If you’re looking for a customer-centered approach to getting solar panels, it may be worth getting a quote from Sunnova. It offers assurances that your system is working as it should with a simple process for rectifying any problems with your solar panels.
Sunnova’s pitch is designed for those looking for a set-it-and-forget-it approach to solar: No need to worry about money upfront, an agreement that ensures your solar system is producing for a quarter century and a single phone number to call with any questions for the entire duration.
“Whether it’s a lease, a loan or a power purchase agreement, we are ensuring that customer’s power flows for 25 years,” said Kelsey Hultberg, Sunnova’s executive vice president for corporate communications and sustainability.
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One of the latest evolutions in the world of solar is the notion of “energy as a service” offered by some of the bigger players. The idea is to simplify going solar and make the move to renewable energy — whether you’re interested in fighting climate change, cutting your energy bills, or hopefully both — as simple as switching internet providers. A web of tax credits and other incentives, not to mention the free energy produced, also makes it an enticing proposition for consumers.
Sunnova is a leading energy-as-a-service provider and has been a public company traded on the New York Stock Exchange since 2019. The Houston-based outfit has been around for 10 years, and with 300,000 customers across the US, it’s one of the biggest solar companies in the nation.
It’s also partnering with the US Department of Energy to offer solar loans to communities that may not otherwise be able to access such financing through an initiative called Project Hestia. The federal government has committed to provide loan guarantees on up to 90% of $3.3 billion in loans originated by Sunnova.
“Project Hestia would make possible a historic private sector investment in disadvantaged American communities and energy infrastructure,” Sunnova CEO John Berger said in a statement.
The public funding is meant to increase access to solar for households with credit scores that might otherwise disqualify them.
CNET has not gone through the process of ordering from Sunnova, having a system installed or testing the equipment mentioned here. Instead, we have studied the industry, had an in-depth conversation with the company, and, to a limited extent, taken into consideration outside opinions from those who have interacted with the company.
With this in mind, it’s critical that any home or small business owner considering a solar system get multiple quotes from installers in their area and do their own research. (You’re off to a good start by reading this review.) You can find plenty more solar companies here at CNET as well.
What do I get from Sunnova?
Over the past few years, Sunnova has focused on developing what it calls the Sunnova “adaptive home,” which goes beyond just putting a few panels on a roof to include integrating batteries, load controls and EV chargers, among other options.
“We’re packaging that up for the homeowner so they don’t have to worry about the burden of bringing together all these technology pieces, and then we’re managing that for the customer for 25 years,” Hultberg explained.
What equipment does Sunnova offer?
Sunnova works with a network of vetted installers to offer its solar packages just about anywhere in the country. Local installers also work from a list of equipment manufacturers and specific products that have been approved by Sunnova, including a wide array of panels, inverters, batteries and EV chargers.
“Nothing’s going on a roof that we haven’t already vetted and approved,” Hultberg said.
The company uses panels from a variety of manufacturers, inverters from SolarEdge and Enphase, and batteries made by Tesla, Enphase, Generac, SolarEdge and FranklinWh.
Does Sunnova offer system monitoring?
The Sunnova web portal and app provides information on how the customer’s system is performing, the state of battery charge and more.
One interesting beta feature is the ability to see when the customer is pulling energy from the grid and how “dirty” the grid sources are (i.e. coal vs. renewables). The company didn’t offer a specific timeline for when the feature would be fully functional.
The app has also been relatively well reviewed on Google (3.8 stars) and Apple’s (4.1 stars) app stores.
What warranties does Sunnova offer?
Sunnova promises to service and otherwise take care of its systems for 25 years. Hultberg said that when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the company fixed every damaged Sunnova system on the island at no charge to customers.
When service or warranty concerns come up during the 25-year period, customers call Sunnova and are likely to see a Sunnova truck roll up to make repairs.
How much do Sunnova solar panels cost?
Sunnova declined to provide pricing information, which is pretty standard practice industry-wide. Hultberg said the company doesn’t make it a practice to price match, but that installers do have price thresholds that they aren’t allowed to go above or below.
If you look at the average cost on equipment and installation before factoring in the federal clean energy credits of 30%, the US national average cost is roughly $18,073 for a 5-kilowatt system and $3.60 per watt, according to FindEnergy.com.
Other incentives from state, county and municipal governments, and sometimes even banks and credit unions, might bring that total out-of-pocket expense down even further. One analysis from Wood Mackenzie shows the average purchase cost of installed solar power is $2.99 per watt for an 8-kilowatt system.
