and any problem that arises is ours,” Lyndon says.
So the company spends a lot of time on safety and
quality-assurance training. The goal is to get to
the end of the 20-year lease with no hiccups. Then
the customer can buy the system, have SolarCity
remove it, or renew with an upgrade to the new-est, most efficient technology.
Today, Elon is chairman of SolarCity while
running both Space-X and Tesla. Lyndon is CEO,
Peter is COO, and younger sister Almeda Rive
works in sales. Kimbal owns a restaurant, The
Kitchen, in Boulder, Colo., and Russell owns an
interactive-graphics firm, SuperUber, in Brazil.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing. During the
crash of September and October, 2008, Morgan
Stanley closed the division that funded much of
the SolarLease program and SolarCity had to
scramble for new leasing partners. Today’s crisis is in the rollback of state and utility company
“The larger issue with utilities is that they have
a conflict of interest with regard to solar,” Lyndon
says. “They’re in the business of selling power.”
The way utilities see it, subsidizing distributed
“the larger issue with utilities
is that they have a conflict of
interest with regard to solar.”
solar cuts into their profitability. Decoupling
profits from gross power sales has worked in
California, but hasn’t been adopted elsewhere.
So the future, Lyndon says, lies in recruiting utility companies as investment partners.
“We are in the business of providing clean
energy at lower cost than you’re paying now,”
Lyndon explains. “We don’t care who our partner
is. Most financing has consisted of solar systems
owned by banks, but when financial institu-
tions aren’t profitable — and many aren’t now
— they can’t take advantage of tax credits. Now
we see utilities taking that role. There are utility
companies that see opportunities in solar, and
utilities that see solar as a threat. There is a mas-
sive opportunity to get into solar by investing
in projects. Pacific Gas & Electric has been an
investment partner in solar projects and earned
a decent return, and we’ve seen other utilities get
into this space. We can create an opportunity for
them.” A potential model is the growth of the cell
phone industry. Fixed-line phone companies that
declined to invest in cell networks have failed,
while fixed-line phone companies that did invest
in cell networks have thrived.
24 May 2011 SOLAR TODAY