Solar companies: What are the different types?

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Solar companies.

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.

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So many types of companies are involved in a solar project, many of which work behind the scenes. In this article, we'll focus on the three major types of solar companies homeowners engage with during the solar shopping process: solar equipment manufacturers, solar installers, and solar financing companies.

In the auto industry, companies like Toyota, BMW, and Ford produce cars, but they don't often sell them directly to individual consumers – that's what the local dealership is for. The solar panel industry has a similar setup in that equipment manufacturers build the physical components of a solar panel system. Still, 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 companies make solar equipment exclusively (like SunPower and Trina Solar), while others are larger household electronic companies with 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 advantages and drawbacks. All solar equipment will produce useable electricity from the sun, but the cost and performance of individual brands and products vary.

Remember 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.

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:

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

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 it. 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.

Solar installation companies can range from under ten 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 nationwide. Some of the largest solar installation 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 also has many benefits. In the end, it often comes down to personal preference. Regardless, comparing multiple solar quotes is always a good idea to ensure you get the right system for the right price.

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 scarce, 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, many specialized solar lending companies solely offer solar loans and work directly with installation companies to provide these loans to customers. These types of organizations include Dividend, Mosaic, Sungage Financial, and GreenSky Credit.

Remember 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 products.

EnergySage is the nation's leading online solar marketplace. When you sign up for a free account, we connect you with local solar companies who compete for your business with custom solar quotes tailored to your needs. Over 10 million people visit EnergySage annually to learn about, shop for and invest in solar. Sign up today to see how much you can save with solar.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2024
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