SolarCity Corporation is a subsidiary of
Tesla, Inc. that specializes
in solar energy services and is headquartered in San Mateo,
SolarCity markets, manufactures, and installs residential and
commercial solar panels in the US. It has also provided other energy
services. In 2016, the company merged with
Tesla, Inc. and now offers
energy storage services through Tesla, including a turnkey residential
battery backup service that incorporates Tesla's Powerwall. The
company, in partnership with Panasonic, operates the Tesla Gigafactory
2 in Buffalo, New York, where it manufactures solar module components.
1.1 2016 workforce reduction
Tesla Inc. (2016–present)
3 Products, services and technologies
3.1 Solar leasing
3.2 Commercial solar
3.3 Electric vehicle chargers
3.4 Energy efficiency evaluations and retrofits
3.6 Energy storage
3.7 Installation technology
3.8 Solar roof
3.9 Government-funded collaboration
4 Litigation and investigations
4.1 Buffalo Billion
4.2 Oregon Attorney General investigation
4.3 "Solar by Degree" project
4.4 Treasury Department inquiries
4.5 Customer litigation
4.6 Customer cancellation investigation
4.7 Federal settlement for allegations of False Claims Act violations
4.8 Vermont projects without approval
5 The Checks and Balances Project
6 Project financing and the Google Fund
8 Trade organization
9 See also
11 External links
SolarCity headquarters in Foster City, California
Installation vehicles with the original
SolarCity vehicle with current
SolarCity logo at night
SolarCity was founded in 2006 by brothers Peter and Lyndon Rive,
based on a suggestion for a solar company concept by their cousin,
Elon Musk, who is the chairman and helped start the company. By
2009, solar panels it had installed were generating 440 megawatts
(MW) of power.
In 2013, according to GTM Research,
SolarCity was the leading
residential solar installer in the U.S. Solar Power World magazine
listed it as the No. 2 overall solar installation company in the
SolarCity purchased Paramount Solar from
Paramount Equity for
$120 million in 2013. It had installed panels generating 6,200 MW
of power by 2014. In 2015,
SolarCity installed 870MW of solar
power, approximately 28% of non-utility solar installation in the
U.S. that year.
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. In March 2016
SpaceX bought $90 million of SolarCity
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. 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. As a result,
more than 550 jobs in Nevada.
In June 2016, Musk's car and battery company, Tesla, submitted an
offer to acquire
SolarCity for $2.5–3 billion. According to
Musk, the reason for this is "Creating a seamlessly integrated Tesla
battery & solar power product that looks beautiful". On August
SolarCity accepted Tesla Motors' offer of 2.6 billion. The
merger was completed later in 2016.
2016 workforce reduction
In 2015, the number of employees had grown by 68.7%. At the end of
SolarCity had 15,273 employees; at the end of 2016, it had
SolarCity eliminated 20% of its total workforce
in 2016. The company did so to preserve cash. The job cuts
affected workers across the entire company: 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.
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
Tesla Inc. (2016–present)
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. 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. The announcement cited operational and cost "synergies",
and integrated products would be realized with the merger. The action
was approved by antitrust regulators. As of
August 2016[update], Musk owned 22% of
SolarCity stock. More
than 85% of unaffiliated shareholders from Tesla and
to approve the acquisition on November 17, 2016, which was
closed on the morning of November 21, 2016.
Tesla's 2017 goals are 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 merger.
Lyndon Rive left
SolarCity in June
2017, and Peter Rive announced in July 2017 he would be leaving
also. The chief policy officer of SolarCity, John Wellinghoff,
SolarCity in April 2017.
Gigafactory 2 opened in Buffalo in
late August 2017.
Headquarters are 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.
Products, services and technologies
SolarCity entered the solar leasing market with a new solar
lease option for homeowners: leasing rooftop solar to customers paying
no upfront costs. In exchange, customers paid for 20 years for power
generated by those panels. SolarCity's solar lease allowed some
homeowners, by adopting solar power, to pay less each month than they
previously paid for electricity from the utility company.
The "no-money-down solar" business model became the most popular in
the USA and increased installations but also added to SolarCity's
debt, accounting for about half of the company's over $3 billion
debt. Beginning in 2017, the company is shifting its business
model to one where customers buy the solar systems with cash or via
financing. Tesla, the parent company, is also changing how solar
is sold: in Tesla's stores, which will save on advertising compared to
door to door sales which reached new customers.
Solar leasing proved harder to expand in Europe despite attempts
by incumbents such as RWE.
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.
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.
SolarCity introduced new financing options for businesses in 2009
and has built multiple solar projects for other large organizations
including Walmart, Intel, and the U.S. military.
