EcoWatch Solar Editorial Guidelines and Methodology
At EcoWatch, we believe renewable energy is the cornerstone of a sustainable future. But until governments rally behind large-scale independence from fossil fuels, the burden to transition to renewables is largely placed on consumers.
This is why we work to make EcoWatch a place for real people to learn, make informed decisions and have better access to affordable clean energy solutions. We do this through our trustworthy coverage of environmental news, solution-based guides and unbiased product reviews.
After covering the energy space for over 15 years, we saw we could have a large impact by educating our readers and connecting them with verified brands and installers.
Below, we explain specific information on our approach to solar energy reviews. We have a separate Reviews Methodology for our non-energy-related consumer product recommendations.
Why Trust EcoWatch?
Above all else, the team at EcoWatch is committed to trustworthiness, integrity and quality in every aspect of our work.
You can trust that our reviews are:
- Informed: We rely on the latest industry data, expertise from our in-house solar energy specialists and a thorough due diligence process. Our reviews go through multiple rounds of fact-checking and editing to be as accurate and informative as possible.
- Unbiased: We ensure commercial partnerships have no effect on our review scores, editorial decisions or opinions of any company. We do not publish sponsored content, especially from companies in categories we write about. Additionally, we never promise positive reviews, even for companies that supply product samples for our writers to try.
- Pertinent: We lean on our network of millions of monthly readers and social followers to poll the public on what's important and make sure it's being covered.
- Locally relevant: We regularly source customer opinions, consult installation experts and monitor state-by-state data to better understand the energy landscape on both a local and national scale.
How We Rate and Rank Brands
We assign ratings out of 5.0 stars to each solar energy installer we review. These ratings are used to rank companies in our lists of the best solar installers in the industry and the best installers in individual states.
When evaluating companies, we assign star ratings in five categories: Reputation, Cost & Financing, Services, Installation Process and Customer Experience. These category ratings are then averaged to give the company an overall score.
In all categories, the scores we assign to companies are unaffected by commercial partnerships. We only build commercial partnerships with providers we trust and would use to install panels on our own homes.
Here's more information on what factors we consider in each category:
A company's reputation within the industry can say a lot about its legitimacy and quality of service. To gauge reputation, we look at how long a company has been in business, the scope of its service area and the number of homes it has serviced.
We also take into account ratings and accreditation status from the Better Business Bureau as well as certifications and affiliations with industry-leading organizations such as the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Where other solar marketplaces operate like an e-commerce business, we are dedicated to building a community of engaged citizens. This helps us source brand and installer feedback from social media followers, email subscribers, and daily readers.
Perhaps our most significant consideration in scoring a company's reputation is its solar panel ethics. There are a number of concerns regarding environmental and labor standards in the solar panel production chain. We give the highest ratings to installers using solar panels that are both made and discarded with as little ecological and social impact as possible.
Cost and Financing
Cost is typically the biggest deciding factor in which solar installation company a customer uses.
We contact companies to get "secret shopper" quotes for home solar systems in various regions of the country. While system pricing can vary due to a wide number of factors, this gives us a fair overview of the value and affordability offered by each installer. Our main goal in pricing research is to find hidden fees, like additional installation or roofing costs, that may not be advertised in online quotes.
The number of financing options available to customers is also an important consideration. Companies with low-interest in-house loans, discounts and included extras like maintenance and monitoring score highest. We also give weight to whether a company offers solar leasing or power purchase agreements (PPAs).
Companies that offer services beyond just solar panel installations offer more value to customers. We give companies higher scores if they also install backup batteries or electric vehicle charging stations, perform energy-efficiency audits and routine maintenance, have panel output monitoring systems, and/or provide panel removal services at the end of a system's life.
We also take warranties into account when rating services. Many top providers offer 25-year performance guarantees. If a company offers anything less than this, its score is docked.
Each company's installation process is a little different. Some are extra communicative, keeping customers informed every step of the way. Others are more focused on getting systems up and running as quickly as possible.
When evaluating installation processes, we rely on information gathered from the companies themselves as well as verified customer feedback.
The main components of the installation process we review include: the length of the entire process, from getting a quote to turning on the system; how informative the initial free consultation is; the amount of time workers spend at a home on install day; the professionalism of the installation crew; and the level of communication throughout the process.
When rating customer experience, we first look at what current (or former) customers have to say about the company. We read dozens of reviews, both positive and negative, to get a feel for the general level of customer service a homeowner can expect. We also take into consideration crowdsourced ratings on sites like the BBB, Trustpilot and Google Reviews.
The second thing we pay regard to is how a company crafts its user experience. This encompasses everything from how easy the quotes process is to how helpful the company is in applying for financial incentives. We rate companies higher if they have informative websites and if they offer help with pre-installation services such as tree removal or roof repair.
How We Rate and Rank Products
Rating and ranking products — such as solar panels, solar batteries or smaller items like solar phone chargers — is a bit more complex, as most products don't follow the same rating criteria.
We include methodology sections on most of our product reviews, but in general, the areas we focus on when rating and ranking products include:
Efficacy and Verified Reviews
It doesn't help readers if we recommend products that don't actually work. To test for efficacy, we review products ourselves when possible. However, we are unable to perform firsthand tests on some larger items, like solar panels. Reviews from verified customers are good indicators of how products perform over prolonged periods of daily use.
Cost and Value
We understand it's important to recommend products that are accessible to the majority of our readers, which is why we often look for low-cost items. But cost isn't everything — it's also good to take a product's value into consideration. You'll get less value out of a cheap product if it doesn't perform as needed or breaks down soon after you purchase it.
Sustainability and Ethics
As with rating solar companies, we look at manufacturers' ethics when rating products. We try to recommend items from mission-driven companies with B Corporation certifications, carbon offset programs, sustainable corporate giving programs and other eco-friendly signals.
Where We Get Our Data
Whether we're citing the number of solar panels installed in a certain state or facts about the federal solar tax credit, we rely on government resources and studies from credible, independent organizations to inform our reviews.
We make sure to use the most up-to-date statistics available to us and are transparent about when and where they are from. This ensures we're presenting the most accurate data to help our readers make the best decisions possible about their home energy systems.
The data sources we turn to most often include:
- Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
- U.S. Department of Energy
- Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) (DSIRE)
- U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
- Better Business Bureau (BBB)
How We Make Money
For most readers, we simply provide free resources that can inform decisions about adopting solar energy. However, some may want a free, no-obligation quote. The form on our pages connects readers with local, pre-screened installers. This service is free to readers and it's how we fund our research. If you choose to get a quote using a form or link on EcoWatch, we may earn a small commission from the solar company you are connected with. This type of lead generation allows us to be guided by our mission of a healthier people and planet and rely less on display advertising revenue. Display advertising, which is money attached only to traffic, can lead to more clicky and misleading content and has led many other news websites astray.
If you purchase a product after clicking a link on one of our solar product reviews, we may earn a commission depending on the vendor. Additionally, you may still see ads on solar news articles. These are both smaller sources of revenue that allow us to avoid putting up paywalls or otherwise charging readers for our content.
How We Use Your Information
When it comes to providing free quotes from pre-screened solar installers, keeping our readers' information safe is our top priority. All user-reported data is stored on a secure server, and we will never sell your information or use your information to spam you.
When you fill out a form on EcoWatch, you authorize up to five solar companies to contact you about their products or services via phone call or text, even if your phone number is on any national or state "Do Not Call" list.