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.