SolarCity soars into 2015 on record home solar sales

It’s not the first time in recent months the Northeast’s prolific snowfall and subzero temperatures have brought progress to a halt. But executives of the largest residential solar installer and service provider in the U.S. – and perhaps also soon the nation’s largest module maker – on Wednesday said they don’t expect Mother Nature to delay completion of the facility in about a year.

“The area’s renowned winter weather has been incorporated into our construction schedule. We remain on target to begin installing some equipment in early 2016 and reaching full annualized capacity of 1 GW in early 2017,” Chief Executive Lyndon Rive and Chief Financial Officer Brad Buss wrote in a Feb. 18 letter to shareholders presented with the company’ 2014 fourth-quarter earnings report and 2015 forecast.

In stark contrast to the wintery conditions back East, it’s all sunshine in the Golden State, where the executives reported a hot start to another year of potentially record growth.

After deploying 502 MW of mostly residential systems in 2014, including 176 MW in the fourth quarter, San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity forecasts adding 920 MW to 1,000 MW this year. The company deployed 280 MW in 2013.

“Over the past 30 days, we have booked more MW than ever before and we could be on pace for one of the best bookings quarters in our history—a great start to 2015,” said Rive and Buss. “At the high end of our 2015 guidance, we would achieve our overarching goal to maintain our historical pace of roughly doubling MW every year. This would imply cumulative MW Deployed at the end of the year generating an annualized run rate of between 2.5 and 3.0 TWh of clean solar energy per year.”

SolarCity added 21,318 new customers in the fourth quarter alone and 96,659 in all of 2014.

In response to one analysts’ suggestion that the company’s forecast was unimpressive, Rive responded during a conference call: “That’s close to doubling. Doubling at big numbers is hard.”

Rive said about 80 to 85 percent of SolarCity’s forecasted 2015 capacity would be home solar systems, with the commercial segment accounting for the rest.

Despite the slower growth of commercial system installations, “We are doubling down [on the segment],” said Rive.

SolarCity’s stock, however, shed points in after-hours trading, as the company posted a $1.43 per share loss – attributable to non-controlling shareholders – in the fourth quarter. The loss was larger than analysts expected. SolarCity expects a loss of between $1.65 and $1.75 this quarter, as it builds is factory in Buffalo – weather permitting.