About SolarCity

By using their customizable solar panel systems to generate electricity, SolarCity claims to be a better way of powering homes and businesses at a lower cost, while also contributing to a healthier, cleaner planet. By offering solar panel systems for homes, businesses, and government institutions; by making the process easy; and by providing low, predictable locked-in rates, SolarCity claims to be America’s #1 full-service solar provider. In fact, the company claims that someone switches to SolarCity once every 5 minutes.

With an ever-increasing focus on “going green” and minimizing the impact on our environment, especially when it comes to powering our homes, it’s no wonder than solar power companies such as SolarCity have become immensely popular over the past several years. However, when it comes down to it, can SolarCity really help you enjoy all the benefits of clean solar energy, worry-free, or is it more of a pain than it’s worth? Let’s shine some light on the facts.

How SolarCity Works

Because solar power systems cost less than traditional power in many markets, SolarCity claims that they can help provide you with “a clean, more affordable energy bill.” In order to accomplish this, SolarCity claims that they will plan and supervise your project from start to finish, and that they feature the most sophisticated project management system in the industry.

If you’re interested in finding out if a SolarCity system is right for you, the first thing you’ll want to do is check to make sure that the company’s services are available in your area, which can be accomplished by entering your zip code on the website’s home page. If so, you’ll then need to follow these steps in order to begin experiencing all the benefits that the company claims to provide:

  • After a free consultation and signing an agreement, a site auditor will visit your home, take measurements, and gather technical information.
  • SolarCity’s engineering team will then use this information to custom design your solar system.
  • Plans are then submitted for permit and local HOA approvals.
  • After approval is received, installation will begin, which generally takes 1-3 days to complete.
  • Then, your system will be inspected by your local building department.
  • After this final approval, you’ll be able to enjoy clean solar energy!

According to SolarCity, each of their solar power systems are continuously monitored in order to ensure that everything’s running smoothly, and their online portal allows you to track your project’s progress. Once everything’s complete, you’ll also be able to monitor your system in real time by accessing the SolarCity Power Guide via any PC, tablet, or smartphone.

SolarCity Pricing & Refund Policy

If you decide that a SolarCity system is right for you, there are three different options from which to choose:

  1. $0 Down Solar Lease – Simply pay for the power your solar panels generate each month, along with your lease fee. Includes locked-in low rates and a 20-year protection plan. SolarCity claims that 95% of customers will benefit more from a lease than a purchase.
  2. Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) – A contract to buy solar power based on a set rate that is usually equal to or less than market rate from your local utility company.
  3. Outright Purchase – Here, you’ll pay for equipment and installation upfront, although SolarCity claims you’ll see a return on your investment in less than 10 years, and you’ll be eligible for 30% or more annual solar tax rebates. Includes a 30-year protection plan.

If you choose option #1, SolarCity claims that solar panel installation is free, and that maintenance, repairs, and insurance are provided at no extra cost. In other words, the company claims that you’ll simply pay for the power your system generates.

All SolarCity systems come with a 100% performance guarantee. If not, you’ll need to contact the company at (888) 765-2489 in order to have the problem resolved.

Important note: As of the time of this writing, your monthly SolarCity bill will be increased by $15 if you choose not to sign up for automatic withdrawal.

Can SolarCity’s Solar Panel Systems Help Reduce Your Electricity Bills?

Now that you know more about SolarCity and their solar-based power systems, can they really provide you with a worry-free experience, and can you expect to save a lot of money in the process? Perhaps, but keep the following in mind:

Limited Availability

First, SolarCity systems are only available in 16 states: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, MD, MA, NV, NJ, NY, OR, PA, TX, and WA. On top of this, you’ll need to own the home you live in order to install the solar panels on the roof (e.g. cannot lease your home).

Very Long-Term Contract

While SolarCity’s contracts seem to be in line with other solar energy providers such as SunRun, remember that you’ll be signing up for a 20-year service agreement, which comes with some fairly steep penalties if it’s cancelled it in advance.

While SolarCity claims that you can transfer your solar agreement to the buyer in the event you sell your home, you’ll be responsible for buying the system outright if they don’t agree to such a stipulation.

