SolarCity moves into utility scale solar development

My colleague Ucilia Wang reported last week that IPO hopeful SolarCity has inked a deal to install a 12 megawatt project on the island of Kauai. She notes that it’s an unusual move for SolarCity because the company has been almost exclusively devoted to rooftop solar and the residential/commercial installation market.

SolarCity was an early innovator in the financing of rooftop solar by offering long term power purchase agreements to eliminate up front capital costs for buyers of solar systems, and there have been suggestions the company may bring to market a combination battery/solar system for near complete grid independence.

It’s pretty competitive out there in the utility scale development market and a small 12 megawatt project could be the right entry point for SolarCity to show that it can handle development of a solar farm. In that 10 to 20 megawatt range of project, the company would do well to consider the microgrid market, particularly in places like India where grid infrastructure is in shambles and massive solar farms are less useful because there’s no easy way to transport the electricity from the solar farm to the consumer. China has a similar problem as it’s got a lot of wind power installed that isn’t grid connected.

Becoming a reliable installer of microgrids even in places like the US has potential as progressive utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric have small microgrid projects to help balance and work with the influx of rooftop solar among its customers. And, well, rooftop solar connectivity is one area where SolarCity has a lot of expertise.

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Adam Lesser

Analyst Gigaom Research

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