If you’ve considered installing solar panels in the United States in the past decade, chances are you’ve heard the name “SolarCity” a few times. With its recognizable sun icon slated next to a catchy phrase in bold, the U.S. green giant has made a name for itself in the residential solar market, and is widely considered the country’s top installer for the past three years.
From a homeowner’s perspective, SolarCity is initially associated with innovation and market share (after all, it’s theoretically an Elon Musk venture). However, the installer behemoth generates a lot of skepticism and doubt due to its resoundingly negative review presence online. For this reason, we created an aggregate report on what homeowners are saying about SolarCity. We looked at trends on major review sites as well as themes we hear from shoppers comparing solar quotes on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace who had an experience with SolarCity.
Is SolarCity worth it? The primary appeals of the lead installer
With more market share than any other solar company in the nation, it’s clear that SolarCity is doing something right, regardless of review trends. To start off, let’s look at what homeowners like about SolarCity.
One of the primary pain points and areas of uncertainty for those considering solar panels is around warranties. Solar panels can require maintenance and typically have warranties that range from 20 to 25 years. Understanding the terms and types of warranties offered with a solar installation is a very important step of the buying process for homeowners. For many homeowners, this is part of the appeal of SolarCity: they offer a 25-year warranty for all systems, which is about as good as it gets in the industry (though we will discuss later whether or not they always follow through on that support). Additionally, as a large company with a national presence and backing from Elon Musk, SolarCity offers solar shoppers a degree of certainty that they can’t find elsewhere. Taken together, people see an impressive warranty offering and a corporate giant ready to back it up.
Overall, size and brand awareness are big selling points for homeowners that are interested in SolarCity. Several homeowners that used our platform to compare solar quotes also confessed that Elon Musk’s investment in SolarCity made the company most appealing initially. Take it from one popular review on Yelp that sums up this thematic homeowner impression:
Additionally, SolarCity was founded in 2006 and has been in business for more than 10 years – a significant corporate achievement in an industry that has only come to full fruition in the past few years. The San Mateo installer boasts 20 locations across the U.S., which means that they can offer in-person support and feedback.
SolarCity also has a number of strong partnerships and acquisitions that allow it to, in theory, fulfill Elon Musk’s original vision for his cousins’ company: to satisfy every need of the solar installation process under one company roof. SolarCity can promote its own high efficiency panel brand (Silevo), solar financing packages such as its lease and loan offerings, and even offer a home equity audit and evaluation. To top it all off, SolarCity offers the Tesla Powerwall – a big selling point for the many homeowners seeking home energy storage options.
The top four complaints about SolarCity from homeowners
SolarCity offers many benefits as an installer, but breaking down the resounding criticisms we hear from homeowners directly will give you the full picture. It’s common speak that reviews of SolarCity are some of the harshest testimonies you’ll find on Yelp, but the ultimate question to unpack here is what are the consistent issues that drive this company’s customers to a state of keyboard frenzy?
High pressure salesman: “a barrage of phone calls”
One of the most decisive and prominent criticisms that we hear about SolarCity revolves around their sales process. The company is founded on a “sign at all costs” mentality when it comes to finding homeowners who are unsure about going solar. The company’s focus on growth has led to a door-to-door canvassing operation driven by high stakes quotas and a telemarketing team that uses autodialers programmed to get an answer with no cap on call attempts. The consequences of their strategy have been dire for the company’s reputation.
Homeowners frequently describe SolarCity’s salesforce as “pushy”, “relentless” and “harassing” with numerous cases of people who described the experience as “a barrage of phone calls.” To get some insight from the inside perspective, check out a testimony from a former SolarCity prospect who was frustrated with the company’s sales methodology:
This internal pressure to quickly close leads engenders a confusing and stressful experience for the homeowners on the other end of the phone. Here are a few examples of customer testimonies that exemplify the pressure sales experience we hear about so much:
We often hear that the root cause for the confusion felt by solar homeowners is exposure to misleading solar sales tactics that stretch the truth about the cost of solar or the logistics of how simple going solar can be. To be fair, this is a problem across the entire solar industry, but the nation’s top installer is the top source of advertising and sales in that industry and shoulders some of the blame. It is our hypothesis that this sales mantra is responsible for a resounding association with SolarCity and the words “scam” or “manipulation.”
Poor customer service
As with any rapidly growing large company, SolarCity faces regular criticism about its customer support team. Our support reps at EnergySage are often the second call made after a homeowner speaks with a SolarCity rep, and we typically hear that they get different stories from different representatives.
The common thread in these homeowner complaints is that SolarCity representatives seem undereducated on solar terminology, manufacturers, equipment and financing options. A homeowner who considered SolarCity this past summer recounted how his customer representative only talked about Tesla Motors and the company’s plan to acquire SolarCity. The homeowner said it appeared the rep had been told to use the Tesla merger as a key selling point, but had no answers when the homeowner asked questions specific to their solar panel installation. Additionally, we often hear that sales reps are friendly and engaging but that the customer experience drops off dramatically once a contract is signed:
Manipulation: “is Solar City a scam?”
In addition to confusion around the cost and logistics of solar, the high-pressure sales tactics SolarCity salespeople use can also lead to doubt and skepticism from homeowners who feel they are being manipulated or taken advantage of. Suspicious offers such as the marketing gimmick “free solar panels from the government” often lead homeowners to ask our support team, “is Solar City a scam?” or “should I trust Solar City?”
One cause for this “scam” assumption are the audacious promises made by sales reps that are impossible for installers to follow through on. For example, homeowners often report that SolarCity promised total solar panel output (meaning that their panels will totally cover their electricity demands each month). However, the reality of solar panel technology is that there’s a level of variation with any system that makes that type of guarantee an impossible one to make. As a result, the following customer testimonies are common complaints we hear on a regular basis:
SolarCity lease problems and buyer’s remorse
The three criticisms mentioned above come up frequently with EnergySage users, but there is no sentiment we hear more frequently from SolarCity customers than regret following system installation (often because of SolarCity’s complicated and binding lease model). Ultimately, the aggressive sales strategy will capture some percentage of homeowners who don’t fully understand their contracts. Additionally, those that do actually end up locked into a contract often express remorse and frustration once they realize there is no way out.
These promises made by the company’s sales team can lead to a rude awakening for many homeowners who end up feeling tricked. Here are some testimonies that describe the actual solar savings, panel output and after-the-sale support by SolarCity, compared to the expectations garnered during the all-optimistic sales process and contract signing:
The ultimate takeaway: get multiple solar quotes to make the smartest decision possible
Each individual homeowner is going to have a unique experience with SolarCity. And like any large purchase, the more quotes you receive, the more educated of a decision you can make. At EnergySage, we encourage all solar shoppers to make as informed of a decision as possible. This information comes from both the testimony of other shopper reviews, as well as from getting and comparing multiple quotes.
To read the testimonies of other shoppers, you can check out the websites we used in this article, including Yelp, ConsumerAffairs, Better Business Bureau, Facebook, BestCompany.com and HighYa. You can also check out the thousands of solar company reviews we have aggregated on EnergySage.
Another way to ensure that your solar offer is fair (whether it’s from SolarCity or another solar company) is to compare it against other competing offers. When you register on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can upload quotes you have already received from solar companies like SolarCity and easily compare them side-by-side to other installers in your area.
Regardless of which solar company you ultimately select, we recommend that all homeowners thoroughly read their final solar agreement to ensure that they understand the specifics before signing a binding contract.