Numbers Don’t Lie

If you decide to go the $0 Down Lease option, keep in mind that you could actually increase you overall expenses when compared to your current utility bill. For example:

Let’s say that you currently pay $300 per month for electricity, and SolarCity claims that one of their systems can significantly reduce this amount. After your panels are installed, you find that you’re generating 70% of the electricity you need, thereby decreasing your utility bill to approximately $90 per month. However, keep in mind that you’ll still have to pay for the leased panels, which could total several hundred dollars per month, ultimately negating any utility savings.

Also, according to the “What’s you electricity bill?” slider on SolarCity’s home page, it appears that you may not see much savings if you spend less than $100 per month on your electricity bills.

Company Reputation

SolarCity holds an A+ rating with the BBB, based on nearly 100 closed complaints over the past 3 years. However, the company claims that they have more than 90,000 customers, and that the vast majority of them have been satisfied with their service.

With this said, there are hundreds of customer complaints online, most of which appear to reference shoddy installation, poor customer service, high pressure sales tactics, and hidden fees in their contracts.

SolarCity’s Legal Woes

SolarCity is part of a class action lawsuit on behalf of its investors, who claim that the company has been providing false and misleading information in its financial statements. In addition, there is also an ongoing Federal investigation into SolarCity in regard to their "fair market value" pricing on leased systems. According to this same article, SolarCity customers can pay up to 70% more than some of the competition.

As if this weren’t enough, SolarCity has received millions in stimulus money and federal tax credits since 2008, but has still posted a net loss of more than $300 million. As such, it appears that the company may be staying afloat on the backs of taxpayers instead of their products, which might present some concern for their overall longevity.

Service Timeline

Finally, although SolarCity claims that your panels can often be installed in one day, this doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use them. In fact, although your contract will give you an estimated timeline as to when you can expect service, most people usually have to wait a month or more.

Bottom line

Although solar power can often represent a solid investment with low, lock-in rates, not to mention the environmental impact it can have, it’s important that you thoroughly think everything through before signing a 20-year contract, whether through SolarCity or another provider.

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11 Customer Reviews for SolarCity

Average Customer Rating: 1.8
Rating Snapshot:
5 stars: 2 4 stars: 0 3 stars: 0 2 stars: 1 1 stars: 8
Bottom Line: 18% would recommend it to a friend
Showing 1-11 of 11
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  • 1 out 1 people found this review helpful

    Bad Deal For Homeowners In AZ

    I am about to buy a home with Solar City panels on it, and deciding to do so was a TOUGH decision, and what I learned is worth listening to. Figuring out if SolarCity will save you money is tricky business indeed.

    Situations vary, so first, ask yourself “Will these panels be even partially shaded much of the day?” If the answer is yes, throw up a big red flag. Even partial shading all but destroys production, as this is a series circuit in essence.

    If your panels will get sun for a whole bunch of the day, then you may do OK. If you see shading being a problem for a good chunk of the day you probably won't meet their optimistic estimate of production. In the case of my possible new home, they don't. I pulled the SolarCity reports and verified this. But that's just one issue.

    While my case might differ from yours, and you will need to do your own homework, here's what I saw in my case. Basically, your lease month per month start low, then get higher each month increasing 2.9% increase per year. My local utility averages a 1.4% increase per year. This was an immediate red flag. This deal is "rear loaded", meaning that while things might look one way to start out, the balance shifts into their favor year by year.

    Exacerbating this issue is that panel efficacy falls off a little each year. How much is a topic of debate, and an unknown, so this is the X factor you can't quite define. SolarCity says .5%, most say 1%, and some say 3-4%. In fairness, I modeled things with the 1% number.

    What I found after doing a lot of math (utility rates vary by month, tiers of monthly usage, etc.), is that in the long term the only people making money are Solar City. You just provide them with the location to place panels that THEY own so that THEY get all of the government credits.

    The math is tedious to figure out, and I suspect that SC banks on you not trying to do so, but I suspect a majority would find little if any savings over the 20-year term.

    The most likely scenario seems to be a) Panels under-perform due to overly optimistic projections up front and b) The rear-loaded payments fool someone into thinking they are doing OK to begin with, but due to the SolarCity payments increasing faster than utility rates, and the panel efficacy falling off each year, the equation is reversed somewhere in the middle, meaning steadily worsening losses as you go through the term. This results in a substantial net loss over the entire term.

