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SolarCity Corporation
IndustryEnergy production, Energy storage
FoundedJuly 4, 2006; 13 years ago (2006-07-04)
Key people
Number of employees
15,000+ (Dec. 2016)
ParentTesla, Inc.

SolarCity Corporation is a subsidiary of Tesla, Inc. that specializes in solar energy services and is headquartered in San Mateo, California. In 2016, the company was acquired by Tesla, Inc. and effectively offers all of its products and services through Tesla's website[2], including a turnkey residential battery backup service that incorporates Tesla's Powerwall. The company, in partnership with Panasonic, operates Tesla Giga New York, a factory in Buffalo, New York, where it manufactures solar module components.


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,[3] based on a suggestion for a solar company concept by their cousin, Elon Musk, who was the chairman and helped start the company.[4] By 2009, solar panels it had installed were capable of generating 440 megawatts (MW) of power.[5][6]

In 2011, the company launched their expansion to the East Coast with the acquisition of the solar division of Clean Currents[7] and groSolar.[8] Following the acquisitions, SolarCity further expanded operations on the East Coast and opened in Connecticut[9], Pennsylvania[10], South Carolina[11], Florida[12], Vermont[13], and New Hampshire.[14]

In 2013, SolarCity was the leading residential solar installer in the U.S.[15] Solar Power World magazine listed it as the No. 2 overall solar installation company in the U.S.[16] In 2013, SolarCity purchased Paramount Solar from Paramount Equity for $120 million.[17] By 2014, it had installed panels capable of generating 6,200 MW of power.[5] In 2015, SolarCity installed 870MW of solar power,[18] approximately 28% of non-utility solar installation in the U.S. that year.[5]

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.[19] In March 2016, SpaceX bought $90 million of SolarCity stock.[20]

In late 2015, SolarCity withdrew from solar sales and installation in Nevada, 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.[21] 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 was scheduled to rise to $38.51 by January 1, 2020; simultaneously, the rates given to rooftop solar generating customers for their surplus solar energy were also clawed back and were to continue to decline over the ensuing four years.[21] As a result, SolarCity eliminated more than 550 jobs in Nevada.[21]

In June 2016, Musk's car and battery company, Tesla, submitted an offer to acquire SolarCity for $2.5–3 billion.[22] According to Musk, the reason for this is "Creating a seamlessly integrated Tesla battery & solar power product that looks beautiful".[23] On August 1, 2016, SolarCity accepted Tesla Motors' offer of $2.6 billion. The merger was completed later in 2016.[24][25]

2016 workforce reduction[edit]

In 2015, the number of employees had grown by 68.7%.[26] At the end of 2015, SolarCity had 15,273 employees; at the end of 2016, it had 12,243 employees.[27] SolarCity eliminated 20% of its total workforce in 2016.[27] The company did so to preserve cash.[28] The job cuts affected workers across the entire company:[27][26] 22% of jobs were cut in operations, installations, and manufacturing; 27% in sales and marketing. 2016 was the first year in the company's history that SolarCity cut its workforce.[29] In August 2016, it was announced that the company planned to take up $5 million in charges to cover its planned layoffs. The company also cut the salaries of its two co-founders from $275,000 to $1 per year.[30]

Subsidiary of Tesla Inc. (2016–present)[edit]

On August 1, 2016, Tesla 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".[31] 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.[32] The announcement cited operational and cost "synergies", and integrated products that would be realized with the acquisition. The action was approved by antitrust regulators.[33][34] As of August 2016, Musk owned 22% of SolarCity stock.[35] More than 85% of unaffiliated shareholders from Tesla and SolarCity voted to approve the acquisition on November 17, 2016,[36][37] which was closed on the morning of November 21, 2016.

