Sunrun review: What to expect working with the US’ largest solar installer
Sunrun reviews show a company that is providing decent customer service with fair prices. Over the last couple years, Sunrun has come out as the US’ largest residential solar installer. They employ 4,400 workers and install across 22 states. As of 2019, Sunrun boasts over 233,000 customers and a cumulative installation capacity of 1,575 MWs (about the same as a large coal-fired power plant).
If you’re considering moving forward with Sunrun, you’ll want to review the company’s financing and technology offerings, as well as typical costs and customer praises and complaints. Of course, the best place to start when considering solar is to get multiple quotes from reputable installers in your area.
In its latest presentation to investors (August 2019), Sunrun reported an installation cost of $3.39 per watt. With the average installation in the US costing around $3.00 per watt, Sunrun’s costs run about 14% higher than the average installation. Most residential solar systems are installed by local companies with lower overhead the Sunrun, so it’s higher costs aren’t too much of a surprise.
Here’s a quick cost comparison between Sunrun and the US average for three different common installation sizes:
|System Size||Sunrun Cost ($3.39/watt)||US Average Cost ($2.98/watt)||Difference|
|Small (4 kW)||$13,560||$11,920||+$1,640|
|Average (7 kW)||$23,730||$20,860||+$2,870|
|Large (12 kW)||$40,680||$35,760||+$4,920|
As willing customers become harder and harder to find, Sunrun is suffering from increased sales and marketing costs. Over the last decade, the solar industry has already picked the lowest hanging fruit (ie, the homeowners that are easily convinced to install solar) and despite falling technology costs, installation costs have actually increased over the last year. Sunrun costs increased 4% in 2019 over 2018, thanks to these higher customer acquisition costs.
Sunrun isn’t the only big installer facing increasing installation costs. Rival Vivint Solar, the 2nd biggest residential installer in the US, increased costs a whole 10% from 2018 to 2019.
While Sunrun is the largest residential installer in the US, it actually controls just 11% of the residential solar market. As mentioned above, the majority of rooftop solar is installed by smaller local installers that don’t offer solar leasing or PPAs, don’t need the same intense sales and marketing tactics, and can subsequently offer lower prices. In fact, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that estimates from local installers generally come in 10% less than estimates from large, nationwide installers.
While Sunrun’s costs are higher than many smaller, local companies, its costs are actually much lower than rival Vivint, which reports an install cost of $3.56 per watt – some of the highest of any big installer.
Tesla doesn’t report installation costs in its investor presentations, but it recently cut costs to an incredible $2.50 per watt (by simplifying its offerings and asking homeowners to perform preliminary work) in an attempt to regain lost market share.
Overall, Sunrun’s costs fall in the middle of the pack when looking at national installers. However, its costs are higher than many small, local installers.
Sunrun Customer Service
Sunrun’s customer reviews actually fare better than Vivint and Tesla – its top two competitors. On review platform BestCompany, here’s how the review scores break down, as of October 2019:
- Sunrun: 3.6 out of 5, based on 1,339 reviews
- Vivint: 1.7 out of 5, based on 531 reviews
- Tesla/SolarCity: 2.6 out of 5, based on 661 reviews
BestCompany reviews are pretty representative of Sunrun’s reviews across all platforms. When you dig deeper into the breakdown of individual reviews, you’ll find that most homeowners are either giving Sunrun perfect reviews or 1-star reviews. On BestCompany, here’s how Sunrun’s reviews break down:
- 5 stars: 47%
- 4 stars: 16%
- 3 stars: 6%
- 2 stars: 6%
- 1 star: 24%
You can see that over half of homeowners give Sunrun 4- or 5-star reviews, oftentimes mentioning the company’s seamless sales and installation process and good communication practices. However, about ¼ give just a single star. What’s up with that?
Solar installations can quickly stall if an issue comes up and your sales person, installer, or project manager doesn’t know how to fix it. Maybe the utility is incredibly busy and can only complete your system’s final inspection in three weeks. That’s not your installer’s fault, but if they don’t communicate this issue to you, you’d probably be pretty frustrated.
If your project is easy and you’ve got a great project manager and salesperson, you’ll probably be fine. But if something goes wrong, let’s hope you’re paired with a well-trained, seasoned member of their team.
Unlike most solar companies, Sunrun does not install all the solar systems itself. While Sunrun does employ some installers, it also contracts 3rd-party companies to complete many of the installations for them. Ideally, the installation process is seamless and the installers are branded with Sunrun gear, so you wouldn’t even know your project’s been handed off to a sub-contractor. However, communications can sometimes fall through the cracks.
Overall, Sunrun’s scores are good, but not great. If you have a simple installation and great local team, you’ll likely have a great experience. But if something goes wrong or communication falls through the cracks, hopefully it won’t get too frustrating.
Sunrun focuses exclusively on residential systems, installing solar panels and energy storage.
First and foremost, Sunrun is a residential, rooftop solar company. They also install energy storage, but that’s it. They don’t do cars like Tesla or install EV chargers and home security like Vivint.