Electric vehicle chargers
See also: Charging station
SolarCity entered the electric car charging business in 2006 by buying
the SolSource Energy business of Clean Fuel Connections, Inc., which
was reported to be finalized in 2009 and announced in 2011 a
Rabobank to make electric car charging available for
free to owners of Tesla's vehicles traveling on U.S. Route 101 in
San Francisco and Los Angeles. The technology was
open to all makes of cars that can make use of the same charging
technology. 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.[needs update]
Energy efficiency evaluations and retrofits
SolarCity acquired Building Solutions, a home energy audit
firm, and began to offer energy efficiency evaluations and
SolarCity worked with Admiral's Bank of Boston in March
2012 to make a new loan available to finance energy efficiency
improvements and expanded its energy efficiency services to the
SolarStrong is SolarCity's 5-year plan to build more than
$1 billion in solar photovoltaic projects for privatized military
housing communities across the United States, announced in late
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.
Panasonic opened the Gigafactory, 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.
a 2015 pilot project in 500
California houses, using 10-kilowatt-hour
battery packs, using the GridLogic software for PowerWalls as
a grid backup resource. This concept is also being tested in
SolarCity provides technologies for mounting solar panels on rooftops
developed by Zep Solar, which it acquired in 2013. 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. Zep Solar's technology
eliminates the need for mounting rails on many roof types.
In August 2016, Musk announced that Solar City would be introducing a
new product called the
Tesla Solar Roof
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, stating "It’s not a thing on a roof. It
is the roof," as solar energy systems have generally been designed
and installed during the early decades of terrestrial solar power.
Assorted styles of solar roof tiles, made of glass, were unveiled at
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
Consumer Reports compared the estimated economy of solar
roofs to traditional roofing.
As of August 2017, production of tiles for the
Tesla Solar Roof
Tesla Solar Roof had
begun at the company's
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo, New York Gigafactory 2. 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".
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.
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
SolarCity was involved in a collaboration with the program along with
the Energy Department's
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
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.
Litigation and investigations
Buffalo Billion is a billion-dollar program from the administration of
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The program's intention is to revitalize
Buffalo New York in areas across Western New York. One of the main
features of the program is a 1.2 million square foot solar panel
SolarCity RiverBend. It will be owned by SolarCity. The
factory "is expected to become the largest manufacturing facility in
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.
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.
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".
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
SolarCity and the office of New York Governor
SolarCity is not the subject or focus of the
investigation, and not involved in the vendor selection or
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
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
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.
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.
Oregon Attorney General investigation
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 that "are designed to trick homeowners
into buying or leasing solar panels" in violation of Oregon's Unlawful
Trade Practices Act. 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."
Campaign for Accountability reviewed 58 complaints that consumers
filed with the
Oregon Department of Justice
Oregon Department of Justice and said that the
complaints indicated "a widespread pattern of apparent fraud and abuse
by solar companies". 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
"Solar by Degree" project
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". 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
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."
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. 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."
SolarCity stated, "We financed and
constructed the projects in accord with the requirements of the Oregon
Department of Energy." 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.
Treasury Department inquiries
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
SolarCity and other firms could be forced to reimburse
institutions that purchase their tax credits as investments.
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".
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".
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."
Customer cancellation investigation
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating Sunrun
SolarCity in May 2017, 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.
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". 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."
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."
Federal settlement for allegations of False Claims Act
In September 2017, as part of a legal settlement with the federal
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
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.
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.
Vermont projects without approval
In June 2017 the
Vermont Public Service Board found that
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
The Checks and Balances Project
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
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.
Project financing and the Google Fund
SolarCity partners with banks, large corporations, and the
asset-backed 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,
National Bank of Arizona
National Bank of Arizona and U.S. Bancorp, among
others.[full citation needed] 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.
Main article: Gigafactory 2
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 (110,000 m2) facility that will cost
$900 million and employ 1,500 workers in Buffalo and 5,000
statewide. 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. Groundbreaking for the project occurred in September 2014
with a target completion date of early 2016.
The facility would be the largest of its kind in the Western
Panasonic is to handle production at the Buffalo
plant, investing $256 million.
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
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.
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. 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. SolarCity
started hiring for the factory in December 2016.
Elon Musk announced in 2017 that production of Tesla's solar roof
products would be moved to the Buffalo plant at the end of 2017.
As of August 2017, production of solar roof tiles had begun at the
factory, and Tesla expected to continue to ramp up production through
the rest of the year.
The company is one of the founding members of The Alliance for Solar
Choice, or TASC, which is a rooftop photovoltaic power station solar
Efficient energy use
List of energy storage projects
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