Adam McKay is tired of our climate-politics garbage fire

“It’s quite the experience living in the U.S.,” the “Don’t Look Up” director says. “I think all of that filtered into the movie.”

In Colombia, threatened women of the Wayuú community continue to fight rampant mining

The Wayuú Women’s Force, founded in 2006, is an Indigenous organization that denounces the coal mining that has dammed and contaminated rivers, leaving much of La Guajira without water.

Climate change agricultural impacts to heighten inequality: Study

The largest and most accurate set of simulations done to date project dramatic crop productivity declines for low-latitude staples like corn in the next ten years and through 2100.

Music Break: Ariana Grande & Kid Cudi -“Just Look Up” Theme Song

“Don’t Look Up” is Leonardo DiCaprio’s new movie satirizing the media’s inability to deal with the reality of climate change. (or anything, really) Dave Roberts on Twitter: I didn’t get to it in the review, but it’s worth watching @ArianaGrande & @KidCudi performing this benefit song in the movie — it’s such a perfect simulacrum […]

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Russia Blocks U.N. Move to Treat Climate as Security Threat

The Russian veto of a widely supported Security Council resolution pointed to the difficulty of achieving a unified response to global warming.
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Upside Foods sues an ex-employee over secret lab-grown meat tech

A three-person team within the startup was tasked with developing top-secret tech. When a cofounder was fired, things started to fall apart.

Conflict and climate change drive water crisis in Syria

Northeastern Syria is experiencing its worst drought in nearly 70 years, with rising temperatures and erratic weather exacerbated by tensions with Turkey.

SolarCity: Reviews, Lawsuits & Tesla Acquisition

SolarCity began in 2006 as a residential and commercial solar provider, manufacturing and installing its own solar panels and equipment. The company was headquartered in Fremont, California, before being purchased by Tesla Inc. in 2016 for $2.6 billion.

SolarCity was widely considered one of the best solar companies in the years leading up to 2016, often finding itself in the limelight due to its ambitious technology, high-profile installations and close proximity to Tesla’s eccentric CEO, Elon Musk, who served on SolarCity’s board before the acquisition. SolarCity was co-founded by Lyndon Rive and Peter Rive, Musk’s cousins.

Even since the acquisition, SolarCity’s name has peppered news articles and social media sites in stories citing whistleblowers and defective products. But what happened to SolarCity? Is it still in business as a subsidiary of Tesla?

In this article, we’ll discuss the history of SolarCity, its products and services, Tesla’s 2016 acquisition and the investigations into the company as they stand today. For more information about Tesla’s current solar offerings, click here. Or, if you want to get a free quote from a local installer to compare with Tesla, you can start using this tool or the form below.

SolarCity Products & Services

So, what made SolarCity stand out in its heyday? The company specialized in high-volume installations of power purchase agreements (PPAs), popularizing a door-to-door solar sales structure similar to those in use today by companies like Sunrun. In addition to its installations, SolarCity manufactured a number of cutting-edge products such as advanced rooftop solar panels, a prototype for solar shingles and more.

Let’s take a closer look at SolarCity’s products and services.

SolarCity Products

Solar Panels: SolarCity’s panels were at one point among the most efficient solar panels on the market, topping even industry leader SunPower in 2015. Tesla continues to focus heavily on powerful solar panels, having recently unveiled 420- to 430-watt modules.

Electric Vehicle Chargers: A match perfect for Tesla, SolarCity’s EV chargers hit the market around 2010. Tesla planned to bridge the gap between SolarCity and Tesla Motors with its EV chargers that run on solar energy, a big part of its master plan to become a sustainable energy conglomerate.

Solar Roof: Though just a prototype at the time, SolarCity’s solar roof technology allowed homeowners to install solar shingles that appear no different from a conventional roof, yet generate electricity the same way as solar panels. This idea evolved into Tesla’s current Solar Roof tiles.

SolarCity Services

Energy Efficiency Upgrades: SolarCity offered energy efficiency audits, upgrades and technology along with its solar systems through partnerships with home energy firms.

Commercial Solar Installations: SolarCity completed a number of high-profile commercial solar projects spanning from eBay’s headquarters to Intel campuses.

