Falling Leaves, Rising Sun
As we get deeper into autumn and the holidays lie just around the corner, it's hard to believe that we're nearing the end of another year. Despite a few sensational headlines, it's been another great year for solar power.
- The SJF Institute awarded SolarCity with a "Green Jobs Award" for 2011. We've created more than 1,200 jobs since the recession began in December 2007—that's an average of more than one new job per workday. And we're not done! We hope to fill another 150 positions before the end of the year. If you know someone who is interested in working in clean energy, have them visit the 'Careers' section of our website.
- Walmart continues to pursue more solar projects, as we will detail in this edition's "Commercial Corner". SolarCity has already completed solar installations at 47 Walmart stores in Arizona and California, and we expect to complete more than 120 Walmart projects in the next two years.
- SolarCity is installing the largest solar project at a winery in the Pacific Northwest at Oregon's King Estate Winery.
- As the kids headed back to school, more schools took the solar plunge. SolarCity has dozens of new school projects underway across the country, including Chico, Oxnard and Lancaster in California, with additional projects in Maryland and Arizona.
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Driving on Sunshine
As "Revenge of the Electric Car" hits theaters this month, we celebrate carbon-free transportation. Combining solar power and electric vehicles has always been an obsession at SolarCity. Back in 2009, when "EV-PV" was a little more below the radar, we built a solar powered fast-charging corridor to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles by co-locating solar power systems and public EV chargers at Rabobank branches along Highway 101.
Now we're letting more homeowners "drive on sunshine" across the U.S., with home-based high-speed electric vehicle charging stations that can be powered by solar electricity. SolarCity now offers chargers that can support most of the EVs on the road, including the Chevy Volt, Ford Transit Connect, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster, in all 11 states we serve.
Much like using solar to power appliances or heat or cool your home, using the sun to power your car can save you money. While you might pay $2,000 for enough gas to drive the average car 12,000 miles a year, you could pay less than half that much for the solar electricity that could propel an EV the same distance.
Solar power and electric vehicles are still in their relative infancies. Neither has reached even 1 percent adoption nationally. Still, both seem closer than they've ever been to the kind of economies of scale that could lead to a tipping point. Paul Krugman, who once won a Nobel Prize for his study of economies of scale, declared solar cost effective in his column this week. After years of struggle in a fossil fuel economy, his words offer a great deal of encouragement: "Here comes the sun, if we're willing to let it in."
Commercial Corner: Walmart's Big Solar Goal
Rarely does a decision to go solar have such a big impact. However, because of its scale, Walmart is contributing to the fundamental development of a growing solar economy and creating hundreds of jobs with its long-term goal of using 100-percent renewable energy for all its retail and distribution facilities.
And by announcing plans to install solar in its Arizona and California stores with SolarCity, the planet's largest retailer has taken a major step toward its ambitious goal.
"Walmart is setting a clear example that other companies can follow, and demonstrating that solar power can reduce pollution and lower operational costs at the same time," said Lyndon Rive, SolarCity's CEO. "They're helping to make solar energy more accessible for other businesses and homeowners."
The first SolarCity Walmart to come online, back in July 2010, was the Stockton, California store. Now 59 stores are slated to have 23 megawatts of solar capacity with SolarCity by the end of this year, with more than 120 stores expected to be online by the end of 2013. That means fully three-quarters of Walmart's California stores will receive power from the sun. That's enough to power a city of 5,400 homes for a year, according to the EPA's calculator. It also means more than 21,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided each year, making a significant reduction in Walmart's carbon footprint. SolarCity's full-service approach and flexible financing options made it a great choice for Walmart's California and Arizona rollout, helping the company to achieve its dual desire to reduce pollution and save money.
"Walmart has reduced energy expenses by more than a million dollars through our solar program, allowing us to pass these savings on to our customers in the form of everyday low prices," said Kim Saylors-Lester, Walmart's vice president of energy.
Walmart chose to work SolarCity because of its extensive project experience and ability to deploy solar across multiple states. The retail giant also sought a partner who could deliver the most cost-effective solution for a variety of building and application types, including rooftop, ground-mount and carport installations.
Solar Citizens: The Sternbergs, Germantown, Maryland
Seth and Deborah Sternberg of Germantown, MD had long considered going solar, but felt it was too expensive. The Sternbergs had been paying a premium to purchase wind credits for clean energy from their utility to support clean power. When SolarCity expanded to Maryland earlier this year, though, they decided to consider solar again.
"I'd always been interested in doing it, mostly for the environmental impact," Seth said. But it was SolarCity's financing option that convinced them to take the plunge. "So except for the advertisement of having the panels on our roof, it was really all about economics, all about saving money."
The Sternbergs now sport a 5.16-kilowatt system on their five-bedroom home. To do this, they prepaid $4,500 of their 20-year lease, bringing their monthly solar payment down to only $20. They saved $70 on their first post-solar electricity bill in October, and they expect to save even more in the summer when the days are longer. Seth expects to recoup their initial payment in a few years, and save thousands of dollars over the life of the agreement.
Some people think SolarCity's financing is too good to be true. "I can image that," says Seth, a software engineer and father of two. But ultimately with this option, homeowners are going to pay less for solar power than they pay for utility power. "There's really no reason not to do it. It just makes sense," he says.