Each of the best solar companies has its own unique story and even among the five largest installation companies in the US, the number of systems installed in a year varies dramatically. To help you in this process, we’ve created this cheat sheet comparing the top 5 residential solar companies. We look at the companies’ age and size, customer reviews, and offerings to homeowners.
When deciding on what solar company to work with, you must look at a variety of factors – not just total installation cost– to ensure that your installation and the company continue to meet your needs throughout the life of your agreement.
No late night parties, no smoking, no loud quarrels, no cleaning costs when the tenant skips out in 6 months. This tenant is just no trouble at all and pays promptly every month.
The cost of going solar has gone sharply down overall as a global solar glut due to several years of Chinese oversupply drove solar cost down over the last four years.
When you decide to go solar you need to know how many kilowatt hours of electricity you use, but finding out can be unnecessarily difficult. Do you fancy spending hours in phone mail jail trying to get through to customer service (what customer service?) at your electricity provider to get this info?
You’ve probably noticed that more and more of your neighbors are going solar. It seems like there’s a climate or solar related article in the paper every week. Why?
The most basic question of all concerning solar energy: why use it? Is it actually ‘better’ than alternative sources? Will it actually save you money?
The answer is essentially: yes.
Solar energy is considered “clean” when compared with sources like coal or natural gas — anything that must be burned puts combustion products into the atmosphere. Even when you include the full production impact of solar panels, what we would call the full lifecycle cost, which includes materials used in manufacturing the solar panels, transport, lifetime energy output, etc, they produce much more energy than they use.
Solar panels also have an incredibly long lifetime, easily 25 years of output. This is a very robust, simple, efficient technology for producing energy out of the sun’s energy.
What if you could immediately lower your electricity bill, then keep that fixed rate forever (at a substantial discount when everyone else’s energy bills are only going up)? Sound to good to be true?
It’s not: many solar installers offer what’s called solar lease. Basically, the homeowner leases panels from the solar company. The solar lease payment + the new electricity bill is set lower than the expected cost of electricity. So the savings are immediate–as soon as the solar installation is complete.
Many homeowners choose to treat solar as a financial investment, and the returns are very good. For example, $10k invested in a solar panel array can pay itself off in just a few years. After that the home’s electricity is free or extremely reduced, and in some states there can be other financial benefits including feed-in tariffs (utility company paying you for electricity), tax incentives, and other credits.
How much does solar actually cost? It depends on where you live. Take a look at the infographic below to learn more about how much solar energy costs.
Why go solar now? Because solar panels have seen record drops in cost over the last few years.
As you can see from this graph of solar panel installations, things are growing dramatically:
This might sound crazy until you’ve seen the numbers, but solar panels are the only home improvement that pays for itself. Not only do solar panels boost property values, but the money you put down on your system will come back to you with interest.
Take a look at the following charts:
Things have changed slightly since this chart was put together, but the point is that solar can outperform the S&P 500 by a wide margin. Here’s a state by state analysis of why solar panels beat stocks:
Need we say more?
The reason to seriously consider solar is good for you home, good for your wallet, and good for the community.
Solar energy is becoming one of the fastest growing and most trusted energy sources in the United States. The CEO of Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest Utilities recently commented: “If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using us for backup,”.
What is even more promising is that the costs of solar is coming down and that solar financing options are better than ever. Solar power is now an affordable and solid investment. The technology is proven. The returns are real. And freedom from utility bills is possible.
Many people are confronted with the question of how to finance solar, “Should I lease or buy a solar system?”
Here are some questions to consider:
Here are some basic tips that will help you determine if solar is worth looking into. First off – you have to own your home. Then – do you pay more than $100/month in electricity bills? Do you have air conditioning? Do you have a pool? Do you have more than one refrigerator? Do you live in CA, HI, AZ, NV, MA, NJ, NY, CT, MD, DC, MO, CO, NC?
If you answered yes to more than two of these questions, chances are solar can save you money.
A solar lease works much like any other lease.
To start with, you enter into a lease agreement and pay a fixed monthly price for using the solar equipment owned by a solar company. So you just use the equipment to harness solar power while someone else owns and maintains it. Proper maintenance of solar panel is an overhead for users, but timely maintenance is highly necessary to bring down the cost of solar energy produced over a period. In the case of solar lease, a leasing company takes care of maintenance of solar equipment and you just don’t have to undergo this overhead.