Some investors criticized the deal, calling it "a misguided effort to rescue two companies that depend on investors and the government for operating cash."[38] There is ongoing litigation against Musk and Tesla's board of directors, alleging "they overpaid for SolarCity, ignored their own conflicts of interest and failed to disclose 'troubling facts' essential to a rational analysis of the proposed deal."[39][40] Musk unveiled a new solar roof tile in October 2016 in order to gain investor support for the acquisition.[41] However, the tile on display later turned out to be fake.[42] Members of the anti-Tesla group TSLAQ have cited Musk's solar roof tile reveal as a major point of contention and an impetus for organizing.[43] As of June 2019, "the company's solar roof tiles were not yet functional."[41]

Tesla's 2017 goals were to launch a new car, open a large battery factory, and "perfect autonomous driving". In November 2016 Musk called the merger a "no-brainer" for SolarCity. He said that it was an accident of history that Tesla and SolarCity were two separate companies before the acquisition.[44] Lyndon Rive left SolarCity in June 2017,[45] and Peter Rive left shortly thereafter.[46] The chief policy officer of SolarCity, John Wellinghoff, left SolarCity in April 2017.[47] Gigafactory 2 (Giga New York) opened in Buffalo in late August 2017.[48]

Total solar installations have been declining since the Tesla acquisition.[49] Tesla's energy revenues increased from $1.12 billion in 2017 to $1.55 billion in 2018, but declined slightly in 2019 to $1.53 billion.[50][51] Analysts believe that SolarCity has been "a big source of the cash-flow deficit" for Tesla.[52][53]

Products and services[edit]

Solar leasing[edit]

In 2008, SolarCity entered the solar leasing market with a new solar lease option for homeowners: leasing rooftop solar to customers who would pay no upfront costs. In exchange, customers paid for 20 years for power generated by those panels.[54] SolarCity's solar lease allowed some homeowners to pay less each month than they previously paid for electricity from the utility company.[55][56]

The "no-money-down solar" business model became the most popular in the USA[57] and increased installations, but it also added to SolarCity's debt, accounting for about half of the company's over $3 billion debt in 2016.[58] Beginning in 2017 (after Tesla acquired the company) its business model shifted to one where customers buy the solar systems with cash or via financing.[27] Tesla, the parent company, decided to change from selling solar products door-to-door to only being sold in Tesla's stores and galleries, which Tesla believed would save on advertising.[28][59] In June 2018, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would be pulling out of their solar sales partnership with Home Depot four months after national kickoff, initially aimed at growing sales of Tesla's solar and storage products.[60] On February 28, 2019, Elon Musk announced that the electric vehicle maker would close “many” of its stores around the world to sell cars online-only, removing the only retail outlet for solar sales,[61] but later reversed his decision and kept most stores open.[62]

Solar rentals[edit]

In the second quarter of 2019, Tesla quarterly installations fell to a new low of 29 megawatts, compared to 2,013 megawatts the residential leader Sunrun installed, and compared to SolarCity's installation of 253 megawatts in the fourth quarter of 2015 (before Tesla acquired it).[63] In August 2019, Tesla announced they would begin renting solar systems to customers in six states starting at $50 a month, in a plan to boost residential solar deployments.[64]

Commercial solar[edit]

In May 2008, SolarCity completed what was, at the time, the largest commercial solar installation in San Jose, at the North Campus of eBay; in July 2008, 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.[65][66] SolarCity introduced new financing options for businesses in 2009[67] and built multiple solar projects for other large organizations including Walmart,[68][69] Intel,[70] and the U.S. military.[71] In 2013, the company established GivePower as a non-profit branch of its solar business, which is now an independent enterprise.[72]

Electric vehicle chargers[edit]

SolarCity entered the electric car charging business by buying the SolSource Energy business of Clean Fuel Connections, Inc., in 2009.[73] SolarCity announced in 2011 a partnership with Rabobank to make electric car charging available for free to owners of Tesla Roadster cars traveling on U.S. Route 101 in California between San Francisco and Los Angeles.[74] In 2012, Tesla independently started deploying their Supercharger stations in the United States, and as of March 2020, they operate 16,103 Superchargers in 1,826 stations worldwide.[75]

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.[76] SolarCity worked with Admiral's Bank of Boston in March 2012 to make a new loan available to finance energy efficiency improvements[77] and expanded its energy efficiency services to the East Coast.[78]

SolarStrong project[edit]

SolarStrong was SolarCity's 5-year plan to build more than $1 billion in solar photovoltaic projects for privatized military housing communities across the United States. It was announced in late 2011.[79]

