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Types of solar companies

Just like with any industry, there are a lot of players in the solar business. As someone considering your options, it can be helpful to understand the different solar companies that may play a part in your installation.

To be frank, there are so many types of companies involved in a solar project, many of which work behind the scenes. For this article, we’ll focus on the three major types of solar companies that homeowners engage with during the solar shopping process: solar equipment manufacturers, solar installers, and solar financing companies.

Solar equipment manufacturers

In the auto industry, companies like Toyota, BMW, and Ford produce cars, but they don’t often sell them directly straight to individual consumers – that’s what the local dealership is for. The solar panel industry has a similar setup in the sense that equipment manufacturers build the physical components that make up a solar panel system, but you shop for and buy a solar panel system through a local installer.

There are a wide variety of solar equipment companies located all across the world. Some of these companies make solar equipment exclusively (like SunPower and Trina Solar), while others are larger, household electronic companies that have a solar division (like LG and Panasonic). And just like with cars, solar equipment manufacturers offer a variety of models and products, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. All solar equipment will produce useable electricity from the sun, but the cost and performance of individual brands and products vary.

Keep in mind that a complete solar energy system involves more than just panels on top of a roof: you’ll also need inverters, racking, wiring, and potentially even a monitoring system. Some manufacturers produce all of these components in-house, but more often than not, companies specialize in making one specific piece of solar equipment.

How to choose the right solar equipment

What differentiates solar equipment manufacturers from one another? Factors like cost, equipment efficiency, extra features, and warranties all play a part in determining the overall quality of a solar panel. Experience is important as well – many of the best solar equipment manufacturers have been in business for several years (or even decades!) However, new and innovative manufacturers are always popping up with new, cutting-edge technologies. Using the EnergySage Buyer’s Guide, you can easily compare different equipment options based on their performance, cost, durability, aesthetics, and more.

There are hundreds of companies that manufacture solar panels; here are just a few of the most popular ones used in residential solar panel installations:

Compared to solar panels, the option set of solar inverter companies is a bit more consolidated. Inverter manufacturers typically specialize in producing one type of inverter–either microinverters, string inverters, or string inverter plus power optimizers. The most popular solar inverter manufacturers for residential installations include:

Solar installers/solar contractors

If solar panel manufacturers are the equivalent of carmakers in the auto industry, solar installers (also known as solar contractors) are the equivalent of the dealership you visit to buy a car. When you install a system, your solar installer will likely be the company you interact with the most.

Solar installation companies typically purchase solar equipment from manufacturers or their distributors and then train specialized contractors to install that equipment. Outside of selling you a system and physically installing the equipment, solar installation companies often handle other logistical elements of going solar, such as applying for permitting, working with utility companies to get your system up and running, and filing for state and local solar incentives.

How to choose a solar installer

Just like solar equipment manufacturers, solar installers provide warranties to help protect you should something go wrong with your installation. The availability, duration, and coverage of a solar installer’s workmanship warranty is just one important factor to consider when choosing a solar installer – check for licenses and certifications, and compare years of experience years and customer reviews before making a decision. (EnergySage pro-tip: all installers that provide quotes through our Marketplace have been pre-screened and vetted!)

Solar installation companies can range from under 10 employees to hundreds spread out across the country. Local outfits cover specific regions within a given state, while some well-known, publicly-traded installation companies cover multiple states throughout the country. Some of the largest solar installation companies are:

  1. Vivint (now owned by SunRun)

While there are pros to signing a contract with a well-known, national company like Tesla or Sunrun, choosing to work with a local solar installer has many benefits as well – in the end, it often comes down to personal preference. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to compare multiple quotes for solar so that you can make sure you’re getting the right system for the right price.

Solar financing companies

Last are solar financing companies – they may or may not play a role in your solar project depending on whether you finance your system.

A decade ago, solar financing options were very limited, but that’s no longer the case today: many institutions, from national banks to local credit unions, offer solar financing solutions to their customers. Additionally, there are many specialized solar lending companies that solely offer solar loans and work directly with installation companies to provide these loans to customers. A few examples of these types of organizations are Dividend, Mosaic, Sungage Financial, and GreenSky Credit.

Keep in mind that solar loans aren’t the only financing solution – some solar financiers also offer leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs), but companies like this are more likely to work directly through large, national solar installers to sell their product.

How to choose a solar financing company

When it comes time to choose a solar financing company, a lot of it will come down to the financing solution itself: consider whether the loan is secured or unsecured, take a look at the monthly payments, compare interest rates, and make sure to read any contract thoroughly before signing. Remember that you’ll have a relationship with your solar financier for at least a few years, so check out reviews from their past customers and make sure it’s easy to get in touch with them if you need to! If you want to understand the full range of companies offering solar loans, our Solar Loan Marketplace shows financiers by state.

Find the best solar companies on EnergySage

EnergySage is the nation’s leading online solar marketplace: when you sign up for a free account, we connect you with solar companies in your area who compete for your business with custom solar quotes tailored to fit your needs. Over 10 million people come to EnergySage each year to learn about, shop for and invest in solar. Sign up today to see how much you can save with solar.

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