SolarCity

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SolarCity
Subsidiary
Industry Energy storage
Founded July 4, 2006; 10 years ago (2006-07-04)
Founders Lyndon Rive
Peter Rive
Headquarters San Mateo, California, U.S.
Key people
Lyndon Rive, CEO
Peter Rive, CTO
Elon Musk, Chairman[1]
Number of employees
15,000
Parent Tesla Motors
Website www.solarcity.com

SolarCity Corporation is an American company that specializes in solar energy services. Headquartered in San Mateo, California, it is the largest solar energy services provider in the US. Among its primary services, the company designs, manufactures, permits, finances, sells, installs, maintains, and monitors solar energy systems and panels for residential, commercial and government applications. SolarCity sells renewable energy to customers at prices below utility rates, with a focus on reducing the cost of solar energy. The company has over 15,000 employees.[2]

SolarCity has grown rapidly as well as the overall market in the United States, which has grown from 440 megawatts (MW) of solar panels installed in 2009 to 6,200 MW installed in 2014.[3][4] The company has diversified in 2014 and 2015, with the aim of lowering costs and boosting sales. Currently, SolarCity installs more solar energy systems than any other company in the United States with just under 110,000 new installations in 2015.

SolarCity's long-term agreements with its customers generate recurring payments and create a portfolio of high-quality receivables that it monetizes to further reduce the cost of making the switch to solar energy. It offers energy storage services through its parent company, Tesla, including a turnkey residential battery backup service that incorporates Tesla's Powerwall.

History[edit]

Original SolarCity headquarters in Foster City, California
Installation vehicles with the original SolarCity logo
SolarCity vehicle with current SolarCity logo at night

SolarCity was founded in 2006 by brothers Peter and Lyndon Rive,[5] based on a suggestion for a solar company concept by their cousin, Elon Musk, who is the chairman and helped start the company. SolarCity has been the leading provider of residential solar power in California since 2007, its first full year of operation, according to the database kept by the California Solar Initiative[6] and was the number one residential solar installer in the U.S. in 2013, according to GTM Research.[7] In 2013, Solar Power World magazine listed SolarCity as the No. 2 overall solar installation company in the U.S.[8] The company is one of the founding members of The Alliance for Solar Choice, or TASC, which is a rooftop photovoltaic power station solar advocacy organization.[9] SolarCity purchased Paramount Solar from Paramount Equity for $120 million in 2013.[10]

In October 2014, SolarCity announced it would be offering up to $200 million in solar bonds to launch a new online website to buy the debt, the first registered public offering of such bonds in the United States.[11] In March 2016 SpaceX bought $90 million of SolarCity stock.[12]

In June 2016, Musk's car company, Tesla Motors, formally submitted an offer to acquire SolarCity for $2.5–3 billion.[13] According to Musk, the reason for this is "Creating a seamlessly integrated Tesla battery & solar power product that looks beautiful".[14] On August 1, 2016, SolarCity accepted Tesla Motors' offer of 2.6 billion. Other steps to finalize the merger will not complete until later in 2016.[15] As of August 2016, Musk owned 22% of SolarCity stock.[16]

In August 2016, it was announced that the company plans to take up $5 million in charges to cover its planned layoffs. The company was also cutting the salary of its two co-founders from $275,000 to $1 per year.[17]

Subsidiary of Tesla Motors (2016-present)[edit]

On August 1, 2016, Tesla Motors announced in a joint statement with SolarCity it would be acquiring the company in an all-stock $2.6 billion merger. Tesla's mission since its inception has been to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy. As part of Elon Musk's "The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan", Tesla sought to expedite the world's move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy.[18] The announcement cited operational and cost "synergies", and integrated products would be realized with the merger. The action was approved by antitrust regulators.[19][20] More than 85% of unaffiliated shareholders from Tesla and SolarCity voted to approve the acquisition on November 17, 2016,[21][22] which was closed on the morning of November 21, 2016.[23]

Locations[edit]

Headquarters are held in San Mateo, California, while the company uses a distributed service model in which it provides installation from local operations centers. As of May 2016, SolarCity operates in 20 jurisdictions: Hawaii, the District of Columbia, and 18 other states on the West Coast, in the Southwest, and in the Northeast.[24]

Products, services and technologies[edit]

Solar leasing[edit]

In 2008, SolarCity entered the solar leasing market with a new solar lease option for homeowners.[25] SolarCity's solar lease can allow some homeowners, by adopting solar power, to pay less each month than they previously paid for electricity from the utility company.[26][27]

After a successful run during its initial years in Nevada, SolarCity withdrew from solar sales and installation in the state in late 2015, following the decision by the state's Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to raise the monthly service charge for rooftop solar customers and progressively reduce the return on solar energy sold back into the grid under the state's net metering rule.[28] Under the new rules, the monthly service charge imposed on Nevada Power's rooftop solar-generating customers rose from $12.75 to $17.90 and will continue to rise, reaching $38.51 by Jan. 1, 2020; simultaneously, the rates given to rooftop solar generating customers for their surplus solar energy were also clawed back and will continue to decline over the ensuing four years.[28] As a result, the company eliminated more than 550 jobs in Nevada.[28]

