About SolarCity

Published on: Aug 18, 2014

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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21 Customer Reviews for SolarCity

Average Customer Rating: 1.4
Rating Snapshot:
5 star: 2 4 star: 0 3 star: 0 2 star: 1 1 star:  18
Bottom Line: 14% would recommend it to a friend
Showing 1-11 of 21
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  • 2 out 2 people found this review helpful

    Lies, all lies! Stay away!

    • Braddock, PA,
    • Jun 20, 2017
    • Verified Reviewer

    This company is a disaster! They lied about EVERYTHING. They told me there was no charge for the panels, that I would never have an electric bill other than taxes and fees from the power company, that they were able to get my VERY small house 95% coverage, and that there was no way I would EVER use that mush power. LIES!

    I got my first full months bill, and it was two times the amount I paid BEFORE I made the MISTAKE of going solar. They give you three days to back out of the contract after you sign it, but in my case, it was four MONTHS before they EVEN started, and once everything was done another six MONTHS before they were able to turn it on! All they did was apologize over and over again. And now this. Unless you purchase the panels and even then I'm not so sure, but STAY AWAY from Solar City!

    I see now why they have so many class actions suits against them. Just look it up BEFORE you talk to them!

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

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  • 7 out 7 people found this review helpful

    100% scam artists!

    • Las Vegas, Nevada,
    • May 26, 2017
    • Verified Reviewer

    SolarCity sold us on the system but could not deliver on their promises. First off, they told us that our electric bill would be almost ZERO and that the ONLY bill would be from Solar City. When I asked the salesman what would happen if it wasn't, he said that they would come out and add more panels. SOLD!

    Two years later our electric bill is triple of what SolarCity's bill is. When I called on them a year ago to come out and add more panels, they said they would have to tear the old system down and recreate a new system. I said whatever it takes. They told me that they are no longer working in Nevada and that they can't help me. That's the first problem!

    The second problem is we're moving and want to rent the home out. Because of this, the renters would need to be responsible for their utility bill. SolarCity said they do have the means to do that and because I'm on TBD contract, it's my responsibility. Which means I can't even rent the place out unless I pay the solar bill!

    If you want to solidify any hopes of not renting your home out, or you don't want to see the promised savings, or the support disappears due to the local electric company changing their protocol, SolarCity is for you. Otherwise, avoid these scam artists like you would the plague!

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

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  • 6 out 6 people found this review helpful

    False promises

    • Troy, NY,
    • May 21, 2017
    • Verified Reviewer

    The SolarCity rep (Shaun Monet), promised that our system would save us anywhere from $20 to $50 each month on our current electric bill. After spending half a day discussing SolarCity's new PPA program and showing us how much we will save on our bill, he has us electronically sign a lease agreement for 20 years. Upon this discovery, we were told that we couldn't change the agreement as we were past the allocated time for change or cancellation. We are now paying more for our electric service than we were paying to National Grid. Mr. Monet has left their employment and we are now stuck with this B.S.

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

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  • 12 out 12 people found this review helpful

    My electricity costs me more since I had Solar City panels installed

    After having solar panels installed by Solar City, I now pay over $500 a year MORE than before. I'm an 87-year-old disabled veteran. I was promised to save at least a $1,000. I've called them umpteen times and get stonewalled. How do I get out of a bad deal?

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

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  • 18 out 19 people found this review helpful

    SolarCity is 100% a lie

    • windsor california,
    • Mar 8, 2017
    • Verified Reviewer

    This is an update after 1.5 years. At this time I feel even more strongly that SolarCity is 100% a scam. They answered my other post with a triad of 100% lies. They did send a field rep out to make my system produce more than it did before. Of course, they did, since I pay for what I produce, not what I use. They also sent a salesman out to try to con me into believing I am saving money. They certainly know how to use smoke and mirrors, but at the end of the day, you will still have an electric bill.

