Back to School: SolarCity’s 400 Schools Celebrate Environment, Savings

By Zan Dubin Scott

September 24, 2014

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Commercial solar installation, Chico Unified School District

As we return to school this fall, the math on our nation’s solar installations at schools is looking pretty impressive! 

SolarCity has installed solar at more than 400 school district sites across the country, bringing clean renewable electricity to rural communities and the inner city alike. The combined schools are expected to:

•  Avoid 1,775,684,554 pounds of CO2 emissions; the equivalent of 80,544 metric tons or the weight of 445 blue whales

•  Offset carbon emissions equivalent to planting 3,826,905 trees per year - enough to populate Central Park 200 times

•  Conserve enough energy to power 7,547 homes every year, or the entire town of Palisades Park, New Jersey

•  Save 8,511,760,641 gallons of water in a contract's lifetime*, which is enough water to fill 13,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools

Schools are not only saving the environment but millions of dollars, which they are able to redirect into what they do best: teaching! 

For example, when we installed at Chico Unified School District, we projected that the solar production would save the California school district more than $3 million on utility bills over the 20-year term of its power purchase agreement. Further south in the Golden State, we projected savings of $325,000 in just the first year for the Lancaster and Eastside School Districts in the Antelope Valley, which together serve nearly 18,000 students in 25 schools. 

Meanwhile, the Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District, situated in California’s own Fertile Crescent and serving an impoverished rural community near Fresno, is expected to save $900,000 and several million dollars over the lifetime of the solar contracts at five schools. 

With these savings the Firebaugh District was able to restore its music program, which had fallen victim to budget cuts.

“Every student needs something to connect with in school,” superintendent Russell Freitas told the Fresno Bee. “This is a great opportunity to get students the chance to connect with music.”

Meanwhile, SolarCity has teamed up with the National Energy Education Department (NEED) project intended to promote an energy conscious and educated society by creating effective networks of students, educators, business, government and community leaders to design and deliver objective, multi-sided energy education programs. 

The two organizations have developed a curriculum guide to help educators bring valuable energy lessons to life in their classrooms in a simple and engaging way. With climate change issues already worsening economic and civil conditions in countries around the world, the partnership aims to convey the importance of smart and responsible energy use among today’s students in a way that’s easily digestible, yet eye-opening.

Recently, the Solar Energy Industry Association and The Solar Foundation illuminated the nation’s solar schools in a report and interactive map as well. Their findings showed that nearly 2.7 million students attend schools with solar energy systems and that collectively, our nation’s solar schools have already saved more than 70 million dollars on energy costs compared to standard utility rates.

Are your city’s schools solarized? Let us know what your school has done with solar savings, or if they aren’t using solar yet, tell us what you’d spend the money on! 

*Note: The average lifetime of a SolarCity school contract is 20-25 years.

SolarCity Named Finalist for Massachusetts Economic Development Award

By SolarCity

September 17, 2014

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Governor Deval Patrick greets SolarCity employees at the company’s Marlborough operations center in May 2012.

SolarCity, the nation's #1 solar power provider and largest solar employer, is excited to be selected as a Finalist in the Massachusetts Economic Impact Awards, organized by the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development.

SolarCity’s contributions to Massachusetts’ economic development are the people’s contributions. When they go solar with SolarCity they are choosing electricity that suits their budget and their values. When they join the SolarCity workforce they are improving the state’s energy mix every day on the state’s rooftops. It is their support for SolarCity that helps state policymakers meet ambitious goals.

It’s now in the people’s power to drive Massachusetts energy forward, and they’ve taken the opportunity and run with it through businesses like SolarCity. From customers like high school science teacher Deb Mabey in Williamstown to City of Boston Director of Veteran Affairs Francisco Urena, SolarCity is as strong as the people’s determination to create something better than they’ve had in the past.

By the end of this year SolarCity will employ 300 Massachusetts residents based at our Marlboro, Pembroke, and Wilmington operations centers. Our installation crews arrive every morning by 6:30 am, and are out on the state’s rooftops by 8.

In addition to serving more than 2500 residential customers in Massachusetts, our staff is also bringing solar to municipal governments, school districts, higher education, and local industry. For example, we worked with the City of Quincy, Massachusetts’ designated “Green City,” to bring solar to their Town Hall, Courthouse, and 27 schools in their district. This aligns with the goals of Quincy city government to use their taxpayers’ money wisely by reducing their electricity bills.

None of this could have happened without a welcoming environment of strong policy, led by the state legislature and Governor Patrick. Their continued support through policies like net metering, that allow customer to fairly earn credits for energy they produce for their neighbors, makes the choice easy.

SolarCity is looking forward to rapidly increasing the amount of solar energy provided to Massachusetts moving forward. To learn more about other Finalists of the Massachusetts Economic Impact Awards, go to: http://www.massitsallhere.com/2014/08/21/twenty-two-finalists-massecons-2014-economic-impact-awards/.

Debunking Solar Myths: Solar Panels are Ugly

By Molly Canales

August 28, 2014

We get it. Some of you just don’t like the look of solar panels, but with our proprietary solar system mounting hardware, solar arrays look better than ever. And when you’re saving money every month, do you really want to call solar ugly?

SolarCity customers discuss solar aesthetics in our video series to debunk myths about solar energy. 

Stay Current: Our Top Solar Links

By Liz Mead

August 22, 2014

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We know you’re busy. Here’s your Matrix-style upload of the latest happenings in all things solar related.

 

The Big Takeover: renewable energy accounted for all new power in America during July. (CleanTechnica)

Hedge funds profit on the backs of ratepayers when electricity prices spike. (New York Times

A warming climate means higher alcohol levels in wine. We’ll probably need it. (The Guardian)

A plea to the other 49 states: don’t go the way of Ohio when assessing your renewable energy policy. (Boston Globe

One of the grand homes of the Gilded Age gets a green makeover, complete with classy solar bling. (NY Times)

Our products don’t do this: Duke Energy spilled at least 5,000 gallons of diesel into the Ohio River on Monday. (Climate Progress)

Artists address the emotional side of climate change. (Brain Pickings)

Debunking Solar Myths: Solar is a Fad

By Molly Canales

August 12, 2014

Like acid washed jeans and perms, there are some fads we’re glad to see gone. Solar power on the other hand is not just a passing trend, and SolarCity customers know this best.

Hear them react to the idea as part of our video series to debunk myths about solar energy.

Solar Installer Spotlight: Rocio Farias

By Zan Dubin Scott

August 05, 2014

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Our own Rocio Farias is one of a small but growing number of the nation’s female solar installers, a distinction that prompted the New York Times to publish this interview with her last weekend. Promoted four times since joining SolarCity in 2011, today Rocio supervises a crew of seven that install solar panel systems on homes across Los Angeles. We thought it would be fun to ask her some questions that the newspaper didn’t get around to.

 

Zan: Where were you born and where did you go to high school?

Rocio Farias: In LA. I’ve lived here all my life. I went to LA High.

 

Zan: Other than the beach, are there memorable LA landmarks you've seen while installing?

Farias: The Hollywood sign. Yeah, that was cool. It was one of the hottest days in LA, a couple of years ago, like 114 degrees. I’ll never forget it. But I was glad to be in LA, my hometown, not somewhere far away. You just have to stay hydrated.

 

Zan: You recently trained to become a certified electrician. Do you expect to complete more training through SolarCity?

Farias: Yes, whatever the company offers, I’ll take. I want to try to get my certification from NABCEP [the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners] which provides the solar installation industry’s best known certification of professional skills and knowledge.

 

Zan: What's the most interesting thing you've learned at SolarCity?

Farias: The importance of quality and aesthetics. How important something as simple as conduit bending [molding rigid metal tubes containing electrical wire around a home’s contours] is to the overall aesthetic. It’s an art. Your measurements have to be perfect, and you have to handle the bending tool perfectly to avoid kinks or folds. You can’t have any kinks or folds. Practice makes perfect.

 

Zan: We bet your conduit piping looks pretty good?

Farias: Yep, they look good.

 

Zan: What changes or improvements have you seen in SolarCity’s operations since you started installing?

Farias: Moving to Zep Solar [a panel mounting technology that has helped SolarCity’s installation crews double the number of residential systems they can install each day]. That was the biggest change for us and it’s a big improvement and looks a lot better on the home.

 

Zan: What do you like to do outside of work?

Farias: I like to swim. I used to work on my own cars, but now I don’t have time. Also lately I’ve been reading a few books on real estate. Maybe that’s something I could do on the side like a hobby, maybe buy a house and fix it up.

 

Zan: What's your biggest challenge on the job?

Farias: The heat. But like I said, in L.A., you just have to stay hydrated.

 

Zan: What’s your greatest pride?

Farias: The position I’m in. I started from the bottom and now I’m a crew lead. I had to prove that I could do the job—four times.

 

Zan: Is your mom proud of you?

Farias: Oh sure. She’s happy that I have a good position in the company and that it’s not just any job. You’re doing something good for the environment and opening people’s minds.

 

Zan: If you could have any job at SolarCity, even CEO, what would it be?

Farias: Even CEO? 

Zan: Even CEO.

Farias: Why not, right?

Stay Current: Our Top Solar Links

By Liz Mead

August 01, 2014

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We know you’re busy. So here’s your Matrix-style upload of the latest happenings in all things solar related:


Planning on washing your car this weekend in California? It could cost you $500. (NY Times)

Billionaire hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer discusses why he traded in fossil-fuel investing for environmental advocacy. (Politico)

The NFL, NHL, MLB and Indy 500… pro sports are going solar in North America. (EcoWatch)

The utility industry realizes it needs to promote electric vehicles in order to survive.  (Greentech Media)

L.A. tops the list of American cities leading the solar revolution. (Business Cheat Sheet)

WOW. SolarCity: Part Two

By Liz Mead

July 31, 2014

People liked hearing our customers talk about going solar so much, that we decided to make a sequel.  Five more solar citizens sum up their experience here.

Earthquakes and Tea Parties in Oklahoma

By Will Craven

July 25, 2014

rigPhoto Credit: Jeff Sandquist

The Guardian recently covered a study published by the journal Science which appears to definitively tie natural gas fracking to earthquakes in Oklahoma:

“Oklahoma has had about 240 magnitude 3.0 or higher earthquakes just since the start of the year…. Before 2008, when the oil and gas boom got underway, the state averaged about one a year.”

Yikes. That’s something like a 480-fold increase.

Meanwhile, in April there was a political quake in Oklahoma that was altogether more positive: pro-solar conservatives defeated an effort by utilities to undermine the growth of rooftop solar, much to the dismay of the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as a de facto “shadow government” for corporate interests.