    The panels on the home I'm going to buy are a losing proposition for 2-3 thousand dollars by my best estimate.

    I'm still going to buy the home because I love it and the price is great and I'm asking for a few extras in the sale, so I'm good with the deal.

    However, if you are considering SolarCity for your home. think it out carefully and do the math.

    You may well find that long term it's a losing deal and that you just made your house less desirable to a good segment of home buyers in the future.

    Even if you make a little net money over the term, is it worth having THEIR panels on your roof so that they can be the ones making out like bandits?

    I'm sure some will find it a good deal, so you enjoy! But to all I say, proceed with caution and do the math.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 4 out 13 people found this review helpful

    Love my SolarCity panels

    I first became acquainted with SolarCity when my neighbor signed up and had their solar system was installed. My neighbor told me that I could really save money each month on my utility bill. At first it was tough to believe so I contacted my brother and found out he already had SolarCity install the panels on his roof and was waiting for the okay to turn on the switch. I was originally paying .05 cents per kwh with TXU but after speaking with a consultant I found out I was really paying around .15 cents per kwh with my Oncor delivery charges and all of the other fees included on my bill. SolarCity ended up being cheaper than what I was paying today. I did the math and it would take over 15 years for my new solar rate to reach where I was paying today from TXU which doesn't include the rate at which utility rates go up each year. Plus, I can buy the system any time after year five if I ever wanted free electricity. Solar City still covers the maintenance of my panels at no cost to me even if I owned the equipment. I decided to sign up.

    The next step was an onsite inspection whereby they checked out my roof and found out where the panels would be placed. Then, they designed a plan for my home. There was about a 3 week lag time for them to obtain permits. Yesterday, the crew came to install my system and finished installing all 53 panels in one day. Now I will wait about 7-8 weeks for Oncor to install a new meter and will soon get the okay to "flip the switch" on my system.

    I feel good about dealing with SolarCity because they have been professional and informative every step of the way. I highly recommend them. I paid no upfront costs, the installation was totally free, and will pay no costs to maintain the system if anything goes wrong. And best of all, I will be saving over $60 a month on my utility bill.

    I have been spreading the word and so far two of my friends have signed up with SolarCity. So far I have recommended 17 friends and relatives and this week 6 have signed up with SolarCIty. Contact me if you want more info.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • 39 out 42 people found this review helpful

    Total RIP OFF and cheats!

    • Gardner MA,
    • Dec 25, 2015

    More and more both my wife and I are EXTREMELY UNHAPPY with SolarCity’s: performance, lack of honest communication and proper customer service! SolarCity decided to change the design from the original design (due to necessity or on a whim) was not asked for or agreed to by us. They only installed 15% of what we were originally informed that we would get. However; SolarCity then changed our rate from the promised $.16 per kwh. to $.16½ per kwh and then to $.1652 due to the modification. We received NO response to the question of, "Why are we being charged/penalized for something that we had no idea was happening?" If we could afford it, we would have hired a lawyer to handle this case. If nothing else, it would be a case of elder abuse! This is nothing more than thieves that prey on the unsuspecting with promises of helping. They remind me of the convict Bernie Madoff​ and the kind of stuff he pulled. Although we ware now STUCK with them, I NEVER want to hear another LIE from them again. For the first time since I bought this house, I'm looking forward to selling it JUST TO GET RID of these leaches.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 29 out 29 people found this review helpful

    Poor support

    Very poor experience. I was asked to get in touch with them so they could review my case. I did, it took another week before someone responded and only after posting another review did someone finally email me. The explanation I was given was that these times sometimes take a couple of week. Well if you were smart enough to check into my problem you would see that it has been month and I am just getting the same answer -- sometimes it takes weeks. Here is a review I found on line from one of your employees:

    "Get ready for an organization that makes decisions on a massive scale with little regard for the worker bees out there selling solar. There is a new initiative of the week every week, sometimes more than one. This leaves sales reps confused on what the goal is. Case in point: all focus was on initially signing customers up, then shifted to final contracts. In the process, they are punishing people for having too many…"

    Advice to Management:

