SolarCity Has Over 110,000 Customers; Aims For 1 Million By 2018

MAY 20 2014 BY MARK KANE 41

SolarCity at Union Bridge, MD

SolarCity at Union Bridge, MD

SolarCity just announced a record quarter with 17,664 new customers connected to the sun and 82 MW deployed in the first three months of 2014.

The total number of SolarCitycustomers by the end of March exceeded 110,000 and, according to SolarCity’s target, that figure should rise to one million by mid-2018. One million customers means almost one million homes with solar arrays and hopefully EVs.

Cumulative energy deployed already exceeds 650 MW and with 2014 guidance of 500-550 MW, that figure should turn into 1 GW before the end of the year. By the end of 2015, SolarCity aiming for 2 GW.

At this time, those 2 GW correspond to annualized electricity production of ~ 2.8 terawatt-hours (TWh) or about 1,400 kWh per every nominal kW of installation. Such amount would be enough to charge a Nissan LEAF well over 100 million times.

SolarCity Megawatts deployed by March 31, 2014

SolarCity Megawatts deployed by March 31, 2014

Recently SolarCity launched service in its 15th state—Nevada:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Washington D.C.

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41 Comments on "SolarCity Has Over 110,000 Customers; Aims For 1 Million By 2018"

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Spec9

My advice is to avoid these solar leases . . . they are good for SolarCity but bad for the consumer. If you want to go a “no money down” route then take out a home equity loan and give the job to the lowest bidder. That way YOU get to take the 30% tax-credit and YOU get to deduct the interest paid on the home equity loan. And YOU will OWN the system.

Maintenance? Pffft. Just hose down the panels now & then. Grid-tied systems run own their own.

And if you REALLY want to save money . . . install it yourself. If you have the skills to add a new 240V outlet and install a roof attic vent then you have all the DIY skills needed to install a solar PV system.

Big Solar

I’d rather see Solar City getting rich than Duke but yeah, I agree with you.

Stimpacker
Agree with Spec9 big time. Forget maintenance – they WILL NOT do it. Actual solar lease customer cases: 1) Customer #1 had a defective inverter. The company took 2 weeks to fix and refused to compensate for loss of production. Said the contract stipulated minimum production level – as long as that is not reached, then all is good. 2) Customer #2 has pigeons roosting under his panels. Lots of dirt, feathers and crap. Asked for maintenance – the company said production not impacted. When CPUC debated winding down NEM as part of the recent AB327, the solar leasing industry confessed that they only save their customers $10-15 a month and if the interconnection fee were to be increased, that will kill solar leasing. SolarCity’s financial figures assume a lot of folks will want to continue leasing after their present 20-year lease expires. The big fallacy with this is that NEM will very likely only run 20 years. After that, AB327 stipulates that NEM will be replaced by some other structure, likely a FiT. We only have to look to Southern California to see what a total failure FiT is. So yea, Solar Leasing is good for Solarcity, bad for… Read more »
arne-nl

#1, If that is in the contract, that loss of production due to defective equipment will only be reimbursed if it causes production to dip below the contractual minimum, then what did the company actually do wrong? A deal is a deal and if these provisions are there in plain and clear language, then they have the right to honour their contract.

#2 Here too, the company is probably right. I have had quite large bird droppings on my panels. I let the rain deal with it, but since it was so persistent, that took a few months. Even though I tried very hard, I could not see any reduction in production. I monitor the production of my system constantly. on a 10 by 10 minute basis.

Stimpacker

The “wrong conduct” here, Arne-nl, is that the Solar Lease companies tries to sell you on a lease instead of a purchase by harping strongly on the fact that they will handle ALL MAINTENANCE. So yes, the contract was not broken but actual, real maintenance requests were ignored.

If you don’t get maintenance, then you’re better off following Spec9’s advise and take a loan to buy rooftop solar. The installing company will handle repairs/warranty issues. You will save more money, increase value of your home, and start with no money down.

GeorgeS

@Spec

My 3kw system has been on my roof in AZ for 6 years now.

So far I’ve had 2 micro inverters fail. The first I replaced myself with part replaced on warranty by Enphase.

The 2nd inverter failed just recently and I called Enphase and believe it or not they sent down a software fix via the internet and seems to be working so I didn’t have to replace the inverter….great news cuz it’s hot up there now.

