One way you could tell where a market is headed is by looking at how well a top company in the industry is doing. That is no exception for the solar industry in 2012. Thus, SolarCity is a great company to take a look at to reflect on the solar industry today. The standout conclusion is that falling solar panel manufacturing prices have helped to boost solar installers.
On Thursday, the company released its total installation figures for 2012, the first since the company went public in December.
The company said it installed a total of 156 megawatts (MW) of solar energy in the 2012 fiscal year, and 47 MW in the fourth quarter of 2012. SolarCity originally expected 146 MW would be installed in 2012.
When breaking down the data, residential installations made up most of the deployment, with 85 MW in the entire fiscal year, and 30 MW in the fourth quarter. Commercial installations made up 71 MW of the156 MW for the year, while 17 MW were completed in the fourth quarter.
US Solar Power Growth
The numbers confirm yet again that solar installations across the US have continued to grow. As previously reported, US solar installation capacity was 44% greater in the third quarter of 2012 than the third quarter of 2011, with a total of 644 MW coming on line.
Much of the increase in installations is thanks to the downturn in manufacturing costs, which is helping to advance demand, Joe Bono of Solar Universe noted to CleanTechnica during a pre-holiday telephone interview.
He said that the turbulence in the upstream (manufacturing) part of the solar industry through lower panel costs has been beneficial to consumer demand.
Increased Solar Panel Installations = More SolarCity Jobs
Of course, SolarCity is not only growing its revenue from the increasing number of installations, but also creating jobs. Just in December, the company hired 166 new employees, boosting its total count to 2,516 employees.
Its active recruitment of employees has not gone unnoticed. It finished 10th in Inc. Magazine’s Hire Power awards, hiring 989 employees within a three-year span. These awards honor the companies which are helping to put people back to work, while helping to restore faith in the US economy. SolarCity topped the energy sector in the awards list, which information technology (IT) and Internet-based companies dominate.
These recent employment numbers and accolades are in line with the expanding solar industry. The US Solar Foundation’s 2012 Job Census report recently noted a 13.2% increase in solar jobs, totaling 119,012 at the time. The report also expects an influx of 20,000 new workers, or a 17.2% increase, in 2013.
Earlier this year, SolarCity expanded its Eastern US base by expanding in New York.
While 2012 was a good year for SolarCity, it was not without some glitches. Its IPO was originally supposed to be released by October 2012. However, it was delayed due to unforeseen instances such as Hurricane Sandy. Then, in November, it announced the share price would be around $13-$15 a share and released near the holiday season. However, for various reasons, the IPO was released at $8 a share in early December.
Not only was the IPO delayed, but the US Treasury has been investigating SolarCity and other solar leasing companies due to allegations that they have been taking advantage of customers via incorrect rates for “fair market value” pricing.
Despite these concerns, shares now sit at $14.40 as of January 5, within the original pricing range. CEO Lydon Rive expects the company to be in a positive cash flow by the end of 2013, according to a December interview.
2013: The Year Ahead for SolarCity
The question remains: will SolarCity continue its solid pace in installation and employment growth in 2013? Or will skeletons in the closet catch up with it?
Bono expects continued strong demand within the solar industry for installers, thanks to the continued downward trend in prices, albeit not as aggressively like this year. This should still benefit SolarCity, barring any surprises.
“2013 will be the year of buyers,” he said.
2013 will be no doubt an exciting year for SolarCity. Expect the company to continue seeing installation and job growth, and just perhaps some positive cash flow.
A University of Winnipeg graduate who received a three year B.A. with a combined major in Economics and Rhetoric, Writing & Communications. Currently attempting to be a freelance social media coordinator. My eventual goal is to be a clean tech policy analyst down the road while I sharpen my skills as a renewable energy writer. Currently working on a book on clean tech and how to relate it to a broader audience. You can follow me on Twitter @adamjohnstonwpg or at www.adammjohnston.wordpress.com