SolarStrong is being carried out by SolarCity in cooperation with Lend Lease Group involving 124 military bases in 33 states.[80][81][82] The financing is agreed with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, USRG Renewable Finance, and U.S. Bancorp.[80][83] It had a partial $344 million federal loan guarantee through the United States Department of Energy Financial Institution Partnership Program; however, the guarantee was withdrawn after the project implementation started.[80][83]

The project started in 2011 with development of the Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam in Hawaii, followed by Davis–Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.[80][83] In 2012, the project continued with the Los Angeles Air Force Base in California, and Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.[83][82]

Energy storage[edit]

Tesla and Panasonic opened Giga Nevada, a battery factory in Nevada, in 2016, where they make a battery storage device called Powerwall that stores solar power for use as a battery backup. The device is sold to companies including SolarCity.[84][85] SolarCity ran a 2015 pilot project in 500 California houses, using 10-kilowatt-hour battery packs,[86][87] using the GridLogic software for Powerwalls as a grid backup resource.[88] This concept was also tested in Vermont.[89]

As of April 2020, Tesla promotes Powerwalls when they sell solar panels or solar roofs on the Tesla website.[90]

Installation technology[edit]

SolarCity provides technologies for mounting solar panels on rooftops developed by Zep Solar, which it acquired in 2013.[91] 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, in order to shorten installation time.[92] Zep Solar's technology eliminates the need for mounting rails on many roof types.[93]

Solar roof[edit]

In August 2016, Musk announced that Tesla would be introducing a new product called the Tesla Solar Roof 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.[94] He stated "It’s not a thing on a roof. It is the roof."[95] In late October 2016, assorted styles of solar roof tiles, made of a type of glass, were unveiled at Universal Studios' Colonial Street backlot street set. Also unveiled was the Tesla Powerwall 2, a home battery product designed to store surplus power, either from the tiles or from the grid.[96] Consumer Reports compared the estimated economy of solar roofs to traditional roofing.[97][98]

In August 2017, limited production of tiles for the Tesla Solar Roof had begun at the company's Buffalo, New York Gigafactory 2 (Giga New York).[99] In January 2018, Tesla announced, after testing on employees' roofs, that it would begin installing the product on commercial customers' homes "within the next few months".[100] But in July 2019, Greentech Media reported that three years after the announcement of the solar roof tiles, and after having received deposits from interested homeowners, Tesla had connected just a dozen or so solar-integrated roofs to the grid.[101] As of October 2019, Tesla was "still tinkering with the product three years after announcing the concept, having done trial installations with two different iterations so far."[102] The second version (version 2) had turned out to be too expensive for Tesla to manufacture in volume, and production was limited on the supply side due both to limitation of selling a product below cost, and also due to Tesla-wide focus on Model 3 production issues. Version 2 had turned out to be excessively artisanal and required too much labor at the house, greatly increasing costs.[102][103]

On October 25, 2019, Tesla announced "version 3" (V3) of the solar roof design, with a price point for V3 that is expected to be less than the price point of a new roof plus adding solar panels, approximately 80 percent of the time when comparing competitive quotes.[102] It is not expected to be cost competitive for roofs that have a number of years of roof life left; it is expected to be quite competitive for roof replacement when the customer also wants to add solar. Version 3 is the first Tesla Solar Roof version that Tesla believes is ready to be ramped up at scale, and Tesla hopes to "ramp production to as many as 1,000 new roofs per week."[102] On February 9, 2020, Tesla stated that it was ramping up solar roof installations.[104] On March 16, 2020, Tesla reported that it had achieved its goal by producing 4MW of solar roofs in a week, which it claims is enough for 1,000 homes.[105]

Government-funded collaboration[edit]

The SunShot Initiative is a national effort to support solar energy adoption to make solar energy affordable for all Americans. It is run by the US Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office and funds research, development, demonstration, and deployment projects. It is a collaboration of private companies, universities, state and local governments, and nonprofits, as well as national laboratories. The program began in 2011 with the initial goal of making solar energy competitive with traditional forms of electricity by 2020. By 2016, the program achieved 70% of the progress towards the 2020 goal.[106]

