WATCH: Elon Musk explains SolarCity’s new solar roof product line

In the back lot of Universal Studios Hollywood, Elon Musk took to the stage to debut his latest bet on the future — the solar roof. This is an idea of the future based on a technology that originally hit the scene in 2005, but the Solar City/Tesla architect believes coupling an integrated solar roof with battery storage (like the new Powerwall that also debuted) is what will eventually move solar into its next phase of widespread adoption.

As usual, the presentation is still mostly about vision and not as much on details, like cell efficiency, the warranty, costs or when it will be available to customers. But we do know the solar roof will be offered in four styles (Textured Glass Tile, Slate Glass Tile, Tuscan Glass Tile, and Smooth Glass Tile) and production is slated to being in mid-2017.

The video above will likely not be enough to win over skeptics, but anything SolarCity needs to be monitored because its failures/successes drive a lot of mainstream industry coverage and could have ramifications on industry perception.

RELATED: SunTegra looks to ramp up its solar roof sales, hires new director 

— Solar Builder magazine

Airbnb, SolarCity partner to offer customer rebates on solar installs

Solar CityAs if conjured directly from a thinkpiece on millennials, Airbnb and SolarCity Corp. are partnering on a rebate program. The idea is to connect Airbnb hosts and guests with an affordable and sustainable way to power their homes with solar energy and further drive the connection between the environment and the sharing economy.

Through the partnership, SolarCity will offer members of the Airbnb community a rebate – up to $1,000 cash back – on all solar panel systems. The rebate is available to Airbnb members in each market where SolarCity currently operates, and homeowners can choose the solar option that works for their homes. Additionally, new and current SolarCity customers who become Airbnb hosts will receive a $100 Airbnb travel credit.

RELATED: Panasonic might produce PV modules for SolarCity at new plant 

Home sharing is a more environmentally sustainable way to travel. Based on methodology developed by Cleantech Group1, Airbnb estimates that over the last year, by choosing Airbnb instead of hotels, Airbnb travelers in the US have reduced:

  • Water consumption by 4.2 billion liters, the equivalent of 1,700 Olympic size swimming pools
  • Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to keeping 560,000 cars off the road for a year
  • Waste generated by 37,000 metric tons
  • Energy consumption equivalent to the amount used by 280,000 homes in one year

When homeowners go solar with SolarCity, they can take control of their energy needs by using solar electricity that costs less than they would pay for utility power. Solar power also enables them to secure predictable monthly costs for years into the future. As a full service provider, SolarCity makes going solar easy for homeowners by handling everything from financing and permitting to installation and maintenance.

— Solar Builder magazine

Panasonic might produce PV modules for SolarCity at new plant

PanasonicPanasonic Corp. is making bigger and bigger moves in the solar industry. The company already had a relationship with Tesla Motors as a battery partner, but will now is in discussions to manufacture its PV cells and modules at the big new SolarCity facility planned for Buffalo, N.Y., pending the Tesla/SolarCity merger becoming official, of course. Panasonic is already pushing out a nice solar installer training program with its own branded high efficiency modules, and working with SolarCity could obviously really ramp up its penetration in the U.S.

Details from Panasonic: On Oct. 17, 2016, Panasonic has signed a non-binding letter of intent with Tesla to discuss about possible collaboration on the production of PV cells and modules for the North American market at a factory in Buffalo, New York, under the umbrella of Tesla.

Panasonic will look at a collaboration that utilizes the strengths of both companies, creating a synergy between Panasonic’s technological and manufacturing expertise in PV cells and modules and Tesla’s strong sales capacity.
Panasonic produces and sells its HIT PV modules with unique silicon heterojunction structure composed of crystalline silicon substrate and amorphous silicon layers. With industry-leading conversion efficiency and excellent temperature coefficient characteristics, Panasonic’s HIT achieves high power generation even in a limited space.

Panasonic is one of the few vertically integrated PV manufacturers in the world, with in-house production of ingots, cells and modules to inverters, providing high-quality products.

This Buffalo plant is being built with assistance from New York, and is going to be the largest producer of photovoltaic panels in North America. SolarCity delayed the opening of this plant when questions started to pop up about its future. The speculation now is this deal with Panasonic could be the extra financial boost the company needs to get this going. From Forbes:

SolarCity, under pressure to secure additional funds prior, earlier this year delayed the opening of the Buffalo plant, pushing it back to about the second quarter of 2017, according to the Buffalo News. That’s raised concerns among both New York state officials and investors about the fate of the facility.

“Panasonic’s support could mitigate, in our view, some of the capex required to launch the Buffalo facility,” Brian Johnson, an equity analyst for Barclays who has an “underweight” rating on Tesla shares, said in a research note today.

— Solar Builder magazine

SolarCity launching two funds to back $347 million in new solar projects

SolarCity Corp. has partnered with Citi to create two separate funds to finance more than $347 million in solar projects. The first fund is expected to finance more than $284 million in residential solar projects across the U.S. The second fund is expected to finance approximately $63 million in projects for small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) throughout California.

Solar City“Citi is proud to support SolarCity on its mission to expand access to clean solar power for households and small businesses across the United States,” said Marshal Salant, Global Head of Alternative Energy Finance at Citi. “These funds, which will contribute to Citi’s goal to lend, invest and facilitate a total of $100 billion within the next 10 years to activities that reduce the impacts of climate change, clearly illustrate our strong commitment to sustainable growth and clean renewable energy.”

“We highly value repeat investors given our consistent pace of solar asset origination,” said Radford Small, Chief Financial Officer at SolarCity. “This latest investment with Citi is a testament to how our solar assets continue to perform in the field, and in the capital markets.”

This financing makes it possible for many homeowners and small and medium-sized businesses to install solar panels with no upfront cost and pay less for solar electricity than they currently pay for utility bills. The new fund follows a $305 million cash equity financing closed earlier this month.

— Solar Builder magazine

Consumer watchdogs call out solar leasing, urge FTC to ban arbitration clauses

solar lease clause ban

Solar leases, while diminishing in the market and will eventually give way to loans, are still the most common residential PV system funding model at this moment. They have obvious downsides for a homeowner, but a consumer watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader, Public Citizen, is calling out a less discussed aspect in some of these deals — the forced arbitration clauses. This week, the group submitted comments (PDF) to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging the agency to ban mandatory arbitration clauses in solar leasing contracts.

These clauses, do not allow customers to take these third-party companies to court if a law is broken or abusive practices take place. Now, these arbitration contracts are not uncommon in many industries, despite the group’s objections to them (even though they are under scrutiny), but the issue they raise is their use in this particular industry, considering they are not usually included in electric utility service contracts. As the group states in its summary:

That’s because electric utility service always has been considered a public service and has been regulated as such for more than a century by states. The terms in solar leases essentially function as electric utility service. But state regulatory commissions do not regulate solar leasing contracts, leaving consumers vulnerable to corporate abuses and lawbreaking.

Public Citizen earlier this year urged SolarCity to remove arbitration clauses from standard contracts, but the company has refused.

— Solar Builder magazine