    You have developed a negative sales culture that is hounding prospective customers about solar. I have run into too many people that are sick of SolarCity calls and having 8 different people contact them in a short amount of time -- all calling without any knowledge of the others. SolarCity is getting too big for itself, creating a wake of unhappy prospects and customers along the way.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 25 out 27 people found this review helpful

    Very dissatisfied

    • Douglas, Ma,
    • Nov 10, 2015

    The whole process was a struggle once everything got started. The inspector who came out had come out twice. The first time he did not take enough measurements. Once the system was designed it was to small to meet my needs. The system was redesigned. The day of installation most of the crew looked very sketchy. They wanted to come in the house, I declined. They said they need to use the bathroom. I felt very uncomfortable with the situation. Later after the installation the inspector did not show. I left hours later. I was called and informed he was there. After the inspection I was told it would be 3 to 4 weeks before the system could be turned on, it has been 7 with no real answers. I guess there is a problem with some type of PTO, must be a secret code they use? I am now being told it may be up to 10 weeks or more and no turn on date is available. Currently I would not recommend them to any one.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 28 out 30 people found this review helpful

    SolarCity scam

    • Nov 2, 2015

    Got a huge bill from Edison of over $600 in just a time frame of 3 months or so. This is after 11 months of actually having SolarCity. Therefore, the bill is going to be well over $600 when I get the next bill. Called Edison, they said it was because the solar panels were not creating enough energy. Then, called SolarCity and they said it was true the panels were not creating enough to cover my energy but it was not their problem and they are not going to do anything about it.

    When asked whether this has happened before they paused and said with hesitation uhhh, it's happened a couple of times. So bottom line is that they never even told me my solar panels were not producing enough energy which they claim that they closely monitor. It took 11 months to get a bill from Edison within a time frame of about 3 months. Now I don't even know what to expect from them in the rest of the 8 months. SolarCity will not cover it nor do they care about the customers that they cheat out on. Would not recommend this to ANYBODY, unless you want to be left in fear of additional unknown bills from Edison!

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 9 out 36 people found this review helpful

    It's clear why SolarCIty is the industry leader!

    • Oct 23, 2015

    I am shocked at some of the misinformation on this site. There are clearly some people who have no clue how SolarCity does business, offers or what's in their agreement.

    My sister first got her system from SolarCity 6 months before I did. One of her co-workers had referred her to SolarCity and based on my sister's rave reviews of how her experience with SolarCIty went, that prompted me to call them. I'm very analytical so I reviewed 4 of their plans: no money down PPA, Full Pre-Pay PPA, a zero down financed purchase plan and a regular purchase plan. All of the plans would save me money but I ended up choosing the full pre-pay as it gave the best bang for the buck and I wasn't able to use that big of a tax credit that would come from purchasing as we're retired. (Note: If you can't use the tax credit do not buy the system, do one of their other plan. Any accountant will tell you that.)

    My system was installed several months ago and the process was smooth (except the part of waiting on Con Edison to give me the permission to turn the system on, but that's not SolarCity's fault).

    I was kept up to date as things progressed (if I have a negative it's that there's a lot of email updates and reminder calls to me). Their contract clearly states they don't put a lien. They guarantee and service the whole system for up to 30 years. They give a performance guarantee so I'm guaranteed to get the power I'm supposed to.

    My install took the 5 man crew they sent 8 hours total to complete and the system looks great, better than other solar installations I've seen around town. A couple of my neighbors were so impressed with how it looks that they are in the process of getting solar from SolarCity now too.

    They are #1 for a reason, do your own research. Read their agreement for yourself and you'll see that some of the posters on this site have no clue what they are talking about and are spreading misinformation.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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    Comments (2)
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    • Feb 10, 2016

      Lori Stewart

      Let me guess, you must work for them.

    • Apr 14, 2016

      Michael C

      Thanks for the review, just got my solar installed yesterday in Dallas Texas.

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  • 42 out 44 people found this review helpful

    Total solar scam

    • Windsor CA,
    • Aug 11, 2015

    You will have very little if any savings on the 0 down. Don't believe a word they say. My payments to them on a lease are far higher than any utility bill ever was. This will go on for 20 years. It's a scam and as soon as a class action is formed, they will be running for the woods. They lied and made you believe you would save money and your house would be worth more, when in fact both turned out to be the opposite.

