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Whether you’re looking to do something good for the environment, save some money or want to rely a bit less on your utility, 2022 might be your year to go solar. The federal investment tax credit will still give you 26% of the cost of your solar system back on your taxes, and local incentives (like net metering) are still strong, though there are some efforts to roll them back.
Most of the United States faces an elevated risk of blackouts this summer, thanks to increased demand from high temperatures and lower supplies of hydroelectricity because of ongoing droughts in the west. Climate change is expected to make the grid less reliable. Solar panels with the ability to temporarily disconnect from the grid can keep the lights on during a black out.
Solar panels are a significant investment though, not to mention a decision that requires some careful thought and research. Below are my choices for the best solar companies by a few different parameters. However, with a purchase as big as solar panels, don’t let this list be your only stop. Solar panel companies, because their products require lengthy, professional installation, are tested a bit differently than other categories on CNET.
The SaveOnEnergy marketplace helps you search, compare, sign up and save on the right energy fit for your home — all for free. If you’re interested in solar, answer a few questions to get an exact price quote from our solar advisors.
This list and the reviews it draws from aren’t based on any hands-on testing. There’s no feasible way to do hands-on testing of the purchase process, installation or a home solar panel array after it’s installed. Instead, these solar company reviews rely on interviews with company spokespeople, publicly available data and analysis of trends (like solar panel prices). While the reviews are as thoroughly researched as possible, the nature of the product means there are some limitations compared to another category like portable power stations.
New Solar Shingles You May Not Even Notice
This best list draws from national and notable installers of (mostly rooftop) solar panels. As we publish reviews of more companies, this best list will be updated to reflect our current top choices. Solar companies were rated based on the variety and quality of equipment and products they offered, their stated warranties and apparent commitments to customer service. (Customer service is difficult to pin down and therefore makes up a smaller portion of the score, even though it’s a significant part of the purchasing process.)
If you’re looking for a solar panel installer, be sure to get multiple quotes including from local installers where possible. The specifics of a solar array could change given the shape and angle of a given roof or the energy usage and habits of a given family. Solar can be a great investment but requires you to do your own research.
SunPower Solar takes the top spot on our best list thanks to its top-of-the-line solar panels and strong warranties. The solar panels SunPower offers have industry leading efficiency marks (22.8%) and a warranty that guarantees at least 92% production after 25 years. It also earns an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (companies pay to be rated). It offers strong warranties on batteries as well.
SunPower’s solar panels might be a bit more expensive than others (though accurate pricing industry wide is hard to come by). The company has said it plans to continue rolling out more accessible solar solutions. Read our SunPower review.
Palmetto Solar has strong solar equipment offerings and is trying something different from most solar companies when it comes to customer service. Palmetto offers proactive monitoring and tiered levels of support on a subscription model called Palmetto Protect. While some of the upper tiers might only pay off only in the most extreme cases of failure, solar customers feeling uneasy about their equipment can buy a bit of peace of mind for a small fee.
It’s worth noting that solar panels are typically low maintenance systems. People can monitor their systems through apps available from most installers, including Palmetto. Palmetto also receives an A+ from the Better Business Bureau, which companies pay to receive a rating. Read our Palmetto Solar review for more.
Tesla’s Solar branch seems to be the least loved of Elon Musk’s ventures. Even Tesla’s Solar Roof seems to get more love. Still, solar panels from Tesla are likely to be the cheapest option where they are available. You can save thousands of dollars, without sacrificing on quality of equipment.
What you might sacrifice is customer service. From delays to price changes, to slow responses, to system malfunctions, social media reports of negative experiences aren’t hard to find, including some who regret their choice. This is true of all solar companies, but the quantity of reports concerning Tesla is concerning. Others describe experiences that aren’t so bad, to be sure. The general consensus is that going with Tesla is a gamble.
Read our Tesla Solar review.
Other companies we reviewed
We’ve reviewed other solar companies that don’t appear in our best list above, including some that scored higher overall than Tesla’s solar panels. Given the nature of the solar panel industry, which shifts from state to state and roof to roof, some of these other companies might be better suited to your situation.
How we evaluate solar companies
Solar companies are tricky to review. Even if it was feasible to install solar panels from every installer on a single house one after another and compare them, variations in weather and season would affect output. You’d also still be left with the subjective ratings for customer service, which is a major factor in the experience of getting solar panels for a roof.
Even without a laboratory test for solar panel companies, we kept our review as standardized as possible. We evaluated solar companies in three categories: breadth of service, value and customer care. Breadth of service covers things like whether or not a company offered a variety of quality panels, batteries or inverters and if it offered panels for purchase, lease and power purchase agreement. It also takes into consideration the strength of warranties. Value covers price and any other benefits, for example, a highly rated app for customers to monitor their solar panels. Customer care included some anecdotal evidence from online forums and review sites, but also customer satisfaction and care ratings (where available) from reputable sources like the Better Business Bureau.
Solar Panel FAQs
How long do solar panels last?
If you buy solar panels today, there’s a good chance they’ll be under warranty for 25 years. You’ll often see that listed as the lifespan of the panels, but that’s not quite accurate. That warranty covers production from your solar panels. Solar panels lose their ability to produce solar electricity as they age for any number of reasons, so a warranty will guarantee a certain level of production after a certain number of years. For example, Q Cells offers a 25-year warranty, which guarantees that your panels will produce at 86% of their rated capacity at that point.
This doesn’t mean those solar panels die at the end of 25 years, they’ll just produce less. Solar panels can produce well after their warranty expires, though given that large numbers of solar panels are just now being installed, we’ll continue to get a better idea of how they age in years to come.
How do I know if the quote I have is a good one?
The best way to tell is to get multiple quotes. With a purchase this big, you should get several, including one or two from local installers who might be able to offer you greater choice.
There are also resources from the federal and many state governments to guide you through the process. You can look out for a few red flags from salespeople, too.
Can I get the federal tax credit?
The federal tax credit for solar panels is still around. For any solar panels installed in 2022, the federal government will give you 26% of the cost back on your income taxes. In 2023, the credit drops to 22% and it’s slated to go away in the years after. An extension of the tax credit is always possible.
Besides the federal tax credit, there might be state and local incentives you can take advantage of.
More of CNET’s solar coverage