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How to Compare Solar Quotes and Choose The Right One For You

Feb. 04, 2024

There are a lot of important steps along the journey to getting solar panels installed. You should learn how solar panels work, how long they last, how they can save you money, and whether you qualify for solar incentives.

After you’ve done your homework and decided that solar panels are right for you, it’s time to get solar quotes from multiple companies and compare them to choose the best. 

Comparing solar quotes isn’t as simple as finding the company that offers the lowest price or the best equipment. Let’s explore the important factors to consider and outline how to compare between companies.

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Key takeaways

  • A first step toward finding the right solar installation company is to read customer reviews online.
  • Once you’ve received quotes from solar installers, compare their offers based on system size, cost per watt, estimated energy production, equipment used, warranties, and financing options.
  • A great solar installer will be able to explain everything in their quote, answer any questions you have, and give you a full picture of project timelines, from contract signing to final grid interconnection.

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    Reviews of the companies

    As the industry-leading website for unbiased consumer reviews of solar companies, it may be no surprise that we recommend this as a first step to evaluating a solar company. Nobody knows a company better than its former customers, and we have gathered tens of thousands of reviews of solar companies on our site.

    Here’s SolarReviews founder and CEO Andy Sendy with some more information about what to look for in a solar company:

    Now, on to the information you’re looking for in the quote itself.

    Important parts of a solar quote

    Here are the important things to look at when you consider each quote:

    • Proposed system size
    • Cost per watt
    • Incentives
    • Energy production estimates
    • Projected electricity rate increases
    • Solar panel brand and model
    • Panel degradation rate
    • Financing
    • Warranties

    Let’s break down what you’re looking for with each one.

    System size

    System size refers to the kilowatts (kW) of power the solar installation can generate under full sun. The average size of a home solar system in the United States is about 6 kW, but differences between homes can cause that number to vary quite a bit.

    The biggest factor that determines how many solar panels you need is the type of space heating, water heating, and cooking your home uses. If your home has an electric furnace and central air conditioning, you’ll need a larger solar installation than someone with a gas furnace and no A/C.

    Tip: Your installer should be able to tell you exactly why they chose the size of the installation they quoted, either based on the amount of electricity you use in a year or the available space on your roof. Utilities in some places limit the size of a solar installation to whichever will provide for your annual needs, while others allow you to oversize the system if you anticipate adding a new electrical appliance or EV.

    How many solar panels do you need to run your house?
    Calculate now

    What about physical size?

    The average output of a residential solar panel is around 400 watts, so you need 15 of them to make a 6-kW solar installation. The physical size of each panel is about 6 feet tall by 3.5 feet wide (21 square feet), so 15 of them take up about 315 square feet on your roof.

    Cost per watt

    When comparing multiple solar quotes, one of the first things you can look at is a metric called cost per watt. Very simply, it is just the total system cost in dollars divided by the system’s peak-rated output size in watts.

    By calculating the cost per watt, you can easily compare prices quoted for systems of different sizes. All other things being equal, a lower cost-per-watt system should provide better value over time.

    For example, say that one installer is proposing a 6.4-kW system for $17,600, and another is quoting a 7.2-kW system for $19,080. One of the quotes looks more expensive up front, but some simple math reveals the truth.

    The first system costs $2.75 per watt (17,600 ÷ 6,400 = 2.75), while the second system costs $2.65 per watt (19,080 ÷ 7,200 = 2.65). In this case, the second system is less expensive per watt of power generating ability.

    Tip: Cost is important, and you shouldn’t choose an overpriced solar installation, BUT: ask yourself these questions: do you want to buy the cheapest car or the best one for you at a good price? Do you want to buy the cheapest house, or the best one that you can afford? Going solar is a 25-30 year commitment. Don’t choose the cheapest company. Choose the one that’s best for you at a good price.

    Incentives

    After cost, the next thing to look at is incentives. Every homeowner in the country who installs solar panels is offered the federal solar tax credit, which can earn you up to 30% of the cost to install solar panels back as a tax credit the year after your installation is completed.