In the fiscal year 2012 Congressional budget, the program was appropriated $457 million. According to the US Department of Energy's appropriation request for that year, "The program also encourages Systems Integration by developing radically new approaches to reduce the cost and improve reliability and functionality of power electronics and supporting industry development through test and evaluation standards, and tools for understanding grid integration issues."[107]

SolarCity was involved in a collaboration with the program along with the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Hawaiian Electric Industries. Using government and taxpayer funds, SolarCity helped 2,500 Hawaii residential customers connect their solar power systems to the grid by the end of December 2015.[108]

Litigation and investigations[edit]

Buffalo Billion[edit]

Buffalo Billion is a billion-dollar program from the administration of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to revitalize Buffalo, New York. One of the main features of the program is a 1.2 million square foot solar panel factory called SolarCity RiverBend. It will be owned by SolarCity. The factory "is expected to become the largest manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere when it opens". Hiring for the factory is expected in spring of 2017 and the factory is expected to begin producing solar cells by the summer of 2017.[109]

The factory will be located in an "innovation hub" called the High-Tech Manufacturing Innovation Hub at RiverBend. The state appropriated $750 million in funding for the hub. According to Daily Energy Insider, "The facility will have one gigawatt of annual solar capacity when it reaches full production and is expected to produce about 10,000 solar panels per day." SolarCity is required to spend $5 billion over the next decade on the facility and create more than 1,460 direct manufacturing jobs.[109]

As of May 2016, federal investigators were investigating how money and contracts within the Buffalo Billion program were distributed. SolarCity was a partner in the program. The company intended to open a large solar panel factory on the Buffalo River. In May 2016, New York State officials postponed the approval of almost $500 million for the SolarCity project. According to The New York Times, Buffalo Billion will benefit "a tangle of well-connected players – including developers and frequent donors to the governor – who have feasted on Buffalo Billion money".[110]

On April 29, 2016, then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (of the Southern District of New York) began an investigation into state construction projects and contracts. Buffalo Billion was 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.[111]

The United States attorney's office for the Southern District of New York is leading a federal inquiry into Buffalo Billion. Prosecutors subpoenaed several state institutions who were responsible for SolarCity and other components of the Buffalo Billion project. The subpoenas sought information about how government-funded programs were awarded and what the role was of state officials who selected the winners. Cuomo has strongly defended the project noting that there has been a decrease in unemployment and an increase in spending around the Buffalo area.[110]

In February, three executives who worked for LPCiminelli Development who were arrested in 2016 in a federal bid-rigging investigation motioned to have the case against them either dismissed or moved from Manhattan to Buffalo. The three men face a 14-count indictment for wire fraud and bribery and alleged bid rigging of the SolarCity RiverBend construction contract. Additionally, five other people have been charged with related crimes. The trials will begin in late spring of 2017.[109]

An Albany firm called Whitman Osterman and Hannah represented both LPCiminelli and Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, which was a subsidiary of SUNY Polytechnic that was awarded the contract to develop the site where SolarCity is being built. The governor's office said that the formal awarding of the SolarCity contract was made by Fort Schuyler on behalf of the state. On May 18, 2016, the Public Authorities Control Board delayed a meeting at which it was set to approve $485 million in new funds for SolarCity. As late as May 2016 SolarCity said that it was cooperating with federal agents who had been in contact with the company.[110]

The New York state legislature plans to approve a budget by April 1, 2017 that would give $500 million more into the Buffalo Billion program. In return, the legislature wants the Cuomo administration to put more transparency into how the money is spent.[109]

Oregon Attorney General investigation[edit]

On March 30, 2017, The Oregonian said that Campaign for Accountability, a D.C.-based consumer advocacy group, and other groups have asked Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to investigate solar panel sales practices[112] that "are designed to trick homeowners into buying or leasing solar panels" in violation of Oregon's Unlawful Trade Practices Act.[113] According to The Oregonian, the request to Rosenblum "singled out one company: California-based SolarCity. It outlined several complaints filed against the solar giant by Oregonians who claimed they'd been misled about costs, tax credits and energy savings by the company."[113]

