Best Solar Panel
Thanks to tax credits that reduce the cost of installing a system, there’s more competition in the solar panel industry. Prices are down, and the panels are more energy-efficient, making the cost break-even point happen sooner.
This guide provides the tips you need to choose solar panels to power your home. You will learn about the upfront costs and environmental and financial benefits of solar energy.
We evaluated 35 solar panel companies to help you find high-quality materials and workmanship. We researched features, options, warranties and costs. Our 10 best solar panel companies are Zenernet, SunPower, Sunlux, Tesla Solar, POWERHOME SOLAR, Sunrun, Vivint Solar, EnergySage, PetersenDean and Dividend Solar.
- Not all solar panel companies service all states. Make the service area your first criteria to narrow choices quickly.
- If you have a homeowners association, find out if solar panels need HOA approval.
- Top-of-the-line equipment doesn’t always offer the best overall cost savings. Ask each installer for two or three solar electric system configurations.
Tips for a Wise Solar Panel Buyer
The cost of electricity continues to increase while solar panel prices are decreasing. The break-even point on the cost of solar panel is now shorter than ever, often within six to nine years. This savings varies from one region to another, but the time is right to consider installing solar panels.
A home solar energy system can raise the value of your home, reduce energy bills and reduce pollution. But, the answer to the question, “Are solar panels worth the expense?” requires careful consideration. Our tips will help you decide if solar energy is the right decision for your household.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which absorb energy from the sun. These cells convert that energy to direct current, commonly called DC. An inverter then takes over to convert the DC to alternating current (AC), which provides electricity to the home. If your home doesn’t use all the energy, it may flow out to your electric utility’s grid.
A residential solar energy system consists of these parts:
- Solar panels are also called PV panels. Solar panels have various output ratings, expressed in watts. Output usually ranges from 10 to 300 watts.
- Mounting racks hold solar panels joined in arrays. Depending on zoning ordinances, the racks may be installed on rooftops, poles or the ground. Mounting racks may be fixed or automatically change the panel angle depending on the sun’s direction. The racks that self-adjust to the sun are called tracking arrays.
- Inverters convert the energy to the AC power home appliances, lights and other electrical products use.
- A utility or kilowatt meter is necessary for solar energy systems that are connected to the power grid. The meter measures household energy used from the grid and the amount supplied to the grid. Your electric utility usually provides the meters, but may charge a rental fee.
Batteries and charge controllers provide stored power to your home during cloudy days and at night. Batteries are optional if you plan to buy energy from the grid when your solar panels aren’t operating. A charge controller or regulator prevents batteries from becoming overcharged.
- Add a generator to your system if you live in an area that experiences storms and power outages lasting for days. Biodiesel generators are available for clean energy.
Can You Save Money with Solar Panels?
Solar panels provide a power plant exclusively for your home, so you save money on your electric bill. The cost of materials and installation have been on a downward trend for over a decade, meaning solar panels pay for themselves sooner.
Solar panels can save on electricity costs over time. How soon you start saving money depends on the size of the installed system, how often you use the solar panels, financing and other factors. You will reap more savings if your roof receives direct sunlight and you use more energy during the day. Savings increase if your solar energy system integrates with your utility’s grid, and you get credits for the energy your system distributes.
Your savings grow even further if you make your home more energy-efficient. For example, when you need to replace appliances, look for Energy Star-certified products. Your home will likely command a higher price with solar panels, which isn’t a savings but pays off nicely in the future.
|Are Solar Panels Worth the Cost?|
|Divide variable energy costs and fixed costs.||– Get your total electricity costs for last year. You can use your utility’s website.
– Divide what you paid for metered electricity or kilowatt-hours and charges for administrative, delivery and other costs.
You continue paying fixed charges with solar panels.
|How long will you stay in your home?||– Residential solar panels last for over 20 years.
– If you lease or have a PPA, ask the solar company if you can transfer the contract to the new homeowner if you sell your home.
– Solar panels can still pay off if you move because they usually raise a home’s sale value. Don’t sign a contract that doesn’t allow the transfer of ownership.
|What solar system size do you need?||– Get different system configurations with quotes from a few solar panel companies.
– Use the Department of Energy’s PVWatts calculator to get an estimate of how much energy each system should produce.
Larger systems cost more, but inadequate solar panels won’t save much.
|Is your property conducive to solar energy?||– Is anything blocking or shading your roof from direct sunlight most of the day?
– What is the age, condition and pitch of your roof?
– Do you live where substantial amounts of snow, dust or other environmental conditions would disrupt the panels?
Be sure your yard and home allow solar panels to work efficiently.
|Determine your electric utility’s policies.||– Does your utility provide net metering to pay you or give you credit for excess power your system produces and returns to the grid?
– Ask if your utility buys back solar power at the same rate or a lower rate than it charges for electricity.
Will net metering sufficiently offset your costs?
|Can you use more energy during the day?||– Run your air conditioning during the day while solar panels are working and less at night.
