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SolarCity Corporation is a subsidiary of Tesla, Inc. that specializes in solar energy services and is headquartered in San Mateo, California.

SolarCity
Subsidiary
Industry Energy storage
Founded July 4, 2006; 11 years ago (2006-07-04)
Founders
Headquarters San Mateo, California, U.S.
Key people
Number of employees
15,000+ (Dec 2016)
Parent Tesla, Inc.
Website www.solarcity.com

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.

Contents

HistoryEdit

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

In 2013, according to GTM Research, SolarCity was the leading residential solar installer in the U.S.[6] Solar Power World magazine listed it as the No. 2 overall solar installation company in the U.S.[7] SolarCity purchased Paramount Solar from Paramount Equity for $120 million in 2013.[8] It had installed panels generating 6,200 MW of power by 2014.[4] In 2015, SolarCity installed 870MW of solar power,[9] approximately 28% of non-utility solar installation in the U.S. that year.[4]

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.[10] In March 2016 SpaceX bought $90 million of SolarCity stock.[11]

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.[12] 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.[12] As a result, SolarCity eliminated more than 550 jobs in Nevada.[12]

In June 2016, Musk's car and battery company, Tesla, 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. The merger was completed later in 2016.[15][16]

2016 workforce reductionEdit

In 2015, the number of employees had grown by 68.7%.[17] At the end of 2015, SolarCity had 15,273 employees; at the end of 2016, it had 12,243 employees.[18] SolarCity eliminated 20% of its total workforce in 2016.[18] The company did so to preserve cash.[19]

The job cuts affected workers across the entire company:[18][17] In operations, installations, and manufacturing, 22% of jobs were cut. In sales and marketing, 27% of jobs were cut. 2016 was the first year in the company's history that SolarCity cut its workforce.[20]

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.[21]

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. 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.[22] The announcement cited operational and cost "synergies", and integrated products would be realized with the merger. The action was approved by antitrust regulators.[23][24] As of August 2016, Musk owned 22% of SolarCity stock.[25] More than 85% of unaffiliated shareholders from Tesla and SolarCity voted to approve the acquisition on November 17, 2016,[26][27] which was closed on the morning of November 21, 2016.[16]

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.[28] Lyndon Rive left SolarCity in June 2017,[29] and Peter Rive announced in July 2017 he would be leaving also.[30] The chief policy officer of SolarCity, John Wellinghoff, left SolarCity in April 2017.[31] Gigafactory 2 opened in Buffalo in late August 2017.

LocationsEdit

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.[32]

Products, services and technologiesEdit

Solar leasingEdit

In 2008, SolarCity entered the solar leasing market with a new solar lease option for homeowners.[33] 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.[34][35]

SolarCity leases rooftop solar to customers who pay no upfront costs. In exchange, customers pay for 20 years for power generated by those panels. That business model drained cash from SolarCity while it was growing. Beginning in 2017, the company is shifting its business model to one where customers buy the solar systems with cash or via financing.[18] Tesla, the parent company, is also changing how solar is sold: in Tesla's stores, which will save on advertising.[19]

Commercial solarEdit

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.[36][37] SolarCity introduced new financing options for businesses in 2009[38] and has built multiple solar projects for other large organizations including Walmart,[39][40] Intel,[41] and the U.S. military.[42]

Electric vehicle chargersEdit

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[43] and announced in 2011 a partnership with Rabobank to make electric car charging available for free to owners of Tesla's vehicles traveling on U.S. Route 101 in California between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The technology was open to all makes of cars that can make use of the same charging technology.[44] 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.[45][46][needs update]

Energy efficiency evaluations and retrofitsEdit

In 2010, SolarCity acquired Building Solutions, a home energy audit firm, and began to offer energy efficiency evaluations and upgrades.[47] SolarCity worked with Admiral's Bank of Boston in March 2012 to make a new loan available to finance energy efficiency improvements[48] and expanded its energy efficiency services to the east coast.[49]

SolarStrong projectEdit

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 2011.[50] 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.[51]

Energy storageEdit

Tesla and 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.[52][53] SolarCity ran a 2015 pilot project in 500 California houses, using 10-kilowatt-hour battery packs,[54][55] using the GridLogic software for PowerWalls as a grid backup resource.[56] This concept is also being tested in Vermont.[57]

Installation technologyEdit

SolarCity provides technologies for mounting solar panels on rooftops developed by Zep Solar, which it acquired in 2013.[58] 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.[59] Zep Solar's technology eliminates the need for mounting rails on many roof types.[60]

Solar roofEdit

In August 2016, Musk announced 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, stating "It’s not a thing on a roof. It is the roof,"[61] as solar energy systems have generally been designed and installed during the early decades of terrestrial solar power.[62] 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.[63] Consumer Reports compared the estimated economy of solar roofs to traditional roofing.[64][65]

As of August 2017, production of tiles for the Tesla Solar Roof had begun at the company's Buffalo, New York factory, and Tesla expected to continue to ramp up production through the rest of the year, along with traditional solar panels.[66]

Government-funded collaborationEdit

The SunShot Initiative is a national effort to support solar energy adoption in order 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.[67]

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."[68]

SolarCity was involved in a collaboration with the program along with the Energy Departments National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Hawaiian Electric Company. Using government and taxpayer funds, SolarCity helped 2,500 Hawaiian residential customers connect to solar power systems to the grid by the end of December 2015.[69]

Litigation and investigationsEdit

Buffalo BillionEdit

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 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.[70]

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.[70]

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."[71]

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.[72]

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.[71]

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.[70]

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.[71]

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.[70]

Oregon Attorney General investigationEdit

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[73] that "are designed to trick homeowners into buying or leasing solar panels" in violation of Oregon's Unlawful Trade Practices Act.[74] 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."[74]

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."[74] 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."[74]

"Solar by Degree" projectEdit

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."[75] 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."[76] 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.[77] 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."[75] SolarCity stated, "We financed and constructed the projects in accord with the requirements of the Oregon Department of Energy."[75] 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.[75]

Treasury Department inquiriesEdit

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.[78]

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.”[78]

Customer litigationEdit

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 2014-2017, 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 “residential foreclosure action” based legal proceedings.[79]

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.”[79]

Customer cancellation investigationEdit

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating Sunrun and 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.[80]

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."[80] 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."[80]

"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."[80]

The Checks and Balances ProjectEdit

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.[81]

Project financing and the Google FundEdit

SolarCity partners with banks, large corporations, and the asset-backed[82] 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.[83][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.[84]

Recently, securitization has been proposed and used to accelerate development of solar photovoltaic projects by providing access to capital.[85][86] SolarCity offered the first U.S. asset-backed security in the solar industry in 2013.[87]

GigafactoryEdit

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 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.[88] 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.[89] Groundbreaking for the project occurred in September 2014 with a target completion date of early 2016.[90]

The facility would be the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.[91][92] Panasonic is to handle production at the Buffalo plant, investing $256 million.[93] 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%.[94][95] 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.[96]

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.[97] 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.[98] SolarCity started hiring for the factory in December 2016.[99]

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.[100] 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.[66]

Trade organizationEdit

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.[101]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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