    You pay SolarCity, not PG&E. They show pictures of your PG&E bill in their ads, and they are usually $8. This is true, you pay PG&E a transmission fee for the use of their lines. What they don't tell you is that you will also have a SolarCity bill that is higher than what you paid PG&E pre-solar. In addition, you will NEVER sell power back to PG&E, but you will have a true-up at the end of the year. It could get into four figures.

    They tell lies larger than the state of Texas. 100% lies 100% of the time.

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

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  • 12 out 13 people found this review helpful

    Blatantly lied to

    I was told by my salesman Romeo C. that by purchasing this solar system, I will receive a 30% Federal Tax refund credit from my total purchase. Along with Mosaic, my understanding was I could use the refund for a vacation (that Romeo C. mentioned to me on a recorded call to SolarCity) or pay down the balance of the loan, and I chose the loan to keep my payment at the choice target balance. I would never have purchased this system at the total price of over $36,000 for my home (which is 1,598 total square feet), I would have opted to lease at greater savings to my family.

    When I signed the loan documents with Mosaic Inc., I was reassured that we would be receiving the tax refund credit for the 30%. There is a section stating on page 5 that:

    SolarCity shall have no financial obligation to Customer regarding actual rebate and incentive amounts received. Customer agrees to pay the Contract Price in full regardless of the actual amount of rebate and/or incentives received.

    This made me worry that the incentive was not guaranteed, but like I said I was reassured that I would get the money back. This is one of the main reasons I decided to go forward with the purchase of solar panels opposed to leasing them from SolarCity.

    Now after having my taxes prepared on 2/18/17, I was told by my CPA that the 30% Federal Tax refund credit was no longer available and has not been available since the first year it was offered by the IRS, and I would only be eligible for a CARRY FORWARD CREDIT from the IRS. In addition, I was told that the state tax credit refund would be $1,000, and again I was told I would be able to do whatever I wanted with this refund from the state. My CPA informed me that the state of Arizona has never given a credit or refund for residential energy. I was blatantly lied to again.

    I have seen claims and reviews with the BBB from other customers that state they were lied to and were promised these incentives to get the sale for solar panels from SolarCity, and they did not learn about these complete misrepresentations until they prepared their taxes.

    When I contacted Solar City and spoke to a Customer Care Specialist, I was disregarded and told to refer to my Loan Agreement, which I quoted above. The specialist Viridiana B. did not seem to care that their sales professionals were misleading and lying to their customers about incentives and refunds. A salesman has to know the product they are selling, and if they cannot guarantee something, then be honest and inform your potential customers so they can make a decision based on the facts presented and are not completely shocked to learn the truth months after the documents are signed, and the installation is complete.

    I am continuing to wait for the company to research my complaint. I want to believe SolarCity cares about their customers and are outraged at the lengths their sales team has gone to get a sale when I would have benefited a great deal more with a lease.

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

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  • 15 out 16 people found this review helpful

    Horrible!

    • Enfield, CT,
    • Feb 22, 2017
    • Verified Reviewer

    I don't even know where to begin.

    My family was approached by two Solar City representatives at Home Depot, and my family did initially have the interest to go solar, so we decided, why not? My mom made the appointment for a Solar City representative to come to the house and show us a presentation. The representative came, and my mom and family were definitely sold. They were so excited!

    The representative informed us that he's going to be there every step of the way and will come over once the plans are complete and go over the details. We made an appointment for an audit and measurement. The representative told us that he was going to be there. Well, guess what folks? He never showed up!

    The man that came to do the audit is very nice, and he spent a considerable amount of time in the attic in which it was during the summer time, and it gets super hot up there. We offered the man water and we were very nice. My mom tried multiple times to contact the representative, and he didn't bother to pick up or call back. Then, instead of getting the blueprints and paperwork and the representative that was SUPPOSED to come and go over it with us, my mom was bombarded with emails asking to "please approve so we may proceed with the install." She was shocked!