Commercial solar[edit]

In May 2008, the company completed what was, at the time, the largest commercial solar installation in San Jose on the North Campus of eBay. That July, SolarCity completed what was then the largest commercial solar installation in San Francisco, for British Motor Car Distributors, consisting of 1,606 solar photovoltaic panels.[29][30] SolarCity introduced new financing options for businesses in 2009[31] and has built multiple solar projects for other large organizations including Walmart,[32][33] Intel,[34] and the U.S. military.[35] On March 21, 2013 SolarCity announced that it would open a new location in Nevada[clarification needed] in cooperation with state government.[36]

Electric vehicle chargers[edit]

SolarCity entered the electric car charging business by buying the SolSource Energy business of Clean Fuel Connections, Inc., which was reported to be finalized in 2009[37] and has also announced a partnership with Rabobank to make electric car charging available for free to owners of Tesla Motors' vehicles traveling on U.S. Route 101 in California between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Other cars that can make use of the same charging technology are welcome.[38] In 2011, the company announced it would install electric car chargers that could charge a wide range of EVs in all of its service territories.[39][40]

Energy efficiency evaluations and retrofits[edit]

In 2010, SolarCity acquired Building Solutions, a home energy audit firm, and began to offer energy efficiency evaluations and upgrades.[41] SolarCity worked with Admiral's Bank of Boston in March 2012 to make a new loan available to finance energy efficiency improvements[42] and expanded its energy efficiency services to the east coast.[43]

SolarStrong project[edit]

SolarStrong is SolarCity's five-year plan to build more than $1 billion in solar photovoltaic projects for privatized military housing communities across the United States, announced in late 2011.[44] SolarCity plans to work with the country's leading privatized military housing developers to install, own and operate rooftop solar installations and provide solar electricity at a lower cost than utility power. SolarStrong is ultimately expected to create up to 300 megawatts of solar generation capacity that could provide power to as many as 120,000 military housing units, which would make it the largest residential photovoltaic project in American history if completed. In November 2011, SolarCity and Bank of America Merrill Lynch announced that they have agreed to terms on initial debt financing for SolarStrong.[45]

Energy storage[edit]

Tesla Motors and Panasonic will open the Gigafactory, a battery factory in Nevada in 2017, and plan to make a battery storage device called Powerwall that stores solar power for use as a battery backup. The device will be sold to companies including SolarCity.[46][47] SolarCity is running a pilot project in 500 California houses, using 10-kilowatt-hour battery packs.[48][49]

Installation technology[edit]

SolarCity provides technologies for mounting solar panels on rooftops developed by Zep Solar, which it acquired in 2013.[50] Zep is best known for inventing a system that allows PV installers to "snap together" panels on the roof more quickly than other installation approaches to shorten installation time.[51] Zep Solar's technology eliminates the need for mounting rails on many roof types.[52]

Solar roof[edit]

In the August 2016 earnings call, Elon Musk preannounced that Solar City would be introducing a new product where the photovoltaic electrical energy generating devices and system would make up an entire roof surface, rather than merely be the mounting of solar panels on an existing roof, as solar energy systems have generally been designed and installed during the early decades of terrestrial solar power.[53] Assorted styles of solar roof tiles, made of glass, were unveiled at Universal Studios' Colonial Street backlot street set in late October 2016. Also unveiled was the Tesla Powerwall 2, a home battery product designed to store surplus power, either from the tiles or from the grid.[54] Consumer Reports compared the estimated economy of solar roofs to traditional roofing.[55][56]

Litigation and investigations[edit]

SolarCity sued Salt River Project, an electric utility, for violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act on March 2, 2015,[57] case number 2:15-cv-00374, being heard before judge Douglas L Rayes.[58] This is in response to Salt River imposing a peak demand based charge on residential customers who also have solar panels.[59][needs update]

On April 29, 2016, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (of the Southern District of New York) is undertaking an investigation into state construction projects and contracts. The project known as Buffalo Billion is a part of that investigation. Many companies have been subpoenaed, and have provided information, including SolarCity and the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. SolarCity is not the subject or focus of the investigation, and not involved in the vendor selection or contracting process.[60][needs update]

"Solar by Degree" project[edit]

After an investigation initiated by The Oregonian, Martin Shain, the lead energy consultant involved in a controversial solar power project at two Oregon universities, was indicted on two counts of first-degree forgery by a Marion County grand jury August 25, 2016. Shain, who is a consultant for BacGen Technologies in Seattle, is a key player in the controversial $24 million "Solar by Degree" project and is accused of "creating a phony invoice from a fictional subcontractor that was pivotal in getting nearly $12 million in tax credits from the Oregon Department of Energy."[61] The project began in 2013 and was sponsored by the Oregon University System; thousands of solar panels, generating millions of kilowatts of power per year, were constructed on 21 acres on the campuses of Oregon State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.

