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SolarCity offers its largest online discount, with Groupon

Posting in Energy

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SolarCity announced today that the company is partnering with Groupon, the online deals marketplace, for a limited time to provide the largest online discount SolarCity has ever offered.

In an attempt to push residential solar energy systems even more into the mainstream, SolarCity will offer a $400 discount on a home solar system. SolarCity told SmartPlanet the discount should provide roughly 3-4 months of free solar energy, depending on solar setup for each individual customer.

"This is the first solar Groupon," Jonathan Bass, SolarCity's vice president of communications, told SmartPlanet. "It's a mainstream moment for solar." Groupon offers over 200,000 active deals globally. The deal will be available in the 15 states and 84 metropolitan areas in the U.S. where SolarCity provides its services.

SolarCity has reached the point where it's installing around one in four of all new residential U.S. solar systems, Bass says, in part because it gives customers plenty of options for financing solar. Of course, you can buy or lease the solar panels. Or, like 90 percent of SolarCity customers, you can choose the solar service agreement option. That means that solar panels are installed on your roof or at your residence, but SolarCity owns them. The customer only pays a fixed price for electricity, generally lower than your utility bill, the company claims. And the customer has no high upfront costs to install the system.

"Most people want to do something positive for the environment but don't want to make the financial sacrifice," Bass said. With the solar service agreement, you basically allow SolarCity to install the solar panels on your roof and in return you get a cheaper electricity bill.

It's a business model for solar that isn't just being praised by the company itself. At a recent forum GE CEO Jeff Immelt said of the SolarCity business model: "My God I wish I had thought of that."

Now, Bass believes that the company's main barrier going forward is that consumers don't realize how cheap solar energy can be to put on your house.

"We have a major value proposition," he said. "The biggest challenge is helping more people find out about it."

The Groupon deal isn't the first effort SolarCity has made to spread the word about their residential solar financing model. The company has also partnered with Honda to offer a deal to their vehicle owners; it sells its services in 60 Best Buy stores; and started an employee solar program with Cox Enterprises to offer the solar systems at a lower price to the company's 50,000 employees.

But going viral with solar isn't quite as easy as with an app or website because SolarCity is a "full service operation." It not only gets the necessary permits and installs the solar systems, it also offers ongoing repairs, maintenance, and insurance for the installed solar systems. That means the company has to set up shop in an area before it can begin installing solar panels.

Still, SolarCity continues to steadily grow its customer base. The company currently has around 110,000 customers and has been able to nearly double its customers each year. It also has major commercial customers, the biggest being Walmart, which has plans to double its solar use by 2020.

Photo: SolarCity

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— By on May 28, 2014, 6:12 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure