Solar Panel Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know
Considering solar panels for your home? Start here for information on solar installations, tax credits, batteries, solar panel lifespans and more.
Stephen J. Bronner is a New York-based freelance writer, editor and reporter. Over his more than a decade in journalism, he has written about energy, local politics and schools, startup success tips, the packaged food industry, the science of work, personal finance and blockchain. His bylined work has appeared in Inverse, Kotaku, Entrepreneur, NextAdvisor and CNET, and op-eds written on behalf of his clients were published in Forbes, HR Dive, Fast Company, NASDAQ and MarketWatch. Stephen previously served as contributors editor and news editor for Entrepreneur.com, and was the VP, Content and Strategy, at Ditto PR. He enjoys video games and punk rock. See some of his work at stephenjbronner.com.
The case for getting some or all of your home’s energy from solar panels has never been stronger.
Jump-started by the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides a 30% tax credit for the cost of solar system installations, along with falling panel and rising energy costs, homeowners can see a return on investment on solar within seven to 12 years.
With that said, there are homeowners for whom residential solar won’t make financial sense, like those whose roofs get limited sunlight or live in states without net metering. For everyone else, here is everything you need to know about buying solar panels.
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
How solar panels work
Solar panels are made of photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. The sun emits solar radiation, which is absorbed by the photovoltaic cells. Electrons within the solar cell are energized, escape their bonds and form an electric current. That current, which starts as direct current, is switched to alternating by the solar system’s inverter. From there it’s used up in the electronics in your home or sent back to the grid.
It’s not a magical technology, but it seems like it because you just stick something in sunlight and it makes electricity for you, said Joshua Pearce, a professor at Western University in Ontario and co-author of To Catch the Sun, a free e-book on DIY solar systems. Even being a scientist who works on this stuff all the time, it’s amazing that these things actually work.
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
The benefits of solar panels
Why would you want home solar panels?
- Savings on energy: The most direct benefit is that you can gain the opportunity to power your own home outside of the electrical grid. That saves you money, and if you generate extra power, you might even be able to get credit on your bill from the electric utility via net metering. The average payback period for solar panels is six to 12 years, according to some sources.
- Solar is an abundant power source: According to the US Department of Energy, just one hour of noontime summer sun meets the annual US electricity demand. Depending on your situation, turning it into electricity can save on your electricity bill.
- Help with your home value: If you plan to sell your home down the line, having home solar panels can be a major perk to buyers and can help increase your home’s value.
- Going green: Since solar is a renewable resource, you can shrink your carbon footprint.
- Independence from electrical grid failures: Some areas have electrical grids that are less than reliable. If you experience frequent power outages in your area, your own solar power can keep the lights on.
- Power your campsite: Some small solar panel arrays fit right onto RVs, or you can take them camping so you have electricity, no matter how remote the location.
Where to buy solar panels
Many businesses specialize in selling and installing solar panels for homes. Search online to locate solar panel suppliers and installers in your area. You can start with CNET’s best list of solar panel companies.
You can even shop for solar panels at major home goods stores like Home Depot. Stores like this can even set you up with professional installation to help you get a residential solar panel setup.
Major installers often offer solar financing options, too, though you might be best served by shopping around for a loan. Many solar installers also offer solar panel leases or power purchase agreements, which you can enter with no money down (though savings over the lifetime of your panels are typically lower).
You can also apply for the federal solar tax credit, that will give you 30% of the cost of your solar back to you on your taxes, assuming you have that much tax liability.
Solar panel installation
Most residential solar arrays are installed by a professional. Installing solar panels yourself is technically possible, but you run the risk of voiding warranties. You should only attempt it if you have the necessary expertise. If you opt for a professional installation, be sure to shop around for the best deal. Compare the warranties installers offer along with price, customer service and how well their proposed plans meet your needs.
A reputable solar installer will advise you on the age of your roof before installation. Replacing your roof before installation may ultimately be the cheaper option, since removing the panels to replace the roof will be an additional expense.
Care and lifespan of solar panels
Many solar panels are warrantied to last 25 years, though their useful life is likely longer. On top of that, they’re fairly maintenance free, just requiring that you keep them free of obstructions like dirt, leaves and snow. extensive repairs may be covered by warranty.
Solar panels get less efficient over time, though that downward trend isn’t necessarily a problem for you. A typical manufacturer’s warranty will guarantee that your solar panels won’t lose more than 2% efficiency in the first year and not more than 0.5% per year in the next 24 years. That means your panels are guaranteed to produce at 84% their original capacity after year 25. Some panels will set a higher benchmark.- like 92%.- after 25 years, but you’ll still be getting plenty of electricity out of them two decades on.
Do you need a solar battery?
Installing a solar battery in your home will allow you to store excess energy produced by your panels. However, they are currently almost as expensive as a solar panel system (from 12,000 to 22,000), so while a battery is nice to have, it’s not a necessity.
There are instances where a solar battery is worth the investment. Those who live off the grid will need a battery to use solar power. And if your area is prone to frequent blackouts or you have medical needs that require refrigerated medicine or machinery, a battery may be worth the cost.
How to pay for solar panels
There are a breadth of options for paying for the installation of residential solar panels, aided in part by the 30% federal tax credit. Homeowners can pay out of for the entire project, then receive money back from the government. There are also relatively cheap solar financing options, with plans that offer 1.99% APR over 25 years, that also result in the tax credit. Interest rates have shifted higher over the last year or so and you should shop around for the terms that best fit your needs. Other financing options include bank loans or a home equity loan, but given their higher interest rates, consider these financial tools carefully.
For those without the financial means to buy or finance a system, there are solar leases and power purchase agreements. A solar lease is similar to that of a vehicle.- you pay a set amount each month for a system that will be owned by the installer. Under a power purchase agreement, you pay a set rate for the energy generated by the solar panels (the rate may increase after a certain amount of time), rather than the system itself. The drawback of these mechanisms is that you won’t own the solar panels yourself, and hence won’t get any of the tax credits or have the ability to sell renewable energy certificates.
How the solar tax credit works
The federal residential solar energy credit, which grants a 30% credit to homeowners who install panels on their home through 2032. (If your entire project costs 30,000, you’ll be granted a credit of 9,000). The credit applies to homeowners who purchase a system with cash or through financing.
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency Renewable Energy, you should seek professional tax advice to determine your eligibility, then fill out IRS Form 5695 following the IRS’s instructions.
Improve your home’s efficiency first
Before you start the process of going solar, you should try to improve your home’s energy usage in other ways.
Solar is an exciting type of infrastructure, but if the ultimate goal is to save money on your electricity bills, I encourage homeowners to think about efficiency upgrades first, said Gilbert Michaud, assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Environmental Sustainability. Those could include insulation, upgrading and replacing Windows or other things that are maybe less fun, but can help you realize savings immediately and lower costs. Once you’ve done those efficiency retrofits or upgrades, maybe solar is a good idea.
These upgrades will give you a clearer idea of how many solar panels you’d need to power your home, too. That means you’ll likely need less panels.- reducing the cost of the installation.- than if you didn’t do efficiency upgrades first. Here’s some suggestions.
- Check your insulation: Inside your walls is a layer of material meant to keep hot or cold air where it is. In the winter, this means the warm air from your heating system stays inside your house, and vice versa for cool air in the summer. If there are leaks in your insulation, hot or cold air is escaping or getting in, which makes your HVAC system work harder and costs you more money.
- Upgrade or replace Windows: Much like insulation, your Windows play a large role in keeping your home heated or cooled. If your Windows are out of date, air could be coming in or out, which is not great for your energy bills.
- Replace old household items with efficient ones: If you have older appliances, thermostats or light bulbs, replace them with newer, more efficient ones to realize energy savings.
Solar panel FAQs
How much money will solar panels save me?
Many experts say that homeowners will see a return on investment on a solar panel installation in a period between seven to 12 years. That’s when the money saved from paying your energy bills will exceed the initial money spent on a solar project. Those who go solar through a lease or power purchasing agreement should see savings practically immediately.
Solar Panels by Sunrun
Learn about our best-in-class solar products and services.
Experience Peace of Mind for Decades to Come with Sunrun Rooftop Solar Panels
When you team up with a solar company like Sunrun, you can create your own affordable, clean energy and gain independence from your utility company. A Sunrun solar installation can help power your home when the sun is out while you boost control over your energy usage and reduce your dependence on fossil fuels.
We offer several residential solar plans to help you start your solar journey. Find out which is the ideal fit for your budget and unique energy needs.
We offer some of the best solar rooftop panel systems on the market, and you can bring them home through a lease payment plan, flexible solar financing, or by paying outright. Our made-to-fit solar solutions, paired with exceptional service and our industry-leading solar guarantee, have positioned us as the leading residential solar and energy storage company in the U.S. 1
Solar panels are just one part of the solution to experience energy freedom and security. To ensure you get the most out of your home energy system, consider adding a solar battery back-up service like Sunrun’s Brightbox. Hundreds of millions of people were affected by blackouts from 2008 to 2017. 2 With Brightbox, you can keep your lights on and your food fresh during outages with a Smart, affordable, and reliable back-up power system.
Benefits of Adding Sunrun’s Battery Storage Service to Your Solar Panels
Brightbox doesn’t need dangerous, expensive, and toxic fossil fuels to work. 3 When the sun is out, it can store clean and affordable back-up power for later use.
Brightbox paired with a Tesla Powerwall can help you back up your entire home, or you can back up just the rooms you need with an LG Chem solar battery.
Tesla Powerwall and LG Chem solar batteries can last anywhere from 10 to 15 years, and they typically come with a 10-year manufacturer warranty for your peace of mind.
Solar with incentives
Our Automated Site Modeling tool is a revolutionary technology that allows us to design a custom Sunrun home solar energy system based on your roof’s unique dimensions and layout.
Sunrun’s Automated Site Modeling tool will use your roof’s individual profile, including shading, pitch, sun exposure, seasonality, and roof obstacles. This will ensure that the designed Sunrun solar panel system matches your home’s structure and unique energy needs. A customized system can let you know your potential control over your future electricity bills
Sunrun’s Product Selector is an innovative and simple tool. It lets you know in minutes which solar plan, with or without a home battery, can give you and your family more benefits in the long run, depending on where you live.
Sunrun’s Product Selector will use information about your roof’s type and pitch, your household size, and other important aspects, like if you have a home office or if you need back-up power, to recommend the best Sunrun home solar plan for you. This can help secure the peace of mind you deserve during rising energy costs and power outages while reducing your carbon footprint.
Does my state offer incentives to go solar?
See the states where Sunrun is currently available and the solar incentives that might be offered where you live. Some of the most common solar incentives include tax credits, property tax exemptions, and rebates. No matter what state you live in, you may be eligible for the Federal Solar Tax Credit (ITC) if you decide to purchase a home solar energy system.
You can get a Sunrun monthly plan to lease your solar panels or prepay for your renewable energy through a solar power purchase agreement or PPA plan. As a result, any incentive savings you would receive through tax credits and rebates with a system purchase can be passed to you in the form of a lower solar bill.
How do solar panels work?
You can’t talk about solar panels without talking about silicon. Silicon is a non-metallic element and the second-most abundant material on earth. 4 It can also convert sunlight into electricity, and it’s a key component in a solar system (also known as a photovoltaic, or PV system). 5
Solar panels, solar cells, or PV cells, are made by slicing crystalline silicon (also known as wafers) that are millimeters thin. These wafers are sandwiched between protective glass, insulation, and a protective back sheet, which make a solar panel. The back sheet helps to regulate the temperature and humidity to optimize the solar panel’s efficiency. 6 Multiple solar panels connected together create a solar array, and ultimately, a solar system.
Then there’s the physics of how solar cells work: Electricity is made when electrons move between atoms. The top and bottom of a silicon wafer in the solar cell are treated with small amounts of atoms of extra materials—such as boron, gallium, or phosphorus—so that the top layer has more electrons and the bottom layer has less. When the sun activates the electrons in these oppositely charged layers, the electrons move through a circuit attached to the panels. This flow of electrons through the circuit is what generates the electrical current that ultimately powers a home. 7
What are the different types of solar panels?
Monocrystalline solar panels:
Monocrystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency and power capacity out of all other types of solar panels. Another reason why people choose them is because of how they look. The solar cells within monocrystalline panels are square-shaped and have a single, flat black color, making them the most popular type of solar panels among homeowners. 8 Sunrun uses monocrystalline PV modules in all its home solar systems.
Polycrystalline solar panels:
The manufacturing process of polycrystalline solar panels is less costly than monocrystalline panels, but it also makes them less efficient. Usually, polycrystalline solar panels don’t have the corners cut off of them, so you won’t see the large white spaces on the front of the panel that you see on monocrystalline panels. 8
Thin-film solar panels:
Thin-film solar panels are less costly and easier to install than their counterparts. Still, they aren’t the best option for a home solar installation due to their efficiency, lightweight material, and durability. 8
How long do solar panels really last?
When you consider investing in a solar installation, you might wonder how long home solar panels last. Studies show that solar panels can last anywhere from 20 to 30 years, or sometimes longer. 9 Still, this doesn’t mean the panels on your roof will stop producing electricity after a couple of decades. It just means their energy production will decrease by what solar panel manufacturers consider optimal to meet the average household’s energy needs.
Do home solar systems have a warranty?
All of our solar equipment is backed by factory warranties. On top of that, our monthly solar lease plan and prepaid solar plan (also known as a solar PPA) come with 24/7 proactive monitoring and free maintenance on us. If we notice that your rooftop panels or solar battery aren’t working at their full capacity, we’ll send an expert over to fix it without you lifting a finger. This benefit sets Sunrun apart from the other solar installers in the country.
How does Automated Site Modeling work?
After you enter a few details about your home, our Automated Site Modeling tool will analyze hundreds of thousands of variables in home solar system designs to build a high-resolution image of the ideal system for your roof. These factors include your home’s pitch, seasonality, sun exposure, shading, and roof obstacles. This helps Sunrun guarantee you receive maximum benefits from your new home solar system.
How does Sunrun’s Product Selector work?
After you answer a few simple questions about your home’s details, lifestyle, and electricity usage, Sunrun’s Product Selector will let you know if a monthly lease plan, prepaying for your solar energy, financing a system, or purchasing outright—along with a back-up power service—is the most cost-effective solution for your unique needs.
Are Automated Site Modeling and Sunrun’s Product Selector really free?
Yes. At Sunrun, we’re committed to providing you with the best technology, services, and tools, like our Automated Site Modeling tool and Product Selector, to make your switch to solar as affordable and straightforward as possible. This can help you worry less about controlling your electric bills and protecting your home during outages while reducing your carbon emissions for decades.
Do solar panels get hot?
Rooftop solar panels can get hot, particularly during scorching summer days. If the panels do get hot or overheat, they can produce less energy as the temperature rises above their optimal energy production range.
In general, residential solar panels are designed to reach their peak efficiency level at 77 °F (25 °C), but their efficiency will decrease by 0.5% for every degree above this temperature. The actual percentage of lower production varies by the solar panel’s manufacturer and model. Ultimately, you want to aim for an exterior temperature range of 59 to 95 °F (15 to 35 °C). Yet, it’s unrealistic for rooftop solar panels to stay within this range all year, especially in places where temperatures can go past 100 °F (37.8 °C). Fortunately, most solar panels can withstand heat up to 149 °F (65 °C). 10
Nonetheless, solar panel overheating can be prevented. Many solar panel manufacturers cover the panels in a material that generally conducts and vents heat away from the glass. In addition, solar panels are usually mounted a few inches above the roof, which allows airflow space to help move heat away from the panels.
Despite the reduction in efficiency from extreme heat, solar energy generation doesn’t stop. The lower electricity production due to scorching weather balances out with the longer days of sunlight throughout the seasons. Although solar panels work best on cold, sunny days, they produce solar power year-round in nearly every location and climate.
Do solar panels work in cold weather?
Solar panels create energy from sunlight—not the sun’s heat. In fact, solar panels produce electricity more efficiently in cooler conditions. Even in the most frigid weather, solar panels can turn sunlight into electricity.
How does this work? Colder temperatures enhance solar energy production efficiency, which increases the amount of electricity produced. Electrons are at rest in cooler climates. When the electrons in solar panels are activated by increasing sunlight, a voltage difference is attained that creates an electric current.