Also for any of you looking into building your own system I’ve heard bad things about Chinese solar panels. I’m super glad I got some Sanyos from Japan.

So I’m pretty happy with my Enphase inverters (15 year warranty) but I wouldn’t say the system is maintenance free.

Steve S.

As for Chinese-made panels, we installed Canadian Solar panels that are manufactured in China. Eight of them were installed in late 2012, and are running fine. We installed ten more a few months ago. They have a 25-year warranty, of course, they still have to be in business to make good on that. But so far, so good.

I have another set of 20 panels that have been running since 2004 — they were made in Spain (Isofoton). Two were replaced several years ago, but they have all been fine since.

Spec9

Well . . . let’s explain how easy it is to fix:
1) Turn off system.
2) Remove the PV panel from rack.
3) Unplug & remove the broken microinverter.
4) Replace with new microinverter and plug it in.
5) Re-install PV panel on the rack.

So even if you have a problem, they are not that hard to fix. Just swap out the broken unit. And with microinverters, the rest of the array continues to operate even if 1 panel is down.

io
Well, great in theory, until the PV module you need to remove is in the middle of a large array laid flush on the roof. Micro-inverters are great for small systems (couple kW max), where wiring remain reasonably accessible, but their inherent complexity makes them IMHO less adequate for larger installations. I love the idea of per-module MPPT and monitoring, and this can be achieved even better with an hybrid approach: power optimizers, e.g from Tigo or SolarEdge. Claims from both sides: http://info.enphase.com/rs/enphaseenergy/images/Enphase_SolarEdge_CompetitiveBrief_English_NA.pdf http://www.solaredge.us/files/pdfs/technical_comparison_microinverters_power_optimizers-na.pdf Some criticism: From first-hand experience, SolarEdge claim that they start at lower voltages (hence producing earlier during the day) is correct. Enphase’s claim of the opposite ignores the optimizers built-in DC-DC. Enphase gives no detail about the study it boasts about, especially who funded it. Said study isn’t available to the public. Enphase’s paper incorrectly suggests that a communication problem with the inverter will interfere with production: not only it doesn’t, but the inverter keeps logging detailed data (with the previous 20 to 30 days remaining available for retrieval at any time). Claim that optimizers expose installers to high voltages is FUD: unless connected to an operating inverter, optimizers don’t output over 1V. [By contrast, the… Read more »
Spec9

“Well, great in theory, until the PV module you need to remove is in the middle of a large array laid flush on the roof”

Well . . . we are talking about residential systems. So you need to remove 2 panels instead of 1? Big whoop.

Microinverters are nice because they are easier to self-install. No need to deal with high-voltage DC lines, just conventional AC. No worries about shading hitting a panel or two. Very easy to expand the system with more panels.

But central inverters with DC optimizers are nice too. However, my local planning department wanted a DC shut-off on the roof if I did a string system. That would have been a pain to add. And I have two sections of roof that I’m using such that combining the strings would have been a little difficult.

io

The racking I have consists of horizontal rails, PV modules slide in and out from the sides. With a system as big as the one illustrated at the top of this article, one would be looking at removing 7 modules to access a micro-inverter in the center.

Re self-installation: IMHO micro-inverters aren’t easier, probably the opposite actually, because of the proprietary wiring they require, and the combination of Enphase somewhat-undersized cables and their strict voltage-rise limits; see http://enphase.com/global/files/EnphaseTechBrief_Vdrop_M250.pdf
Also, you can’t put more than 16 per circuit.

Optimizers simply string together, just like ‘bare’ modules, with no extra wiring needed most of the time. When it is, as they use regular MC4 connectors, regular PV wire works.

Requirements for AC or DC wiring are (afaik) the same; ampacity is computed the same way, identical 600V+ insulation, etc…
Disconnects on the roof are common for regular PV system, not with optimizers: because those isolate modules if the inverter(s) shut down, they are considered a “disconnecting mean”.

Anyway, because of the flexibility and monitoring capability they bring, both systems IMHO remain vastly superior to traditional strings.

arne-nl

I have Chinese panels of unknown brands. They perform very well, no issues whatsoever. After 4 years I can not detect any loss in yield due to degradation.

