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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life
Children's books about the environment. U.S. Air Force photo / Karen Abeyasekere

Reading, writing, arithmetic ... and climate science. That doesn't have the same ring as the "three Rs" of education, but Connecticut could one day require the subject to be on the curriculum, The Associated Press reported.

A Connecticut state lawmaker is pushing a bill to mandate the teaching of climate change in public schools throughout the state, starting in elementary school.

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

Newly released emails show that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Scott Pruitt has routinely been in contact with one of the most prominent climate denier groups, the AP reported this weekend.

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Residential solar energy companies are helping more and more homeowners upgrade their properties to clean energy sources. Solar energy companies can equip you with the technology you need to harness the amazing power of the sun and reduce your need for fossil fuels. In this article, we'll review some of the most trustworthy providers and installers of solar power.

Our picks for the best solar companies

The first step in the process is researching some of the top companies in the solar industry. Here are the ones that stood out in our research.

Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

How we chose the best solar energy companies

How did we determine which solar power companies to recommend?

To begin with, we took a deep dive into each company's offerings, assessing them for the following criteria:

  • Range of services offered
  • Pricing/affordability and financing options
  • Extent of service area
  • Solar panel efficiency
  • Warranty
  • Temperature coefficient (e.g., how much high temperatures affect efficiency)

Additionally, we weighed membership and certification by professional associations like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Affiliation with these groups is a good indicator that a solar energy company is reputable, and that their work is up to the highest standards within the industry.

The best solar energy companies

schmidt-z / Getty Images

With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the best solar panel providers and installers in the industry.

SunPower

If you're looking for a company that can walk you through the process of upgrading to solar power for an easy and convenient experience, look no further than to SunPower. The company offers:

  • A "design studio" app, allowing you to safely and seamlessly design your own solar power system so that you can see a visual of what the finished product will look like once installed.
  • Online calculators that make it easy for you to determine about how much electricity you will save once you upgrade to solar panels.
  • Virtual consultations, allowing you to chat one-on-one with a solar power expert and to ask any questions you might have.

SunPower offers leading solar panels and energy storage technology to homeowners across dozens of states. And, they are also the preferred solar partner of many major businesses, including Walmart, FedEx, and Lowes.

Why buy: SunPower is a reliable solar energy company with an impressive tech portfolio and an extremely easy, intuitive process.

SunRun

Upgrading to solar power can seem a little intimidating, but SunRun is out to bring simplicity. Their approach makes it extremely straightforward to select a custom solar energy plan for your household. Here's what to know about SunRun:

  • They offer virtual consultations with solar energy experts, making it simple to explore your options and determine which solar set-up is right for your home energy needs.
  • Each system they design is completely customized to address the customer's needs. SunRun doesn't do "one size fits all" solar equipment options.
  • Their guarantee, the best in the industry, offers extraordinary peace of mind that your solar system will prove durable and reliable.
  • SunRun also leads in terms of flexible financing options, making solar power accessible and affordable.

Why buy: With SunRun, the name of the game is customization. This is one of the best solar installation companies to turn to for solar power solutions that are truly made with you in mind.

Tesla

You probably associate Tesla with their electric vehicles, but did you know that the company also produces high-efficiency solar panels? Depending on your needs and your budget, Tesla can hook you up with an array of solar panels or even a solar roof, making it easy to cut electricity costs and power your home via the sun's vital energy.

Some fast facts about choosing solar power from Tesla:

  • They offer a price match guarantee and affordable financing options.
  • Their advanced solar panel technology offers a low profile, a sleek style, and long-term durability.
  • Home battery backups allow you to save solar power and then access it on demand, whenever you need it.

Why buy: Tesla offers sophisticated solar products for what the company claims is the lowest price of any national provider, which they back with a price-match guarantee. Plus, all of their solar panels come with a solid 25-year performance guarantee.