In an era when politics has never been more polarized, it’s refreshing to see polls showing that more than 84% of Republicans and Democrats support solar. Of course, what these voters often need are politicians who represent them!

Utah Breathes a Little Easier Thanks to Solar Energy

By Liz Mead

July 24, 2014

Utah’s scenic natural beauty is a national treasure and an engine of economic activity—the state’s bevy of parks and monuments and reputation as a destination for skiers and hikers helped draw more than 23 million visitors in 2012.  But the state’s booming tourism industry—and the health of its citizens—have come under threat in the past several years by a stubborn air pollution problem. A unique combination of topography, mining activity and meteorological phenomena known as “inversions” have placed Salt Lake City among the ranks of the nation’s most polluted cities in recent years. Salt Lake County experienced 22 days in which pollution levels exceeded federal air quality standards last winter – a 21-day increase from the year before.

The state is responding to the challenge with plans to reduce emissions and pollution. SolarCity recently initiated its first commercial solar installations in Utah to support the state’s “all-of-the-above” approach to energy:

•  Last week, the Utah National Guard flipped the switch on clean energy, powering up 1,400 solar panels installed on top of the Guard’s headquarters. 
•  Salt Lake Community College’s 1,428 module rooftop solar installation is currently under construction.   
•  The Utah Olympic Oval announced its plans for a solar carport MondayThe installation has already begun, and the 3100+ solar panels are expected to cut nearly $100,000 off the Oval’s annual utility costs.

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Governor Gary Herbert and Major General Jeff Burton attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Utah National Guard's 350kW solar panel system in Draper.

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The 800kW SLCC's solar panel system, nearing completion.

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A rendering of the 791kW solar carport installation currently under construction at the Utah Olympic Oval.

Solar Citizens: Customers in Nevada Soak up the Sun

By Amber Schadewald

July 16, 2014

SheaXero_Solar_HomesThe Graneys live in an energy-efficient SheaXero home, which includes a solar panel system.

This spring SolarCity announced its launch in Nevada, and while we plan to start solar installation in October, we’ve already started taking orders in the Silver State. Due to our rad partnership with Shea Homes, we already have a handful of happy solar citizens in the greater Las Vegas area who are soaking up the sun. 

Customer Ilene Graney is one of them. She became one of our first Nevada customers when she and her husband moved into their SheaXero home last year: a ‘No Electric Bill Home’ powered by clean, renewable solar, with 14 energy-efficient features throughout the house.

“I’m not a ‘rainwater-harvesting, vegetable-growing, tree-hugging’ type, but I don't like to pollute and I always recycle,” says Graney, a pilates instructor whose dedication to health and wellness factored into the couple’s decision to buy their previous Shea Home in California.

“We like solar energy not just for the cost savings but because it also makes us feel like good citizens.”

Last week I called Mrs. Graney to ask a couple questions about their set up and their excitement for solar. 

 

Amber: Do you love your solar panel system? Do ya?

Illene Graney: I can honestly say we do. 

 

Amber: Shea Homes are typically installed before purchase. Did you have any concerns about going solar?

Graney: No concerns. We weren't convinced that we would only have a $10/month connection fee as was advertised—we had a hard time believing there really was a thing called “Shea Zero”. We've been pleasantly surprised!

 

Amber: In what other ways is your SheaXero home "green"?  

Graney: We have Dual-Pane, Low-E Vinyl windows that are tightly insulated. We also have a Fresh Air Ventilation System installed in attic—once an hour it turns on automatically and brings fresh air into house so there's no carbon monoxide. It also keeps dust down and in general, keeps it nice in here—avoids that “stale air conditioning” feel. The energy efficiency of whole house is amazing, from low flush toilets to motion activated faucets.

 

Amber: Can you name any particular feature of your home as your favorite and if so, why?  

Graney: Solar is our favorite because it saves us a lot of money. In our case, the solar panels were not priced separately—they came as part the home. We didn’t have to do the math on ROI for solar/tax credits. We just see the savings!

 

Amber: Do you keep an eye on the solar output of your panels? If yes, what kinds of patterns have you noticed?

Graney: Yes! My husband loves monitoring our daily energy output and consumption on SolarCity’s energy monitoring service. We haven’t been here long, so it’s hard to discuss patterns but the first 150 first days have been sunny. So far it's been consistent whether winter or summer. It’s always sunny--that’s Nevada.

 

Amber: Are you making fun plans for the money you’ve saved on your utility bills?

Graney: We were just talking about buying an all-electric vehicle last night because of our monthly power generation surplus. And soon we’re heading out of town for vacation to the UK– my husband is from there.

 

Amber: What’s the biggest reason you’d encourage a friend to go solar?

Graney: It's nice not having to pay a big monthly bill for electricity.

Save Water, Go Solar

By SolarCity

July 03, 2014

SolarCity received Riverkeeper's "Big Fish" award in New York. Pictured L to R: Riverkeeper Board Member/Award Presenter Camilo Patrignani, SolarCity Founder/CEO Lyndon Rive, President and Hudson Riverkeeper Paul Gallay

SolarCity recently had the honor of receiving the "Big Fish" award from New York's leading clean water advocate, Riverkeeper, for its transformative impact on the movement to protect our planet’s natural resources. As a solar energy provider, SolarCity is making it easy for people to become their own power generators – putting energy into the hands of every American. This pushes back against an energy system governed by the few and “democratizes the power system,” Riverkeeper's Chief Prosecuting Attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said at the Fishermen’s Ball.

Founded nearly 50 years ago by a concerned group of fishermen who saw their water quality declining due to pollution, Riverkeeper is fighting on the front lines to ban the shipment of crude oil in risky rail cars, leading the fight against fracking, and daring to imagine a future without the nuclear power plant, Indian Point. While the organization’s work is far-reaching, it all comes back to one precious resource: the Hudson River. As a source of drinking water for nearly 250,000 people and a backup source of drinking water for nearly 9 million New Yorkers, the Hudson is a biologically rich ecosystem – a spawning and breeding ground for fish and other wildlife. People flock to the river for kayaking, sailing and fishing. And on hot summer days, the Hudson serves as a 160-mile-long beach.

If people want to continue to enjoy and use the Hudson as a resource, the critical habitats and public access points need to be protected. And the watchdogs at Riverkeeper need the help of industry and private citizens to ensure the robust viability of this precious resource.

It’s time to factor water conservation into decisions on energy and electricity - renewable energy sources are not only good for the air and climate, they are good for the health of our waterways. According to a Union of Concerned Scientists report, electricity used to power U.S. homes consumes more water than all other household activities combined – more than our faucets, showers, toilets, and lawn sprinklers. That's because nuclear, natural gas and coal use tens of thousands of gallons of water per megawatt hour - in the United States alone, power plants are the single biggest user of water, consuming over 75 trillion gallons per year or roughly 50% of our daily water use.

How much water does solar power use? None.

As we continue to rely so predominantly on fossil fuels and nuclear power to generate electricity, we continue to waste water resources that will only become more precious with time. Reducing our reliance on water intensive power plants is within reach thanks to solar. The transition to clean energy benefits fish and other aquatic life. It will also free up scarce water resources for habitat protection, drinking water and recreation, ultimately contributing to more vital communities.

Let's take action, and support Riverkeeper in its mission to protect one our nation's greatest resources. Let's save water by going solar.

The Facts of Light: How Do Solar Panels Work?

By Liz Mead

July 01, 2014

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We get a lot of questions about solar, naturally. So many, in fact, that we’ve decided to produce a new blog series dedicated to answering them. Introducing the Facts of Light – a place where you can inquire about all things solar, and find the information you need. Ok, first question:

Q: How do solar panels work?

A: Let’s break this down into four steps:

1) Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, and these cells are made up of materials called semiconductors. During the day solar cells absorb particles of sunlight and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity

2) DC electricity travels to a device called the inverter where it is converted into alternating current (AC) electricity, the standard electricity used to power your appliances and home. The inverter is typically installed on an exterior wall or in the garage.

3) AC electricity then travels from the inverter to your electrical panel (also called the breaker box) and then into your home to power your lights and appliances.

The energy you use is measured by your utility meter, and when your solar system produces more power than you need this meter spins backward. Excess energy is fed back to your utility company’s grid, earning you credits for contributing to the local energy supply if you’re in one of the 43 states that support net metering.

Electric Meter Runs Backwards on Make A Gif

 Most utility meters are digital now, which is way less fun to watch, but don’t worry –the savings remain the same.

4) You’re still connected to the grid, since you’ll need power from the utility company at night. But that’s where those credits you earned come in handy: the cost of any power you use when it’s dark out will be offset by the clean energy you put into the grid during the day.

Want to know more about going solar? Visit https://www.solarcity.com/residential. Have a burning solar question you’d like answered? Leave it in the comments! 

What Taxicabs and Solar Panels Have in Common: Disruptive Innovation and the Power of Choice

By Amber Schadewald

June 26, 2014

Called for a cab? Get comfortable – you might be waiting awhile.

There I was at four in the morning, walking an hour across the city, alone and dressed like a monkey. It was Halloween night just over two years ago and after impatiently waiting forty-five minutes on the curb for my cab to arrive, I had no choice but to make the journey home on foot. Major bummer.

Calling a taxicab in a city like San Francisco has always been a gamble: Would they be late? Would your driver be irritable and erratic? Would they get flagged down in transit and leave you hanging? The answer to these questions is all too often yes, but once upon a time there wasn’t another choice—if you needed a ride, you dialed up the dispatcher and crossed your fingers.

Enter UBER, an affordable car service that you request using a phone app. You get instant confirmation that a driver is on their way, an ETA, and the option to track their progress by map. UBER is dependable. It’s safe. It’s easy. The game has changed and we-the-wheeless are winning. UBER and other ride-share companies offer passengers choice.

Just like you should be able to decide between hailing a checkered car or using an app to summon a lift, you should also be able to choose how you obtain utilities. Like the UBER of power, solar energy offers people a cleaner, more affordable alternative.

Traditionally there has only been one way to power your home: utilities and their expensive, fossil-fuel reliant product. But today’s solar is no longer a science project for the do-it-yourselfer with an electrician’s license (not there’s anything wrong with that kind of solar, it just doesn’t scale). Today it’s possible for many homeowners to pay less for solar electricity than they pay for power from the utility from day one, with insurance, monitoring and performance guarantees that are far more extensive than any utility offers.

Disruptive innovation at its finest means more happy homes and paying passengers, but not all have welcomed the change. Utility companies and cab companies are freaking out, panicking over the influx of options and direct competition. Taxi and limo drivers across Europe are protesting and in San Francisco cabbies are harassing UBER drivers on the road. Utility companies are acting in similar, yet quieter ways, attempting to smack down solar with legislative action.

These powerful monopolies are understandably threatened by the sudden availability of choice—they’ve never had to work for their share of the profit by adhering to customer wants and needs. Hey guys--there’s no need to crush the competition. Simply offer the people what they want, when they want it, and they’ll call—whether it’s for power or a ride to the party.

"We're pro-competition, we're pro-consumer choice, and I think the market's going to decide a lot of these factors," says Justin Kintz UBER’s policy director for the Americas.

SolarCity feels the same way about energy. Choice and competition benefits everyone – and so does rooftop solar. More solar means less of a dependence on polluting power plants and costly powerlines. Energy gets cheaper, cleaner, and better for everyone—even girls in monkey costumes.

Solar at Scale

By Elon Musk, Peter Rive and Lyndon Rive

June 16, 2014

SolarCity has signed an agreement to acquire Silevo, a solar panel technology and manufacturing company whose modules have demonstrated a unique combination of high energy output and low cost. Our intent is to combine what we believe is fundamentally the best photovoltaic technology with massive economies of scale to achieve a breakthrough in the cost of solar power. Although no other acquisitions are currently being contemplated, SolarCity may acquire additional photovoltaics companies as needed to ensure clear technology leadership and we plan to grow internal engineering significantly.

We are in discussions with the state of New York to build the initial manufacturing plant, continuing a relationship developed by the Silevo team. At a targeted capacity greater than 1 GW within the next two years, it will be one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world. This will be followed in subsequent years by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity.

Given that there is excess supplier capacity today, this may seem counter-intuitive to some who follow the solar industry. What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today, where there are indeed too many suppliers, most of whom are producing relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs, but how we see the future developing. Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed.

SolarCity was founded to accelerate mass adoption of sustainable energy. The sun, that highly convenient and free fusion reactor in the sky, radiates more energy to the Earth in a few hours than the entire human population consumes from all sources in a year. This means that solar panels, paired with batteries to enable power at night, can produce several orders of magnitude more electricity than is consumed by the entirety of human civilization. A cogent assessment of sustainable energy potential from various sources is described well in this Sandia paper: www.sandia.gov/~jytsao/Solar%20FAQs.pdf.

Even if the solar industry were only to generate 40 percent of the world’s electricity with photovoltaics by 2040, that would mean installing more than 400 GW of solar capacity per year for the next 25 years. We absolutely believe that solar power can and will become the world’s predominant source of energy within our lifetimes, but there are obviously a lot of panels that have to be manufactured and installed in order for that to happen. The plans we are announcing today, while substantial compared to current industry, are small in that context.

 

Forward-Looking Statements

Certain statements in this blog post, including statements regarding our plans to build manufacturing facilities in New York and potentially other states, our interest in future acquisitions, our proposed targeted capacity, our plans to acquire additional photovoltaics companies and grow our internal engineering capabilities, our ability to achieve projected cost reductions, forecasts concerning manufacturing production targets, cell efficiencies and costs, potential financial and various benefits of the transaction and demand for solar power, are “forward-looking statements” that are subject to risks and uncertainties. These forward-looking statements are based on management’s current expectations. Various important factors could cause actual results to differ materially, including the risks identified in our SEC filings. SolarCity disclaims any obligation to update this information.

The Give Power Foundation Brings Light to Schools in Need: Part Three

By David Reichbaum

June 12, 2014

David Reichbaum is the Program Manager for the Give Power Foundation, SolarCity’s non-profit organization committed to bringing light to schools in need. Here, David recounts his recent trip with Give Power.

Solar Citizens

On May 3rd SolarCity employees from across the United States, most of whom had never met, left behind the comforts of their home, family, and routine to embark on a journey, with the shared mission of bringing light and electricity to an unfamiliar rural community in Nicaragua.

This was the first official international project for SolarCity’s Give Power Foundation, so we knew this trip would need to set the standard for future team projects. In order to employ in-country expertise we partnered with GRID Alternatives, a Bay Area-based non-profit that brings solar to communities in need, both locally and internationally.

First Encounters

After many phone calls and emails we all finally met for the first time in Managua. We recognized one another by the eager smiles and green and gold SolarCity gear. After months of preparation our journey had begun.

We may have hit a couple bumps in the road...literally.

Carla and Sonia, trip leaders with GRID who are based in Nicaragua, greeted our team with a warm welcome and introductions to local food, customs, language, and survival basics on day one. Fun fact - did you know in Nicaragua people often point with their lips?

“Nica” as many affectionately call it, has the lowest percentage population with access to electricity in Central America, with their energy sector highly dependent upon expensive and unpredictable oil imports.*

To get to the remote community of “El Islote” from the capitol of Managua we needed to take a van, a flatbed truck with makeshift benches, and then a lancha (motorboat) with all of our luggage and solar hardware. The community is located at the tip of a peninsula, and during the rainy season floods leave it completely isolated. There is no road. Most people live off of the fish they catch and send to market by boat, the subsistence crops they harvest, and the labor of their large families.

As fish become increasingly scarce, younger residents contemplate leaving. The older generation fishes through the night to provide for their family and young children take care of their younger siblings, gather water, firewood, and crops and maintain the household.

People Power

One of the most amazing things about the trip was the people. Our partners, the community, and our SolarCity team exemplified the type of collaboration that is necessary for sustainable development. We all walked away with much more than we arrived with.

The SolarCity team had the opportunity to live with community members for the week, understanding their way of life, challenges, and incredible will to overcome and smile in the face of adversity.

One of our host families.

The Grid Alternatives team had a unique chance to learn from industry experts on ways to improve sustainability, increase safety, and collaborate in a mutually beneficial way.

The community welcomed our team of 10 with open arms. We all overcame language and cultural differences to engage in unforgettable experiences from soccer on the beach to a fiesta in the newly-lit school. The 250 inhabitants of El Islote gave us the trip of a lifetime, and now they have a solar-powered school that will provide electricity for their children and future generations.

Give Power will reach hundreds more schools this year, but El Islote will always be remembered for the incredible collaboration, kindness, and life lessons that we shared on a tiny islet.

Special thanks to Grid Alternatives, Suni Solar, and the Energy Committee of El Islote.

Want more on this trip? Check out our video, and follow us on Facebook – we’ll be posting more photos soon!


The Give Power Foundation Brings Light to Schools in Need: Part Two

By Liz Mead

May 30, 2014

In case you missed the last post on our recent trip - SolarCity’s nonprofit organization, the Give Power Foundation, embarked on its first official international project, installing an off-grid photovoltaic solar system on a school without electricity in Nicaragua. This video tells the story.

The Give Power Foundation Brings Light to Schools in Need: Part One

By Liz Mead

May 23, 2014

Earlier this month, SolarCity colleagues from across the country traveled by plane, truck and boat to meet at the tiny fishing village of El Islote in Nicaragua.

Together with GRID Alternatives, we installed an off-grid photovoltaic solar system for the town’s primary school – a building that has never had electricity, until now. This marked the first official international project for the Give Power Foundation, SolarCity’s nonprofit organization committed to bringing light to schools in need.

Here are some pictures from the installation day. Stay tuned, more on this project coming soon. 

What’s in Your Wallet? Savings on Electricity Bills.

By SolarCity

May 20, 2014

This morning we announced our partnership with Capital One, including a $100 million investment to allow more homeowners the opportunity to pay less for solar electricity than they pay for utility bills.

Capital One offers a wide array of financial products to everyone from individual consumers to commercial clients, and its entry into the renewable sector is a great sign that our industry is maturing.

This partnership is the latest in a series of developments that indicate that solar power is hitting the mainstream. More and more, different types of investors are becoming comfortable with renewable energy as an asset class. From big banks to multinational tech corporations – even Mr. Buffett is banking on solar as a viable investment. It’s no surprise that a financial service company as progressive as Capital One, who’s credited with revolutionizing the credit card industry in the 1990s, would join the pack of pioneers backing this emerging asset class.

The best part? Now, thanks to Capital One, when we ask our customers “what’s in your wallet?”, thousands more can say “all the money I saved on electricity bills by going solar”.

HVAC + PV: Carrier and SolarCity Bring the Cool

By SolarCity

May 05, 2014

Carrier® and SolarCity are taking an important step toward making your home more efficient. Carrier invented the modern air conditioner (literally), and continues to build the world’s most advanced HVAC systems. These advanced systems have the controls and intelligence to work well with solar (also known as PV, or solar photovoltaics). SolarCity is the nation’s largest solar provider. We monitor every system’s production, and can work with smart devices to optimize solar-powered energy consumption.

How does this initiative benefit you? Imagine a world where, with the tap of a smartphone, you can pre-cool your home on a hot summer day to a refreshing 68 degrees with solar power. When you walk in after a long day at work, your home feels comfortable, you saved money, and you did the right thing for the planet.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems powered by the sun allow you to enjoy home comfort that is clean, efficient, and without sacrifice. The HVAC system uses more energy than anything else in the home, so powering it with clean energy is one of the best things you can do as a power consumer to reduce air and water pollution. Solar-powered AC can also save you money, since solar power can often be purchased for 10 to 15 percent below the retail cost of utility electricity in the areas that SolarCity operates. Simply put, the abundance of affordable clean energy in the middle of the day allows us to take advantage of carbon-free living without compromise.

Today, you can benefit from a special offer to start making this vision a reality. Homeowners can receive a $1,000 rebate on Carrier equipment from participating Carrier dealers by going solar with SolarCity. The discount can be applied to furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, packaged units, ductless systems or entire system upgrades, upon operation of the homeowner’s SolarCity system.

To be eligible for the rebate, please visit www.carrier.com/homecomfort to find a Carrier dealer in your area.

Interested in learning more about going solar? Visit www.carriersolarcity.com.

SolarCity Now Offering Solar in Nevada!

By SolarCity

May 01, 2014

As of this morning, we’re officially open for business in the greater Las Vegas area. Today Nevada becomes the 15th state where we can offer homeowners a way to pay less for solar electricity than they pay for electricity from their local utility. We’re kicking off the expansion into our 15th state by taking orders from residents of the greater Las Vegas area, who are currently NV Energy customers.

Nevada has long enjoyed a wealth of natural resources. Precious minerals and metals have been mined in “the Silver State” for over 150 years, and mining has accounted for 14 percent of all job growth since 2009. But Nevada has scarcely begun to tap its greatest natural resource – the sun. Nevada is poised to become a solar energy powerhouse: it receives among the greatest amount of direct sunlight of any state in the U.S., with Las Vegas tied for third among the sunniest cities in the nation, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

This solar expansion is good news for the environment, for Nevada homeowners’ wallets, and for the state’s continued economic growth - SolarCity has already hired more than 400 people in Nevada, and we plan to double that in the next 12 months.

Space is limited for 2014 and is going fast, so sign up for a free solar consultation, tell your family and friends, and check out our career page while you’re at it.

With your help, we can change Nevada’s nickname from the Silver State into the Solar State.

Want more coverage of our Nevada launch? Check out the SolarCity Facebook and Twitter pages for updates!

Two SolarCity Installations in One Day

By Liz Mead

April 29, 2014

We decided to follow one of our crews around as they knocked out not one, but two solar panel system installations in a single day. It’s all in a day’s work here at SolarCity.

Best of the Best: Commercial Solar

By Molly Canales

April 24, 2014

In celebration of SolarCity generating one billion kilowatt-hours of clean electricity*, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite commercial solar projects that have helped us reach this milestone.

commercial solar panels on schoolBest Use of Solar Savings: Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District – Fresno, California

With its solar savings,Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District was able to restore their music instruction program, which had been suspended since 2009 due to lack of funding. Thanks to the millions the district will save over the life of the installations, solar power is music to the ears of teachers and parents for saving priceless education opportunities for their children.

Scope: Three project sites for a total of more than 900 kilowatts of solar - Las Deltas USD High School, Firebaugh Middle School and Hazel Bailey Elementary School.


Most Green on Green Action:
Las Virgenes-Triunfo Joint Powers Authority – Calabasas, California

Not only has Las Virgenes-Triunfo Joint Powers Authority been active in promoting the use of recycled water, it now uses a renewable source of energy to power the supply of recycled water to nearby communities.

JPA commercial solar panel systemThe precious recycled water resources will be used to irrigate community green spaces, school grounds, commercial landscapes and golf courses. Even more, switching to solar power from traditional forms of energy generation such as coal or natural gas also helps save millions of gallons of fresh water each year.

Scope:One commercial system totaling more than a megawatt of ground-mounted solar with tracking systems.

 

Dirty Energy Offset Royalty: Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) – Koloa, Kaua’i

KIUC’s project will consist of more than 54,000 solar panels installed on 67 acres. Once complete, the system is expected to generate enough power to provide approximately six percent of Kaua’i’s daily energy needs and is expected to reduce the utility’s oil imports by more than 1 million barrels over its lifetime.

Scope: A giant 14 megawatt ground mount commercial solar project.

 

Most Trailblazing: Davis Monthan Air Force Base – Tuscon, Arizona

This mega project is one of the largest solar-powered residential communities in the continental U.S.

2.7MW of rooftop solar systems were installed on over 900 residences on the base, and a 45,000 panel ground-mounted system adds another 3.3 megawatts of solar capacity to the community, This was the first project of the SolarStrong initiative, a program which intended to allow privatized military housing developers to save money on energy costs that can be reallocated toward quality of life improvements and enhanced services for military families.

Scope:Six megawatts of total solar capacity through ground-mounted photovoltaic systems and rooftop solar panels installed on hundreds of residences throughout the community.

What commercial solar power project stands out to you? We want to hear your feedback in the comments section!

 


*Savings estimates are based on current electricity usage at individual sites as well as current and future utility power costs compared to SolarCity’s locked in solar power rate for contract lifetimes. Environmental savings based on data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Environmental Protection Agency. Statements should not be read as a guarantee of future performance or results, and will not necessarily be accurate indications of the times by which such performance or results will be achieved, if at all.

Happy City

By Liz Mead

April 18, 2014

We’ve celebrated some major milestones recently, and wanted to take a moment to say thank you to the customers and employees who believe in our company, and a better way.

Put Battery Storage in the Hands of Grid Operators

By Peter Rive, SolarCity Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer

April 16, 2014

The design of an electrical grid for the 21st Century is one of the world’s most exciting challenges, and at SolarCity we are vigorously engaged in assisting the effort. Our vision is of a grid that is cleaner, more efficient, more flexible, more secure, and more affordable than what we currently have today.

I’ve recently read speculation about one of the most valuable tools to advance this vision—energy storage—that needs to be addressed.

Battery storage for residential, commercial, and utility-scale customers is one of the most anticipated developments in the energy space, and recently SolarCity participated in media stories exploring some of the challenges we've faced trying to get our customers' residential storage units interconnected in California.

That narrative is real, but it’s only half the story. While there is tension between utilities and companies like SolarCity, we work with them every day to connect our solar power systems, and there's potential for much greater synergy. In fact, batteries should power that synergy.

One of the more polarizing ideas going around is that battery storage will lead to mass defections from the grid. Needing only their solar and their batteries, the story goes, Americans will simply cut the cord.

While this is technically feasible, SolarCity has no interest in this scenario. While cutting the cord enables one household to be 100% renewable and self-sufficient, it limits what these technologies can do. In short, the grid is a network, and where there are networks, there are network effects. When batteries are optimized across the grid, they can direct clean solar electricity where (and when) it is needed most, lowering costs for utilities and for all ratepayers. This is true of homeowners' behind-the-meter storage units, and it’s also true of larger commercial and utility-scale units.

Grid operators are best-positioned to direct battery storage to discharge clean energy at optimal moments—for example when demand is at its highest, and when grid infrastructure is most under strain. Without this storage capacity, solar penetration in excess of 60% of mid-day peak could become problematic for the grid, as utilities have to contend with an abundance of power which can cause voltage and power balance issues.

However, with storage in the hands of grid operators and utilities, this problem becomes an immensely powerful solution. In this scenario, grid operators are suddenly empowered to store and discharge solar energy where and when it's needed most, smoothing out peaks and ramps, while powering more of the total grid consumption with clean and renewable sources. Additionally, utilizing storage to unlock massive benefits in the areas of frequency and voltage support can further lower grid costs. Many of these capabilities are available now through distributed resources, even without storage, and we should work together to put them into the hands of utilities for the benefit of the ratepayers.

Any utilities or grid operators interested in exploring storage benefits such as peak shaving, frequency regulation, and voltage support should contact us. I’ve recently created a Grid Engineering Solutions department made up of some of the brightest minds in power systems engineering, and its mission is to help solve the challenges preventing the shift from the grid that we currently have, to the grid that we need.

As with the example of the solar/storage customer who goes fully off-grid, we can do so much more working together than we can working alone.

Celebrate Earth Day...with These Giveaways and Promotions

By Liz Mead

April 15, 2014


mattjiggins/Creative Commons

Tomorrow is Earth Day, the annual celebration of this amazing planet we call home, and a time to come together and show our support for environmental protection.

It’s also become a day for businesses to offer some pretty stellar promotions and giveaways. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite Earth Day deals. So tomorrow get out there, plant a tree...and then reward yourself with one of the special steals below - you’ve earned it.

Earth Day marks the end of the promotion celebrating our recent announcement. Through 4/22, sign up to go solar with SolarCity at one of 60 participating Best Buy locations, and we’ll give you $100 gift certificate, valid on any other purchase in the store. You also have a chance to win a free iPad Mini, just for helping us spread the word about this deal.

Speaking of Best Buy – through April 26th the company’s offering 10 - 25% Off All Major Appliances. They’ll even haul away your old appliances and dispose of them in an environmentally-conscious manner - talk about a win-win!

Free Admission to All National Parks: over 400 National Parks will be waiving entrance fees during National Park Week, April 19th to 27th.

Earth Day Treasure Hunt at Pottery Barn Kids during the entire week of April 21st. Little ones who find all the green clues will win a plantable bookmark.

50% Off Green Household Cleaners at Whole Foods - choose from over 130 products, April 19th to 22nd.

Unlimited Free Refills at Caribou Coffee for the entire month of April when you purchase their celebratory tumbler.

Know of any other awesome Earth Day Deals we missed? Share them with us in the comments!

Infographic: One BILLION Kilowatt-hours of Clean Electricity

By SolarCity

April 11, 2014

It's official: SolarCity customers have generated a cumulative one billion kilowatt-hours of solar electricity!!! We decided to celebrate this massive milestone with a fun infographic. Enjoy!

What’s in a 3GWh Day?

By Liz Mead

April 09, 2014

What did you do last weekend? We - and if you're one of our customers, this includes you - hit 3GWh of solar generation!

Electric Meter Runs Backwards on Make A Gif3GWh, or gigawatt-hours, breaks down to 3 thousand MWh (megawatt- hours). Take it one unit smaller, and you’ve got 3 million kWh (kilowatt-hours).

Second only to terawatts, gigawatt-hours are typically used to express the energy consumption of states or nations. That level of consumption is comprised of large businesses and communities whose consumption is best measured in megawatt hours, and homes or small businesses, which consume energy in kilowatt hours. Consider the average U.S. home consumes 12,069 kWh of electricity a year, an average of 33 kilowatt-hours per day – and you’ve got the perspective you need to digest our latest 3GWh milestone. On Sunday our solar systems generated enough energy in a single day to power the 90,000 homes that lost power in metro Atlanta in the early morning hours following the major ice storm that hit that area in February

Now that’s what we call a productive day.

A Tribute to Zep Solar

By Liz Mead

April 02, 2014

We made waves in the cleantech world last fall when we announced our acquisition of solar-module mounting startup Zep Solar. Zep products allow us to install more solar, at a lower cost – in fact, Zep technology has helped SolarCity installation crews double the number of residential systems we can install each day. It takes an awesome team to create such an innovative product, and this video pays homage to the technology, and the spirit behind team Zep.

To Choose (or Not to Choose) a Commercial Solar Consultant: Four Points to Consider

By Tasha Peláez

March 27, 2014

When cities, school districts, or other government agencies look into going solar, it’s not always clear where to start, and consultants are often available to help guide the process in exchange for a fee. Many state and local jurisdictions require government entities to source vendors and construction via Request for Proposals, or “RFPs”. For school districts, municipalities and water districts that are unfamiliar with the extensive work required to determine if a commercial solar power project is even feasible in the first place, a solar consultant is often called in to help facilitate the RFP process. Consultants typically understand the market and the strengths of potential providers in a way that a school administrator or town sustainability coordinator may not, and can act as an impartial third party to ensure projects are awarded fairly, breaking biases amongst board members or administrators. Furthermore, there are jurisdictions where local regulations require a commercial solar consultant to participate in a project to achieve eligibility for an incentive program.* For organizations that worry about transparency, using a commercial solar consultant can assuage fears of opacity in the eyes of the public. When very knowledgeable, experienced solar consultants are brought in to manage an RFP, entities will typically recoup the initial fees and benefit from significant energy savings over the course of the next 15-25 years.

While consultants can simplify the project evaluation process, not all consulting firms are built to serve the best interest of their clients. We’ve come up with four quick guidelines for choosing a trustworthy commercial solar consultant:

1. Know what services you’re paying for.

Inquire about the services the consultant will offer and what services the developer will perform. Most credible commercial solar developers will be able to give potential clients a feasibility study to determine if going solar is right for them. Asking for quotes based on feasibility studies from different companies can eliminate the need for a consultant in the early stages of project evaluation. Competitors will keep one another honest. Some developers will even offer quick, free feasibility studies with no commitment to help public entities determine if PV makes sense. The study is typically an analysis of potential sites, tariffs and if a project will be cash flow positive. If your organization then decides to move ahead with a consultant, that consultant should charge for their role in the RFP process itself, not for the initial feasibility study. There are also consultants that charge for services that the commercial solar developer should provide, including engineering work, which will ultimately lead to doubling up on design costs if the consultant does not perform due diligence on complicated sites. This can rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary fees for school districts or municipalities with limited budgets.

2. Know the consultant’s experience and performance record.

If the consultant doesn’t have a portfolio of successfully completed projects to show you, chances are he or she won’t be much help with yours. Ask potential consultants for at least three client- and solar developer-references, and have a thorough conversation with those references about their experiences, both with the consultant and the outcome of the solar project itself. Look at the consultant’s history with a few questions in mind. Does the consultant tend to award projects to the same company over and over again, or do they have experience with multiple developers? Do their projects tend to be completed in a timely fashion as compared with others? A capable consultant will have a solid reputation and track record, and will be able to help you find the developer to achieve the savings you need.

3. Someone from the consulting firm should have an electrical engineering background, and the firm should have a strong understanding of solar financing.

An unintended consequence of solar’s recent growth in the United States is that it has attracted a range of opportunists to the industry. Most are well intentioned, but some are not. Some individuals promoting themselves as consultants are simply not qualified to evaluate the engineering integrity or estimate the cost of complex PV projects. In an effort to offer you an attractive low price on a solar power project, this type of consultant may take shortcuts or make mistakes which could come back to haunt you. Miscalculations of this type can lead to large change orders down the road. If a developer has a poor credit rating and history, it may have trouble attaining project financing, which can significantly delay a project, and in a worst case scenario, halt construction. More than a few projects are re-opened for bidding because the initial chosen firm couldn’t complete the job or severely misquoted the customer. These situations are detrimental to the entire solar industry, as they can occasionally discourage clients from pursuing solar projects altogether. A consultant with a strong understanding of solar engineering and finance can guide clients around related pitfalls. When the bids come in for your project and there is a large price gap between the lowest bidder and the middle of the pack, it’s generally best to ask a lot of questions about what created the gap. Bids that sound too good to be true often are too good to be true, and the benefit of the lower price is completely lost if the project can’t be financed or takes twice as long to install.

4. Be wary of percentage-of-project fees.

A fair consultant will decouple the project cost from the consultant fee. Pay them hourly instead of as a percentage of the project if possible. When a fee is a percentage of the project cost, the consultant may be tempted to sell you a higher cost system than you actually need. A 5% fee on a large commercial or industrial project can cost additional hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the final build cost. Large percentage fees will only cause all bidders to bulk up their prices to compensate for that cost, and you will ultimately be left footing the bill. As with any large and important purchase, we recommend shopping around and speaking with a number of consultants to determine who will best meet your organization’s needs.

Please note that SolarCity does not endorse any one consultant and works with a variety of consulting firms across the United States.

 


* For example, in California, Proposition 39 provides funds to allow schools to complete energy efficiency projects, including solar power systems, and schools must use a consultant to be eligible for those funds. Please keep in mind that there are no “Proposition 39-certified” consultants or solar developers. The California Energy Commission does not endorse any one consultant or firm over another, and it is up to your organization or district to determine if the commercial solar consultant is qualified.

Profiles in Voltage: Well-Connected Power Couples

By Katie DeWitt

March 24, 2014

If one of the defining characteristics of a power couple is being well-connected, then SolarCity customers embracing the EV+PV (electric vehicles and solar photovoltaic) lifestyle are rubbing elbows with a very powerful pair.

“We have more WiFi hotspots than an Apple store, a smart thermostat from Nest and a backup power supply system on order from SolarCity,” says Colin Summers, who owns two electric cars and powers his Santa Monica, California home with clean electricity from the sun.

Summers is among a growing number of Americans making clean energy purchases for their homes and using their electronic devices (smart phones, laptops, etc.) to automate their green lifestyle: checking their solar production, charging their cars, controlling their thermostats and even managing their energy consumption. It’s such a rising trend that Forbes recently coined it the “Energy Playlist”, in reference to the rise of rooftop solar, electric cars and smart thermostats among homeowners. SolarCity customers say they do it for the convenience, to save money and sometimes just for fun.

Colin Summers’ son, Rudy, helps the family stay connected with their plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volt, SolarCity system monitoring device, and Nest smart thermostat.

We installed an 8.4-kilowatt solar system on the Summers’ home in 2007. Summers likes to check how much electricity his panels are generating through our energy monitoring service, which is available online and as a smart phone app.

“It’s fun to see the output graph climb in August with the summer sun,” he says.

Summers is an EV app-reciator, too. “My wife has been driving electric for over 15 years. Currently we have a Toyota Rav4 EV and a Chevy Volt, and we’re able to check their state of charge from our phone. We’ve also programmed them, through the cars’ onboard computer, to start charging at midnight when power is cheapest.”

Even when Summers charges his EVs at night, his electricity costs are offset by the solar energy his home puts back into the grid during the day, which he receives credit for from his utility company through a policy called Net Metering. To see how much you could save by embracing the EV+PV lifestyle, check out our total energy costs calculator.

Colin Summers' son, Rudy, helps the family stay connected with their plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volt, SolarCity system monitoring device, and Nest smart thermostat.

Derek Hydon, who has a Tesla Model S and SolarCity systems on his Palm Springs and Pacific Palisades homes, uses PowerGuide® - a tool that measures home electricity consumption and solar energy production – to better understand and make smarter choices about his family’s energy consumption patterns. Hydon checked it on a recent East Coast trip to find that his electricity consumption in Palm Springs had been unusually high, which seemed odd since no one was at home.

The solution? He checked the automated system that controls his home air conditioning and lighting to find that, somehow, lights had been left on. He remotely turned them off, and just like that, no more wasted money or electricity.

With a clear picture of his family's usage patterns and recommendations from SolarCity, Hydon can better manage his home energy usage patterns and save money.                       

Hydon also has a mobile phone app for his Tesla Model S. He occasionally uses it to find his electric car in the depths of a giant parking structure (“it makes the lights flash and horn honk”), but more often to cool the car’s interior.

“I’ll turn on the air conditioning two or three minutes before getting into the car, then it’s just the perfect temperature when I’m ready to drive,” he says. “It’s really fun showing people the app, it proves that the car of tomorrow is here now. For most people it’s like, ‘really, you can do that?’“

These well-connected customers are an indication that the car and the home of the future are closer than we think. And this has major implications for a smarter, cleaner and – well – cooler future. Our CEO Lyndon Rive said it best in his interview on CBS earlier this week: “With the two (electric cars and solar homes) combined, we can start living a carbon-free lifestyle without sacrifice.”

The Tonight Show, Starring Best Buy and SolarCity!

By Will Craven

March 20, 2014

Our SolarCity blog reader of the week is one James Fallon of New York, NY, who apparently read the post announcing our Best Buy partnership:

The joke is typically waggish, but he actually nails the deeper logic of the partnership. We all use electronics—it’s how we’re communicating with you right now—but the world’s challenge is to power those electronics with clean forms of energy. Best Buy sells some of the most impressive consumer goods in America, and in SolarCity they’ve found a partner who can help their customers enjoy those products while reducing their dependence on fossil fuels with residential solar power systems. Millions will soon be watching the NCAA Basketball “March Madness” Tournament on fantastic widescreen televisions. With this partnership, fewer of them will be consuming coal or fracked natural gas while doing so. I’m tempted to make a lame ‘slam dunk’ joke here, but in the company of a comedic giant like Fallon, I better leave the funny stuff to him.

SolarCity to Offer Solar Power in Select Best Buy Stores

By SolarCity

March 11, 2014

Don’t look now, but solar power in America is becoming a thing, and not just for environmental science professors. Last year solar power became the second-largest source of new electricity generating capacity in the U.S., behind only natural gas. Folks are starting to use the word “mainstream” to describe it.

But is solar really mainstream today? There are tens of millions of empty rooftops in the U.S., but still fewer than 500,000 photovoltaic (solar electric) installations. A survey of American homeowners in January found that while 62 percent of American homeowners are interested in solar power systems for their own homes, less than half realize that solar is much more affordable today than it was three years ago. Solar power is more affordable than it’s ever been, but too few people realize it’s a viable option for them.

SolarCity is trying to change that, with help from Best Buy. The nation’s largest residential solar power provider is teaming with the world’s largest multi-channel consumer electronics retailer to make residential solar electricity service available to customers through select Best Buy stores. SolarCity is now offering its services in approximately 60 Best Buy locations in Arizona, California, Hawaii, New York and Oregon. To celebrate the new offering, SolarCity will give every customer a $100 Best Buy gift card, valid for any other purchase in the store, if they sign up for solar service through Best Buy before Earth Day (April 22nd, 2014). More information on the offer, including terms and a complete list of participating stores, is available at www.bestbuysolarcity.com.

SolarCity makes it possible for many homeowners to install solar panels for free and pay less for solar electricity than they pay for utility power. As the first national consumer electronics retailer to offer a solar service option in-store, Best Buy is helping to make solar power more accessible. A SolarCity representative at each participating Best Buy location will be able to provide Best Buy customers with a satellite-based assessment of their home’s solar power potential in minutes. When customers know that they have an option to do something positive for the environment and save money at the same, they often choose that option. Knowledge, as they say, is power.

solar systems at best buy with solarcity

SolarCity arrives at Best Buy in Oxnard, California. The company is now offering its services at approximately 60 Best Buy locations in Arizona, California, Hawaii, New York and Oregon.

The Surprising Facts of a National Poll: a Deeper Look at the Homeowner Clean Energy Survey

By Liz Mead

March 11, 2014

We have an obvious desire to know how U.S. homeowners think about energy and other issues — we want them to go solar! — so we decided to ask them: the resulting poll, 2014 U.S. Homeowner Survey on Clean Energy , confirmed some of our impressions while also offering up some unexpected results. Here are a few of the more unexpected highlights:

Backup power matters more than you think. An unprecedented 50% of homeowners say they’d consider it, with an even more surprising 81% citing the potential for power outages as the motivating factor.

False price perception continues to be an obstacle to solar energy adoption. A mere 45% of homeowners think solar power is more affordable today than it was three years ago—even though during the past several years prices for solar panels dropped by more than half.

EVs will follow the high-growth road forged by Hybrids - with an ever-expanding array of price options and models available, the annual sales growth of hybrid and electric vehicles have far outpaced that of the overall auto market, with EVs poised to imitate the same tremendous growth curve experienced by hybrids over the past decade.

Green Building hits the mainstream. While the recession killed the overall housing market, green building construction thrived: LEED-certified and Energy Star-rated projects both saw double-digit combined annual growth rates (CAGRs), proving that there's demand for the savings that sustainable buildings can offer, despite foul-weather economic circumstances.

LED’s light the way. Warm lighting, long lasting, and low-cost – the LED bulb is taking hold of the marketplace much faster than expected. Listed as the most popular planned clean-energy purchase in 2014, and with a CAGR of 166% in the last few years, it’s steadily on its way to mass adoption.

What are your thoughts about the above facts, and what statistics caught you by surprise? We want to hear your feedback in the comments. For a download of the full report, visit www.solarcity.com/insideenergy.

 

Profiles in Voltage: Charging Electric Cars with Solar Energy Across America

By Katie DeWitt

March 07, 2014

What’s cleaner, cheaper and light years ahead of all its peers?

Introducing…the solar home and the electric car, currently trending to become the power couple of the century. What makes these two a match made in heaven is simple – rooftop solar can help electric car drivers lower their fuel costs and drive truly emission-free.

“It’s a remarkable concept to have your roof saving you money,” says LA resident Morgan Page.

Page, a Grammy-nominated DJ who spins for live crowds of thousands, has a 4.3 kilowatt SolarCity solar array on the roof of his home, where he also has a recording studio. So, not only is he driving his Tesla Model S electric car on solar energy, he’s also “making music from the sun,” as he likes to say.

Page may be traveling on the speed of light, but he is hardly alone. While electric car market share across the United States is just over half a percent, 6.5% of SolarCity customers own an electric car. Conversely, 32% of electric car drivers in California have solar systems on their rooftops. The high correlation between electric car drivers and solar homeowners is great news for both rapidly growing industries, and it’s SolarCity customers – from California to Connecticut - who are fueling this progress

Here are some more success stories from SolarCity customers who are embracing the EV+PV (electric vehicles + solar photovoltaic) lifestyle, which we gathered with help from Plug In America, a leading national plug-in vehicle advocacy organization.

Share your own EV+PV lifestyle in the comments here too!

Name: Jeff and Barbara Baker
Location: New River, Arizona
EV Model: Nissan Leaf

“By going solar, not only are we reducing our carbon footprint, we are saving a lot of money on our monthly electric bills! Knowing that our car is emission free feels right as we help spare the environment and our Sonoran Desert. Pairing this all-electric car with our solar production just made sense for our family.”

Name: Jerry & Sherry Tyliczka
Location: Lawrenceville, New Jersey
EV Model: Chevy Volt

“Going solar is the best decision we've ever made. Low to zero-cost electric bills from our utility put a smile on our faces nearly every month. About a year ago we purchased a Chevy Volt. This, along with additional energy-saving investments such as LED light bulbs, has made our family as energy independent as you can get. We've burned very few gallons of gasoline in our Volt.”

There are indeed many reasons for going solar when you go electric, and vice versa. Inspired to make the shift? Check out SolarCity’s 5-year solar energy cost calculator for electric cars to see how much you could save by driving on sunshine.

If you already have solar energy and are ready to accessorize with an electric car, get smart on Plug In America’s blog, Leasing a Plug In Vehicle: Total Cost of Ownership, or visit their Plug In Vehicle Tracker for a range of makes and models.

Want to know more about the benefits of electric vehicles + solar photovoltaic (EV+PV)? Follow us on Facebook, where we’ll be posting more customer success stories in the coming weeks!

Solar’s Secret Power: Water Conservation

By Will Craven

January 30, 2014

In 2014, the weather has been extreme.

As the polar vortex returns for an encore in the Midwest and East Coast, California faces the extreme flip-side: a soil-cracking drought during the state’s traditional rain season. It’s a grim stat sheet. The last 13 months are the driest on California record. 63 percent of the state is enduring what The U.S. Drought Monitor classifies as ‘extreme’ drought conditions. This month could be the first rainless January in Los Angeles on record, and the typical rainy season we experience in the Bay Area simply hasn’t appeared. Let’s all do a rain dance and hope we get something, anything, soon.

But more importantly, let’s also take action. Let’s save water by going solar.

According to a Union of Concerned Scientists 2011 report “Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource,” electricity used to power U.S. homes consumes more water than all other household activities combined. More than our faucets, showers, toilets, and lawn sprinklers!

That’s because nuclear, natural gas and coal use tens of thousands of gallons of water per megawatt hour. Meanwhile, solar uses none. Water conservation isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of solar’s benefits, but it’s one of the most important.

It’s time to factor water conservation into decisions on energy and electricity. We’ve already seen success on this front. Through the California Solar Initiative, SolarCity and other companies have deployed enough solar to conserve 684 million gallons a year for the state.

Humankind seems increasingly unable to tackle big problems until they become crises. As we continue to rely so predominantly on fossil fuels and nuclear power to generate electricity, we continue to waste water resources that will only become more precious with time. With discussions already underway about water rationing, economic damage to California’s agriculture and livestock industries and enormously expensive ‘fixes’ (billion dollar desalinization plants), it’s time to do more with a tool that’s ready to be deployed today and ready to make a real difference.

 

Real Jobs, Real People

By Molly Canales

January 29, 2014

The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2013 was released this week, and the numbers are inspiring: the US solar industry added nearly 20,000 employees in 2013, for a total of more than 142,000 American jobs.

SolarCity is proud to employ more than 4,000 of those people, and today we'd like to introduce you to three of them:

Name: Mike Berg
Position: Field Energy Consultant (FEC), Fresno, California
Tenure at SolarCity: 7 months

Mike Berg launched his career in the Navy right out of high school when he realized he had a strong mechanical aptitude, and enjoyed the excitement of working on an aircraft carrier. After serving as a fighter jet mechanic, Mike left the Navy – only to find that applicable jobs just weren’t there. He eventually went into automotive service management, but lost the one thing he’d loved most about his technical work: explaining what he did in simple layman’s terms to his peers and customers.

A few years ago, Mike began installing solar-powered pool heating systems, which in turn led him to SolarCity. As a self-proclaimed “sales nut,” he saw that solar was a growing and sometimes misunderstood industry that would suit his skills and fill his desire to explain technical details to his customers. “The solar industry reminds me very much of the cellular industry. At first, it was a complicated service for the rich, now it’s shifted to the point where cell phones are necessary parts of life. I’m watching solar go the same direction.”

Since he works in a region quickly adopting solar, Mike likes to mentor young people looking for work by getting them interested in solar. With the unemployment rate high in the Fresno area, Mike sees SolarCity as a lifeline for local job seekers. “It makes me feel good to put a 22 year old kid in a company like SolarCity where he can do something that’s really good. I think there’s no other job in the world where you can be in a constant ‘three way win’ situation: the company, the customer and me. There is always some kind of negative out there with any job you do, but what I do is an extremely positive thing,” says Mike.

 

Name: Oceana Lamberto-Egan
Position: Regional Operations Manager, Palm Springs, CA
Tenure at SolarCity: Nearly 4 years

Oceana Lamberto-Egan grew up in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and spent many years working restaurants on tourist favorite Roanoke Island, taking advantage of the off-season by traveling far and wide across the globe. Roanoke Island was prone to hurricanes, and Oceana saw the need for sustainable energy there. But after visiting East Asia, including traveling on a Fulbright scholarship to Malaysia to teach English, Oceana understood the potential that clean electricity could bring to remote locations.

With a passion to do more, she came to SolarCity—first as an installer, then in permitting and inspections, and now as a regional operations manager in Southern California.

“There’s a lot of interest. I’ve received resumes from couriers and locksmiths who’ve stopped by the office, doing their own jobs, and were intrigued by the solar panels and hardware around the warehouse. I think a lot of us feel that solar has incredible potential to be the next wave of industry in the Coachella Valley,” she says.

“It’s so hot, everyone has pools and everyone is looking to bring their power bills down. You see everything from young families with children to retirees living in golf communities here, but all of them can take advantage of solar. It’s just reframing the understanding that solar is affordable.”

 

Name: Kenneth Celebucki
Position: Field Energy Consultant in Northern Arizona
Tenure at SolarCity: More than 2 years

Ken Celebucki started his own business at a young age, providing a janitorial service using eco-friendly and non-toxic cleaning supplies in Northern Arizona. After a great 17-year run, he saw the market declining and sold his business.

A self-described “treehugger at heart”, he knew his career would likely be in the sustainability industry. When he saw a green and yellow SolarCity car outside a conference he was attending, it was love at first sight.

“It’s the best company I’ve ever worked for, including working for myself for 17 years,” Ken laughed.

Ken initially worked through SolarCity’s partner The Home Depot to sell solar in-store as a Field Energy Advisor. He acclimated quickly since he worked in Home Depot stores selling HVAC services previously, and was training new SolarCity employees within his first few weeks at work.

“What we’re doing to save the planet is not enough. I’m not really helping on my own, and I’ll admit that,” says Ken. “But the bigger cause, the work at SolarCity…hopefully that makes a real impact. And I can still do my piece.”

2013 In Review

By Jonathan Bass

December 31, 2013

It's been a great year at SolarCity, and credit for that goes to our customers, partners and employees—it’s their tireless efforts that make working at SolarCity so much fun, and make the world a better place. THANK YOU.

When we look back on this past year, here's what really sticks out:

There was a lot of 'new' in our world: Zep Solar and Paramount Solar joined the SolarCity family; we completed the distributed solar industry's first securitization deal; we launched our commercial storage product; and we created Energy Explorer to make energy efficiency evaluations simple, and free, for every new residential customer.

Our reach expanded with more than ten new locations in California, Southern New Jersey and an expansion of sales, asset management and customer care groups in a second headquarters in Las Vegas, Nevada. We even went global with the Give Power Foundation, a charitable organization that will provide light to schools without electricity in developing nations.

