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SolarCity crunches data for home efficiency loans

By offering financing and software-based energy assessments, SolarCity seeks to expand from solar to energy efficiency upgrades.

SolarCity is trying to build up its energy-efficiency business.

SolarCity has rapidly grown to be one of the largest solar installers. Now it's applying its financing model to energy efficiency.

The company today announced the availability of energy-efficiency loans that homeowners can use to finance home upgrades and defray upfront costs.

SolarCity's main business is solar, installing photovoltaic panels and offering homeowners leases under which they pay a monthly charge rather than actually purchase the panels. Two years ago, it bought privately held Building Solutions to expand into services and get access to that company's software.

SolarCity has started offering home efficiency assessments to its solar customers that cost about $290 before utility rebates, CEO Lyndon Rive said. After an inspection that includes a blower door test and a software-based model of the building, assessors can generate recommendations based on thousands of data points, he said.

People can chose a 1-year, zero-percent loan that allows them to take advantage of rebates for efficiency-related upgrades. There are also 3-year and 10-year loans offered through a bank based on a person's credit rating.

Offering financing to get consumers to install solar panels has helped spur the growth in installations. Energy efficiency upgrades are a bit different. They tend to be more complicated in that they can involve multiple projects, such as air sealing, insulation, and new heating and cooling equipment.

So far, the company has signed on about 5,000 customers to its efficiency services, which are now available in the East Coast states where SolarCity operates. "A number of customers are interested in both," said Levi Blankenship, the energy efficiency sales manager at the company. "It's not just about (energy) production, but about reduction, too."