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Lyndon Rive to leave Tesla in June

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PV Magazine

The SolarCity founder says he is leaving to take time off and start a new venture, as Tesla’s solar sales volume contracts and the company shifts focus to profit and new products instead of growth.

Image: Center for American Progress. License: Creative Commons CC-by-ND 2.0.

Image: Center for American Progress. License: Creative Commons CC-by-ND 2.0.

In the solar industry there is no family more well known than the iconic South Africans who launched Tesla, SpaceX and the leading U.S. residential solar installer, SolarCity. But now, SolarCity’s co-founder and former CEO is leaving the company that he helped start to his cousin Elon Musk, after Musk’s Tesla acquired SolarCity last November.

Rive sent notice of his departure via a letter to employees, stating that he planned to pursue new ventures. In an interview cited by Reuters, Rive further stated that he plans to start a new company.

He certainly has a good track record to build from. SolarCity, which Lyndon Rive and his brother Peter Rive founded in 2006, pioneered third-party solar, where homeowners either lease PV modules or buy the electricity they generate, instead of buying a system. Not only did this become the dominant business model for residential solar, but SolarCity also became the nation’s leading distributed solar company, peaking at over 1/3 of the total residential market.

However, recently the company’s fortunes have taken a shift. SolarCity was reporting massive losses last year when it was acquired by Tesla, likely a result of the company’s insistence of growth at any cost. Additionally, the company is likely suffering the affects of a slowdown in growth in the national residential market, as the market shifts from third-party solar to direct sales.

Tesla has attempted to get ahead of this curve, and along with a shift to a higher portion of direct sales the company’s quarterly installation volumes and market share are contracting. But there are other changes as well. Tesla has switched technology partners at the company’s solar “gigafactory” under construction in upstate New York, which will now produce PV modules based on Panasonic technology instead of Silevo’s.

But perhaps the biggest shift in strategy since the Tesla acquisition is the pending launch of the Solar Roof product, which features glass building-integrated solar roofing shingles made to look like conventional roofing products. These will also use Panasonic’s Heterojunction Intrinsic Thin Film (HIT) technology.

Tesla acknowledged Rive’s role building SolarCity into a market leader. “Thanks in large part to the foundation Lyndon helped create, Tesla has now built the world’s first integrated sustainable energy company, from generation to storage to transportation,” reads a statement from the company. “Because of his leadership and dedication to our mission, Lyndon has helped position Tesla for an amazing future”.

Rive stated in his letter that his role at Tesla will be taken over by Cal Lankton, who will serve as head of sales and operations at Tesla.

Source: PV Magazine. Reproduced with permission.

  

  • George Darroch

    There’s still a huge market for rooftop solar in the US. There are more installations in Australia, with one tenth the population, than there are in the United States.

    If they get the model and sales right, this is a large and profitable sector. (Although Tesla’s insistence on selling a $65000 solar system might mean they avoid taking much of the market).

    • Brunel

      It snows in USA – of course not near the equator but on some parts of USA.

      The solution I think is to develop EV batteries that can do a crazy number of cycles – 10,000 cycles or something. Then one can drive to a supercharging station and fully recharge the 100 kWh battery and drive home and plug it into the house. The 100 kWh battery could power my house for 3 days straight.

      • George Darroch

        Correct, but the southern and western states have very good resource. The rest will have to balance this on their merits.

    • newnodm

      “If they get the model and sales right, this is a large and profitable sector.”

      Large yes, but not particularly profitable. Solar is near commodity equipment that produces a commodity. Tesla may be able to differentiate with its new roof system, but that is the exception that proves the rule.

      There is no more potential profits in residential solar than there is installing AC and water heaters. It’s a home appliance in a business with low barriers to entry.

      • George Darroch

        Fair. But the profits on commodity cars (20-40k oil-burners) aren’t that large either, and they’ve entered that business.