The state's case revolves around two documents, which include an invoice from Solar Foundations Systems dated February 25, 2011, and a December 2011 letter signed by Ryan Davies, the former head of RedCo, a Utah-based company, which was also the second developer on the project. According to KOIN-TV, "The Davies letter reported $210,000 had been spent toward the project and that construction was progressing."[62] The Solar Foundations invoice contains details of the construction of solar arrays. The invoice was necessary to provide proof of work on the project to get tax credits from the state. The "Solar by Degree" project ultimately received the tax credits, but it was later shown that the company named on the invoice, Solar Foundations, does not exist. In addition, Davies claims he did not write nor has ever seen the RedCo letter in question and that his name was forged. Relying on this evidence, the state claims Shain forged both documents. Shain denies forging the invoice and claims it was indeed "made up", but given to him by someone else involved in the project.[63] Shain maintains his innocence and remains optimistic that his innocence will be proven in court. The tax credits involved were actually given to SolarCity, the third developer in the project, along with its financial backers. According to The Oregonian, "Those backers provide upfront financing for the projects in exchange for a share of the project revenues and the federal and state tax credits, which they can use to offset their own taxes."[61] SolarCity stated, "We financed and constructed the projects in accord with the requirements of the Oregon Department of Energy."[61] The company argues that the state hired Shain, and it had no knowledge of the phony documents in question, otherwise it would have not pursued the endeavor.[61]

Treasury Department inquiries[edit]

In 2012, the Treasury Department began investigative interviews of solar firms regarding their fair market value calculations for constructed solar energy systems. The IRS has yet to determine whether or not these values have been inflated. In a 2016 federal filing, SolarCity wrote, “If the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Treasury Department were to object to amounts we have claimed as too high of a fair market value on such systems, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and prospects.” The firm insisted that its values were correct and complied with the Treasury Department guidelines. However a Treasury Department investigation or a federal audit could force SolarCity and other firms to reimburse institutions that purchase their tax credits as investments.[64]

SolarCity received roughly $501.2 million in credits up until December 31, 2015. In SolarCity’s 2015 annual report, a note was made stating that if the government determines misrepresentations were made, “the Department of Justice could bring a civil action to recover amounts it believes were improperly paid to us.”[64]

The Checks and Balances Project[edit]

SolarCity indirectly funds a political advocacy group known as the Checks and Balances Project. The project has criticized the elected members of the Arizona Corporation Commission (the regulatory body that oversees electricity and utilities in Arizona) for being too well-connected to utility companies. The Checks and Balances Project has filed several requests for public records from the Arizona Corporation Commission. In July 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed the head of Checks and Balances as part of a larger criminal investigation into the financing of certain Arizona statewide races in 2014.[65]

Project financing and the Google Fund[edit]

SolarCity partners with banks, large corporations, and the asset-backed[66] market to create project finance funds to finance its lease and PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) options. SolarCity's financing partners have included Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Citi, Morgan Stanley, National Bank of Arizona and U.S. Bancorp, among others.[67][full citation needed] Among SolarCity's more well-known financing partnerships was a $280 million fund created with Google to finance residential solar installations in June 2011. The Google Fund was the largest fund of its kind in the U.S., and Google's largest investment in clean energy.[68]

Recently, securitization has been proposed and used to accelerate development of solar photovoltaic projects by providing access to capital.[69][70] SolarCity offered the first U.S. asset-backed security in the solar industry in 2013.[71]

Manufacturing[edit]

In June 2014, SolarCity announced plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Buffalo, New York, in coordination with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute after acquiring Silevo, a maker of high-efficiency solar modules. The initial manufacturing complex will be a 1.2 million square foot facility that will cost $900 million and employ 1,500 workers in Buffalo and 5,000 statewide.[72] With a planned capacity of one gigawatt of solar panels annually, the new plant would be the largest solar plant in the U.S. and would compete head-to-head with Chinese manufacturers.[73] Groundbreaking for the project occurred in September 2014 with a target completion date of early 2016.[74] In February 2016, CEO Lyndon Rive announced that due delays incurred in the supply of machinery for the plant, full production would happen 3 to 6 months later than planned, in summer 2017.[75]

The facility would be the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.[76][77] Panasonic is to handle production at the Buffalo plant. Both Panasonic and SolarCity/Silevo are developing similar but somewhat different HIT-technology, and Panasonic hopes to use SolarCity's 6-inch wafers combining the two companies' technologies.[78][79] SolarCity expects demand to outstrip the Buffalo production of 10,000 solar panels per day, and buys solar equipment from other manufacturers until more factories can be built. New York state has 120 days to consider other factories due to being the major fund source for the first factory.[80] New York State owns the building and most of the equipment, leasing it to SolarCity. Most of the work was completed by November 2016, when the Buffalo Billion project was under investigation, delaying state payments to contractors, but not influencing progress on completion of construction.[81] SolarCity started the hiring process in December 2016.[82]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]