    Oh and I forgot to mention that my family spent over $10,000 for a brand new roof that was only a year old. She looked at the multiple pages so confused and saw the blueprints. Instead of a higher kWh system, they gave blueprints for an even LOWER kWh system instead of the higher one we were promised by the representative. And guess what folks? The representative STILL hasn't responded or even called us back after many voicemails left!

    My mother called Solar City to complain. She informed the girl of what the representative had initially promised and was promised to be at every appointment. The girl apologized and stated that she's going to email the representative and his boss and stated that someone will get in touch with her. During this time, my mother kept getting bombarded with emails asking for approval! One year later, she received no phone call from upper management, never heard from the rep, nothing.

    Not today, 2/21/17, when my mom received a letter from Solar City stating they are going to cancel and cancel the signed agreement. First of all, my mother and family NEVER signed an agreement! Also, she told them in the past that due to the poor customer service, my family is no longer interested. Secondly, we are not going to risk our brand new roof that cost so much over emails.

    My mother is going to file a complaint, and I've never seen her so upset. We're going to make an appointment with another Solar Company this spring and pray that we won't go through hell with them like we did with Solar City.

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

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  • 18 out 19 people found this review helpful

    Impossible company

    We have tried to spend $45,000 with this company for eight to ten weeks. SolarCity is long on inexperienced people. We worked with COUNTLESS persons, all who over promised and under delivered.

    We are architects and KNOW houses and structures. We have a complete set of architectural drawings on our home. SolarCity's staff had no clue how to read the drawings. Trying to reach a manager or someone who could get this project off the ground was impossible.

    TESLA is making a HUGE mistake by acquiring this company.

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

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  • 19 out 23 people found this review helpful

    Solar City Misrepresentation

    • New Jersey,
    • Dec 30, 2016
    • Verified Reviewer

    The agents, all are very nice and polite. They claim "all calls are recorded." They call you with updates, act as a friend, (asking about the weather, their weather, out sick, etc.) as if they want to help you. I asked many questions and which I still have my emails. When it's time to sign, the agent went right through the process, pages in the corners, not explaining anything - just paperwork. And then when it's time to receive a bill about six months later you're stunned because of the misrepresentation. I called to come and find out, I will be paying them $60,000, the monthly payment goes up EVERY 12 months. When I tried to explain, it didn't matter. An email was sent stating, nothing they can do because I signed.

    They say it doesn't cost you a penny, that they do write-offs for their taxes (that's what's in it for them, so they say). I would not ever recommend Solar, especially SolarCity, to anyone. I was misled, unfortunately. I really don't want this to happen to anyone. Please make sure that you're okay with all the terms, read through each and every one of them no matter how fast they're going through all the paperwork.

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

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  • 15 out 16 people found this review helpful

    Nightmare

    • Porterville, CA,
    • Dec 12, 2016
    • Verified Reviewer

    I walked into Home Depot and was greeted by SolarCity rep. I told her solar power was not for me cause my monthly Edison bill was 35 to 75 dollars per month.

    She suckered me into getting the panels installed. It took them 3 months to send out the first bill. $103 just in interest. I told them to take it out because I couldn't afford it. They said it was impossible. I could only send 75 dollars and that was still not easy to send it.

    Almost a year later and I owe more than the original price. And the phone calls are coming in every month. It's like signing a contract with the devil himself because I'm 54 and I will never finish paying for it.

    Can anyone advise on what to do? I can only think of gathering 50 to 100 people in the same situation and going to BBB, The Federal Trade Commission and finding a lawyer.

    It's easier for 100 people to speak than just me alone. All those Solar City people knew that these panels weren't for me but they just care about the money.

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

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  • 18 out 18 people found this review helpful

    Bad Deal For Homeowners In AZ

    • Phoenix, Arizona,
    • Nov 28, 2016
    • Verified Reviewer

    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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