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A couple things happened late last week that feel worth mentioning, to kick off this week on a hopeful note.

First, in a bit of legislative wonkery, the House of Representatives voted against an amendment that would have prevented the Department of Defense from studying how climate impacts threaten national security.

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Gone are the fevered dreams that Ivanka's moderating influence or Elon's persuasive position as an economic advisor will amount to anything beyond optics for Trump on the Paris agreement. Replacing it is the knowledge that our commander-in-chief will gladly shoot us in the collective foot if it means appeasing Presidents Bannon and Putin.

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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.

Politico's Morning Energy reported Wednesday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has assigned 110 staffers to meet a court-ordered July 1 deadline to produce a study of the agency's impact on coal jobs.

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For years now, we've been calling out for the removal of denial from mainstream media. But today we want to talk about free speech.

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No one thought that Lamar "my career has been funded by fossil fuels" Smith was going to put on an unbiased hearing on climate science. After all, the minority Democrats on Smith's House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology published a report this month, Much Ado About Nothing, which details Smith's "crusade to attempt to undermine and invalidate" Tom Karl's pause-buster study. (Yet Smith still can't get NOAA's name right)!

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Everyone's favorite climate scientist witch-hunter and man who told us to believe Donald Trump instead of the news, Lamar Smith, held a hearing Tuesday on Making EPA Great Again.

Despite a line-up of three industry voices against a lone voice of reason in Dr. Rush Holt of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the hearing failed to land any substantial blows against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Instead, Holt and the pro-science members of the committee explained the many ways in which Smith's "sound science" fixation sounds stupid to those who know science.

While Smith did his best to use this weekend's fake news about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to stir up drama, the fact that the "whistleblower" told E&E there was no data manipulation took the wind right out of his sails. Instead of problems with the conclusion of the study, the concern Bates had was that the data wasn't archived properly because the paper was rushed, which isn't true. So when Smith asked if Science would retract the paper, Holt reiterated these points. He added, "This is not the making of a big scandal" and "there is nothing in the Karl paper that, in our current analysis, suggests retraction." Score one for science!

The industry speakers, on the other hand, made relatively drab and inconsequential statements in the form of vague platitudes about the need for "sound science" instead of "secret science." For those who missed it, The Intercept had a great piece the other day on this Orwellian term and its tobacco industry-origins (which the ever-awesome Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson entered into the record to close the hearing). Because while Smith claims it will make science at the EPA better, what it would really do is prevent the EPA from using studies that rely on confidential health records or studies of individual events, which by definition can't be replicated.

Dr. Holt made it clear that, "The Secret Science Act, as it has been previously introduced, has been based on a misunderstanding of how science works." Though, given its design as a vehicle for the tobacco (and now fossil fuel) industry to prevent regulation, one might believe that it is less a misunderstanding of science than a deliberate attempt to cripple it.

The second aspect of "making the EPA great again" was proposed reform to the EPA's Scientific Advisory Boards. This idea was deceptively described by the industry speakers as an effort to increase "diversity" and "balance" and provide more "perspective" to these review boards. What they really do is give industry a seat at the table so they can do what industry wants- fight regulation. That Smith called on Jeffrey Holmstead, who was once disqualified as an expert witness by a judge due to his multiple conflicts of interest, namely lobbying for coal and other energy companies, tells you everything you need to know.

The third witness was Dr. Richard Belzer, an economist and president of "Regulatory Checkbook," who seems to be in the outer orbit of the Koch universe and whose Twitter feed appears to be a bizarre advertisement for a wine website. His main contribution was that cost-benefit analyses should be called benefit-cost Analyses because ... benefits are better? It wasn't really clear.

The last witness on Smith's side was Dr. Kimberly White of the American Chemistry Council. She made a valiant effort to portray the injection of biased industry voices into the federal peer review process as a matter of balance and perspective, which one would expect from someone representing an industry group.

Our favorite part of the hearing, though, came not from any of the witnesses but from Rep. Don Beyer, who donned a red "Keep The EPA Great" hat after saying that, "We will not help anyone by disputing climate science with stories from white nationalist websites like Breitbart.com or tabloids like the Daily Mail."

Given Rep. Smith's history of writing op-eds for Breitbart and reliance on the Mail to attack NOAA, we couldn't have put it better ourselves.

Watch the hearing here:

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As Donald Trump's administration begins to take shape, we're learning more and more about the Koch puppets that Trump is appointing to #StaffTheSwamp.

The other day, an Environmental Defense Fund post called out Trump's EPA Admin nominee Scott Pruitt for possible impropriety and what looks like "pay-to-play" situations, where Pruitt, on multiple occasions, received money from the energy industry and shortly after took efforts to defend them.

And as E&E points out, since Pruitt has a super-PAC, he can still "keep raising money from the corporate interests he is charged with regulating." On top of that, as one of the first Cabinet-level appointees (who are prohibited from soliciting money) to have a super-PAC (which exists to solicit money), the legality and potential for corruption threatens to undermine what little credibility Scott "unprecedented, secretive alliance" Pruitt would have as the EPA administrator.

But not content merely pulling strings behind the scenes, the Koch network continues to pander the public with an offensively ironic effort to improve the reputation of fossil fuels by supposedly "standing up for poor, underserved communities." (Similar efforts have been taken by tobacco and soft drink companies to sell their products.) Hiroko Tabuchi, in a great piece in the New York Times, pulls back the curtain on a Koch effort to convert minorities to its fossil fuel religion—in some cases fairly literally, as the piece opens with a scene from a Koch-sponsored gospel concert.

The front group putting on the show is Fueling U.S. Forward, which has already come up a couple times over the short year of its existence. It puts a contemptible, self-serving effort into painting fossil fuels as "pro-human" and "sustainable," in order to improve the public image of the Koch's oily empire.

