First Solar Makes Inroads In The Residential Market Through Thriving SolarCity


Aided by the booming business of solar installation company SolarCity, First Solar (FSLR) is finding its panels atop the roofs of homes in California and Arizona, reports GreenTech Media.

First Solar’s thin film panels are going on 60% to 70% of SolarCity’s residential customers, which is a change of pace for both companies. Thin film panels aren’t as effective at converting sunlight into energy as crystalline silicon panels, so they are typically used on the ground projects or large commercial roofs.

SolarCity says the thin film panels work fine on large roofs and they look better as they are thin, black helping them to blend in on the roof. If customers don’t have the roof space, SolarCity recommends use of Evergreen Solar (ESLR) panels as they convert energy better.

SolarCity’s business has doubled in the past year. Overall SolarCity has installed panels on 2,000 homes, and currently has 3,000 orders to fill and an 8 month waiting list according to Slate.

The success for installation companies comes from financial wizardy, not improvements in technology, says Slate:

In California, homeowners installing solar panels get a state rebate equal to 20 per cent of the cost and a 30 per cent tax credit for the cost of installation. But even after such goodies, the $20,000 solar unit still requires significant upfront investment. So, in February, the city of Berkeley, Calif., put a new program into action. Homeowners borrow money from the city to install panels, reap the benefit of government rebates and tax credits, and then pay down the loan to the city through property-tax payments made over 20 years. The debt, like the panels, sticks to the house, not the person. Sell the house, and the new owner assumes the liability. Businesses are similarly seeking new types of arrangements. Gerry Heimbuch, vice president of commercial operations at the Solar centre, a five-year-old firm based in Rockaway, N.J., that designs and builds solar-energy installations, says that building owners who plant panels on their roofs will see a return on their investment within five years. But in this climate, that’s still too long. The answer: power purchase agreements. A third-party investor pays for the installation of the solar unit and owns it, receives the tax benefits, and then sells power to the host building at a reduced price. Essentially, building owners are renting their roof space. fuelled largely by such orders, the Solar centre expects revenues to double in 2009 from $8 million last year.

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