    Note that we said “offered,” not “eligible for.” The federal tax credit is what’s known as “non-refundable,” which means you can only claim it if you have a sufficient tax burden. Many solar installers won’t be clear on that fact. Speak with a trusted financial advisor to determine if you can claim the tax credit. 

    States, cities, and utility companies also offer solar incentives, and luckily installers are usually pretty great at ensuring you get every penny you’re eligible for because it tends to make their job of selling solar panels easier.

    Finally, some incentives are paid at the time of installation or reduce the upfront cost of going solar, while others, like SRECs, are paid over time. Just make sure you fully understand how every incentive listed on the quote works for you before signing a contract.

    Learn more: Complete guide to solar incentives

    How much can you save with solar incentives?
    Calculate now

    Energy production estimates

    Solar energy production estimates are based on several factors, including:

    • The system size in kW
    • Your latitude and annual weather conditions
    • The direction your roof faces (also called “azimuth”) 
    • The tilt angle of your roof
    • Any shade that falls on your roof from trees, other houses, etc.

    Many solar installers now use sophisticated software that assesses your roof using satellite images, LiDAR, and even drone scans of your roof. The software simulates the path of the sun throughout the year and produces a very accurate guess at how much energy a proposed system will generate.

    Tip: Every installer who gives you a quote should be able to give you an accurate estimate of energy production in the first year, and they should all come close to agreement. You can check their math using a government-developed tool called PVwatts.

    If one installer’s production estimates disagree with the others by a large margin (more than around 5%), they should have a very good explanation as to why.

    Some installers will estimate production assuming that nearby tall trees will be trimmed or removed, which could account for differences in production estimates. The cost of tree abatement may greatly exceed the value of the potential gains in energy production, so carefully weigh the costs and benefits.

    There are some valid reasons for production estimates to be slightly higher than others, even considering the same system size. Differences between solar panel brands can account for some variations, and these differences become more noticeable over time as the panels age and slowly degrade.

    Projected electricity rate increases

    This little number used by the installer to estimate your potential lifetime savings with solar panels could be a BIG deal if they get it wrong. The average rate of increase in electricity prices over time was about 2.9% between 1960 and 2022. 

    If your installer estimates your potential savings based on a number much higher than 3%, they better have a rock-solid explanation for why they are. An example of a reason that would work is a fully approved multi-year rate increase request from your state’s Public Utilities Commission. Anything less than 100% certainty that electricity rates will rise greater than historical levels is malpractice.

    Solar panel brands

    These days, solar panels are essentially a commodity, and the differences between them are mostly down to cosmetics, availability, and the manufacturer's financial performance. That said, there are some important differences in materials and build quality that can affect the system's performance. Make sure you know exactly which panel brand you’re getting, and the exact model number quoted.

    Note: Installers have to place orders for modules months in advance, and the exact model number quoted may not be available at the time of installation. In general, installers work with two or three brands of solar panels that they can get from their distributor, so understand that the brand or model number may change between your quote and the installation time. But also be ready to compare what was quoted to the newly-proposed panels, and know that you can renegotiate pricing if the new panels aren’t as good as the original quote.

    The key things to know about the differences in performance are these:

    • Cell type: monocrystalline PERC solar cells are the standard technology used in the industry today, but they are exceeded in performance by the interdigitated back contact and heterojunction cells used by premium brands like Maxeon, REC, and Panasonic. 
    • Efficiency: The average efficiency of top solar panel brands is now about 21%. That means 21% of the photons that hit the panel get converted into electrons that flow through your wires. The maximum efficiency of a silicon solar panel is about 30%, so we’re actually doing pretty good. The only reason you should care about high-efficiency panels is if you have space constraints on your roof. The higher the efficiency, the more power output in the same physical area.
    • Degradation: Every solar panel ever made will very slowly lose some of its ability to generate power over time. The best brands lose about 0.25% per year, while the industry standard is around 0.5% per year. Regardless, solar panels should keep working well for at least 25-30 years.
    • Temperature coefficient: Don’t be concerned by the big math word here. This just means that the power output of a solar panel decreases as the temperature increases. Yes, solar panels work best in the cold. Again, the best brands have low temperature coefficients, while inexpensive ones suffer from slightly increased power loss when it’s hot. The difference is tiny here, amounting to only a percent or two loss in performance between the top and bottom brands.