LG

LG is another well-known tech company that is also a leader in solar energy. Some of their solar panels use a bifacial solar module that captures energy from two directions to increase their efficiency. While they are a solar panel manufacturer, they can also help you with the installation process by finding an LG Pro installer in your area.

  • They offer an online "solar concierge" service that allows you to evaluate your home energy needs and to compare different options for going solar.
  • LG offers a 25-year warranty, not only on their technology but also on the work their of their solar installers.
  • They offer a range of solar panels and supporting products, and they supply you with plenty of information to make a fully informed choice.

Why buy: LG is a company that knows technological innovation. Their award-winning solar energy products are reliably efficient, well-priced, and designed for maximum efficiency.

Panasonic

Panasonic has one of the most impressive tech portfolios in the solar energy industry. Their products boast some of the highest conversion efficiency rates, along with the lowest degradation rates. And they back everything with a generous warranty.

Some additional reasons to choose Panasonic:

  • They offer a range of solar panels to choose from. With Panasonic, you'll find that you have plenty of options.
  • They also provide a lot of great online support and consumer education, ensuring you'll get the most out of your solar technology.

Why buy: Panasonic is a solar panel company with products that are tough to beat. Both their pricing and warranties are very appealing, and their HIT high-performance solar panels offer some of the best power conversion rates of any product.

Vivint

Vivint is a company that offers a full spectrum of services, including solar power consultation, design, and installation. A few reasons why homeowners trust their solar power needs to the Vivint team:

  • Everything Vivint does is customized. They tailor everything to fit your roof and to help you achieve your home energy goals.
  • They make the entire process simple, handling all of the little details for you. This includes securing permits, filing the right paperwork, etc.
  • They emphasize safety, using only the highest caliber of solar panels and backing everything with a world-class warranty.

Why buy: Vivint is noteworthy for their focus on customization, their commitment to safety, and their one-stop-shop solar power solutions. In addition to solar panel installation, they also offer other specialized technology, including solar-powered electric vehicle chargers.

Enphase

Enphase is another company that stands out, both for their robust technology as well as for their commitment to customization. Their microinverter technology makes their solar system safer by reducing the likelihood of arc fault fires.

  • They design their solar technology with safety in mind, including fire safeguards that other companies can't match.
  • Their solar panels are built for durability and can hold up even through the most extreme kinds of weather.
  • Enphase uses smart technology to update itself; all you need to do is connect it to your home Internet.
  • They also have one of the best apps in the solar industry, making it simple to monitor your home energy use.

Why buy: Enphase is a company of innovators, and their solar portfolio has a lot to offer. Their system is also modular, meaning you can easily add more panels to your system as you need them.

Canadian Solar

This solar power provider has won recognition not just for their excellent technology, but also for their sincere commitment to sustainability and to ecological stewardship. And don't let the name throw you off: Though Canadian Solar is based in Canada, they provide solar power solutions in the U.S. and other countries.

Some additional facts about Canadian Solar:

  • They offer a wide range of products, from energy converters to storage solutions.
  • Their solar panels boast exceedingly high energy efficiency rates.
  • Canadian Solar has won a number of awards for its first-class innovations, and one of their products even set a world record for conversion efficiency in 2020.

Why buy: This company has a proven track record of technological excellence, plus a real commitment to ecological stewardship. They also closely monitor their supply chain to ensure that no goods or materials used in their products come from prohibited forms of labor.

First Solar

First Solar boasts an impressive track record of advocacy for solar power and for renewable energy sources. And, thankfully, they back their advocacy with some excellent solar technologies.

A few reasons to choose First Solar solar panels:

  • Their technology offers an outstanding temperature coefficient, meaning they won't lose performance during high temperatures.
  • Their solar cells are among the most reliable and most efficient in the clean energy sector.
  • First Solar also offers a lot of post-purchase, post-installation help, as needed.

Why buy: First Solar is a great option for anyone who's serious about renewable energy, and who wants the best performance from their solar panels.