Warmer summer temperatures raise the overall energy levels of electrons in solar panels. This increased energy level decreases the energy differential that can be gained, producing less energy. A higher energy state interferes with solar panel electricity production since some energy transfers into heat instead of electricity. Your home doesn’t need to be in a warm-weather state like Arizona, California, Nevada, or Texas to generate year-round reliable solar power.
Do solar panels work at night?
While solar panels need sunlight to create electricity, there are two ways you can benefit from solar power during the nighttime: enroll in a net energy metering (NEM) program (if it’s offered where you live), or add a home battery storage service, like Sunrun’s Brightbox.
Net energy metering (NEM): Lower-cost grid energy at night
If NEM is offered in your state and by your utility, you may be eligible to earn credits on your bill for the excess solar energy you produce and send to your utility company. 11 At night, you could use those credits toward drawing electricity from the grid at a lower cost. Net metering may help you save money on your future electricity bills. Visit your utility company’s website for more information.
Solar battery storage: Reliable, affordable back-up energy, day and night
A battery storage service like Brightbox can let you store the excess solar power you produce for later use. This stored solar energy can help keep your devices and appliances running at night, during outages, cloudy days, and rainy afternoons.
Brightbox offers two lithium-ion solar battery storage options: Tesla Powerwall and LG Chem. Tesla Powerwall can help yo back up your entire home while LG Chem can help you back up to four circuits inside your home. There are also differences in software and app functionality.
Request a free, personalized quote to connect with a Sunrun Solar Advisor and determine which Sunrun back-up solution would work best for your home.
How does Brightbox work?
Brightbox allows you to store the excess energy your solar energy system produces during the day to use it in the evening, at night, or when the electric grid fails due to physical damage or an extreme weather event or.
Do I need solar panels to use Brightbox?
Aside from very rare exceptions, Sunrun’s Brightbox service includes rooftop solar panels. Brightbox can store 100% clean, renewable, home-grown solar power directly from the rooftop panels when the sun is out, so you can use it when you need it most.
Can I add Brightbox to my current home solar system?
At this time, Brightbox with a Tesla Powerwall or LG Chem solar battery is only available in the installation of a new Sunrun home solar system due to tech compatibility issues. We can’t install rooftop solar panels or a home battery if you already have an existing solar installation or if Brigtbox’s battery storage service isn’t available in your area.
What happens during a solar installation?
Once you’re approved for a solar installation, your property will undergo a site assessment, and an expert solar technician will schedule a visit with you to confirm your system design.
After that, our Solar Design Experts will make any necessary adjustments to your design and get your final approval. Once it’s approved, we’ll submit your design to the city for permitting, which can take up to eight weeks. From there, either Sunrun or one of our local certified partners will start your solar installation. We only partner with the top-rated solar installers, so you can rest easy knowing you’ll have the highest quality solar installation available.
When your installation is finished, the city or county will perform a final inspection of your system. Once it’s approved, it’ll be connected to the grid, and we’ll submit your documents to the utility company. After your utility company grants Permission to Operate (PTO), you’ll be all set to start powering your home with the sun.
What happens if I move?
We have an entire team of professionals standing by to help you sell your solar home and transfer your contract, if applicable, to the new owners. Sunrun makes it easy to pass your solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) to the new owners. Our Service Transfer Specialists handle everything from educating realtors and potential buyers to working with escrow officers, title agents, home inspectors, as well as anyone else who might need to know about your system and solar lease or PPA agreement.
These are the top 10 solar manufacturers of 2021
SolarReviews, a US-based independent comparison website for solar panel brands and installations, has released its first solar manufacturer ranking system. Here are the top 10 solar panel manufacturers in 2021.
Solar panel manufacturer ranking methodology
The scoring methodology was developed by a committee of industry experts to rate the 20 most popular solar panel brands in the US in 2021, based on SolarReviews.com consumer reviews.
The scoring methodology’s aim is to provide consumers with a long-term outlook of solar panel brand performance and value. It recognizes that some solar panels have 25-year warranties, yet consumer reviews are often created within the first year of installation.
