Elon Musk and his companies have been in the news a lot lately, and for good reason. Musk is constantly pushing the technology envelope, from space exploration to electric vehicles to solar technology. Since Tesla's acquisition of SolarCity, there have been many changes to what used to be the leading solar installer in the U.S. In this article, we'll cover the history of the SolarCity/Tesla merger.
Founded in 2006 by Peter and Lyndon Rive, SolarCity was once the leading residential solar installation company in the U.S. SolarCity merged with Tesla in 2016 seemingly as part of Elon Musk's plan to transition the world away from fossil fuels and towards clean solar energy. Since the merger, Tesla has completely changed the SolarCity model to make it entirely online and integrated with the Tesla line of cars and batteries. For all intents and purposes, "SolarCity" is now part of Tesla Energy.
Since SolarCity was founded in 2006, it has been through a rollercoaster of events. Here's a timeline of some of the most important dates in SolarCity's history.
2006: SolarCity is founded by Peter and Lyndon Rive (cousins to Elon Musk)
2013: SolarCity becomes the leading residential solar installer in the U.S.
August 2016: Tesla acquires SolarCity
October 2016: Tesla announces new solar roof product
April 2017: Tesla unveils "sleek and low profile" Panasonic solar panels
May 2017: Tesla begins taking orders for solar roof
August 2017: Gigafactory 2 opens in Buffalo, NY, producing Panasonic modules and solar roof shingles
August 2017: First solar roof systems installed
February 2018: Tesla announces solar partnership with Home Depot to sell Powerwall and Panasonic solar panels
June 2018: Tesla decides to end partnerships with Home Depot
January 2019: Tesla seemed to mainly used their own Tesla-branded solar panels made by Panasonic in quotes for installations
April 2021: Elon Musk announces that Tesla solar panels and the solar roof will only be sold as an integrated product with the Powerwall
As mentioned above, SolarCity was once the leading residential solar installer in the U.S. SolarCity heavily pushed a lease model for solar installations, which was ideal for homeowners when the cost of installing solar was high. Many solar leases are $0-down agreements, and the solar company owns the equipment. However, this financing model eventually gave SolarCity trouble, because it had to invest a lot of cash to buy and maintain the equipment for installations.
As a result, the company needed to keep raising cash, and was failing to hit their numbers. Eventually, Tesla acquired SolarCity, and the merger placed a significant amount of debt accumulated by SolarCity onto Tesla.
An important fact to remember is that SolarCity and Tesla have been related for years before their 2016 merger. We say "related” quite literally – SolarCity was founded by Elon Musk's cousins Peter and Lyndon Rive. Musk himself has said that it is an "accident of history" that the two companies were ever built as separate entities. One current theory about the acquisition is that Musk is on his way to creating the first "clean power utility,” a cohesive group of assets designed to own the future of energy and transportation.
All signs seems to point to Tesla's solar business ramping up through 2019. The beginning of mass installations of the solar roof are rumored to start this year, and version 3 of the product are supposedly almost complete. However, given that their partnership with Home Depot no longer exists, they will not move forward with the rollout of their exclusive Panasonic-manufactured panels and Tesla Powerwall batteries via their Home Depot partnership.
Additionally, Tesla seems to be moving away from the traditional lease-based SolarCity installation model in favor of cash or loan financing options in an apparent bid to make these expected solar installations more profitable – and meet the demand from homeowners who want to own their panels.
Company-wise, SolarCity has slowly been broken up. Over the past few years leading up to and since Tesla's acquisition of the solar company, many employees have been laid off, and both of Musk's cousins left the company. Tesla is focusing heavily on their automotive business now as they try to get Model 3 production fully scaled, so don't be surprised if the new solar part of the Musk empire is put on the back burner for a short while.
As for the SolarCity name, things aren't quite clear yet. "SolarCity" is still in use in branding on the internet, but Tesla is technically the company name that encompasses the electric vehicle, electric battery, and solar energy ventures of Elon Musk. "Tesla Energy" is a subset of Tesla that covers solar panel and battery installations.
Currently, you can request a custom quote for Panasonic solar panels and the Tesla solar roof via both the SolarCity and Tesla websites. It could be the case that Tesla is keeping the SolarCity name around for recognition and association value – remember, SolarCity was once the leading solar installer in the United States.
Next steps for solar shoppers
The final resolution to the Tesla/SolarCity merger is still a ways away. Elon Musk has shown that he sees the value of solar and a reputable solar installation venture, but exactly how that value translates to company operations under Tesla is yet to be seen.
SolarCity saw troubling financial results in their last years as an independent company in large part due to the rise of local, smaller installation companies winning solar business. On the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can solicit quotes from high-quality installers near you. If you are interested in going solar and don't want to wait for more clarity from Tesla (or for their solar roof installations to get going), comparing quotes from solar companies near you is the best way to get a quality deal with a quality company on your solar project.
If you have already received quotes from other installers, you can upload the quote document to our platform to compare all of your offers. If you are considering a Tesla electric vehicle, check out our take and comparisons on Tesla's car lineup.