Go Solar

The biggest drawback to Go Solar is that, right now, their work is limited to just a few states. But if you happen to live in that part of the country, you're in luck. Go Solar's panels are uniquely calibrated to take advantage of the western region's abundant sunlight. Some additional reasons to pick Go Solar include:

  • They offer free home solar assessments.
  • They custom-design solar systems to meet the needs of your home.
  • They have some of the most trusted installers in the solar power industry.

Why buy: For solar solutions that are tailored to the climate of the American West, definitely consider Go Solar. Plus, with their Give Solar International partnership, they give an equivalent solar panel system to a family in Uganda for each system sold.

How does a solar energy system work?

schmidt-z / Getty Images

As you explore the different options for embracing solar power, it may be helpful to have a baseline understanding of how solar energy systems actually function.

Generally speaking, solar energy systems involve solar panels installed on your roof. These panels absorb the sun's energy, storing it in what are known as photovoltaic cells. These cells convert the solar energy into direct current (DC) energy, then use an inverter to convert that DC energy into alternate current (AC) electricity. AC electricity is what you need to power all your home appliances.

It's important to note that, before you purchase solar panels, it's worthwhile to meet with a solar energy consultant who can tell you more about how many panels your home will require, and also to let you know how those panels should be ideally positioned on the roof.

One more note: If you're concerned about the affordability of solar power, it's important to remember that most solar energy companies provide a host of options, including flexible financing and solar lease options for a system rather than purchase it outright. As you talk with different solar energy companies, don't hesitate to inquire about these leasing and financing options.

Benefits of solar energy

Installing solar panels on your home can yield a number of benefits. Here are just a few examples.

Cleaner energy

One of the main reasons why homeowners choose to install solar cells is that it allows them to truly embrace clean energy sources. Rather than depend on fossil fuels and power plants, you can power your home with renewable energy that comes straight from the sun. This can be a highly effective way to minimize your environmental footprint.

Solar tax credits and rebates

There are a number of ways in which choosing renewable energy can save you money, starting with the fact that there are so many rebates and tax credits available. Essentially, both the federal government and many state governments want to encourage people to "go green" as much as possible, and they will make it worth your while by allowing you to claim these important tax incentives. Some utility companies also offer rebates that can help pay for the upfront costs of solar projects.

Lower electricity bills

Of course, embracing solar power will also help you save money by slashing your electricity bills. Most solar energy companies offer online calculators that allow you to see for yourself how much money you'll save over time, simply by changing to a renewable energy source. There is also an option called a power purchase agreement (PPA) that can allow you to host a solar or renewable energy system from a utility provider in exchange for lowered energy rates. If your solar panel system generates excess energy, the utility will then purchase that energy from you in the form of a net metering credit on your bill.

Make a smart choice about solar power

There are obviously a lot of perks to choosing solar energy for your home. And yet, it can also be a rather daunting process, simply because there are so many solar energy companies to choose from.

Using our guidelines and rankings, start doing your due diligence, seeking the solar power company that's right for you. Remember to look for a company that's well-regarded within the industry and get a consultation before you buy. Always be sure to ask some direct questions about the financing options that are available to you.

Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. His writing on natural health, nutrition, and supplements has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.

iStock

In a rebuke to efforts by the Heartland Institute and at least 10 state legislatures, a large majority of Americans believe climate change should be taught in schools, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) reported Wednesday.

When the YPCCC asked Americans, "Should schools teach our children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming?", a national average of 78 percent either somewhat or strongly agreed that they should.

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Gina Loudon and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for its "unlawful and unreasonable delay" in responding to requests for information about the agency's communications with the Heartland Institute, according to a complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The Heartland Institute is an Illinois-based think tank that rejects the science of man-made climate change and has received funding from the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry.

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By Ashley Braun

On a Monday morning at the end of October, Rob Ross asked a group of Earth scientists and educators a question: How many of them had received copies of the Heartland Institute book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming?

