SolarCity says it had “an amazing year” in 2013, but delays earnings

SolarCity (s SCTY) ended 2013 on a high note. The solar installer on Monday said it completed 12 percent more projects last year than anticipated and cut installation cost by 30 percent.
We won’t have a complete picture of how well the California company did financially during its first full year as a public company until next Monday, though. SolarCity did say it grew its fourth-quarter revenue by 87 percent from the $47.3 million a year before. It could be a while before it posts profits.
Reasons for the delay include the amount of accounting work that still needs to be done for the two companies SolarCity bought last year.
The company, which makes money by selling leases to home and business owners and installing the solar equipment, is the largest residential solar company in the country, according to GTM Research. Home and business owners pay for  the solar electricity from their rooftop panels but not for the equipment and installation. The leases typically last 15-20 years and are financed by investors who can then take a 30 percent federal investment tax credit that’s designed to promote solar energy generation.
Raising enough capital to finance those residential and commercial leases is one of the biggest challenges for SolarCity and its competitors, which include Vivint, Verengo and SunPower (s SPWR). SolarCity also competes with companies that offer leases but aren’t involved in the installation of the equipment. Those competitors include Clean Power Finance and, until recently, Sunrun. Sunrun just bought the residential installation business of Mainstream Energy. That arms Sunrun with services to compete even more against SolarCity.
SolarCity CEO, Lyndon Rive, sounded upbeat in discussing the company’s accomplishments with analysts on Monday. “2013 was an amazing year,” he said.
Here are highlights from the company’s discussion:

  • SolarCity completed 280 MW of solar energy systems in 2013, 12 percent above the 250 MW goal and a 78 percent jump from 2012. In 2013, 73 percent of its installations were in the residential market and the rest for business owners.
  • The company cut its installation cost, in terms of dollar per watt, by 30 percent last year. The cost includes everything except for the cost of raising funds.
  • It expects to complete 78MW to 82MW of projects during the first quarter of 2014. For the entire of 2014, SolarCity expects to install 475 MW to 525 MW. Hitting this annual goal will give SolarCity the bragging right to say it’s installed over 1 GW since its inception in 2006.
  • SolarCity wants to sell batteries with solar panels and, while it does that in the residential market, it thinks it will generate more sales with business customers. It uses lithium-ion battery packs from Tesla Motors (s TSLA) and has a research and development deal with the company.
  • SolarCity completed the industry’s first securitization of rooftop solar assets — selling about $54.23 million worth of notes that are backed by a group of solar energy systems it’s installed in order to raise money — last November. It’s working on offering a second set of up to $200 million in early second quarter.
  • The company is debating when to expand internationally, especially when the U.S. market is still growing, along with competition. “That’s something we wrestle with internally all the time — this year or next year,” Rive said.