You get a solar installation, you could get positive cash flow, and you pay no money down. Sounds like an offer you might read in some spam note from Bulgaria. But it's a legitimate offer from an legitimate cleantech company in California and Arizona. Solar City is about to celebrate its second birthday...on the Fourth of July. Funded by VCs like Draper Fisher and Elon Musk (you know, Tesla Motors and Paypal), plus a little input from an old-timer, JP Morgan.
True to their Silicon Valley roots, Solar City's biggest commercial installation is on the eBay campus in San Jose. And eBay's solar system is the largest commercial installation anywhere in Santa Clara, California, which includes a major portion of Silicon Valley.
THEY BUILD, YOU LEASE, THE DEAL WORKS LIKE THIS...
The two brothers who started Solar City figured there were two major obstalces to the success of solar technology for generating electricity. There was a lack of understanding among home owners and businesses...and then there was the need for a significant capital expense up front. They assumed the pressure of higher and higher energy prices [let us quickly note that crude oil is now about $140 per barrel] would force self-education by the folks paying for that energy. So they set about fixing the other problem. They buy the solar components from major manufacturers, build and install the systems, then lease the electricity generated to the property owner.
I talked with Lyndon Rive who co-founded Solar City with his brother, Peter. They were the first employees at Solar City. Remember that was just two years ago. Today, said Lyndon, they have 300 employees. He was proud to say they do all their own work, not contracting it out. The Solar Citites even get employee benefits. And this in 2008.
Rive pointed out it's wise for potential solar power users to get solarized now while state and federal rebates and subsidies are worthwhile. Most pro-solar programs are set to diminish over time so there'll be little savings for the buyers even if solar components do decrease in cost as the industry grows.
DOES SOLAR PAY? IT CAN, SAYS SOLAR CITY
Rive says they tell customers in California and Arizona--where they currently operate--that a
$100 $150 per monthy electricity bill now means they would actually save money with a Solar City installation...in most cases. Not if you live in the redwoods, of course. But a majority of homes have access to a plentitude of free solar energy once the photovoltaic system's installed.
And the electricity produced by the solar panels can be "net metered." That is, sold back to the local utility company. That is required under federal law: homeowners and businesses generating power with solar or wind or gerbils-on-treadmill are allowed to sell back any surplus power to the utility company. In some cases this is simply done via a reversible electric meter.
Solar City says many customers leasing their systems pay less now for electricity, the combined lease payment and any electricity bill being less than the former electricity bills.
Solar City seems to be on a move to expand, so there may be more than just California and Arizona getting their services soon.