We also found a variety of new ways to reach customers in 2013, with a number of groundbreaking partnerships with awesome companies. We teamed up with Honda to address climate change by giving Honda and Acura customers an opportunity to save money with solar power. We partnered with new retail electricity providers to offer an entire new set of customers the ability to pay less for solar electricity than they pay for power generated from fossil fuels. We continued to help electric vehicle owners "drive on sunshine" by working with BMW to provide solar as a standard feature of their 360 Electric package for new BMW I vehicles.

More and more new homebuilders are working solar into the design and sale of homes: Del Webb, Wilshire Homes, De Young Properties, LifeStyle Homes, PSW Real Estate, CastleRock Communities and Coventry Homes helped make solar a no brainer for new home buyers looking to save on energy costs.

Walmart and Walgreens continued to go solar at more locations across the country. In the education sector Georgetown University and more than six school districts all installed solar and helped educate their students on the benefits of clean energy. Our Solar Strong initiative also proliferated with two more projects at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico and six bases in Hawai’i.

One of our proudest moments was being named one of Glassdoor's Best Places to Work in 2013. Based on anonymous feedback from our employees, we were ranked 18th out of more than 280,000 companies in the Glassdoor database.

Can we top this in 2014? That's the goal! In fact, here's to every year being better than the last. And here's to you, our SolarCity family.

Thanks for a fantastic 2013!

Introducing the Give Power Foundation

By SolarCity

December 18, 2013

SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive (far left), and CRO and Give Power Foundation President Hayes Barnard (far right), work with the team in Nicaragua on Give Power’s maiden project.

This week we’re launching the Give Power Foundation, our non-profit foundation dedicated to making clean energy affordable and accessible to those who need it most. And it’s you, our customers, who are making it happen.

Here’s the challenge: 291 million children attend schools without electricity. To meet their potential, and to empower them to overcome greater obstacles than many of us in the United States can comprehend, these children need well-lit rooms in which to learn. At the same time they don’t need more fossil fuels.

So here’s what our customers are doing: For every megawatt of residential solar power that our customers ask us to install in 2014, SolarCity will donate a solar power system and battery combination to a school that has no access to electricity. This means that on average, for every 160 customers that go solar with SolarCity, another school will receive the gift of light. Your solar panels will power your home and power a school in places like Haiti, Mali, Malawi and Nepal.

SolarCity is partnering with buildOn to implement these projects on the ground. buildOn is a nonprofit organization that builds schools in developing countries while also running afterschool service programs in America’s toughest inner-cities. We're psyched to be working alongside them on so many projects to come.

When CEO Lyndon Rive and CRO Hayes Barnard led a SolarCity team to a village in Nicaragua to install the Give Power Foundation’s maiden project with buildOn, they found a community inhibited from realizing its full potential due to lack of basic electricity.

The team in Nicaragua plans out the install.

“A school like this just will never get electricity unless you have local generation,” said Rive. “It needs to change. We need to create the electricity at the place where it’s needed. We can skip the legacy infrastructure and build out the new infrastructure the smarter, better way.”

Hayes Barnard, SolarCity’s Chief Revenue Officer and President of the Give Power Foundation, noted how in the world’s smallest and most remote towns, schools often function as centers of their communities: “A lot of the seniors want education. A lot of the elders within the organization want to get educated. And it also is a nice facility in the evenings for them to gather and celebrate. And that’s why I think bringing electricity to some of these parts of the world that never had it before is so exciting and meaningful.”

SolarCity is partnering with buildOn to implement these projects on the ground. buildOn is a nonprofit organization that builds schools in developing countries while also running afterschool service programs in America’s toughest inner-cities. They work closely with community members on developing and maintaining each project, ensuring that those who are meant to benefit from the schools have a major role in how it is built and used. SolarCity is thrilled to partner with buildOn to help fill that need and contribute to the social and environmental sustainability of these projects.

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

By Lyndon Rive, CEO

December 09, 2013

nelson-mandela-1

I grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, less than half a mile from the president’s home. In 1994, when Nelson Mandela became president  and lived there for the next five years, I saw the unthinkable become  a reality. For his courage, his dedication, and his compassion,  Mandela is one of my greatest inspirations.

The lessons of that time have stayed with me: With time, people can overcome their own prejudices. With dedication, progress can happen, even if it takes decades. It is possible to fight hard for change while also seeing the humanity in your opponents. Mandela kept his dignity through decades of inhumane treatment, and never let the way he was treated affect the way he treated others.

My high school was the first school in Pretoria to integrate. As a young person, the world you grow up in is the only world you know, and you often don’t question it. And when change comes—even unquestionably positive change—it tests you: can you accept people who are different from you? Can you see what you have in common? I saw so many people become better by following Mandela’s lead and seeking peace and understanding.

Last week we lost a man of courage and progress. May you rest in peace, Nelson Mandela.

Burying a Dead Horse

By SolarCity

November 20, 2013

In August, Barron’s approached us and expressed interest in doing a piece on SolarCity’s business model. Unfortunately, at the time, we were in the middle of a securities offering process, and SEC regulations prevented us from commenting or answering any questions for the piece. When the article appeared on August 31, with the sensational headline “Dark Clouds over SolarCity”, it included a number of inaccuracies about SolarCity and the Section 1603 Grant program. The same quiet period rules prevented us from correcting those mistakes once the article was published.

We completed our securities offering two months later, the quiet period ended, and we moved on. However, those same misstatements were repeated this week in a Barron’s blog post dated November 18. It’s difficult to fault Barron’s for the piece. The inaccuracies are understandable, given the complexity of the issues, and the fact that we had not addressed them. Yesterday we walked through the specific inaccuracies with the author on the phone, and we appreciated that opportunity. We would also like to take the opportunity to correct them publicly, here.

Many of the false assertions and inferences in Barron’s August 31 article can be traced to a misinterpretation of the concept of “fair market value.” The article states:

"The government asks solar-system owners to estimate the cost, or 'fair market value' of their systems, on which tax credits are based. SolarCity appears to use a more complex measurement than some other solar installers. While analysts estimate that SolarCity's costs are about $4 per watt, the company's reported fair market value often exceeds $6. The higher the 'fair value,' the larger the tax credit."

As anyone who follows the solar industry knows, solar project owners are eligible to claim a 30% investment tax credit, or ITC, on the cost to acquire their systems. Under the Section 1603 program, the owners could choose to get a cash grant for the same 30% of the value, instead of the tax credit. These credits and grants are not based on the "cost" of a solar system, as the article implies, they are based on the price paid to acquire that system, whether the buyer is a homeowner or an institutional investor. Businesses as a general rule set prices higher than their costs. The price that a willing buyer pays a willing seller is the "fair market value," of the system.

Contrary to what the Barron’s article states, SolarCity does not use a “more complex” method than similar installers in valuing solar projects, and solar companies cannot “estimate” the fair market value in applying for grants under Section 1603. That fair market value – which of course is the price the buyer actually paid for the system – must also be determined by an independent appraiser. The IRS provides guidelines for appraisal methods for establishing the fair market value of assets. These approaches have been in place for decades and are used across a broad range of asset classes, including housing, research and development, and oil & gas. All of SolarCity's solar power systems have been appraised by third parties, using Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) standards, and following IRS guidelines. The entire energy industry uses the same methodology that is stipulated by the IRS. SolarCity does not use a different methodology than other providers to determine fair market value. Appraiser Cohn Resnick’s paper on the valuation of solar assets details this process. Moreover, for large projects, Treasury requires that applicants also provide a “cost certification” from yet another expert, an independent auditor, which confirms the accuracy of the independent appraiser’s valuation. Finally, beginning in June 2011, Treasury began publishing fair market value guidance for solar projects, and SolarCity’s appraised fair market values have been at or below all the guidance that has been provided.

Following its misinterpretation of fair market value, the other primary inaccuracy in the August 31st article involves a flawed analysis of solar project databases. From the article:

“Barron's recently reviewed a database listing 153,628 solar contracts in Arizona and California, and found that SolarCity's reported values are significantly higher than those of similar companies. In Arizona, its values exceeded rivals' by 35% in 2011; 15% in 2012; and 20% this year, through mid-August. In California, the company reported higher market values than the industry from 2008 through 2011, and again in 2013.”

The California database in question is the California Solar Initiative (CSI), and if you read the CSI website you can see how clearly different SolarCity is from companies Barron’s describes as ‘similar’. From the CSI’s FAQ:

"The current $/watt data available for California Solar Initiative projects present difficulties when comparing host customer-owned and third-party-owned systems (e.g. leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs)). The reported costs for host customer-owned systems are simple, as they reflect the purchase price inclusive of parts, labor, permitting fees, overhead, and profit. Third-party-owned systems, on the other hand, are reported in a variety of ways, and may also capture costs for additional services."

Click here to read further for CSI’s explanation of these differences.

SolarCity is unusual in that it finances, develops and installs the majority of its solar projects. Most of SolarCity’s competitors in the lease and power purchase agreement category don’t build the systems themselves, but rather acquire them from third-party contractors. When SolarCity’s competitors report for the project database, they report the amount they paid the third-party contractor. That is a lower number than the price they sell the system for, but the price is the value the grant or tax credit is based on. In short, Barron’s mistakenly assumed that the system costs reported in published databases like CSI are the same as the fair market values that Section 1603 applicants are allowed to claim. They are not. This misinterpretation contributed to a flawed analysis that appeared to show a much greater difference in price (and by implication, grant or tax credit) than actually exists.

Barron’s also misrepresents SolarCity’s liability to investors. The August 31 article states thatif its obligations to those partners aren't met—because of a decrease in government aid, defaults on lease payments, or other hiccups—the company might need to raise additional funds. These and other concerns suggest that SolarCity's outlook could be considerably cloudier than its market value implies.”

SolarCity doesn’t indemnify project investors for a decrease in aid, lease defaults or other hiccups. The company merely stands behind the fair market value of our systems. SolarCity and its financing partners are owners of the systems and both take ownership risk as part of the transactions.

Barron’s also makes statements about SolarCity’s business model and financial health that we find to be misleading, namely:

“Like other renewable-energy companies, SolarCity is dependent on government subsidies to make a profit.”

This statement implies that renewable energy companies are subsidized in a way that carbon-based fuels are not. It’s no secret that all forms of energy are incentivized. The incentives that the solar industry receives are a tiny fraction of the overall subsidies that have been provided to nuclear, oil & gas and coal over the years. However, solar systems also generate direct returns to the taxpayer that aren’t just measured in cleaner energy or jobs. Solar lease payments are taxable as income, and the federal government recovers the cost of incentives paid for financed solar systems over time by collecting income taxes on the lease payments. In 2012 the U.S. Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance published a study titled “Paid in Full” that found that a leased residential solar system can provide a 10% nominal rate of return to the federal government on the initial tax credit paid over the expected life of the solar asset.