For those wondering if perhaps the Kochs really are sticking up for the poor and not just using them for their own gain, a 2016 literature review makes it clear that "children, and especially poor children, now bear a disproportionate burden of disease from both environmental pollution and climate change due to fossil fuel combustion."

And abroad, even more heartbreaking are the 1.3 million African children who are starving thanks to a drought amplified by climate change. Their families are surviving by making soup out of chalk or ash from the fire, with one man even contemplating selling his 10 year old daughter as a bride so she'd be the husband's responsibility to feed.

Meanwhile, the Koch's Fueling U.S. Forward reportedly planned to spend $10 million a year on its pro-fossil fuel efforts.

Al Gore was the latest participant in the president-elect's parade of pandering, meeting with daughter Ivanka Trump and then Donald Trump himself. Might this mean we might see a change his position on climate change? And will the impeccably cited letter to Ivanka or interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on the Dakota Access Pipeline, both published in the Observer, which is owned by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, make a difference? Does any of this portend a softening of Trump's denial?

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Despite the fact that Donald Trump campaigned against special interests and suggested his primary opponents who begged for Koch cash were puppets, he now seems to be happy to #StaffTheSwamp with Koch operatives.

Beyond Myron Ebell and David Schnare on his environment team, news broke Sunday that Trump picked Steven Groves to lead the Department of State "landing team." Groves is an international policy wonk at the Koch (and Exxon, and Korean gov't) funded Heritage Foundation, and just last week, he wrote an article advocating for a pull-out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a way to exit the Paris agreement. As the negotiating framework for the UN's climate efforts and the underlying basis for the Paris agreement, if the U.S. were to leave the UNFCCC, it would remove us from the negotiating table altogether.

Not only would this "lead to political consequences with our allies," as Groves admitted in a House Science hearing last April, but it would also mean that Trump wouldn't be able to negotiate an amazing new treaty on climate, as the U.S. would no longer be part of the negotiating framework.

But contradictory advice is nothing new to the Heritage Foundation, which during the Farm Bill fight in 2013 told the GOP to split the bill into two parts. When Republicans did as they were told, Heritage still wasn't happy. Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said: "Heritage was now scoring against Republicans for doing exactly what Heritage had been espousing only a month before." Because of this stunt, as well as their push for 2013's government shutdown, former House speaker Boehner said: groups like Heritage had "lost all credibility."

Unfortunately, from the top of the Trump administration down, a distinct lack of credibility seems to be the unifying factor. But it is ironic that despite the Koch network's distinct lack of effort to get Trump elected, they are nonetheless filling Trump's administration with their operatives, from VP Mike Pence to CIA chief Mike Pompeo to Ebell, Schnare and Groves. And on the Energy Department front, it's been reported by E&E that Thomas Pyle of Koch-funded American Energy Alliance is running the transition, while the Interior is being led by Doug Domenech, of Koch-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation. And according to PoliticoPRO, on the Treasury team are Heritage-affiliated Bill Walton and Curtis Dubay.

The question is: Does Trump even know the Kochs are pulling his strings? Or does he really think he's "No puppet?"

For years now, Senate Majority Leader and possible undercover turtle Mitch McConnell has been a stalwart defender of his Kentucky home in the so-called war on coal.

Delegates holding "Trump Digs Coal" signs at the Republican National Convention in July at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

With Obama on his way out and energy lobbyists ready to move into the White House, McConnell is surely telling everyone the war is soon over, right? Not exactly.

Which is why McConnell now says it's "hard to tell" if jobs will return because coal mining is "a private sector activity." Turns out that cheap natural gas and renewables are the real enemy of coal, not all those pesky regulations that fight asthma, black lung or climate change. After nearly a decade railing against the war on coal, it seems regulations are secondary to the one force the right loves most: the free market.

Which is why we now see a variety of stories that explain why Donald Trump can't stop the growth of clean energy. So he'll probably have to walk back on this campaign promise. Just like his promise to drain the swamp. Or to release his tax returns. Or to disclose his charitable giving. Or to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. Or to repeal Obamacare. Or to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.

At this rate, Trump might break a record for broken promises before even starting his term.

Which is actually pretty encouraging.

The UN Economic Commission for Europe and World Coal Association are holding an event today and Thursday to tout the idea that coal is a cure for poverty. Sound off to you? There's a good reason for that.

A group of more than a dozen international organizations lead by the Overseas Development Institute have put out an in-depth report on the bogus claim that coal can cure poverty. It's true that more than a billion people around the world lack access to energy, but the report shows how more coal will make things worse.

The basic facts are very simple: Coal is a primary source of air pollution, which kills millions, and is a major driver of climate change. Climate change is very bad for all of us, but even worse for the world's most vulnerable.

At least 2,400 coal-fired power plants are in the planning or construction phases around the world right now. Building just a third of those would push the world over 2 C of global warming, worsen climate impacts and negatively impact the millions of people that are already struggling with air pollution.

Multiple coal companies, anti-climate action politicians, fossil fuel PR pros and denier groups have perpetuated the myth that getting rid of fossil fuels will deny millions of people access to energy and its economic benefits. Surely it is merely coincidence that as coal use declines in the U.S., they're hoping developing countries pick up the dirty energy addiction.

But they neglect to mention that only about 15 percent of the world's "energy poor" live in urban areas with existing power grids, the rest residing in rural areas where the grid doesn't reach. Building more coal plants to feed into the grid that people cannot connect to is not going to help. It will only eat away at the quickly-dwindling global carbon budget. If they actually wanted these rural populations to get connected, then distributed wind and solar would be the obvious answer, as they don't require a centralized grid.

So coal, as a poverty cure? That's rich.