SolarCity's Sales Drop Is Darkening Solar's Prospects Around the Country

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Elon Musk’s SolarCity acquisition played a large part in breaking the solar industry’s five-year winning streak, according to a report released Wednesday from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Greentech Media. Overall, residential solar sales are down 13 percent in the US this year, following five straight years of gains. After being acquired by Tesla, where Musk is CEO and founder, SolarCity’s door-to-door sales pushes became much less aggressive, a drop that echoed across the market, the report said.


Solar boomed during the Obama years, propped up by generous federal subsidies, tax breaks for installations, and stringent environmental regulations. Solar sales rose 19 percent in 2016 and roughly 30 percent of the national solar market came from SolarCity between 2014 and 2016.

A lot’s changed since then.

President Trump has dismantled Obama-era environmental protections, blaming them for rampant unemployment among miners. Not only is that a lie—coal’s decline began decades ago—but without the threat of penalty, there’s less incentive for companies to pursue cleaner energy sources. Similarly, EPA chief Scott Pruitt has said publicly he wants to “do away with” all federal subsidies for renewables, effectively removing both the carrot and the stick for pushing consumers and businesses to renewable energy.

According to the report, Tesla’s residential solar sales this quarter are 42 percent lower than they what they were this time last year. Its overall share in the market has dropped from 25 percent last year to 14 percent. Similarly, the three biggest solar markets in the US—California, New York and Massachusetts—all saw drops in new installations. In Massachusetts, sales dropped by more than 50 percent. The report attributes this to “the impact of pullback from national providers.”

The stifling political climate may or may not explain the paradigmatic shift in SolarCity’s sales approach after being acquired.

“They spent a lot of money making people aware of what solar can do and all of us little guys have been the beneficiaries of that,” Jim Petersen, owner of a California-based solar company, told Reuters.

SolarCity employed an aggressive door-to-door sales push, offering homeowners solar panels for no money down. Not only was the company a big part of sales, it informed people about solar’s viability as an alternative to fossil fuels. The shift, whether it’s motivated by the dark clouds on the political horizon or not, had a hugely outsized impact on the market because SolarCity was driving the industry’s enormous growth.


[Fast Company]

Of course I have pages. I had pages five years ago. How anyone can believe I don’t defies belief.


Solar City is incompetent. That is why their sales are down. I’ve been trying to get a system for months now from them. My original sales rep came and did the initial visit and quote, then quit or was fired. A month or so later of calling and emailing with no response, finally we got through to someone on a national number that apologized for the delay. They were able to look us up and start the process again. Of course now they had to send out all new people to quote us, then a site survey.

Now we are past the original expected install date. They come back with final plans for approval that don’t match anything we discussed. I go back and forth with them asking why this doesn’t match what their engineers quoted and I’m told that they can not install it the way it was planned and surveyed. I tell them that I’m done with this crap and magically the next day we are back to the original plan.

Now comes the torrent of paperwork for permits etc. Fill it out and send it back and they keep coming back and saying they haven’t sent us everything and proceed to send the exact same thing again. Over and over. It’s ridiculous.

I WANT solar from them, along with a Powerwall. They are completely incapable of selling me one. It’s ridiculous. Looking at forums, my story is not unique. People want to buy from them, but over and over Tesla/SolarCity are unable to deliver product. They deserve to be out of business.