    Best brands of solar panels

    When shopping for home solar, you may hear about “tier 1 solar panels.” This term simply refers to how well the manufacturing company is doing financially. The best solar manufacturers have proven they can be profitable and will stand the test of time to provide warranty service to their customers in the next few decades.

    At SolarReviews, we go a step further in our analysis, with our experts ranking the top solar panel manufacturers every year. For 2023, these are the top 10 companies:

    All of the brands above are considered tier 1 manufacturers, and honestly, you won’t find many brands offered by U.S. installers that aren’t on that list. Some other companies that are still up-and-coming and didn’t make our top 10 are Aptos, LONGi, Jinko, and Solaria.

    Inverter and battery brands

    Aside from the panels, a solar installation's other main components are inverters (required to convert DC solar power to AC use in your home) and batteries (optional but increasingly popular).

    There are two main types of solar inverters on the market: string inverters, which accept the output of all the solar panels in an array, and microinverters, which take the output of only one or two panels. About half of all residential installers will install both types, and the quote they give you will include the option they feel is best suited for your home.

    Learn more: Pros and cons of string inverters vs. microinverters.

    Batteries are a bit of a different story because they are so new on the market. There are dozens of different brands of batteries being sold in the U.S., and there aren’t always a ton of reviews for them. You can read our guides to popular batteries from Tesla, Generac, sonnen, and LG Energy Solution.

    Warranties

    Warranties are a big deal when it comes to rooftop solar. These panels will be on your roof for 25 years or more, so you ought to be sure they’ll keep working or that you’ll be covered if they fail.

    Solar panels from all the reputable manufacturers listed above will come with two warranties: the product warranty and the power production warranty.

    A product warranty covers the panels against defects in materials and workmanship. The industry average product warranty runs for 12 years, but the best manufacturers offer 25 years of protection, with replacement or prorated payments if panels ever fail. Thankfully, the industry rate of failure is 5 in 10,000, so panels rarely fail.

    A power production warranty is where the manufacturer lists the expected degradation rate of its panels over time. Solar panels are built to last for decades, but exposure to moisture and temperature fluctuations causes a slow decline in power output. The industry average degradation rate for high-quality solar panels is around 0.5% per year, meaning after 25 years, these panels can still produce around 87.5% of their rated power output. The best solar panels degrade more slowly, at around 0.25% per year, and can still output over 92% of their rated capacity after 25 years.

    Installer warranties cover the installation company’s work on your property. Ideally, these warranties should cover repairs and damages incurred due to installer workmanship and roof penetrations. Typically, large installation companies offer these warranties as a way to set themselves apart from the competition, but new options for private warranty coverage from companies like SolarInsure are leveling the playing field by allowing customers of smaller solar installers to get excellent coverage for decades after installation.

    Further reading:
    What is a good question about solar energy?
    Which type of solar panel is best for you?
    6 Incredible Benefits of Solar Battery Storage for Your Home
    Everything You Need To Know About Solar Batteries
    Benefits of Installing an EV Charging Station at Home
    Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar
    The 5 Most Common Uses of Solar Energy

    Make sure you evaluate the warranties tied to each solar quote you get. Know what’s covered and for how long, and how to make a claim.

    Financing

    Solar panel financing is such an important topic we could write a whole article about it. Actually we did. Here’s our complete guide to solar panel financing.

    If you’re not ready for a long-term reading commitment at the moment, here are the basics:

    • You can pay for solar panels with cash or a loan, or let the installation company lease the panels to you instead
    • Many financing companies now offer solar loans that are designed to help people go solar with no money down and pay off the cost using the savings generated by the solar installation
    • It’s important to be very careful when considering a solar loan, because some of them come with hidden fees and requirements to pay a portion of the loan equal to the value of the tax credit within the first year or two

    Tip: The most important thing to know about financing is this: if you’re interested in a solar loan, get both cash and financing quotes from each installer. The difference between the cash price and the financed price will tell you about the dealer fee, and allow you to make an educated decision on whether to pursue no-fee financing from a bank or credit union instead.