The Solar Panel Manufacturer Scoring System analyzed hundreds of data points drawn from solar panel spec sheets, company financial statements, and state-level government statistics to score each solar panel brand. The rankings take the following factors into account:
Value (30%). Solar panels’ high upfront cost deters many homeowners from switching to solar, so cost is a significant factor.
Module quality (20%). The spec sheet performance of each company’s top residential solar panel, specifically its efficiency rating and temperature coefficients, was assessed. Panels that take up less space and perform more consistently in different environmental conditions earned a higher score.
Financial visibility and strength (20%). The financial health of the solar panel manufacturer serves as the best indicator of whether the company will be in existence to honor warranty claims that may arise.
Warranty (10%). Both the product and performance warranty were considered. The product warranty reflects the reliability of the module, and the performance warranty assessment evaluates how panel performance will hold up with each passing year.
US investment (10%). How committed each brand is to the US market.
Dealer network (10%): The availability of the brand among solar installers, thus ensuring availability for US customers.
Andy Sendy, founder and president of SolarReviews.com, said:
The US solar market is made up of hundreds of solar panel brands of varying price points and value. Consumers are often faced with the challenging task of balancing the upfront cost of panels and the longevity of the solar system to ensure long-term savings are realized.
The “Best Solar Manufacturers of 2021” list was developed to help consumers understand the solar panels with the best value and performance for the long run. We hope the ranking equips those who turn to solar to shop smarter, and ultimately get the solar system that works best for them.
SolarReviews is independent, and putting solar panels on your roof is a Smart yet big investment. So this guide is extremely helpful for those folks who are sitting down with their installer rep and deciding on which solar panels to choose.
We are personally waiting to see what the outcome of the infrastructure bill is before we push forward on solar panels (we’re currently on community wind with Arcadia), but have already had our consultation.
LG Solar being No. 1 was not a huge surprise to me, and based on the above factors, was already in our own household’s No. 1 spot.
UnderstandSolar is a free service that links you to top-rated solar installers in your region for personalized solar estimates. Tesla now offers price matching, so it’s important to shop for the best quotes. Click here to learn more and get your quotes. — ad.
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Where to Buy Affordable Solar Panels (2023)
Each product and or company featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Written by Karsten Neumeister
Karsten is an editor and energy specialist focused on environmental, social and cultural development. His work has been shared by sources including NPR, the World Economic Forum, Marketwatch and the SEIA, and he is certified in ESG with the CFA Institute. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the solar energy sector, studying energy policy, climate tech and environmental education. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace. Learn About This Person
Reviewed by Melissa Smith
Melissa is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainability studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a nonprofit that’s featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral. Learn About This Person
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Where Can You Buy Solar Panels?
There are three ways to purchase solar panels:
- Going through an approved solar company in your area that has certified deals with top manufacturers
- Purchasing DIY kits at Home Improvement stores like Home Depot and Amazon
- Purchasing Solar panels straight from Manufacturers websites
Home and business owners typically purchase solar panels through solar companies, which are certified to deal and install products from top manufacturers. These solar installers then plan and execute the installation.
However, solar panels and solar panel kits are also sold directly from distributors in the event you’re qualified to carry out your own DIY solar installation. Consider the following when making a decision about where to purchase your panels.
SunPower designs and installs industry-leading residential solar and storage solutions across all 50 states. With a storied history of innovation dating back to 1985, no other company on this list can match SunPower’s experience and expertise.
SunPower earns its position as the top national installer on our list for a handful of reasons: It installs the most efficient solar technology on the residential market, offers the most expansive service area and backs its installations with a warranty well above the industry standard. All the while, SunPower pioneers sustainability efforts within the industry.
If that weren’t enough, SunPower systems come packaged with products all manufactured in-house by its sister company, Maxeon. This means that your panels, solar cells, inverters, battery and EV chargers are designed to work together and are all covered under the same warranty.
SunPower’s biggest downside? Its high-efficiency panels are considerably more expensive than most of its competitors’ products. However, its powerful panels are workhorses that make up for the initial cost with more backend production (think about this like spending more money for a car that gets more miles per gallon).
Facts and Figures: SunPower
|Solar Panels, Solar Batteries, EV Chargers, System Monitoring
|25-year all-inclusive warranty
Blue Raven Solar
We like Blue Raven Solar because it understands that, for most homeowners, the cost of solar presents the biggest barrier to entry.
