SA success in Silicon Valley: R60bn market leader SolarCity posts 77% surge

Although Elon Musk is the most regular headline grabber, he’s certainly not the only South African shaking up US business. His cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive – sons of Musk’s mother’s twin sister – started and run America’s biggest sun-powered electricity business, SolarCity. The San Mateo, California-based company maintained its market leadership in the June quarter, installing just short of 200 Mw of solar panels – an increase of 77%. That takes the annual run rate of the Rive brothers’ solar installations to roughly the same as the power to be produced by the first set of turbines at the R300bn Medupi power station. South Africa has most of the ingredients to unlock the free power from its abundant sunshine. Perhaps someone should ask the global experts from Pretoria to help us do so? – Alec Hogg

A vendor holds a piece of solar panel to attract buyers at a stall in Manila July 13, 2015. Solar companies will push the Philippine government to quadruple the size of an incentive scheme for suppliers of the renewable energy and to speed up project approvals, as the country grapples with precarious electricity supply. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
The exponential growth of solar energy worldwide is reflected by this street scene in the Philippines where a vendor holds a piece of solar panel to attract buyers at a stall in Manila July 13, 2015. Solar companies will push the Philippine government to quadruple the size of an incentive scheme for suppliers of the renewable energy and to speed up project approvals, as the country grapples with precarious electricity supply. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Christopher Martin

(Bloomberg) – SolarCity Corp.’s operating costs climbed 80 percent in the second quarter as Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive increased spending to maintain the company’s position as the top provider of U.S. rooftop solar systems.

Sales and marketing expenses more than doubled, and total costs rose to $175.8 million from $97.2 million a year earlier, San Mateo, California-based SolarCity said Wednesday in a statement.

That helped the company install a record 189 megawatts of solar panels in the quarter, up 77 percent, and to win orders for 395 megawatts of systems, an 81 percent increase. Rive said that puts the company on track to install 1 gigawatt this year.

“We broke two new records in the second quarter, in bookings and installations,” Rive said on a conference call. “We’re well on our way to achieving a million customers,” by mid-2018.

SolarCity is facing increasing competition for rooftop customers, the fastest-growing part of the U.S. solar industry. Vivint Solar Inc., the second-biggest provider, agreed last week to be acquired by SunEdison Inc., the world’s biggest clean- energy developer. Sunrun Inc., the No. 4 provider, filed last month for an initial public offering that would provide capital to build more systems.

SolarCity expanded in Nevada and Rhode Island in the second quarter and introduced a program to sell clean energy from small power plants to renters, schools and other customers who can’t, or don’t want to, install rooftop panels. Rive is also investing in the biggest U.S. panel factory that’s expected open next year in Buffalo, New York.

The net loss narrowed to $22.4 million, or 23 cents a share, from $47.7 million, or 52 cents, a year earlier, Excluding some items, the company lost $1.61 a share, more than the $1.57 average of 13 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales rose to $102.8 million from $61.3 million.

SolarCity installed 34 percent of U.S. residential solar systems last year, according to GTM Research. Vivint held 13 percent of the market, Sungevity Inc. had 3 percent and Sunrun accounted for 2 percent.