Historically, Sunrun is actually a residential solar financing company. For years, they sub-contracted out all installations, focusing exclusively on selling their solar leases and PPAs. Today, they employ teams of installers throughout their service territories, but they still higher out many projects to 3rd parties.
Sunrun offers many different financing options as well, including leases, PPAs, and loans. You can read about these in the section below.
Sunrun also installs energy storage systems to pair with their solar installations. Adding a battery to your solar installation offers two key benefits:
- Back-up Power: When the grid goes down, you’ll still be able to power key appliances in your home.
- Shifting Energy Use: If you’re on a time-of-use rate or something similar with your utility, batteries allow you to save some of the solar energy you produce and use it at times when utility electricity is most expensive – usually around 5PM to 8PM.
When Sunrun originally started installing batteries back in 2016, it offered rival Tesla’s Powerwall. For the last few years, it has installed the LG Chem RESU battery.
The RESU battery comes in 3 different sizes (3.3, 6.5, and 9.8 kWh). The smallest option is really only good for shifting energy use (Benefit #2 above), but the larger two could keep the absolute basics in your home running during emergency situations (the average home uses 30 kWh per day, just FYI).
These options are small compared to the Tesla Powerwall, which is 13.5 kWh (and costs $6,500). In its latest investor presentation, Sunrun reports its energy storage costs run about $225 per kWh, so it’s actually quite a bit cheaper than the Powerwall (which breaks down to $481 per kWh). Of course, real world expenses on your own home could vary substantially, so be sure to talk to a salesperson before getting your heart set on energy storage.
As of October 2019, Sunrun installs batteries in the following 10 states:
Sunrun Service Area
Sunrun installs in 22 states, plus Puerto Rico. Keep in mind that not all of Sunrun’s offerings are available in every territory. It’s battery option, for example, is only available in certain states with high electricity prices, like California and Hawaii (see above). It only offers solar PPAs in states that allow this financing mechanism. Talk to your sales rep to see what they offer in your own area.
It’s full service area includes:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- Washington DC
While Sunrun continues to focus on its lease and PPA, it offers loans and cash payment options as well. Here’s a quick run-down of its offerings:
- Solar Lease (with or without escalator): Sunrun calls this option Brightsave Monthly and it’s the company’s bread and butter. Even as more homeowners move towards cash or loan purchases, Sunrun continues to focus on leases. With an escalator, your monthly payment will increase each year, typically around 2.9% annually. Without an escalator, your monthly payments will start higher, but they don’t increase over the course of your 20-year agreement. Sunrun estimates you can save between 10% and 40% on your electricity costs by financing with a solar lease, though generally cash or loan financing offers a better payout.
- Prepaid Solar Lease: Sunrun also allows customers to pay their solar lease in full at the beginning of the contract, what they call Brightsave Prepaid. This is similar to a cash purchase, but you’ll probably see lower overall savings and no tax credits.
- Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs): Sunrun owns the installation and you pay them for each kilowatt-hour the system produces. In the summer, your bill will be higher as your installation takes advantage of the summer sun. Some states don’t allow PPAs, so check with your salesperson on your options.
- Solar Loans: Sunrun calls their in-house loan option BrightAdvantage, but you can also secure a loan through your local credit union and pay for your installation in cash. Credit unions can offer special solar loans and you can pay for your installation with a HELOC or Home Equity Loan as well.
- Cash Upfront: Sunrun brands this option BrightBuy. You’ll see the highest savings over the life of the system by paying in cash, but it does require a substantial investment upfront (just like the prepaid solar lease above).
If you’re looking to move forward with a lease or PPA, Sunrun could be a good option. No matter what though, be sure to reach out to multiple installers – both large and small – to compare cost and savings estimates.
Sunrun Long-Term Outlook
With solar installations lasting 25 years or more, you might be wondering if Sunrun will be here in 15 years to service any warranty claims or help when selling your house.
Sunrun probably isn’t going anywhere soon. It’s now the #1 residential installer in the US. It’s stock prices have consistently increased since 2017 and it’s now valued higher than ever. The company is still run by founder and CEO Lynn Jurich and it’s constantly expanding into more territories, most recently Florida and Illinois. It installs good-quality equipment and its systems are priced fairly compared to other big installers.
However, financing leases and PPAs is expensive work and Sunrun still hasn’t seen a profit yet, despite being around for over a decade now. On top of that, customer acquisition costs have risen in the last year, as willing customers become harder to find, and those costs will likely increase over the years.
That being said, Sunrun’s business model is a long-term plan, as homeowners continue paying small monthly fees each year, year after year. For homeowners considering Sunrun right now, you don’t have much to worry about. They’ll likely still be here in 20 or 25 years, so you don’t need to worry. If you’re really wanting to finance your installation with a PPA or lease, Sunrun is probably one of the better options right now.
Image Source: Courtesy Sunrun Media Gallery