For that reason, Blue Raven Solar developed an innovative solar financing plan that offers in-house, flexible, zero-money-down options. The results speak for themselves, as Blue Raven Solar is now one of the fastest-growing solar companies in the nation and was recently acquired by SunPower. Its BluePower Plus plan (exclusive to Blue Raven) mimics the flexible structure of a lease while still providing the greatest benefits of owning your system.
Eligible homeowners enjoy 18 months of solar power before having to pay their first bill. When coupled with the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC), the initial energy savings can offset more than a third of the overall cost of a system before requiring a dollar down.
In contrast, other installers can only offer similar financing through solar leases, PPAs or third-party providers (such as Mosaic or Sunlight). Third-party loan providers can complicate the process, while opting for a loan or PPA will disqualify you from some of solar’s biggest benefits (additional property value, federal solar tax credit and local solar incentives).
Facts and Figures: Blue Raven Solar
|Solar Panels, System Monitoring
|Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, SolarEdge, Silfab, SunPower
|25-year manufacturer warranty; 10-year workmanship warranty, 2-year production guarantee
ADT Solar sets the industry standard for warranty coverage by including a multifaceted guarantee, making it one of the top installers for homeowners who want added peace of mind.
Its warranty coverage includes all of the following for 25 years:
- Power Production Guarantee: Also known as a performance guarantee, this ensures your solar system will produce the amount of electricity that’s outlined in your proposal, or ADT will write you a check for the difference.
- Labor Guarantee: This covers any issues with the installation of your system and is also known as a workmanship warranty.
- Panel Module Performance Guarantee: This is what ADT Solar refers to the manufacturer warranty as, and it ensures that any manufacturing defects are repaired or your ineffective panels replaced.
- Enphase Microinverters Guarantee: This backs the performance of your inverters.
Though in recent years other solar companies have started to offer similar guarantees, ADT Solar has been at it since 2008, performing over 30,000 installations across the country.
Facts and Figures: ADT Solar
|Solar Panels, Solar Batteries, EV Chargers, Energy-Efficiency Upgrades
|Silfab, Panasonic and others depending on location
|25-year all-inclusive warranty
Choosing a Solar Installer in Your Area
Certified solar energy companies carry out the vast majority of solar panel installations. When hiring a professional solar company, you can either go with a local or national installer.
A local solar installer will usually be able to offer you more personalized service, more affordable and more intimate knowledge of local solar incentives and policies. The flip side is that nationwide installers can often have access to a wider range of solar products, like the most efficient solar panels and the best solar batteries in the industry.
This can give you more options to maximize the power output and durability of your system. There’s not really a right or wrong answer here, and in fact, the best approach may be to consult with two or three installers that service your area before making your decision.
DIY Solar Panel Installation
Installing your own solar panels provides the opportunity to save money on labor and also gives you greater control over the final configuration of your home solar system. Be aware, however, that there can be significant downsides to do-it-yourself solar jobs.
First, it is complex, technical work, requiring electrical expertise and thorough knowledge of how solar works. If you’re unskilled or inexperienced in working with electricity, installing solar panels presents concerns to both your safety and the integrity of your roof and electrical system.
Additionally, going with DIY solar panels means you won’t reap the benefits of experienced solar designers, who can help you design the optimal energy-generating, money-saving system. If you do choose to buy solar panels and install them on your own, you can purchase panels from:
- Manufacturer websites
- Hardware stores
- Amazon.com (where you can buy full solar panel kits)
How to Buy Solar Panels
Now you know where to purchase panels, but as for how to buy solar panels, your next steps will again depend on whether you hire a professional or go the DIY route.
Hiring an Installer for your Solar Panels
For most of our readers, we recommend hiring a solar installer that will plan your system and purchase the solar equipment on your behalf. Note that installers buy in bulk and have access to wholesale prices, so they can actually help you save money on your equipment costs, though of course, you’ll then have to pay for the labor. The general steps in the process are as follows:
- Consultation: Meet with a few of your area’s top solar companies to compare pricing and proposals outlining the pros and cons of solar for your home.