The local installer that I got them from is married to a Chinese and buys them personally in China. So he can inspect the production facility first hand and knows what he is dealing with.

io

Good that those modules managed to go for 4 years, but frankly, it’d have been pretty pathetic if they didn’t. It’d be more interesting to know how they do in ~20 years.

Like GeorgeS, I also avoided Chinese modules, mainly because:
– I’m more confident that companies producing in other countries (Japan, USA, Germany…) will do so with minimal environmental impact.
– I’d rather support local production/jobs; this helps minimize transportation too.
– Most companies have been in business for much less time than the warranty they slap on their products. Er…
– I went through just too many disappointing experiences with low-cost products.

PV modules were maybe 1/4 of the total cost of my system. If spending 10% more on modules makes the system produce for just 31 years instead of 30, I end up ahead already.

arne-nl

The panels were 70% of the total cost of the system, so in my case they made a big difference.

GeorgeS

One more thing for those that want to not go lease but to own your own:

In AZ with APS you sign a contract with the power company to supply power for 10 years.

This means if you move you will have to get the new owner to take over the contract.

If you can not meet your contractual obligation then you will have to pay back the power company for the amount that they subsidized. The amount is amortized in a linear fashion over the 10 years.

I’m looking into Solar City now that they’re in Nevada. One of the things I heard talking to some friends in the solar industry is that their buy-out clauses are particularly expensive – if you want to buy the panels at year 6 you’re basically paying full price for the panels.

io

It’s actually even worse than that. When I approached SolarCity for a quote, they steadfastly refused to give me any number. The only certainty is that their contract will specify a _minimum_ buy-out price, with the actual amount (equal or higher) decided later by an “appraiser” of their choosing.

Super-shady business practices. Stay away.

See Spec9 and Stimpacker comments above. I agree with them. (except on the maintenance part: there is none whatsoever. If it ever rains, modules tilted 10 degrees or more self-clean just fine).

Those solar lease / PPA companies turn a profit by overcharging customers, exploiting their lack of knowledge, laziness and/or math shortcomings. Don’t be that guy.

Finance your own system, via a green/solar loan, home equity, refinancing, and/or even build it gradually if needed; microinverters and optimizer-based systems are good for that because they’re extremely flexible.

Get quotes from local installers or companies with good reputation; this has nothing to do with how charismatic their chairman might be. They will offer you multiple solutions (not just el-cheapo no-name Chinese modules), and financing options if you need.

That way you stay in control, and you pocket all the benefits as well, including adding value to your home.
I’m sure glad I did.

scott franco

I agree that gradual is a good idea, but I wonder how good an idea partial panel deployments are. The factors are:

1. The (damm) panels are different sizes, there seems to be no standard. So its easy to imagine having to adapt to multiple panel sizes because they are no longer selling the same size later.

2. Everybody says its better to use groups of the same type panels.

3. They are dramatically cheaper by the pallet load.

I’m still in the research phase.

Steve S.

> 2. Everybody says its better to use groups of the same type panels.

This part doesn’t matter if you use microinverters. Which I would strongly recommend.

io

For systems beyond ~2 kW, I’d recommend power optimizers instead, which offer the same benefits, and others (see my long comment above).

arne-nl

I’d recommend using power optimisers or microinverters only in a situation with considerable issues with partial shading. On a straightforward system (all panels are the same, have the same orientation and full sunlight most of the day) you’ll rarely recoup the extra cost.

Additionaly, repairs are more easy to a central inverter in the garage or attic.

Also look at efficiency. In general, the larger the inverter, the higher the efficiency. So part of the extra yield with power optimisers or microinverters is lost because they tend to have a slightly lower efficiency than a string inverter.

A good solar installer should be able to show you the best option for your situation.

All it takes is a few clouds and you’ve got partial shading. You can buy a complete SolarEdge system with optimizers for only $1.81 a Watt complete. The individual solar module monitoring alone makes it worth the money

arne-nl

No, clouds cause partial shading? No, clouds cover your entire system or not.

About #2 – if you have your panels arranged in multiple strings (panels wired in series) then you want to have the same voltage at the end of each string (assuming they’re hooked up in parallel to the same inverter). Otherwise, the panels are not operating at their most efficient points on the IV curve.

Or just use micro-inverters like Steve said.

