If Tesla Motors has its way, when you go shopping for your next electric vehicle, you might also walk out of the store with a home battery and a new roof for your house made up entirely of solar cells.
Earlier this month, entrepreneur Elon Musk announced that one of his companies, Tesla, plans to buy another one of his companies, SolarCity, because their customer bases already overlap and combining their resources is a "blinding obvious" step in the right direction. Wall Street, on the other hand, is a little skeptical of the merger. Here's everything you need to know, including what it means for your future.
What is SolarCity?
SolarCity is a San Mateo, CA-based company. It provides energy services, such as the designing, financing, and installing of solar power systems. Elon Musk, who is mostly known for SpaceX (an aerospace manufacturer) and Tesla Motors (an electric vehicle manufacturer), which are two companies he founded and currently serves as CEO over, co-founded and is the chairman of SolarCity.
The New York Times said Musk is the largest SolarCity shareholder, owning 22 percent of the company run by his cousin, Lyndon Rive. SolarCity's shares have dropped 60 percent so far this year, as it missed the consensus earnings forecast for three out of four quarters. It's begun focusing less on installation growth and has instead ramped up loan programs to homeowners buying solar panels.
What is Tesla Motors?
Tesla Motors is a 13-year-old company co-founded by Musk and named after inventor Nikola Tesla. It designs, makes, and sells electric cars and battery products, including the Powerwall home battery designed to be paired with rooftop solar systems. The Powerwall stores excess energy produced from your own solar generation (so that energy not used at the time will be available later).
The Powerwall can also store power when electricity from the power grid is at its cheapest rate (off-peak), and with all this stored energy, it can juice up your house. From a 0.2kWh fridge to a 2.3kWh washer, the 7kWh or 10kWh Powerwall will keep stuff running.
Why is Tesla buying SolarCity?
Tesla announced in early August that it plans to buy solar energy firm SolarCity for $2.6 billion in an all-stock deal. The two companies want to scale their battery and solar energy operations. Tesla first offered to acquire SolarCity in June. The deal is not complete but should close in the fourth quarter of 2016. Reuters reported that Musk and Rive have recused themselves from voting on the outcome of the deal.
In a conference call with investors in June, Musk explained that when Tesla tries to sell someone the Powerwall it almost always has to answer questions about solar: "So then not being able to sell them solar directly at Tesla stores is quite inefficient. As you look ahead to [selling] the Model 3, a $35,000 car, well that same person at the same moment we could sell them roughly an equivalent value of solar panels and a Powerwall, effectively doubling the sale at that time, and then putting it all in at the same time," he explained.
“This may seem counterintuitive to a lot of people, but I think it is so obvious that something should be done,” Musk added. "Blindingly obvious." In other words, he sees Tesla buying SolarCity as common sense because the two companies’ customer bases overlap.
Is Wall Street against the merger?
Although SolarCity's installations have gone up (the company now has 275,000 customers, up from 168,000 a year before), its debt is still among the highest in the industry. It has more than $6 billion in liabilities - and half of that is debt. Goldman Sachs called SolarCity "the worst positioned name" in the residential solar industry, and as Bloomberg noted, Tesla could be trying to bail it out.
Also, Tesla is currently ramping up production for the release of the Model 3 electric vehicle in 2017, so it's basically burning through cash as you read this. In fact, The Wall Street Journal said Tesla burns 50 cents for every dollar in sales. SolarCity is even worse; it burns nearly $6 for every dollar in sales. The report therefore dubbed the merger of the two businesses a "hairbrained scheme".
What does the future look like?
If and when the merger closes, Tesla will be able to capitalise on the clean energy industry, as it can then hawk us solar panel systems, home batteries, and electric vehicles all from the same storefront. To demonstrate the possibilities that could open up if the two companies came together, Musk revealed a project that SolarCity is currently working on during its latest earnings call.
Musk said SolarCity will unveil a “solar roof” and emphasised that Tesla/SolarCity plan to go after the roof industry with the new products - right after Rive, SolarCity CEO, referred to new products that'll be unveiled before the end of the year, which is when the Tesla and SolarCity merger should close: “It’s a solar roof, as opposed to modules on a roof," said Musk.
"I think this is really a fundamental part of achieving differentiated product strategy, where you have a beautiful roof. It’s not a thing on the roof. It is the roof," he added, while noting customers will be able to customise their roof design, and that they simply won't receive a bundle of solar shingles. It's therefore unclear how this will work, but more details should come out soon.