The Campaign for Accountability reviewed 58 complaints that consumers filed with the Oregon Department of Justice and said that the complaints indicated "a widespread pattern of apparent fraud and abuse by solar companies".[113] The Oregon Solar Energy Industry Association, however, said that it examined the complaints and "found the numbers to be relatively low – lower than those being cited by the Campaign for Accountability".[113]

Investigators determined that SolarCity attempted to "cheat the system" by inflating the cost of 14 commercial solar projects by more than 100% to qualify for higher state tax credits.[114] SolarCity and its accountant were required to pay back $13 million to the state of Oregon.[114] The investigation also found that "phony and misleading documents" were submitted for some projects, and there was a bribery scheme involving the projects' energy consultant and a state Energy Department manager.[114] One of SolarCity's solar panel suppliers employed prisoners at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon to keep costs down.[114]

"Solar by Degree" project[edit]

The company is involved in a case concerning Martin Shain, the lead energy consultant in a solar power project at two Oregon universities. Shain was indicted for forgery in Marion County in August 2016. He is a consultant for BacGen Technologies in Seattle, 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".[115] 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 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."[116] 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 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 given to him by someone else involved in the project.[117] The tax credits involved were 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."[115] SolarCity stated, "We financed and constructed the projects in accord with the requirements of the Oregon Department of Energy."[115] 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.[115]

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 stated, however, that its values were correct and complied with the Treasury Department guidelines. If the Treasury Department or IRS disagrees, SolarCity and other firms could be forced to reimburse institutions that purchase their tax credits as investments.[118]

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".[118]

Customer litigation[edit]

Since 2006, SolarCity has lowered the minimum FICO score required for customers to get the leasing deals. It uses the score of 650 (a "fair" credit rating) as the cutoff. However, between 2014 and 2017, SolarCity signed long-term lease agreements with at least 14 homeowner customers right before the customers defaulted on their mortgages. The company has been named in 139 lawsuits where it is the defendant in legal proceedings based on "residential foreclosure action".[119]

In its response, SolarCity said in a statement to the New York Times, "Out of more than 305,000 installed customers, SolarCity is currently involved in 139 such proceedings. The litigation is not adversarial – being named in the foreclosure proceeding provides us with advance notice that we need to reassign a contract, and many are immediately resolved with the relevant bank."[119]

Customer cancellation investigation[edit]

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began investigating Sunrun and SolarCity in May 2017, and were looking into whether they adequately disclosed canceled contracts. "Some customers say they canceled contracts after being strong-armed into solar-energy deals" and there have been hundreds of complaints to state attorneys general.[120]

The federal government is investigating whether solar companies are "masking how many customers they are losing". The SEC is involved because "investors use that cancellation metric as one way to gauge the companies' health".[120] According to the Wall Street Journal, "To generate business, solar companies have long relied on thousands of salespeople who knock on doors, make hundreds of cold calls and even trail people as they shop at retailers like Home Depot Inc., according to salespeople, executives and homeowners."[120]

Some customers say they were strong-armed into buying solar-energy systems by sales representatives who threatened to sue them if they didn't proceed with a project or to place a so-called mechanic's lien on their homes—a measure used to force a homeowner to pay for a home-improvement project. Others say they didn't realize they had actually signed contracts."[120]

FCC receiving radio interference complaints[edit]

SolarCity installed SolarEdge inverter systems with a type of DC-DC converter called an optimizer. These systems cause radio interference as documented in April 2016 QST magazine a publication of the ARRL.[121]

Federal settlement for allegations of False Claims Act violations[edit]

In September 2017, as part of a legal settlement with the federal government, SolarCity agreed to pay a $29.5 million penalty regarding allegations that the company overstated the cost of facilities it developed and submitted claims for under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which would be a violation of the False Claims Act. SolarCity dropped its lawsuit, Sequoia Pacific Solar I, LLC v. United States—in which the company alleged the federal government owed it more money—as part of the settlement.[122]

As part of the settlement, the company agreed to “release all pending and future claims against the U.S. for additional payments from the grant program". The move ended a five-year investigation.[123]

Vermont projects without approval[edit]

