When you ask who the top solar power companies are, you will probably want to distinguish between residential installers and solar panel manufacturers. Solar power generally is thought of as home solar power, though utilities and businesses also are investing in it. This article looks at the top residential solar contractors / residential solar installers as well as the top American solar panel manufacturers.
Top Solar Residential Contractors
According to Solar Power World Online, the top solar residential contractors are:
- Vivint Solar
- RGS Energy (Real Goods Solar)
- Solar Universe
- Bland Solar & Air
- Amergy Solar
- Smart Energy Solar
- KDH Solar
- Direct Solar Energy
However, this doesn’t really cover the full story. GTM Research’s US residential installer leaderboard for the end of 2015 was as follows for the top 5:
- SolarCity 34.1%
- Vivint Solar 11.6%
- Sunrun 2.6%
- NRG Home Solar 2%
- Sungevity 1.9%
Clearly, the two rankings look at different matters and come to different results. Anyhow, diving into the companies in the GTM Research ranking, here’s a bit more info:
SolarCity is located in San Mateo, California, and has about 10,000 employees. It installs solar power systems, but the homeowners often don’t own them — they lease them (or buy the electricity from them) from SolarCity, presumably for a lower price than they’d buy electricity from the grid. It makes sense that SolarCity is a leader, because its customers have very little in upfront costs and the company had a lot of financial support to grow quickly and establish strong relationships with bankers & financiers. This company is well known for its association with Elon Musk, chairman of the company and cousin to founders & CEO + CTO Lyndon Rive & Peter Rive. SolarCity operates in: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Washington DC.
Vivint Solar is located in Lehi, Utah, and it has a similar kind of service provided by SolarCity, except that it typically uses power purchase agreements (which SolarCity sometimes uses) instead of leasing. Also, it goes door to door to get customers, and its larger parent company sells various other home products, like alarm systems. Vivint has about 3,200 employees and has installed 228 MW of solar panels. Vivint Solar currently operates in: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington DC.
Sunrun was one of the first companies to offer solar leasing, but it also offers systems via loans and cash purchases now. It is based in California, but is now working in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
NRG Home Solar is a subsidiary of energy giant NRG. Like the companies above, its main pitch is $0-down solar leasing. It doesn’t yet seem to offer solar loans like the other companies above. In a market that is shifting back toward straight purchases and loans, it seems NRG Home Solar will have to broaden its offering in order to remain competitive for long. NRG Home Solar operates in: California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.
Sungevity, based in Oakland, California, also has a long history in solar leasing, but it offers solar power installations via solar loans and cash purchases as well. Sungevity CEO Andrew Birch has said the company was agnostic regarding financing, agreed the shift is going back toward system purchases, and is typically keen to highlight Sungevity’s competitive advantages from its iQuote system, which provides a solar power quote using satellite technology quickly and remotely, and “also provides customers with dedicated project managers so that they don’t have to go through any automated customer support or deal with different people (who need to be caught up on their project) every time they call or email.” Sungevity operates in: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington DC.
Sunnova is located in Houston, TX. This company offers the ability for a homeowner to own his or her own system, sign a power purchase agreement, or get a solar lease. Sunnova operates in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.
RGS Energy (Real Solar Goods) is located in Louisville, Colorado. It offers solar leases, service agreements, and home solar systems for purchase. It operates in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Solar Universe is located in Livermore, California. It offers $0-down solar financing when installing home solar systems, or fully prepaid solar contracts. It operates in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico.
Bland Solar & Air is based in Bakersfield, California. It installs solar power systems, but has expertise with air conditioning as well. It recommends using the nonprofit Educational Employees Credit Union for financing (getting a loan) if one isn’t able to or doesn’t want to self-finance the project. “Educational Employees Credit Union offers a number of Energy Efficiency Loan choices, including a $0 down payment option,” the company writes.
Amergy Energy is a New Jersey–based company. It installs, finances, and leases solar power systems for homes, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. It operates in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.
Smart Energy Solar is located in Corona, California. It has installed thousands of solar systems, including solar PV, solar hot water heaters, and solar pool heating.
KDH Solar is located in New Orleans, Louisiana. It installs both residential and commercial systems.
Direct Energy Solar is located in Annapolis, Junction. It is focused on residential solar power systems.
Solar panel installers typically don’t make their own solar panels; they install panels made by manufacturers. SolarCity is going to be making its own solar panels and installing whole systems, so it is the exception.
Is there any advantage to a solar panel installer making its own technology? It might be that there could be better communication about the solar panels with the installers if it comes from within the same company. It also might be easier to get defective panels replaced if there is better communication, rather than one company trying to communicate with another. Additionally, vertical integration like this could bring down costs. The downside would be if these in-house solar panels ended up being more expensive and the company was tied to using them.
Also, if the installer makes solar panels in the same country, communication may be enhanced because there is no cross-culture or cross-language issues. However, because of globalization, international business is common now, so cross-cultural situations might not be an issue.
Another consideration is that some consumers like to support companies based in their own countries. In this case, an American home or business owner who wants to invest in solar power might consider working with a company like SolarCity, or try to locate solar panels made in America by a company like SunPower.
Obviously, solar panels need to be manufactured before they can be installed, and fortunately, a number of American companies make them.
Top American Solar Panel Manufacturers
- First Solar has its headquarters in Tempe, Arizona, and has solar panel manufacturing sites in the US, Germany, and Malaysia.
- SunPower has its headquarters in San Jose, California, and manufactures panels in the US and the Philippines.
- SolarWorld has its US headquarters near Portland (it is originally a German company) and most of its manufacturing is done in Germany.
- SolarCity is based in San Mateo, California, and it is working to build a very large solar panel manufacturing site in New York state.
- Suniva has its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and manufacturing sites in Michigan and Georgia. It was founded in 2007.
While it is important to know the names of these companies, their locations, and what they provide, there is something of equal importance that doesn’t get talked about enough or at all. These solar power companies are accomplishing something important for the country—they are helping the United States very gradually shift away from fossil fuel use to clean, renewable energy.
There are a raft of benefits linked with solar power: it’s better for climate change, reduces harmful air pollution, and is better for the national economy because it reduces reliance on imported fossil fuels. Eventually, all coal mining and burning might also be eliminated, and coal mining clearly is very unhealthy for mine workers. Sometimes it is fatal. Making and installing solar panels is relatively safe, so it is better for American workers.
Solar power creates a lot of jobs, and more solar jobs are expected to be added in the US in 2016 than oil-related jobs.
The solar power trend is taking off and it is has never been more affordable. Though, many of us may not be aware of how much solar power prices have fallen. American solar power companies have accomplished a lot so far, and yet they are poised to do much more. At the same time, they seem to have been given almost no credit for their achievements. Currently, the US gets less than 2% of its electricity from solar power, but that figure is set to increase as solar companies continue to install more and more of it. Also, the costs are dropping, so solar power is becoming more accessible all the time. Additionally, the costs will most likely continue to decrease and demand will likely grow. So, solar power is going to be a bigger part of the American energy future.