own (whether immediately or eventually) your solar panels or lease them through the provider.

Additional Features/Products

The best solar companies offer additional features and products that only serve as extra. For instance, some companies may offer more than just solar panels, but solar roofs or home security systems.

Recap

There are several fantastic choices that you should consider when selecting the best solar companies, even if they aren't always cheap; that being said, you can always purchase or build cheap solar panels.

You should not only take into account the incentives, such as tax credits, but also the overall pricing and the provider availability. So before you select a solar provider, be sure to do some additional research.

Not only can you save money by relying on solar panels, but you can also save energy (and essentially money) by purchasing smart light bulbs. If your curiosity is piqued, then you should read our review of the best smart light bulbs and switches.

You can also save money and conserve energy by purchasing a smart thermostat. If you're considering a smart thermostat, then don't hesitate to read our review of the best smart thermostats.

Solar Energy FAQs

Q How do solar companies work?

A

Generally speaking, solar companies provide you with solar panels and similar products, as well as service and maintenance regarding these business or residential solar panels. They act similar to a utility provider.

Q How many solar panels do I need?

A

According to GoGreenSolar, it's going to depend on the energy load. To determine the number of solar panels you'll need to eliminate your electric bill, you need to calculate your average energy usage in kWh. To do that, you should collect your electric bills for the previous 12 months or more.

You then divide your average monthly usage by 30 to get your average daily kWh usage. You then choose the solar panel wattage that you'd like to purchase and figure out how much the panel would produce. For example, a 250W solar panel could produce 1kWh per day, meaning that if you use 25 kWh per day, then you need 25 solar panels to meet 100% of your energy needs.

You can also rely on solar panel calculators to determine your needs.

Q How much are solar panels?

A

According to Solar Power Now, as of early 2017, it's about $3 per watt for residential solar power. The average-sized solar panel system is 5,000 watts, so you would be paying roughly $15,000 for the system.

Q Are solar panels worth it?

A

Are solar panels worth it? Of course they are! Not only is there a tax incentive involved, but according to Solar Power Now, the average homeowner would save at least $25,000 over 25 years by investing in a solar panel system. In fact, that number is expected to grow as solar power becomes cheaper. As Bloomberg reports, solar power is now cheaper than coal in some parts of the world. This is all happening in less than a decade, and we can thank technology for that.

"'The average 1 megawatt-plus ground-mounted solar system will cost 73 cents a watt by 2025 compared with $1.14 now, a 36 percent drop,' according to Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis for New Energy Finance."

Q What are solar panels made of?

A

According to Wikipedia, solar panels are made with semiconducting materials, such as silicon. Solar cells are essentially classified by generation, and there are three generations. The first generation cells are made out of crystalline silicon, which includes materials such as polysilicon and monocrystalline silicon. Second generation cells are thin film solar cells, which feature materials such as amorphous silicon, CdTe and CIGS cells. Finally, the third generations of solar cells include a number of emerging photovoltaics; most are still in development. The photovoltaics generally rely on organic materials.

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