In June 2017 the Vermont Public Service Board found that SolarCity was implementing solar projects in Vermont without approval required by law. According to Vermont Public Radio, Public Service Board Chair Anthony Roisman sent a letter to SolarCity warning the company that it needed to get regulatory approval before installing solar generation equipment and attaching it to the state's electrical grid. Roisman wrote, "Over the past few months, my office has observed a pattern of procedural issues with net-metering applications being pursued by your company." Officials at the company worked quickly to respond to the issue.[124]

Faked sales numbers[edit]

In July 2018, former employees filed a lawsuit against SolarCity, alleging that the corporation had approved the creation of "fake sales accounts", which resulted in an "unreasonably high valuation of SolarCity" for investors.[125][126] After informing management, including CEO Elon Musk, of these incidents, the employees were fired, which they argue contravenes California's whistleblower protection laws. A Tesla spokesman has so far denied these allegations.[125]

Walmart lawsuit[edit]

SolarCity installed and manages solar panels on the roofs of more than 240 Walmart stores. On August 21, 2019, Walmart filed a lawsuit against Tesla, seeking reimbursement for millions of dollars in damages and release from contracts, claiming that fires on the roofs of seven of those stores since 2012 were caused by SolarCity's "negligent installation and maintenance".[127]

On 5 November 2019 it was announced that Walmart Inc has agreed to settle its legal dispute accusing Tesla Inc of negligence in the installation of solar panels atop hundreds of its stores, resulting in at least seven fires. A joint statement provided by Tesla stated the companies said they were "pleased to have resolved the issues raised by Walmart" concerning the installations, and looked forward to "a safe re-energization of our sustainable energy systems." Walmart had sued Tesla for breach of contract on Aug. 20 in a New York state court in Manhattan, seeking to have its solar panels removed from more than 240 stores. Walmart had accused Tesla of “widespread, systematic negligence” and ignoring prudent industry practices by relying on untrained and unsupervised personnel to install and maintain its panels, and prioritizing speed and profit over safety. Tesla's solar panel market share has been falling, prompting the Palo Alto, California-based company to cut its sales force. Revenue from Tesla's energy generation and storage operations from January to September fell 7% from a year earlier to $1.1 billion. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Walmart had no immediate additional comment. Tesla and its respective lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. [128]

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.[129]

Project financing and the Google Fund[edit]

SolarCity partners with banks, large corporations, and the asset-backed[130] market to create project finance funds to finance its lease and PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) options. Among SolarCity's better-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.[131]

Gigafactory 2[edit]

In 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 would be a 1.2-million-square-foot (110,000 m2) facility that would cost $900 million and employ 1,500 workers in Buffalo and 5,000 statewide.[132] With a planned capacity of one gigawatt of solar panels annually by 2019, the new plant would be the largest solar plant in the U.S.[133] Groundbreaking for the project occurred in September 2014 with a target completion date of early 2016.[134]

The facility would be the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.[135][136] Panasonic was to handle production at the Buffalo plant, investing $256 million.[137] Panasonic and SolarCity/Silevo are developing similar but somewhat different HIT-technology, and Panasonic hopes to use SolarCity's 6-inch (150 mm) wafers combining the two companies' technologies at an efficiency of 22%.[138][139] 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.[140]

In February 2016, CEO Lyndon Rive announced that due to delays incurred in the supply of machinery for the plant, production would begin in summer 2017.[141] 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.[142] SolarCity started hiring for the facility in December 2016.[143]

Elon Musk announced in 2017 that production of Tesla's solar roof products would be moved to the Buffalo facility at the end of 2017.[144] It was reported that as of August 2017, production of solar roof tiles had begun at the facility, and Tesla expected to continue to ramp up production through the rest of the year.[99] By the end of 2018, the facility employed about 800 workers.[145] The state of New York required the company to employ at least 1,460 workers at the facility by April 2020 or face a $41.2 million penalty,[146] and in February 2020, the company reported having 1,500 workers at the facility.[147] Panasonic announced that they will cease operations at the facility in May 2020.[147]

Trade organization[edit]

The company is one of the founding members of The Alliance for Solar Choice, or TASC, which is a rooftop photovoltaic power station solar trade organization.[148]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

External image
38 photos of factory construction