SolarCity Power Purchase Agreements

A PPA is similar to a solar lease, wherein a solar company installs solar panels on your roof but retains ownership of the panels. In a PPA, you purchase the power those panels generate from the solar company at a fixed monthly rate. Most PPA contracts ensure that PPA customers will pay less per month than they were spending with their local utility company.

SolarCity deployed a widespread network of door-to-door sales representatives pitching solar PPAs to great success in the early 2010s. In 2015, a year before the acquisition, SolarCity was the leading national residential solar contractor, according to Solar Power World.

SolarCity Reviews

SolarCity’s old reviews offer a good glimpse into what went wrong. Early positive reviews mention the easy process of signing a solar PPA, while negative reviews cover poor customer service and expensive products as the company began to struggle.

Positive SolarCity Reviews

As mentioned, solar leases and PPAs allowed SolarCity to expand as quickly as it did within the residential solar market. For a few years, SolarCity led the nation in volume of residential solar installations. Here’s what one happy customer had to say in a 2014 SolarCity power purchase agreement review:

“Why pay for electricity when you can use the sun!? I got a lease program for my house in Pomona through SolarCity. Couldn’t be happier! Permitting was annoying, but that’s reasonable (psh, government and all). Anyway, 10/10 would recommend.” — Tom via Trustpilot

Negative SolarCity Reviews

The company’s ambitious pace of growth was ultimately its downfall. As reflected in the majority of SolarCity reviews, customer service struggled while prices soared in order to save the company’s slimming bottom line.

“I’ve never seen such pitiful customer service in my lifetime. Rude, condescending, and downright worthless with their help or concern. Had we known this originally, we would have never had Tesla/SolarCity come anywhere near our home. Being the biggest may have its advantages, but it all falls apart when your customer service is as lacking as it is at SolarCity.” — William via Yelp

“In summary, we were interested in going solar, but SolarCity’s pushy sales team and unacceptable behavior have turned us off from ever going with them. Their proposal was also much more expensive than other companies such as Sunrun, Sungevity or SunPower. I would not suggest getting your solar through SolarCity.” — Brad via Yelp

SolarCity Acquisition

As far as the story of SolarCity goes, this is where it ends. SolarCity entered 2016 crippled with debt and struggling to turn a profit. Its value was near all-time lows. Tesla stepped in and purchased SolarCity in 2016 for a sum of $2.6 billion.

To Tesla, the acquisition of SolarCity made sense due to its low valuation, a mission that aligned with Tesla’s and an opportunity to become “the world’s only vertically integrated sustainable energy company.”

Tesla, which also manufactured solar storage technology at the time (the Tesla Powerwall 1 was unveiled in 2015), could now sell and install electric cars, EV chargers, solar panels and energy storage systems, interconnected under one corporate brand.

SolarCity Investigations

Though 85% of Tesla shareholders approved of the acquisition at the time, a few red flags waved in the years following it. In one instance, Walmart reported seven separate fires that began from poorly installed Tesla panels in 2019.

Most recently, a whistleblower stepped forward after claiming he was let go from Tesla last year for raising safety concerns after the acquisition. The SEC complaint read “Tesla and SolarCity, which it acquired in 2016, did not disclose its ‘liability and exposure to property damage, risk of injury of users, fire, etc. to shareholders’ prior and after the acquisition.” As of December 6, 2021, Reuters reports that the SEC has opened a probe into this aspect of the acquisition.

It didn’t help that the owners of SolarCity were relatives of Elon Musk, who was also a board member for SolarCity prior to the acquisition. Musk had to appear in court to defend the acquisition at one point during a separate lawsuit by shareholders who saw the purchase as more of a bailout.

To make a long story short, a number of questions emerged surrounding Musk’s true intent with the purchase, whether he misled shareholders as to the value of SolarCity and if Tesla products built with SolarCity’s influence are as safe as they claim.

Tesla Solar

Since the acquisition in 2016, the SolarCity brand has no longer been used; it now operates as Tesla Solar. SolarCity’s technology has evolved into the products we see offered by Tesla today. The most notable products include solar panels, EV chargers, the Tesla Solar Roof and the Tesla Powerwall 2.

Though Tesla’s solar panel sales haven’t flourished in the years following the messy SolarCity deal, its storage technology sets the industry standard for the best solar batteries. Tesla Powerwalls are flying off the shelves; the company can’t meet the mounting demand, resulting in months-long waitlists for its products.

