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CNET has a long tradition of testing and reviewing new technology: the exciting, the over-hyped and the world-changing. Through it all, CNET has had a commitment to honest, fair, transparent and editorially independent testing.
We take those commitments to our reviews of solar companies, too. While we can’t conduct hands-on testing or go through the purchasing process with these companies, we thoroughly research and conduct interviews with company spokespeople, focusing on the things we can measure and ignoring the noise and spin.
Here’s a detailed look at how we conduct each solar company review.
How we choose solar companies to review
The list of solar companies we choose to review is created with input from a variety of sources.
Some companies are chosen because our editors and writers recognize them as companies the public needs to know about. They could be companies with large market shares, like Sunrun or Tesla, that readers are likely to encounter when searching for solar panels. Or they could be offering a new and potentially disruptive solar solution, like GAF Energy.
The list is also influenced by which companies the public is most interested in learning more about, as measured by search volume. Sometimes a company’s partnership status with Red Ventures, CNET’s parent company, influences its inclusion. For all reviews, the writer does not know and is uninfluenced by the company’s partnership status.
Reviewing solar companies in a hands-on way is difficult, if not impossible. Instead, we rely on thorough research and conversations with people at the company. We crafted our methodology to accurately measure things that matter to our readers, ignore those things that don’t make a difference and do so in a way that allows for meaningful comparison between companies.
Solar companies are scored on criteria that fall into three general buckets: equipment, warranties and service.
Within the equipment category, companies receive scores for the panels, inverters and batteries they install. Warranties include the guarantees on the panels, workmanship and weatherization against leaks. Companies earn points for service if they offer a price match, a meaningful level of price transparency and a well-rated app for monitoring solar production. They lose points if there are major issues pertaining to customer service (lawsuits, investigations or clear reputations for shoddy service). These issues will always be detailed in the review.
Here’s how the scoring breaks down. Each category we consider in scoring gets a score out of five, sometimes on a simple scale, other times by gaining points for offering equipment or services with specific characteristics. Each category counts for 5 or 10% of the final score.
Solar companies without a score
In some cases, we lacked the information needed to accurately score a company. Either the information was not publicly available, we could not get in contact with the company or it declined to provide the necessary information.
What we did not consider in the score
We do not consider average prices in our score. While price is clearly a consideration for you, it’s hard to measure in a way that makes for useful comparisons between companies. The price of a solar installation varies from state to state because of differences in the size of a solar system, labor and permitting costs and other regional factors. You should always get multiple quotes when shopping for solar panels, because prices can vary so much. We do consider whether a company is transparent about pricing or offers a price match, as those are easily verifiable and will translate across regions.