– Use smart home devices to automatically manage electricity.
– Use appliances and charge electric vehicles during the day as much as possible.
– Make your home energy-efficient, particularly if your utility doesn’t offer net metering.
You’ll save more money with solar panels if you use the majority of electricity during the day and less at night.
Solar Energy Saves the Environment
Carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere when we burn natural gas, wood, coal and other hydrocarbon fuels. The amount of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere can affect climate for hundreds or even thousands of years. It makes sense to reduce carbon emissions, and solar energy is part of the equation.
Solar panels not only reduce dependence on carbon-producing energy sources, but also reduce pollution. Solar energy paves the way to clean air and water.
Solar Panel Costs
Most solar panels require very few maintenance calls over the years, and they last 25 to 30 years or longer. The only significant solar energy system cost is for the panels and installation.
The price you pay to get solar energy in your home depends on permits, the panel size and configuration, and local labor costs. Subtract the current tax incentives to figure the real cost. The Center for Sustainable Energy quotes an average price for a solar panel system between $15,000 and $25,000. The price can be higher depending on where you live.
Most solar panel companies offer financing. One of our top picks, Dividend Solar, specializes in providing loans for green energy systems.
A solar power purchase agreement (PPA) is another option for making solar power affordable. You pay nothing for the system, instead paying lower electricity prices to the solar panel company. These arrangements usually last from 10 to 25 years. Your options at that time may be to extend the PPA, buy the system at a reduced price or have the system uninstalled.
Federal Solar Energy Tax Credits
The renewable energy tax credit reduces your federal income taxes. This credit is 26% of the cost of solar panels installed in 2021 and 2022. The credit is scheduled to reduce to 22% in 2023, then will be discontinued for residential installations unless there is an extension.
Use IRS Form 5695 to calculate and apply the credit. The credit applies to the total paid for solar panels and related equipment, installation and labor, but not sales tax. There is no limit on the solar energy system’s price, but you must live in the home for at least part of the year.
Leased solar energy systems and PPAs are not eligible for the tax credit; you can take the credit if you used a loan or paid outright. If your credit is more than the income tax you owe, you can apply the difference to your tax bill in the following years.
State Tax Incentives for Solar Energy
Twenty states currently offer tax credits and exemptions for installing solar panels. The exemptions may reduce property tax or eliminate sales tax. Some states provide low-income grants to make solar panels affordable. You can claim both state and federal tax incentives for solar energy systems.
Use the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) to determine if your state provides tax incentives for solar panels. Here are some sample state tax benefits for solar panels:
- Arizona offers a personal tax credit up to $1,000, a property tax exemption for rooftop solar panels and 5.6% sales tax exemption on home solar systems.
- Vermont’s property and sales tax exemptions reduce the cost of solar panels. Green Mountain Power customers may qualify for up to $10,500 toward the price of a new home battery.
- Florida taxpayers are eligible for property and sales tax exemptions.
- Illinois offers solar renewable energy credits, a property tax exemption and Illinois Solar for All to fund solar energy for qualified low-income households.
Our Search for the Best Solar Companies
Every solar panel company claims to be the best, but not all explain why the panels or services are first-class. Our list of the top solar panel companies shows you what you can expect in terms of quality and innovation. We also let you know at a glance if the company operates in your state.
Solar energy has been evolving for well over a century, and there are over 2 million installations in the U.S. Yet, there’s more to using solar panels than many homeowners understand. We highlighted companies that consistently offer improved solar panel efficiency and attractive residential systems.
We started our search with 35 of the most popular solar panel companies. We narrowed our recommendations down to the 10 best options using these steps:
We evaluated the solar panel marketplace.
To narrow our search, we first considered consumer and expert reviews for the top solar panel companies. We removed those with a 3-star rating or below from consideration.
We assessed the top solar panel companies based on industry ratings and awards.
We wanted to find the best residential solar energy companies in terms of value, customer satisfaction, available options and customer support. We also considered recognition for efficiency and innovative design.
We shopped for residential solar panels and followed the advice in this guide.
We focused on finding solar panel companies based on our wise buyer standards. Most companies sell and install solar energy systems, but we also found some that offer excellent financing and consumer education. We evaluated each company’s solar panel configurations, prices, warranty details and other relevant criteria.
If a company failed to explain solar panel products and services adequately, we excluded it from our search.
Solar Panel Company Reviews
After our evaluation, we chose the best solar panel companies: Zenernet, SunPower, Sunlux, Tesla Solar, POWERHOME SOLAR, Sunrun, Vivint Solar, EnergySage, PetersenDean and Dividend Solar. Each of these companies stood out above and beyond the competition.
Zenernet ReviewGreat Selection |
Zenernet’s solar energy experts guide consumers through choosing solar panels, then contract with local installers to finish the job. Zenernet’s founder and CEO vets all installers to ensure they meet or exceed licensing and insurance requirements. Then Zenernet stays in touch with the customer and contractors to effectively oversee the solar panel installation.
