Top this, top that—it’s a busy week for solar lists and records. GTM Research recently put together a list of the top residential solar installers in the first three quarters of 2011. With well over 2,000 installers in a market of over $2 billion (in 2011), to top that list is clearly a feat,.. but it’s a feat accomplished without any doubt by one company, a company you must have heard of by now. The company is SolarCity, and it’s gobbled up a pretty astounding 14% of national market share (as a reminder, GTM Research has over 2,000 installers in its database).
Second place was Real Goods Solar, with 6% of the market share.
SolarCity’s Formula for Success
Well, first of all, solar leases and other forms of third-party-owned agreements have blown up, and SolarCity is a leader on this front. As reported back in June of 2011, Google invested $280 million to expand its solar leasing program.
Like it’s solar leasing competitors, you can even get solar on your home for $0 down. Some people hate this system, because it gives more of the solar profits to corporations rather than individuals. But there’s no denying that people are attracted to it and that it is helping to increase solar adoption across the country.
SolarCity’s range has also expanded considerably in the past year. “Much of SolarCity’s capacity comes from its operations in Western states, primarily California and Arizona,” GTM reports. “Over the last year and a half, though, the company has pushed aggressively into new states, including established markets such as Colorado, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as promising growth markets such as Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts.”
But, GTM postulates that it’s that ever-important marketing pzazz (or budget) that has propelled the company so far into the lead. “What sets the company apart is aggressive marketing and advertising. To Americans not in the solar industry, SolarCity is likely one of the most recognizable names in the business, in addition to SunPower and the late Solyndra.”
Other Leading Solar Installers
Other than SolarCity and Real Goods Solar, rounding out the top 5 are #3 Trinity Heating and Air (of the Northeast, and especially dominant in solar powerhouse New Jersey), #4 REC Solar (the only company that topped SolarCity in one quarter), and #5 PetersenDean (“a long-established roofing company”).
Real Goods Solar, traditionally focused on solar leaders California, Colorado, and New Jersey, is now expanding into several other states with the purchase of the residential division of Alteris Renewables, the 18th largest residential installer by market share, which is a leader in New England states. So, expect more from it in the coming year.
Trinity Heating and Air, which has 35% of the NJ market share, is actually probably best-known for its solar business, Trinity Solar, which “was spun off from the HVAC services company in 2004 and is now ranked as New Jersey’s largest green energy company.”
REC Solar has actually lost market share since 2010, without a doubt because its traditional markets of AZ, CA, CO and NJ while others have.
The top 20 installers took 49% of the solar installation market in the first three quarters of 2011. That means, of course, that the other 99% or so took 51% of the market. This is down from 66% in 2010.
That may sound like an increasing wealth distribution matter to us highly equality-minded folks, but the fact if the matter is, as markets mature in the U.S., consolidation occurs. This is yet another sign of the solar market growing up a bit.
Of course, there’s still plenty of competition and plenty of innovative companies that could rise up to take more of the market share. GTM noted, for example, that #6 on the list, Verengo SolarPlus, is a relatively young company that started in Los Angeles, recently set up shop in New Jersey, and is growing fast on a model similar to SolarCity—a model focused on creative, direct-to-customer advertising, and financing partnerships with SunRun. We’ll see what the coming quarters and years bring for Verengo Solar and the other rising stars amongst the 2,000 or so residential solar installers.
I'm the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular clean energy website in the world, and Planetsave, a leading green and science news site. I've been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and I've been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, bicycling, and wind energy for the past few years. You can also find my work on Scientific American, Reuters, Think Progress, GE's ecomagination site, several sites in the Important Media network, & many other places. To connect on some of your favorite social networks, go to zacharyshahan.com or click on some of the links below.