You could feel an immediate sense of frustration in the air. Roughly half of them raised their hands. The Heartland Institute is a Chicago-based think tank that rejects the scientific consensus that humans are changing the climate and has received funding from the conservative billionaire Koch brothers and fossil fuel industry.

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USAG- Humphreys / Flickr

Four Democratic senators sent a letter to Education Sec. Betsy DeVos this week calling out her support of President Trump's decision to pull out of Paris.

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Twitter / @CityLightsUF

By Daisy Simmons

When Kelsey Singer, a student at Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, Texas, learned about a book her teacher had received in the mail—Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming—she was perplexed and intrigued. Just who was responsible for what she considered to be a misinformation campaign?

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By Brenda Ekwurzel

I have had the thrill of sharing the latest discoveries in the classroom with students who asked probing questions, when I was a faculty member of a university. That journey of discovery is one that parents and family members delight in hearing about when students come home and share what they have found particularly intriguing.

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The Heartland Institute is trying to nurture the next generation of climate change deniers.

The conservative and libertarian think tank has sent out 25,000 copies of the organization's book, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, and an accompanying 10-minute DVD to 25,000 science teachers this month, according to a Frontline report. The book argues that climate change is not settled science.

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DeSmogBlog

By Richard Littlemore

An energy industry public relations man and lobbyist with no background in climate science has infiltrated Carleton University in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, teaching a course on climate change denial that other Carleton professors describe as “a source of embarrassment to the institution.”

Tom Harris, who originally trained as a mechanical engineer, has been a strategist for the climate change denial industry for at least a decade. A favourite presenter misrepresented as a PhD at the Heartland Institute’s regular climate change denial conferences, Harris has worked directly for companies like the international PR giant APCO Worldwide and for energy industry lobby firms such as Toronto’s High Park Group. More recently, he has launched or led at least three phony “grassroots organizations”—energy industry front groups that promote confusion or denial in climate science.

Now, Harris is teaching at Carleton, passing on a mix of climate denial mythology and flat out fiction, telling students that the planet isn’t really warming, that (if it is), humans aren’t to blame, that (if they are) if might be a good thing and that, regardless, it’s just too complicated for mere scientists to figure out. (“The climate problem is so difficult that we might never solve it.”)

Harris’s ridiculous claims have been laid bare in a new report by the Canadian Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS), which has gone through videotapes of lectures from Climate Change: An Earth Sciences Perspective (ERTH2402), identifying 142 errors, exaggerations or outright prevarications.

The CASS report states:

"We have documented a large number of examples where the science that is taught is at least incomplete if not incorrect. There are a number of examples where Harris cites studies that were later rebutted …, and still more where he appears to have missed key publications … and this may indicate that he is unaware of the current scientific literature and prevailing scientific opinion."

The existence of this course represents a coup for the climate change denial movement, which as documented with the release of internal documents from the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, has been trying to infiltrate the U.S. school system with a K-12 curriculum promoting the notion that climate change is not real, not caused by humans or just too confusing to understand. (Heartland, a prominent proponent on behalf of its tobacco industry sponsors, has, in fact, been promoting climate disinformation in schools for many years.)

In the Carleton course, Harris has promoted a series of irrelevant, misleading or flagrantly incorrect bromides, including:

  • The only constant about climate is change.”
  • Carbon dioxide is plant food.”
  • There is no scientific consensus about climate change causes.”
  • Prepare for global cooling.”
  • Climate science is changing quickly.”

Notwithstanding, Harris has proved to be a popular teacher, who readily gives out high marks to the students most willing to parrot the denier line that he and his (often industry-associated) guest lecturers promote.

I know a guy who knows a guy

One of the biggest problem that CASS reported in trying to assess the content in Harris’s course is that he generally does not refer to primary sources—to references in peer-reviewed literature against which his contentions can be tested. Instead, he constantly tells students that he has been in personal or email contact with prominent scientists who have given him information—the vast majority of which is dubious, outdated, unsupported by science or simply wrong.