Spec9

Gradual seems like a really bad idea to me. If you are doing the system right, you need to get permits & get inspected. The cost of permits over and over again will swamp you. So build the whole system once or else you’ll be wasting a lot of money on permits.

That said, you might want to plan the system so you can expand it later if you feel you may want it to grow. I built my system with 6KW but I can easily expand it to 8KW without pulling any new wires.

io

Agreed on permitting etc — if those requirements are tedious and expensive, better bundle everything together.

Or, have the bulk of the system permitted, installed and inspected first… And later, like I’m about to do, slap a few more modules, merely adding them to the existing racking and wiring, both of which were designed from the get-go to accommodate the extension. 🙂

Yeah, I agree with just about everything you said. I managed a 3MW PV system for 5 years (data collection, managed O&M with original vendor) so I’m super familiar with solar PV, and I know several companies that do the install work.

nevadasolar .com offers better deals.

The “SolarCity Megawatts deployed by March 31, 2014” is somewhat confusing. There are numbers missing for 3 of the 4 quarters in 2013 which makes it hard to understand… or I’m just missing something. 🙂

Anon

Would it not make sense to just build solar into new residential construction?

arne-nl

Yes, very much so.

But the construction branche is always lagging.

Spec9

At the very minimum, I think all new residential construction should be “pre-wired” for solar. i.e., have an available breaker location, have conduit that runs from the main panel to the rooftop location, etc.

ModernMarvelFan

Well, all I can say that I am Solar City customer and have been fairly happy with them.

I have been referring friends to them. However, I noticed a significant increase in price that Solar City has quoted by friends comparing to about 2 years ago.

The price they are charging is definitely higher than their Pre-IPO price. So, many of the smaller installers are beating Solar City in price. They used to be cheaper, but NOT anymore.

I also don’t understand the deal that they are offering to their customers on the so called “Tesla Battery packs for backups” at $180/month. I think that is just insane price unless you are operating a large installation for a “pot farm” or something…

Spec9

Ah yes . . . those pot farms were pioneers in solar. The police used to find pot farms by looking for customers that used way too much electricity but solar PV solved that. And they used to look for big infrared signals but LED lighting solved that. And now . . . well the police don’t really even bother anymore. It will end up being legalized eventually.

ModernMarvelFan

It was a joke… =)

They are known to use diesel generators…

Brian

The whole thing is a waste of our law enforcement resources anyway. Far more people are killed on the highways every year than in pot-related incidents. If only the police were effective in making drivers safer (rather than breaking the law themselves)…

Spec9

Oh, I don’t have any serious complaints about SolarCity’s PV installations. I just think the solar leases are not a good value from a customer perspective. But I’ve got to give them credit for coming up with a financing scheme that got a lot of people to install solar with the “no money down” pitch. More solar is good no matter how it is installed/financed.

I just think solar PV customers would be even more happy if they got the tax-credit, they get to deduct the interest on their monthly payments, their monthly payments never rise, and they have the pride of ownership.

JohnO

If SolarCity isn’t a good choice, what’s the other option? Find a local installer, or set it up yourself I guess?

Or are there any companies offering something competing with SolarCity’s program?

Spec9

There are LOTS of installers out there. And there are others that will do solar leases. But my recommendation would be to get bids from several installers for installation on cash basis and then take out a home equity loan to pay them.

And if you have the skills to install yourself, I HIGHLY recommend doing it. It is a fun DIY project, you learn a lot, you’ll know everything about it, you’ll be able to maintain it, it will be very cheap, etc.

Stimpacker

Can’t agree more. See my earlier post for more info.

I won’t say SolarCity is not a good choice. What I am saying is that LEASING is not a good choice.

As Spec9 said, own your system by having a local solar installer do it (just like you’d own your own pool or spa). Take a HELOC to pay for it if you want no money down. It also increases the value of your home unlike a lease. There is no good reason to lease instead of outright purchase. The tax credits are meant for you – don’t let some third party get it.

The lease/PPA financing model is on its way out now that $0 down solar loans with tax deductible interest has hit the market. Couple this new financing with today’s much lower sub $2.20 per watt after incentive pricing and a solar lease or PPA absolutely no longer makes any financial sense in today’s market for most working Americans.

An average size 4.75 kW solar system now costs less than $10,000. Why would anybody want to sign a 20 year airtight solar lease/PPA contract for something that only costs 10 k ?