Of course, the above figures merely reflect national averages. Be sure to compare prices in your own area before signing a contract.
To get an idea of what solar costs look like in each US state, here’s a look at the average total cost, system size and cost per watt of solar panels, according to data from FindEnergy.com. The states shaded in gray had no data available.
What financing options does Sunnova offer?
Sunnova offers power purchase agreements and a number of ways to purchase, lease or finance solar systems. Hultberg noted that not all states allow leases and other program offerings may vary by locale.
Sunnova says it can often get customers up and running with a new solar system with no upfront cost, though the lifetime savings of a purchased system are typically higher than they are with leases, power purchase agreements or other zero-money-down options.
Does Sunnova operate in my state? How do I order?
Sunnova works with local dealers in all US states and territories. The order process begins with getting connected to an approved Sunnova dealer or installer, either through the Sunnova website or from direct contact with a dealer.
The local dealer has a conversation with the customer, checks out the property using satellite imagery, puts together a package of equipment from Sunnova’s approved list, and presents it to the customer for approval.
The dealer will discuss options such as batteries and EV chargers as well. The final system design is then reviewed by Sunnova for a quality-control check, then approved. This triggers the process to initiate new solar service, including permitting, installation and, finally, account activation and flowing electrons.
“Then we’re working with you for the next 25 years to make sure that system is operating and producing energy the way in which we promised that it would,” Hultberg said.
Is Sunnova the best choice?
Sunnova offers an easy approach for adding solar to your home and guaranteeing your system’s production for a quarter century.
It all sounds pretty great, but keep in mind that we weren’t provided with any substantial information about pricing and the range of equipment offered. We’re also not excited about the dealer model that essentially doubles the research requirement — you want to make sure that both Sunnova and the local installer they connect you with are both companies you trust.
The Better Business Bureau has also flagged a pattern of complaints against Sunnova that gives us pause. The company assures us that the wide majority of its customers are satisfied, and it says it has moved to address all complaints. Sunnova does also appear to have a number of satisfied customers from what we can tell.
Remember, CNET has not actually gone through the ordering or installation process with Sunnova. Be sure to do plenty of research before making a 25-year commitment.
- 25-year service guarantee
- Lots of financing options
- Customer-centered approach
- Recipient of DOE funding for people with lower credit scores
- Required to go through network of installers
- A pattern of complaints according to BBB.org
- No price match
Sunnova reviews: What are customers saying?
It can be hard to put much stock in online reviews today. It’s easy to find both positive and negative reviews of Sunnova. However, we do take special note of the Better Business Bureau’s “pattern of complaint” for the company.
“Customer disputes alleged deceptive sales practices, poor customer service, and they further report installation and repair technicians do not arrive as scheduled,” the BBB reports.
Sunnova’s BBB accreditation was not renewed starting in 2019 due to the pattern of complaints — including over 500 in the past 12 months — and a government action against the company in Puerto Rico that has since been resolved.
“Consumer’s complaints stated Sunnova assigned resolution specialists who are unreachable via phone or email causing delays in diagnosing and repairing under-producing panels or panels that are not operational at all,” the BBB alert reads. “While Sunnova Energy Corporation has responded to complaints and many of which were closed as resolved, (customers) felt their concerns were addressed only after filing a complaint with the BBB.”
Sunnova says it “engaged in approximately 1.3M interactions with existing customers through email and voice calls. Of those interactions, only 537 (0.041%) were associated with BBB cases.”
Sunnova and the BBB confirmed that nearly 99.9% of the above cases are currently marked as resolved. “We are working closely with the BBB to have our accreditation reinstated,” a Sunnova spokesperson told CNET.
The company also says it has made recent investments in a new national operations control center that “provides real-time monitoring, optimization and control of over our entire fleet of 300,000 solar and battery storage systems throughout 55 states and territories across the US, allowing us to identify and respond to issues with unprecedented speed and efficiency.”
Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions of solar companies. You can even ask them what they’ve done to address the issues you saw on the BBB website. It also doesn’t hurt to educate yourself about current scams in the solar industry.
How we evaluate solar companies
Reviewing solar companies in a hands-on way is difficult. Accounting for all the differences from project to project is impossible. To provide a helpful review, we focused on what we can measure and meaningfully compare among companies.
We focus on three buckets of criteria: 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.
We don’t consider the average price of a company’s installations in their score. This information is difficult to find and hard to compare across service areas, and even roof to roof. Companies are often slow to disclose it, too. We also leave out easily found information that is of limited use, like how many states a company operates in.