    Update (11/28/15):

    Where do I start. After 6 months NONE of my SC bills have been less than the bills that Pacific gas was ripping me off for. At the very least PGE never said they weren't crooks. SolarCity passes themselves off as saviors when in fact they are the biggest crooks around. There is absolutely no way any residential consumer will save a penny on solar. You just change the name on your bill to SolarCity rather than your utility, and combined you will pay more. In addition you will have a lien on your home for 20 years, and make it far LESS desirable to a buyer, despite SolarCity lying about both of these items. People, while I am in the process of seeing how I can legally get out of them tricking me into signing, run don't walk away from any salesmen. They are trained to lie to you and once the death threats happen to them you will go through 3 because even they can't swallow their lies forever before they start choking on them. Trust me, it's a pyramid scam at the very least, and it's all going to topple.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 24 out 26 people found this review helpful

    They need to learn how to install in 1 shot

    • waldorf md.,
    • Jul 4, 2015

    They have taken my panels off three times and it's still not right. They've missed two appointments and did not call or show. Their new word is sorry! Now the panels need to be taken for a fourth time, that means another 6 guys on my new roof again. All together there have been a total of 18 guys walking on my new roof and all they can do is say sorry. Lastly, their savings do not make any sense.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 36 out 40 people found this review helpful

    Solar City Rip-Off

    • New York, NY,
    • Jun 11, 2015

    I realized these ugly truths after asking a few questions.

    Here they are so stay informed and alert . The sun is free and your electric should be too,

    We encourage all to use solar power for their home, but choose wisely.

    1. Buy solar and never lease. Look for all the red tape if you do.
    2. Ask where your federal tax credit of $7,500.00 goes.
    3. Solar city only mentions your state refund because they have no way to obtain this.
    4. After a 20 year completion of your lease, your bill with SolarCity will double. Rates will increase to 10% less than that of current electric utility rates. Therefore if you pay $150 per month now, then in about 20 years your standard utility rates will be about $350/month. Solar city will charge you 10% less than this standard utility rate after 20 years, but that is $315/month. Why?
    5. After paying 20 years to SolarCity, you still will not own the system. They retain control.​
    6. SolarCIty will put a lien on your house once you sign until the 20 year lease is complete. You will soon discover this once you try to refinance or sell your house.
    7. They will sell you a central inverter (suboptimal equipment) & panels are made in china
    8. Central inverter: your system will function at (¼%) capacity if any area is covered by a little bit of snow or shade. Other companies offer an independent inverter for each panel that supplies your system, independently of the other panels.
    9. They charge 45k for 30 panels while competitors charge 30-35k for 30 panels.​
    10. SolarCity is responsible to investors, not to the federal government and not to the customer.​
    11. SolarCity will never offer the kilowatt output per panel because they know their product is inferior. 30 panels from SolarCity will produce 83% of your standard utility needs while other companies can hit a target of 93%

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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    • Jun 10, 2015

      Brian

      The don't take out a lien, it's a fixture agreement and they will remove it if you need to refinance.

    • Oct 16, 2015

      Mike

      There is so much incorrect information in your post, you clearly do not know what you're talking about. You either work for another solar company and are resorting to outright lies to dissuade people from going to Solarcity.

      People do not believe what you read here, do your own research. I can speak from firsthand experience with Solarcity that this post is full of incorrect info.

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  • 33 out 34 people found this review helpful

    Not what they are cracked up to be

    • San Jose, CA,
    • Jun 9, 2015

    I bought a home that had SolarCity panels and at the time of purchase I had major doubts so spoke to a rep there. She assured me I would pay less than with PG&E and would pay only for what I use, and that the system was perfect for my usage patterns. All turned out to be lies.

    On average I pay $.03/kWh more than with PG&E and the system produces double what I use on average, all of which I have to buy for $.20/kWh. So bottom line, the system costs me an extra $1,400/year.

    Their customer service's solution was to get an electric car and use more power. When I fought this and proved to them that they had mislead me into signing, they just ignored me. I actually only asked that they adjust the system on my roof to better meet my needs, they refused to work with me at all. I have reported them to the BBB.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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