Additionally, by entering into a long-term contract, your monthly solar energy bill is designed to be much lower than your monthly electricity bill, with little or no up front cost. So leasing a solar panel can be a better option if you don’t have a huge amount of money for a cash purchase. The big considerations here are 1) making sure you sign a deal with the right company and 2) the fact that over the long run, buying vs leasing is going to save you a lot more money.
Both solar lease and solar power purchase work more or less the same. In the case of solar power purchase, someone owns and maintains a solar system on your property and you pay for the solar energy it produces. When you choose to buy solar power, you can go for a prepaid plan or pay a fixed monthly amount regularly. Prepaid option is nothing but paying upfront for all the power you need for a certain period for a pre-negotiated rate. Since the payment is done in advance, the average monthly rate can be less than what you pay in a solar lease.
When you have optimal energy needs, solar lease is the best choice, and when you need regular supply of huge amount of energy, it is better to purchase solar energy. In both the cases, a leasing provider is the one who manages the Solar Renewable Energy Credits, but you can use those credits in your contract agreement to bring down the cost even further.
Leasing a solar system is a very user-friendly and easy way to get solar on your home. With a decent credit score and electricity bills from the past 12 months, you are more than ready to get outfitted with a system. What’s more, the installation company will often offer such a system with no money down and you can start saving on your electricity bill right away!
If you plan on owning your home for a long time, the answer may well be that it is better to own your system. If a qualified installer builds a quality system, your home will be running relatively maintenance free for a long time on solar energy. Solar panels are rated to function at a high-efficiency for over 25 years – and panels have been producing energy at some locations for well over that amount of time!
Leasing a solar system is essentially trading your utility company for a solar company. Instead of paying bills to your utility company, you will now pay bills to your solar company – but your bill should be less than your utility bill. The main advantage with a lease is that it’s no money out of pocket, and less worry about long-term reliability. You should consider the reputation and experience of the solar company. You should compare downpayment, if any, and monthly payment amounts. And you should review any exit clauses – what happens if you sell your home?
There are two main options for buying solar panels: you can buy them outright with cash or you can use solar loan. Cash is quickest way to go solar, and like all cash investments, if you can afford it, it’s probably the cheapest overall way to go solar. In many cases you will receive rebates or tax incentives that will recoup part of the cash investment within the first year. You will probably be surprised to see a relatively quick return on investment through utility bill savings – as quick as 4 years or less in some cases!
Alternatively there are numerous loan programs that you can use to finance a solar power system. You may be able to take out a home equity line of credit, or you can leverage some of the FHA approved 2nd mortgage programs that allow you to finance your solar power system with a 2nd mortgage. This second option also allows for a balloon payment to be made with any incentives or federal tax credits to quickly lower your monthly payments. Often this approach will yield a net savings from day one and after the term of the 2nd mortgage your system will be producing free, clean energy!
See our post on this: How long do solar panels last?
Solar panels have been tested in various conditions for decades and have withstood the test of time. Your solar panels will be warranted to produce 80% as much power in 25 years as they do the first day they are installed on your roof. Solar panels have no moving parts and very low maintenance. There may be a few repairs in 10 years time, but with a few small repairs your system should be generating clean energy for a long long time – and for a good part of that it’ll be free!
Image credit: via FlickR under CC license
Finding simple, easy to digest information about solar panel rebates can be impossible. If you’ve spent any time wading through the national database of rebates and incentives you understand what we’re talking about!
As former solar professionals, we understand how frustrating it can be to find good information about solar power online. But we want you to be informed about the solar panel rebates and incentives available to you.
Solar panels convert light into electricity that can power your home. Most homeowners buy solar panels through a certified installer who puts the entire system together. The advantage of this is the solar installer will also provide the homeowner with information about solar rebates, incentives, and tax credits.
There are many companies offering different ways to purchase solar panels. You can buy solar panels with cash, make payments on a $0-down or low down payment on the system, or lease the entire array (for immediate savings).
Solar panels used to be quite expensive, but fortunately rebates and incentives have made them affordable in many parts of the United States.
The US Federal Government offers a solar rebate, which is actually (as mentioned above) a tax credit. It’s easy to confuse rebates with tax credits, but it’s important to understand that a tax credit only offsets tax liability, while a rebate is money you get paid after the purchase.
The nice part about this is that everyone gets this rebate, and it lops of a huge portion of the cost of a solar array.
Often the best way to find information on local solar rebates is to get a custom solar quote from a solar installer. Solar installers must be experts in local incentives (they use them heavily in their marketing), and all available rebates, credits, and incentives will be listed in the solar proposal.