Like many young companies at our stage, SolarCity is focused on growth, and we reinvest the majority of our revenue into growing operations, building projects and hiring. Because we recognize most of the costs to acquire customers upfront, but recognize the majority of our revenue over twenty year periods, we are not currently profitable on a GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) basis. Nevertheless, we were cash flow positive in the second fiscal quarter of 2013, and we expect to be cash flow positive in the fourth quarter of 2013, and on a go-forward basis thereafter.

SolarCity currently employs more than 4,000 full-time workers. Every single one of those jobs is in the United States, and many were created during the deepest recession of our lifetimes. We are currently hiring an average of more than 15 new employees each workday. SolarCity has built projects with local workforces in more than 2,500 different American cities and towns. We are providing services to more than 82,000 customers, including the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy, a number of the Fortune 500, and more than 300 schools and universities. We have raised funds sufficient to finance more than $3 billion in solar projects. We are privately financing a series of solar installations for military families across the country that is expected to be the largest residential solar project in American history when completed.

Returning to Barron’s, the final element of the article worth noting is the discussion of the fact that Treasury Department’s Section 1603 Grant Program is undergoing a broad review, and that the review includes SolarCity. That’s not news: SolarCity first reported in October 2012, over a year ago, that we had received a request for documents from Treasury, and we have since discussed Treasury’s inquiry and its progress in more than two dozen public filings. The issue in the inquiry is the fair market value of solar assets. We are absolutely certain that we have followed the 1603 Program’s rules and guidance. As we explained above, in applying for Section 1603 grants, we have relied on independent appraisers using well established IRS guidelines, and all of our projects were valued at or below the guidance that Treasury itself had published for the industry beginning in June 2011.

Every few months, a news outlet reports on this issue as if discovering it for the first time. The Barron’s articles are only the latest example, but felt we owe it to our customers, partners, employees, and shareholders to set the record straight. The inaccuracies in these articles obscure the tremendous progress the entire solar industry has made to reduce costs and expand adoption. Fair market values have fallen significantly in the past few years, and incentives per system have decreased dramatically at the state and federal level. In the states where solar is most popular, such as Arizona and California, the industry no longer relies on state deployment incentives in many locations. Nationwide polls show support for solar across the political spectrum. These trends will only continue, regardless of who bets against them.

SolarCity Veterans Changing the World

By Will Craven

November 11, 2013

On Veterans Day, we at SolarCity are thinking about all of the nation’s service people, but at the forefront of our minds are the more than 100 veterans who work with us every day, and also the families at military bases around the country who benefit from our SolarStrong initiative.

“For me, the transition from active duty service to being a part of SolarCity has been great,” says Petty Officer Jason Weeks of the US Navy, now a Field Energy Advisor. “While service in support of war will always be debated as a controversial topic, I’m proud to say that our armed forces are doing much more than just fighting the elusive enemy we now call “terrorism.”

“For example, the most rewarding experience for me during a 5-year active duty stint had nothing to do with war. On March 11, 2011 I was with my F/A-18 hornet squadron onboard the USS Ronald Reagan in the middle of the Pacific. That day, disaster struck in Japan. As we all know, a huge earthquake caused a deadly tsunami which in turn ruined thousands of homes and lives in Japan. We had been at sea well over a month, working very hard to prepare our jets to head into the Arabian Gulf and participate in Operation Enduring Freedom. The captain’s voice came through the intercom throughout the entire ship. He informed us of the situation in Japan, and that our plans had changed. Cancelling our port visit in South Korea, we altered course and headed straight for Japan.

“This experience actually spawned some of my first thoughts on alternative energy sources. Because the Fukushima nuclear plant had had a total meltdown, the area in which we operated was considered an unsafe radioactive plume. Every time we had to perform duties up on the flight deck, open to the air, we were required to wear gas masks and layers of protective clothing. Upon returning below deck, we were scrubbed free of all radioactive material to which we’d been exposed. For over a month, the USS Ronald Reagan performed search and rescue missions and airlifted ton after ton of food, water and supplies to our Japanese allies who had lost everything. The crew was asked to donate any extra blankets we could spare, and many of us did. Finally, after spending about 80 days at sea, working round the clock, the carrier pulled into the port of Sasebo, Japan. The people there welcomed us with open arms. It was the most rewarding experience of my life. Everywhere we walked through town, people bowed and thanked us in English for the work we had done. It was a reminder to all of us that we hadn’t just signed up to fight a war; we had signed up to serve.”

A return to U.S. Solar Pre-eminence, State by State

By Will Craven

March 15, 2013

The SEIA/Greentech Media U.S. Solar Market Insight Report released Thursday finds the United States returning to global pre-eminence in solar adoption. Looking at the big picture, two numbers shout from the mountaintops: 11% of global PV installations occurred in the United States, earning the country its greatest share of the world’s install market in at least fifteen years. And behind this is an immense 76% increase in U.S. PV installations between 2011 and 2012.

Put another way, if you count to 1, two panels have been installed somewhere in America, according to SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch.

Of course, in that same passing second, there’s a ton of money continuing to be spent on fossil fuel utility energy. But ten years ago it was difficult to imagine what a truly scalable solar industry would look like, and now it has a distinct shape and economic value. Solar’s growth into something whose progress can be counted in seconds is indicative of real momentum. In other words, keep counting.

Drilling down a bit, here’s what we find interesting in the report:

3rd party owned or leased systems, or lackethereof : More than 90% of all residential systems installed in Arizona during in Q4 were lease or Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) systems. Still, 28 states still have no 3rd party options to speak of. Taking these two stats together, one would imagine that what’s growing in popularity now in 22 states would have similar appeal in the other 28. Top 10 solar states like North Carolina and New Mexico are halfway there, installing lots of large scale cash projects, but are still missing out on the scalable job growth and economic benefit of letting their citizens buy electricity the same way they can purchase cars.

If you can make it in New York…: The Empire State’s place in the top ten for 2012 appears to be just the beginning. With 60 Megawatts installed in 2012, and Governor Cuomo’s commitment to 10 more years of the NY Sun program, an enduring market place is taking shape. SolarCity felt this growth firsthand, as we opened an expanded operations center in Albany, and launched our residential business on Long Island.

Ohio’s potential: SolarCity landed in the Buckeye state just last week, announcing projects at 12 Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs. The state ranks fourth nationally in potential solar production (a 30,000 foot level stat estimating solar capacity if every available rooftop were covered in PV) at 27 gigawatts.

Hello Ohio: SolarCity arrives in the Buckeye State with Twelve Walmart Projects

By Tasha Peláez

March 06, 2013

It's exciting to bring solar energy to new places, and following today’s announcement of projects at twelve Walmart retail locations across Ohio, we’re thrilled to be on the ground in the Buckeye state.

The announcement finds Walmart adding to the more than 100 solar projects it has completed with SolarCity, with previous projects announced in Arizona, California, and Colorado. Last year the company took the number one ranking in the Solar Energy Industries Association’s list of the Top Commercial Solar Customers in the United States.

Robert Bowen at the Examiner captures not only the impact, but the symbolism:

A retailer with such high visibility as Walmart does a lot to convince the public that solar energy and all renewable energy makes sense—economically and for our planet.”

He also succinctly captures the value of our work in the public sector which ,like our work with Walmart, often offers the opportunity to complete dozens of projects for a single customer:

SolarCity has been active in many high profile solar projects including public/private projects with school districts, libraries, military housing, and other projects that will save the taxpayer money as well as eliminate tons of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.”

You know you've made it when...

By Will Craven

March 01, 2013

...you land that most coveted of new media real estate: Google Streeview! This one's from Maryland, where we have an operations center (in Beltsville), and have completed nearly 1400 solar projects.

Let us know if you see us elsewhere, and for your weekend enjoyment, here's a slideshow of funnier and more bizarre happenings caught by the Googlecam.

 

Our New Partnership with Honda

By SolarCity

February 20, 2013

Fuel efficiency shouldn’t end when you park your car in the garage. Today we’re happy to unveil a new partnership with Honda. We’ve teamed up with the popular automaker to create a $65 million investment fund to offer millions of Honda and Acura drivers a special offer to switch to clean solar energy and get a new, lower monthly energy bill.

The conversations between our companies that led to this day started because of two specific Honda models, the Fit EV and Accord Plug-in Hybrid. Discussions about how to charge Honda’s with electric power stations quickly broadened into a conversation about clean energy, which both companies have been addressing from different angles.

It wasn’t long before we both realized that solar energy should be as normal as having a Honda parked in the garage. There was a 44% increase in U.S. solar power between the third quarter of 2011 and 2012, but the infinite energy source of the sun still accounts for only a very small percentage of the nation’s power supply. Look out your window and you might see a lot of rooftops that could be harnessing the sun’s energy.

Through this fund, we’ll help current and future Honda owners take control of their energy by switching to solar power. With solar on your roof, you generate your own electricity and control your energy costs for years to come.
We will also be working with Honda to offer its network of Honda and Acura dealerships the opportunity to install solar and advance a company-wide goal of being a leading citizen in the sustainable community – all while saving money on their energy costs.

As Honda Vice President Steve Center says, “Solar is a win-win”. If you’re a current Honda owner, you can take advantage of a 10 minute consultation and learn whether or not solar power is a good fit for your home by clicking on this link.

Steal Our Contracts

SolarCity

February 14, 2013

Knowing what goes into any contract is important. The last time you didn’t read the fine print before signing something, you probably ended up with an inbox full of spam.

In the case of solar, we’re talking about something that’s going to be with you for years. And that’s why you’ve got to be sure that the contract you sign has your best interests at heart.

That’s why, today, SolarCity is publishing our residential solar contracts. We’re proud of them, and have worked hard to make the contracts transparent and fair for consumers. These contracts have been more scrutinized than a bottle of kombucha in a TSA security line.

And because a contract is by nature a fairly dense document, we’re pairing it with a simpler, more friendly infographic: Top 5 Solar Contract Tips. Most solar contracts will have their own wrinkles, but these five things should be present in every contract, no matter what.

Tell us what you think!

***

Update: As of October 2, 2013, the SolarCity Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) includes real time monthly billing. This makes a production guarantee unnecessary, as a customer will only be charged for actual production each month. There is no risk to the customer: you pay for what your system produces, no more and no less.

 

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