San Mateo is home to one of the most influential and rapidly growing solar companies in the marketplace. What began in 2006 as a startup in a spare bedroom, SolarCity has become the largest full service solar provider in the country, said Jonathan Bass, vice president of communications for SolarCity.
On average, SolarCity signs a new customer every three minutes and hires between 10 and 15 employees a day, Bass said. The company is nearly doubling every year and is responsible for about one in three residential solar systems in the country, Bass said.
“There are a lot of tech companies in the area, but we are a real leader in energy and our goal and mission is to become the most compelling company of the 21st century,” Bass said.
California is on the cutting edge of solar. Technology development is huge in the Bay Area and there’s an incredible talent pool of software engineers, Bass said. Plus, people want to work in a field where they believe they’re making a difference, Bass said.
“California has a very strong solar market. Our employees are extremely passionate about what they do and I think most of the people that are here want to do something positive for the environment,” Bass said.
SolarCity has more than 500 employees at its San Mateo headquarters and about 4,000 employees nationwide, Bass said. The anonymous employee-rating site Glassdoor reviews over 280,000 companies and SolarCity is proud to have made it on the charts.
“We were ranked 18th as one of the top 20 best places to work and that was really exciting,” Bass said. “I think the reason for that is because it’s gratifying to be able to do something where you’re not just selling a product for a business. You’re proliferating clean energy.”
SolarCity pioneered the full service model in 2008, Bass said. It guides customers through every step of the way, including financing, permitting, design, installation, repairs and maintenance, monitoring and insurance.
“Solar is new to a lot of people, so the full service model really helps them get comfortable with the idea of going solar,” Bass said.
Traditionally, solar was viewed as a product only wealthy homeowners could afford, Bass said. The upfront cost to install the panels ran upwards of $40,000 and the savings return was slow. So to encourage more people to make the move to solar, it provides the panels and charges service fees that are typically cheaper than standard electricity, Bass said.
“By making solar a service and aligning the costs and benefits, you save money from day one. That was a model that appealed to a much broader homeowner. It had a tremendous impact on the gross of solar in lower and middle income homes,” Bass said.
SolarCity began an initiative called SolarStrong and contracts with developers of military housing in California, Hawaii, Colorado and Texas, Bass said. The military is extremely motivated to develop renewable, clean and domestic sources of energy, Bass said. SolarStrong is the largest residential solar project in the country and the company hopes to provide solar power to 120,000 military homes, Bass said.
SolarCity also created SolarGuard, an energy monitoring system that allows homeowners to see exactly where their energy is being spent and where they can save money, Bass said.
“Energy use is just a black box to a lot of people. So the monitoring system we provide shows them at different times a day how much electricity they’re using,” Bass said. “It really sort of quantifies for you, what are the biggest energy hogs in the house … education is a big piece of it and that’s really the first step in changing behavior and making improvements.”
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