SolarCity Snaps Up Residential Arm of groSolar

Solar installer SolarCity continues its expansion plans this week with another acquisition. On Thursday, the company announced it has acquired the residential solar installer division of groSolar, a solar installer with a large footprint on the East Coast.

The acquisition news comes on the heels of SolarCity buying solar installer Clean Currents Solar in Maryland earlier this month, as well as the assets of home energy efficiency software startup Building Solutions last year. (Building Solutions was a Green:Net ’10 launchpad company, to learn more about Green:Net ’11 see here.) groSolar itself acquired residential solar assets from Borrego Solar in early 2009.

In the world of rooftop solar installations, the bigger the better. Companies that can cover the entire U.S. can leverage a nationally-known brand and installation assets. SolarCity via groSolar can now expand to Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, along with its current markets in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Texas. SolarCity has roughly 1,000 employees.

Founded in 2006, SolarCity offers sales, installation, financing, operation and maintenance of solar electric systems in-house. SolarCity’s financing options — covering the upfront cost of the system — can be critical for consumers and businesses given that solar electric systems are too expensive for average buyers.

SolarCity offers both leases and power purchase agreements. Leases are generally more popular among homeowners, who pay a fixed monthly fee. Power purchase agreements require customers to pay the amount of electricity generated but not the equipment and installation costs.

SolarCity has raised money to fund more than $700 million in installations, in both residential and commercial sectors, since its inception. Most recently it raised $40 million from Citi — its 12th fund — Jonathan Bass, a SolarCity spokesman, told us earlier this month.

In comparison, solar installer Real Goods Solar, and previously groSolar, direct their customers to SunRun, which provides not only sales and financing,  but also monitoring of the systems after their installations. Solar Universe has created a franchise of installers and refers consumers to certain banks or even solar panel manufacturer Suntech Power for financing.

SolarCity has booked or completed more than 10,000 residential projects and hundreds of commercial projects since its start, Bass said. More than 7,000 of them involve leases.

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Photo courtesy of SolarCity.