As far as the investigations are concerned, analysts say that SolarCity remains a small part of Tesla’s overall clean energy and automotive operations, and the overall impact of any investigations could be limited.

If you’re looking for the best solar companies operating today, SolarCity is a dead end. If you’re interested in the recent history of solar and the companies that shaped it, however, SolarCity is a fascinating case study.

Frequently Asked Questions: SolarCity

Is SolarCity still in business?

SolarCity, as an entity, is no longer in business. Tesla acquired SolarCity in 2016 for $2.6 billion and reorganized its business as Tesla Solar.

Is SolarCity now Tesla?

SolarCity and its technology, resources and staff are now Tesla Solar. Tesla continues to grow within the renewable energy industry and is annually ranked among the best solar companies in the country.

What went wrong with SolarCity?

In short, SolarCity was not turning a profit and had invested too much of its capital to repay its debts. At one point, SolarCity began offering its customers solar bonds in order to woo investment. SolarCity claimed these bonds were to spread awareness about clean energy. In any case, SolarCity extended itself too far at an opportune time for Tesla to purchase it.

Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.

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“Keystone” Ice Shelf Cracking Up

Science: An alarming crackup has begun at the foot of Antarctica’s vulnerable Thwaites Glacier, whose meltwater is already responsible for about 4% of global sea level rise. An ice sheet the size of Florida, Thwaites ends its slide into the ocean as a floating ledge of ice 45 kilometers wide. But now, this ice shelf, […]

Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks December 13-14, Here’s How to See It

The Geminid meteor shower, one of the most reliable and active meteor showers of the year, will peak on the night of December 13 into the early morning of December 14. The Geminids display can produce over 100 meteors per hour under ideal conditions.

“The Geminids, which stem in name from the constellation Gemini, are a meteor shower caused by the rock comet 3200 Phaethon, which is thought to be a Palladian asteroid with a ‘rock comet’ orbit,” reported Scott Gleeson of USA Today. “The Geminids are one of the only major meteor showers not originating from a comet.”

About 10 to 15 meteors per hour will begin to be visible just after dark and will increase as the night goes on. This year, the gibbous moon will be bright earlier in the evening, but viewers will have an opportunity to see more shooting stars after it sets.

“The best hourly rates (around 40) will be seen just after moonset around 2 a.m. local time [wherever you are],” Robert Lunsford, editor of the American Meteor Society journal, told AccuWeather.

If you’d prefer not to stay up until the wee hours of the morning, “the evening hours are the best time to try to catch an earthgrazer,” reported Deborah Byrd and Kelly Kizer Whitt of EarthSky.

“An earthgrazer is a slooow-moving, looong-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky. Earthgrazers are rarely seen but prove to be especially memorable, if you should be lucky enough to catch one,” Byrd and Whitt wrote.

The Geminids’ radiant point is near the constellation Gemini, but the meteors can be seen in any part of the sky. Focusing on a darker section, away from the moon, is recommended. A bonus with the Geminids is that they can produce meteors of different colors, depending on the elements they’re made of.

“As the meteors burn up while entering Earth’s atmosphere, the different elements emit different colors. Some shooting stars can even feature multiple colors,” Brian Lada of AccuWeather reported.

“Strong showers such as the Geminids and Perseids offer a better opportunity of seeing colorful meteors only because there are more of them over the entire brightness range to be seen,” wrote Lunsford.

Geminids “meteors burn up in the upper atmosphere some 60 miles (100 km) above Earth’s surface,” Byrd and Whitt reported.

It will be the first time much of the eastern U.S. will see clear conditions during the Geminids meteor shower since 2014.

“Watching for 30 minutes or more will provide a better view of the overall activity,” Lunsford said. “Meteor [showers] have peaks and valleys of activity. If you watch for only 15 minutes, you may be viewing during one of the lulls of activity and see very little.”

The Geminids meteor shower will also be viewable from indoors beginning at nine p.m. ET, as “NASA will livestream the night sky through its meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama,” Gleeson reported.

The Ursid meteor shower will provide an additional sky show, with its peak on December 21, the night of the winter solstice, into December 22. The Ursids “typically [feature] around 10 meteors per hour,” Lada reported. “This is followed up by the Quadrantids on the night of Jan. 2 into Jan. 3, which can spark over 20 meteors per hour.”