- System design: Once you choose a solar installer, a representative will take a look at your roof and design a solar system that meets your energy goals. The importance of this step usually outweighs that of the installation itself, as a solar system will only be as effective as its design.
- Permitting: Depending on where you live, you may require permits and approvals from your municipality before your solar system can be installed. Your installer can handle all of this on your behalf.
- Net metering: If your local utility company offers net metering, you’ll need to apply and enroll prior to the installation itself. This step should also be handled by your solar company, though it may require a signature or two from you.
- Installation: Once you receive the needed approvals, your installer can begin work to assemble your system. This may take anywhere from a day to a full week depending on the complexity of your project. Most installations are finished within a day.
- Review and approval: Most municipalities will require you to have your system inspected for safety before it’s “switched on.” Both cities and utility companies usually require inspections. Again, your solar company will handle the logistics of these inspections.
- Using your system: After you get your final approvals, you’ll be ready to turn on your solar system. Your installer will advise you on how to do so.
- Applying for tax credits: Any reputable solar company will walk you through how to apply for solar tax credits, rebates or grants available in your area. Some will even do so on your behalf.
If you want to know more about installing a solar panel system, you can click below to connect with an EcoWatch-vetted installer and get a free estimate.
Buying Your Own Solar System (DIY)
If you’re a more qualified homeowner looking to research, design and install your home solar system, you’ll need to purchase equipment on your own. First, determine how many solar panels your home requires.
This hinges on an array of factors: the amount of electricity your household consumes, the surface area available on your roof, the amount of sun exposure your roof receives and more. For residential installations with limited roof space to work with, we recommend looking into highly efficient solar panels.
This will ensure your investment is worthwhile. (We’ll get more into the different types of solar panels below.) Also, remember that designing a solar system requires a lot more than just panels. Consider what equipment you’ll need before purchasing your solar panels.
Do you want a string inverter or microinverters? Do you need a battery? A charge controller? (We’ll also get more into this later on). Even if you carry out your own installation, you’ll still need to apply for any necessary permits and interconnection agreements. In the event you perform an off-grid installation, you may not need permission from your utility.
What Are The Types of Solar Panels For Sale?
There are three basic types of photovoltaic panels available today: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. The factors differentiating these options have to do with the efficiency, flexibility, solar cell makeup, size and cost of the solar panels. These can all impact which solar panels you purchase.
|Solar Panel Type
|Monocrystalline solar panels
|Highest efficiency and best performance
|Highest upfront cost
|Polycrystalline solar panels
|affordable than monocrystalline
|Lower efficiency than monocrystalline
|Thin-film solar panels
|Portable and flexible
|Lowest efficiency and power output
An important note we’ll repeat: For homeowners with a limited surface area on their roofs, efficiency is the name of the game. Make sure to buy solar panels with high efficiency ratings, as this will maximize the sunlight available to you, making your investment more worthwhile. Most of the best solar panels will be monocrystalline.
Other Equipment You’ll Need to Buy for Your Solar Panel System
If you’re doing your own installation, you’ll need to consider purchasing the following when you buy your solar panels:
- Inverter: This converts direct current (DC) solar energy into the alternating current (AC) electricity needed to power your home. Most options will be string inverters or microinverters.
- Battery: A solar battery allows you to store excess energy for future use rather than feeding it back into the electrical grid. Having a battery maximizes your solar energy use.
- Mounting system: This stabilizes your solar panels and ensures they stay in their proper rooftop position.
- Wiring: Wiring is used to connect your solar system to your electrical panel.
- Solar charge controller: A charge controller regulates voltage and prevents batteries from overcharging.
Final Thoughts: Where to Buy Solar Panels
Installing solar panels involves a number of decisions, starting with where to buy your panels. Are you qualified to install solar panels yourself? What type of solar panel is best for your energy needs? What other equipment will you need to buy along with your panels?
If you choose to go with a solar company:
Make sure you do your research and hire a vetted, experienced solar contractor with a track record of success. Ask any friends or neighbors with solar who they hired and how their experience was. Some solar companies have programs that reward 1,000 or more for referrals. You can also continue your research on the best solar companies, or look for local solar installers in your area.
If you want to know more about installing a solar panel system, you can click below to connect with an EcoWatch-vetted installer and get a free estimate.