Zenernet practices low-pressure sales, starting with a virtual consultation to educate the consumer. You can choose various solar system components from any manufacturer with Zenernet’s modular pricing. Customers get a fully customized solar panel energy system and only pay for what they need to power their home.
Zenernet service area: All states
SunPower ReviewComprehensive Warranty |
SunPower’s solar panel warranty is first in class. The 25-year warranty covers the entire solar energy system, including parts, labor and shipping costs. The SunPower Complete Confidence Warranty also guarantees your solar panels will lose no more than 8% of original power output.
SunPower’s Equinox System has a minimalistic design with fewer visible parts to generate more power in less space. These solar panels may work well if you have limited roof space. SunPower’s SunVault storage system offers up to three days of backup power, handy during rolling blackouts and extended periods with low sunlight.
SunPower service area: All states except Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa
Sunlux ReviewTop-rated Customer Service |
It’s impressive when company owners use their own money to fund their business. That’s what you get with Sunlux. Sunlux puts customer service first because the owners know a solar panel company won’t be in business for long if it compromises. The company has installed more than 7,000 solar energy systems since 2015.
Sunlux installs solar panels from leading manufacturers like Panasonic, Tesla, LG and SolarEdge. The company designs solar energy systems for each home’s unique structure. Sunlux project managers and on-site project supervisors handle everything from design through installation with lifetime service and support.
Sunlux service areas: Southern California and Texas
Tesla Solar ReviewAttractive Solar Roofs |
Screenshot: Tesla Solar
Tesla’s solar roof is composed of shingles, making the energy system undetectable. The roof is manufactured with tempered glass that is three times stronger than standard roofing tiles. A Tesla solar roof is attractive and engineered to be durable in any weather conditions.
Tesla also sells high-efficiency solar panels that maintain energy production even at high temperatures. The panels degrade minimally over the 25-year life span. Tesla solar inverters are designed for optimal energy production on complex roofs and safer maintenance below roof level.
Tesla service areas: All states
POWERHOME SOLAR ReviewTop Certifications |
Screenshot: POWERHOME SOLAR
POWERHOME SOLAR installs American-made solar panels with an all-black modern design. The company offers a 25-year warranty and guarantees the panels will operate at 80% of the original capacity after 30 years. PowerHome designs and installs solar energy systems for residential and commercial customers.
POWERHOME SOLAR employees are fully licensed electricians with general contractors and unlimited electrical contractors licenses. POWERHOME SOLAR has GAF Master Elite roofers with many OSHA 10- or OSHA 30-trained employees. The project manager/design manager is certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
POWERHOME SOLAR service areas: Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia
Frequently Asked Questions about Solar Panels
Can I install solar panels myself?
Plug-and-play solar panels designed for homeowners to install are being developed, but you won’t find them at the big-box hardware stores yet. Installing solar panels requires a great deal of specialized knowledge, and your local building codes may not allow DIY solar panels. Have a NABCEP-certified professional install your solar panels.
Will solar panels work on my roof?
Most roofs can support the weight of solar panels unless they are quite old or in need of repair. If you have trees shading much of your roof and you’re not willing to remove them, solar panels are probably not for you. Southern-facing roofs with a 15- to 40-degree slope are great for solar panels, but other configurations can work too.
Is there any way to get solar energy without installing solar panels?
Community solar arrangements service multiple homes with a shared solar array. Participating homeowners share the equipment and installation costs, which can be very budget-friendly. Community solar panels may be shared in a neighborhood or installed off-site.
Community solar agreements usually run from 10 to 25 years. If you move and can’t take your share with you, you’ll have to sell it to avoid cancellation fees.
How long does it take to get solar panels installed?
It can take up to three months on average from ordering solar panels to installation. The time required to install solar panels may be longer in communities with few homes using solar energy. As the municipalities grow more familiar with the permitting process, installers can get to work sooner. Once permits are in place, you will probably have your solar panels installed in a week or less.
Are solar panels safe?
Solar panels are a safe source of electricity. All solar panels must pass an international inspection and meet testing standards. Professional installations must meet fire, electrical and building codes. Finally, a certified electrician inspects the system before you use it.
Concluding Thoughts on Solar Panels
Check your state or locality for tax credits or exemptions.
Solar panels are increasingly affordable due to lower materials costs, tax credits and tax exemptions. Although solar panel prices are on the decline, having a system installed is still expensive. Compare electricity expenses against the lifetime cost of solar panels and use our tips to determine whether solar panels are worth the investment.
The Best Solar Panels
|Solar Panel Company||Best For|
|4||Sunlux||Highly-rated Customer Service|
|5||Tesla Solar||Attractive Solar Roofs|
|6||POWERHOME SOLAR||Numerous Certifications|
|7||Vivint Solar||Convenient Power Purchase Agreement|
|8||EnergySage||Informed Price Comparisons|
|10||Dividend Solar||Great Financing Options|