The CASS report offers the possibility that Harris is merely incompetent—that he has got the science wrong purely because he is out of his realm of expertise. But the authors also note the coincidence that “all the mistakes (Harris makes) support his thesis of no climate change effects."

More likely, it seems, for someone who has made his living dissembling about climate change on behalf of energy industry company-funded front groups, Harris has taken that campaign into the classroom with a disregard for the science and evidence that is somewhere between reckless and irresponsible.

There will almost inevitably be an argument about whether someone like Harris deserves protection under the principles of academic freedom—and certainly legitimate academics should be free to pursue their own course of study and to make whatever arguments they can support.

The question here is whether an institution such as Carleton can be forgiven for employing an instructor with no relevant credentials and significant and obvious economic conflicts. And, if Carleton is going to wrap Harris in a cloak of academic freedom—if the university is prepared to defend an industry front man’s right to dilute the university’s credibility by promoting views that are demonstrably incorrect and obviously grounded in a corporate agenda to deceive—then that should be a signal to prospective students and parents that they may want to exercise the freedom to choose a real university, one that values the accuracy of its curriculum and the integrity of its (other) faculty.

The full report, with references, is available by clicking here.

To see a selection of some of the 142 points of disinformation identified in the CASS report and responses to rectify those claims, view Richard Littlemore's entire piece by clicking here.

Oil Change International

By Andy Rowell

It was not probably the Valentine’s present the leading climate skeptic organization, the Heartland Institute, was expecting.

But after years of exploiting ClimateGate and leaks from climate scientists, on Feb. 14 they were on the receiving end of their very own leak.

The climate denial watch-dog, DeSmogBlog, has leaked details of Heartland’s strategy and funding documents exposing the heart of the climate denial machine.

The documents confirm what many people have suspected for a while—That Heartland not only receives money to fund its own climate skeptic work, but it also funds other leading skeptics, such as Craig Idso, who gets $11,600 per month and Fred Singer who receives $5,000 per month, plus expenses.

Heartland is also spending a whopping $388,000 for a team of skeptics to undermine the findings of the UN climate body—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

One of the documents leaked is Heartland’s Fundraising plan for this year, which exposes some of the world’s best known companies, such as Altria (parent company of Philip Morris) Bayer, Eli Lilly, General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, Microsoft, Pfizer and Time Warner, as funding the climate denial movement.

The Fundraising plan also reveals that the Koch Brothers are once again funding the Institute’s global warming disinformation campaign. Up until Feb. 14 it was thought that the last funding was more than a decade ago.

One leaked document, the January 2012 Confidential Memo—2012 Heartland Climate Strategy states: “We will also pursue additional support from the Charles G. Koch Foundation. They returned as a Heartland donor in 2011 with a contribution of $200,000. We expect to push up their level of support in 2012 and gain access to their network of philanthropists, if our focus continues to align with their interests. Other contributions will be pursued for this work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate policies.”

So here is confirmation in writing what many people have known for years—that the Heartland Institute is effectively acting as a front group for big oil and energy, raising money from companies which are threatened by climate policies, so that it can essentially do their dirty work in undermining legislation that threatens their corporate bottom line.

And in that sense, the boys from Heartland are guns for hire.

And this is where it gets interesting. The documents show that Heartland’s climate change denial machine is chiefly funded by one donor, who is just called “Anonymous." Their identity is not disclosed in the confidential documents. But the accounts reveal that this one donor has donated $13 million to Heartland’s climate denial work over five years, with another $1 million planned this year.

For one person to have such a huge influence on a key climate skeptic think tank is both interesting and worrying. For years the climate skeptics have operated to clear double standards. On the one hand they have repeatedly argued that climate scientists must be transparent with their work and have inundated them with Freedom of Information requests, but at the same time they have refused to come clean over who funds them.

Surely it is now beholden on the Heartland to come clean and tell everyone who their “key Anonymous Donor” is?

In the interests of transparency and credibility, it is the least the Heartland Institute can do.

For more information, click here.