SolarCity buys into home energy efficiency

SolarCity acquires Building Solutions, which will let it offer both solar panel installation and home energy-efficiency services.

Solar installer SolarCity on Wednesday said it has acquired Building Solutions, a move which will allow it to combine home energy-efficiency services with solar.

SolarCity, based in Foster City, Calif., has grown rapidly over the past few years by offering financing options which lower the upfront cost of solar electric panels.

By buying a residential home efficiency company, privately held SolarCity hopes it can ramp up the business by offering more services and financing options, said Peter Rive, the company's chief operating officer. "We're going to be talking to customers about utility bill savings, some from energy efficiency and some from solar," he said.

San Francisco-based Building Solutions does inspections of people's homes aimed at lowering the overall energy usage. Services include assessing a building's overall efficiency through blower door tests to see about air leakage and testing air ducts.

A suite of possible home energy services, including solar and efficiency. Building Solutions

Then Building Solutions, which does about 10 projects a month, does the actual work of insulating, weatherizing, or tuning heating and cooling systems, said President James Quazi.

One of the reasons that SolarCity was interested in buying Building Solutions is because of the software the company developed for streamlining the audit and recommendation process, said Rive. SolarCity already has home electricity monitoring software, which can be enhanced with analytics to provide people with recommendations on efficiency.

Home Star
Home energy efficiency, also called home performance services, is an industry poised for rapid growth. The federal government is considering a bill, nicknamed Cash for Caulkers, which will make billions of dollars available for home energy retrofits. Under the Homestar program, people can get thousands of dollars in rebates for efficiency-related products and services.

SolarCity, which now operates in California, Oregon, Arizona, and Texas, plans to offer financing services with home efficiency, Rive said.

Fifteen states are considering what's called property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing where the cost of solar and energy-efficiency investments are financed through property tax bills over 20 years. The program is being tried in some communities.

Financing options for solar panels is one of the reasons that SolarCity was able to ramp up its operations quickly over the past few years. Instead of paying $25,000 or $35,000 out of pocket, consumers pay a monthly fee in the form of a solar panel leasewhich should lower their monthly bills.

Rive envisions that solar contractors can also be trained to do some home energy retrofit fit work. After examining both solar and home efficiency, he said the two businesses have many similarities.

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