SolarCity was one of the most prominent solar energy companies in the United States. In 2016, SolarCity was acquired by Tesla for $2.6 billion. SolarCity was co-founded by Lyndon Rive and Peter Rive—cousins of Tesla CEO, Elon Musk.
Solar City provided comprehensive solar energy products and services to both residential and commercial customers. The company offered a wide array of solar services to homeowners, both large and small businesses, and non profit organizations. With a formidable solar presence in over 20 states, the company made solar energy readily available to consumers across the country.
For more than a decade before the Tesla acquisition, SolarCity has already been providing custom solar panel installations to both homes and commercial establishments. This decade-long experience has allowed SolarCity to become an established brand in the solar services industry.
Established in 2006, owners Lyndon and Peter Rive co-founded SolarCity—one of the largest solar power providers to have ever generated cost-effective renewable energy. During its heyday, the company provided solar installations to over 300,000 consumers.
Despite being one of the more recognizable solar installers in the market, SolarCity ultimately struggled to make a meaningful profit. Tesla finally bought SolarCity in 2016 and integrated it into its expanding solar corporate brand—Tesla Solar—that produces and markets solar panels and solar storage solutions. Since the acquisition, Tesla Solar has taken over the operations and completely ceased using SolarCity’s name.
Some of Tesla’s notable products were originally developed using the technology form SolarCity. Among these products are Tesla's solar panels, the Tesla Solar Roof, and the Tesla Powerwall, as well as EV chargers.
The Tesla Powerwall has now become the gold standard for integrated solar batteries. Due to its overwhelming positive feedback, customers are willing to wait for months just to get a hold of Tesla Powerwalls. Tesla Solar is consistently regarded as one of the top solar companies in the country and is growing its presence steadily in the sustainable green energy market.
Products and Services
SolarCity was known for its innovative products and services that catered to a wide range of target markets across 20 states. The company pioneered some of the more advanced technologies used on solar rooftop panels, solar shingles prototype, and other renewable energy solutions.
SolarCity’s panels were among the most energy and cost-efficient solar systems available in the market. The company’s panels were known to last ten years longer than other solar PVs because of the thorough and top-of-the-line testing implemented by the company.
SolarCity’s solar PV system featured aesthetically pleasing panels with integrated front skirts, redirected plumbing vents, and concealed clamps and rail-ends. SolarCity solar panels also came with free roofing and system maintenance from the provider. These features allowed SolarCity to surpass its competition and build a name as a leading solar provider, until 2015.
SolarCity’s solar roof technology was a game changer in the industry. Although it was still in its prototype phase at the time, their solar roof technology opened the doors for more people to consider powering their homes through renewable solar energy . The solar roof generated solar energy like regular solar panels, but with solar shingles instead; these solar shingles had a sleek design that blended well with traditional roofing and home architecture. Tesla's current Solar Roof tiles are an evolution of this concept.
During the later parts of SolarCity’s run, the company started offering Tesla Powerwall batteries that provide emergency power backup in times of sudden power outages due to natural disasters and whatnot. The battery backups from Tesla were pre-configured to work with SolarCity's solar power equipment without any issues. These compact Powerwall batteries were made with built-in inverters that store solar energy and were ready to use.
Tying up with Tesla, SolarCity provided their customers access to historical data and up-to-date information on their residential energy consumption. The Tesla app allowed SolarCity users to monitor their solar energy usage and system performance anytime, anywhere.
Electric Vehicle Chargers
SolarCity’s electric vehicle chargers were launched in 2009. SolarCity’s solar-powered EV chargers fit well with Tesla’s overall strategy to establish itself as a leading provider of sustainable energy.
SolarCity’s outstanding products and equipment made their company among the top-notch solar providers in the country for almost a decade.
Aside from the company’s cutting-edge products, SolarCity offered an extensive list of services—that included solar system installation, leasing and financing—to homeowners, small to large scale enterprises, and non-profit institutions. The company also partnered with various home energy firms to better address the different energy needs of the community.
SolarCity followed a standard 4-step installation process.
- Step 1: Survey: SolarCity’s solar system installation team would perform a preliminary inspection to determine your energy needs and make sure that the site was suitable for installation. SolarCity would also address any questions or concerns you might have had.
- Step 2: Design and Permitting: SolarCity would design a solar system specifically for your home that accounted for your energy requirements and financial goals. The team would also check with the municipal/community for any installation restrictions, if any. Necessary paperworks were also accomplished to minimize any delays on the installation procedure.
- Step 3: Installation: SolarCity would work with you to set a specific date for the installation to commence. During the day of installation, SolarCity’s installation crew would arrive on site to install your panels. Installation and mounting of the solar system usually took a day or two, depending on the scope and weather condition. During the entire process, the crew explained the process, making sure that you understand how to properly operate your new solar system.
- Step 4: Final Inspection and Activation: SolarCity would coordinate with the city/municipality and your local utility company for the final building and electrical inspection. Following the inspection, you would receive the formal Permission to Operate (PTO), which would enable SolarCity to turn on your solar system, connect it to the electrical grid, and begin generating power through solar energy.
When it comes to offering high-quality solar panels, SolarCity did extremely well. SolarCity made their own solar panel systems that addressed the varying energy needs of every customer. SolarCity guaranteed a 30-year warranty coverage, which was longer than other solar providers.
Costs and Financing
Like other solar providers, SolarCity offered a number of financing options that addressed the different energy needs and budgets of its customers. SolarCity’s solar systems were purchased through outright cash payments, solar leases, loans, or through power purchase agreements (PPAs). Out of these options, most consumers of the company financed their solar systems through power purchase agreements.
SolarPPA was SolarCity’s power purchase agreement program that allowed consumers to have solar installations without paying upfront fees. Consumers were given a set monthly pricing per kilowatt hour that’s locked in for the duration of the contract.
Customers who were under SolarPPA contracts, however, weren’t able to claim federal investment tax credit, state tax credit, or any other other available incentives because SolarCity remained to be the owner of the solar system.
Customers who chose to rent their rooftop solar PV system from SolarCity made fixed monthly payments through the company's lease scheme, SolarLease. Under this financing alternative, customers had access to applicable net metering and cost-free system upkeep for the duration of their solar lease.
SolarCity also offered outright cash payment or cash loan options to customers who wished to purchase their solar systems. These financing schemes gave customers the most cost-effective and long-term savings. With both the cash payment and solar loan option, consumers owned their solar system, allowing them to receive and enjoy applicable tax credits, net metering, and 20 whole years of system monitoring and maintenance.
SolarCity Customer Reviews
SolarCity, having been one of the leading solar providers for a decade, had mixed reviews.
A lot of SolarCity’s positive customer reviews complimented the company's straightforward PPA contracts, flexible financing options, quality solar system equipment, robust monitoring capabilities, transparent contract terms, and promising customer referral programs, among other things.
A number of SolarCity’s negative reviews raised the company’s unsatisfactory customer service and the unreasonable pricing on products offered during the later years of the company. Many of the clients who criticized the company cited issues with unresponsiveness to email and phone queries, as well as slow and incorrect installations in some cases.
SolarCity: The Bottomline
Despite negative reviews on their customer service, SolarCity’s advanced and unparalleled solar products and technologies made SolarCity a powerful player in the solar energy space. Solar City’s reliable solar technologies allowed the company to provide clean renewable energy to a large volume of homeowners, businesses, and government entities. Today, counterparts of SolarCity’s innovative and quality solar offerings can be had through Tesla’s industry-leading solar system products and services.