Last updated 6/29/2020
As you’re considering going solar, it can be helpful to understand the different types of solar companies that may play a part in your installation. The three major types of solar companies are solar equipment manufacturers, solar installers, and solar financing companies.
Solar equipment manufacturers produce the panels, inverters, batteries, and more that go on your property during an installation. Manufacturing companies are based in different locations around the world and ship their products to many countries. Solar installers are the companies you are likely to interact with the most during the solar shopping process - they are local, regional, or national companies that handle the design and installation of your solar energy system. Lastly, solar financing companies provide solar customers with ways to pay for a solar installation, often in the form of a solar loan.
In some cases, solar companies fit in multiple or all three of categories. For example, Tesla Energy is a solar company that serves all of these functions: they manufacture solar panels, provide financing options like loans and leases, and even install your panels.
Solar equipment manufacturers
In the auto industry, car manufacturers like Toyota, BMW, and Ford produce cars and sell them to dealerships, which in turn sell them to individual consumers. In the solar panel industry, solar equipment manufacturers are analogous to companies like Toyota and Ford; they make the physical solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and other necessary solar equipment that installers eventually sell to individual solar shoppers.
There are a wide variety of solar companies located all across the world that produce solar equipment. Some of these companies exclusively make solar equipment (like SunPower and Trina Solar), while others may be household electronic companies that have a solar division (like LG and Panasonic). Just like cars, there are many different options available from solar manufacturers, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. All solar equipment will help produce useable electricity from the sun, but the cost and performance of individual brands and products vary.
Solar panel installations aren’t complete with solar panels alone. For a complete solar energy system installation, you’ll need inverters, racking, wiring, and potentially even a monitoring system. Some solar panel manufacturers may also produce these components, but more often companies specialize in making one specific component of a solar panel system.
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 plays a part as well - many of the best solar equipment manufacturers have been in business for several years. However, new and innovative manufacturers are always popping up with cutting-edge technologies to improve solar panel system performance.
Below is a list of some of the largest and most well-known solar panel manufacturers, all that produce many different types of solar panels that will harness solar energy for your home or business:
Below is a list of some of the largest and most well-known solar inverter manufacturers. Many of these manufacturers produce solely one type of the three major inverter technologies (microinverter, power optimizer, or string):
Solar installers/solar contractors
If solar panel manufacturers are the equivalent of car makers like Toyota in the auto industry, solar installers (also known as solar contractors) are the equivalent of the dealership you visit to buy a car. Solar installers are the solar company you will interact with the most as you’re going solar because solar panel systems are most often purchased from installers, not manufacturers directly. As such, the term “solar companies” is often used when referring to a solar installer.
Solar installation companies purchase solar panels and the other necessary components of an installation made by manufacturing companies, and train specialized contractors to install the solar equipment. In addition to building your solar panel system, solar installation companies often handle other logistical elements of going solar, such as applying for necessary permitting, working with utility companies to get your system interconnected, and applying for solar incentives you may be eligible for. Before installing your solar panels, installers will perform a site evaluation to inspect your roof and take any necessary measurements. During site visits, installers will also determine if your installation requires any special considerations.
Just like solar panel manufacturers, solar installers will provide warranties to customers in the event of certain issues you may encounter with your solar system. The availability, duration, and extent of coverage of a solar installer’s workmanship warranty is one way to determine how qualified a solar installer is. Other ways to compare solar installers are by their licenses, certifications, years in business, and customer reviews.
Some solar companies are more widely known, usually due to their size and wide service territory. A few examples of these types of solar companies are:
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. Regardless of your preference for solar installer size, it’s always a good idea to compare multiple quotes for solar before making a decision on an installation.
Solar financing companies
The third type of solar company you might work with during the process of installing solar panels is a solar financing company. Continuing with the auto industry analogy, a solar financing company is comparable to Bank of America or Capital One, the companies offering loan products to car buyers to help pay for a car upfront. Solar financing companies can offer secured or unsecured solar loans, many of which are zero-down options. If you want to understand the full range of companies offering solar loans to property owners, you can shop for loans on EnergySage to learn more about your options.
You can take out a solar loan from a variety of different companies, but there are now several financing companies specializing in solar loan products. A few examples of these types of organizations are:
Aside from solar loans, some national solar companies offer leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs) to finance your solar project. Examples of companies that offer these options are Vivint and Sunrun.