    How much does it cost to finance solar panels?
    Get quotes

    Bottom line: how to know when you’re ready to choose, and what happens next

    After you’ve done all the work you need to compare quotes, it’s time to choose. There will probably be one company that stands out as the best, either because of their honesty, commitment to service, choice of equipment, or their price. 

    A great installer should make you feel like you’re getting all the important information to make a decision and be able to answer all your questions. 

    Don’t feel bad if there isn’t a clear choice for you. Getting solar installed represents a multi-decade commitment, either for you or the next owner of your home. It’s important to get it right, and if the quotes you get now don’t work for you, you can always try again in the future.

    Once you’ve chosen, the next step is to sign the contract. Be sure to triple check everything here and carefully verify the price, equipment (model numbers and amount), warranty coverage, financing/payments, etc. 

    Once the contract is signed, the installer’s team will do the final engineering, submit plans and pull permits from local authorities, schedule the installation and inspections, and work with you every step of the way to be sure you know the timeline and what’s going on. 

    The time it takes to complete a solar installation from a signed contract to when the utility grants you permission to operate can vary depending on where you live and how busy the installer and inspection crews are. Expect a timeline of several weeks to several months.

    Finally, congratulations on taking these steps along your solar journey! We hope the information presented here will help you pick the right company for you and that you’re about to begin a long, happy relationship with home solar power!

    A lot bit hinges on the type of solar panels you choose to install. High-quality panels from a reputable manufacturer can last decades and save you a great deal on electricity costs over the years. On the other hand, panels from manufacturers who prioritize initial cost over long-term performance can leave you with an underperforming system that won’t stand up to the test of time.

    Choosing the right solar panels is an important step in creating a long-lasting, money-saving solar system. First, you’ll need to narrow down your aesthetic, budgetary, and energy production goals. Then, you can filter through all the options and end up with the perfect solar panels.

    We want to help you make the choice that’s right for you and your goals. That’s why we’ve assembled a list of six things you should consider when selecting your solar panels.

    What to look at when selecting the best solar panels for your project

    1. Panel Type: Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline

    There are two main types of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Which one you choose will impact the overall look of your system, its cost, how much electricity it will produce, and how much space your system will cover.

    Monocrystalline panels have an overall darker tint to the cells and are typically the more efficient option. Panels with a higher efficiency mean you can produce more electricity with fewer panels, so your overall system takes up less space. But for all their advantages, monocrystalline panels are often the more expensive option.

    Polycrystalline panels have a bluer tint and are typically less efficient than monocrystalline, meaning you’d need a few more panels to generate the same amount of electricity. However, they do often come at a lower price, and despite the additional panels you’ll need, will likely be the cheaper option.

    2. Panel Color: The Backsheet and Frame

    Another way you can control the look and price of your solar system is through the selection of backsheet and frame color.

    Each panel is composed of several silicon cells that are placed on a backsheet. This backsheet shows through the gaps between the cells and creates a grid-type design. Some manufacturers offer solar panels with black backsheets instead of the typical white.

    Black backsheets create a more uniform-looking panel that blends into darker roofs. However, black holds heat, so black backsheets may get hotter than traditional panels, which could slightly reduce the panels’ efficiency.

    There are also two options when it comes to the color of the metal frame around the borders of the panels: black and silver. Black frame panels can be more aesthetically appealing but will cost more. Aside from that, both black- and silver-frame panels should perform identically.

    3. Solar Panel Size

    Solar panels come in two different sizes: 60-cell and 72-cell. This refers to the number of cells (the small, crystalline silicon wafer) on the solar panel. 72-cell panels are, on average, about a foot longer than 60-cell panels.

    Their larger size makes 72-cell panels better suited for large, wide-open spaces like commercial roofs and ground mount systems. 60-cells are typically better suited to fit in tighter spaces, like on the dormer of a home’s roof. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule and will vary from location to location.

    Overall, 72-cells tend to be more economical, as they’ll generate more electricity per panel compared to an otherwise identical 60-cell panel.

    4. Panel Production: Output Rating and Efficiency

    Both the panel’s output rating and efficiency will impact how much power it can produce.

    The output rating is the three-digit number you’ll see in the solar panel’s name, and it represents how many watts of electricity the panel will generate under ideal conditions.

    Most panels have a wattage between 250 watts to 400 watts, with a few panels exceeding the 400-watt mark. A higher wattage means more electricity generated per panel, but it will likely mean a higher price tag. Though you’ll need fewer panels to reach your generation goals, it likely won’t offset the price increase.

    However, wattage isn’t the only thing to look out for. You should also consider the panel’s efficiency. This is the percentage of electricity it produces from the energy it receives from the sun.

    The more efficient a solar panel is, the more kilowatt-hours of electricity it will produce per watt of power capacity. This is especially important if you’re concerned about the amount of space your solar system takes up.

    For example, let’s compare two 300-watt solar panels: one that’s 21% efficient, and another that’s 17% efficient. Both will produce 300 watts of power under ideal conditions. However, the one that has a higher efficiency will be physically smaller and take up less space than the one that is less efficient. So if you have high electric bills and a small amount of space to install your solar system, you’ll want to look for efficient panels.

    5. Warranty

    An important indication of overall panel quality is a robust warranty from the manufacturer. Many high-quality solar panels are guaranteed for 25 to 30 years and can continue working even after their warranty expires.

    Making sure you purchase solar panels that will stand the test of time is essential to the long-term success of your system. The longer your solar panels generate electricity, the more money you save. And purchasing panels that are backed by a comprehensive warranty will help guarantee their success.

    There are two kinds of warranties offered by most manufacturers: the performance and product warranty. The performance warranty assures that the panel will have the capability to produce a specified percentage of power during the warranty period, despite the panel's degradation. The production warranty protects your panels from material or workmanship issues.

    6. Overall Quality

    You want the highest quality solar panels at the best price. However, there are a few important factors to consider when evaluating the quality of a specific solar panel.

    To get a true measure of a solar panel’s quality, you’ll want to look at things like their guarantee, the reputation of the manufacturer, customer reviews, and the panel’s technical specifications for things like efficiency, temperature coefficient, and power tolerance. Here’s a list of ten of the top solar panels on the market now.

    Another way to measure a solar panel brand, though imperfect, is by looking at what “tier” the solar panel manufacturer falls under. When researching different brands, you’ll likely come across lists that separate manufacturers into tier one, and even tier two and three, though there is no formal definition for tiers two and three.

    Most assume tier one solar panel manufacturers tend to be the stronger brands. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. The tier system for solar panel manufacturers refers to how bankable a solar company is according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance Corporation (BNEF). While it’s fair to reason that a bankable company must have quality products, there are plenty of companies out there that do not meet the tier one specifications that offer great, high-quality panels. 

    What Are the Best Solar Panels?

    There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to which solar panels are the best. That answer changes based on a variety of factors, like your budget, how much electricity you’d like to generate, the space you have to install the system, and what aesthetic concerns you have.

    With the sheer amount of options available, this process can be overwhelming. Trying to determine the best combination of panel size, output rating, and efficiency is the most economical for your space, all while ensuring the panels are high quality and backed by extensive warranties takes experience. At Paradise Energy, we’ll maximize your budget and space with panels that suit your specific goals, be them budgetary, energy-related, aesthetically driven, or a combination of them all.

    How to Compare Solar Quotes and Choose The Right One For You

    How to Choose the Best Solar Panels

    Further reading:
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    Buying Diesel? Some Pros and Cons to Consider
    Fuel Dilution in Engine Oil - How It Happens and What It Leads To
    How Do Energy Storage Systems Save Money?
    How does EV charging system work?

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