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SolarCity is New Zealand’s only all-in-one solar power company, having put more Kiwi-made panels on homes and businesses than anyone else. SolarCity works with architects, homeowners, businesses and developers to incorporate solar technology into the built environment and offer support and guidance through the entire planning and development process. The company’s vision is to revolutionise the energy market and facilitate change in the fight against climatechange, making New Zealand 100% solar by the year 2020. This translates into a bold target of achieving solar systems on the roof of every building in the country, backed up by other micro-renewables – supplying clean power, saving Kiwi’s money and achieving deep cuts in carbon emissions.

The group’s foundations were laid when our nation’s energy security and independence were first threatened during the global oil crisis in the 1970’s. With services ranging from design, product development and manufacturing to financing, installation, service and remote monitoring, SolarCity are in business for a purpose: providing economical and innovative micro-generation solutions to help create a cleaner world and a sustainable future.

At the rate SolarCity are working, their vision might just be attainable. They have been pro-actively collaborating with 32 councils across New Zealand to put in place a total of NZ$100m of financing Solar Saver schemes by the end of 2011, substantially increasing our nation’s energy security and driving regional inward investment. SolarCity CEO Andrew Booth explains how the Solar Saver scheme allows homeowners to go solar and pay back the cost of their systems with the savings they make on electricity: “If New Zealand was able to put solar onto 90% of homes, as is the case in Israel, homeowners would save over half a billion dollars every year on their power bills and we would prevent over 450,000 tonnes of carbon entering the atmosphere every year”.

Their development of New Zealand’s largest solar incentive scheme, the $9million Nelson City Council fund, aims to put solar hot water systems onto over 1500 homes in Nelson. This year SolarCity was given the green light for New Zealand’s first region wide Solar Pilot scheme, in partnership Venture Southland. The goal is to install monitored solar hot water systems on 20 homes and 5 businesses across the region and demonstrate how solar can help reduce electricity costs and help offset climate change.

Another SolarCity milestone is the development of SolarTrak™, the world’s first on-line monitoring and optimisation service for solar hot water systems, which allows customers to track the performance of their systems on-line and display them to the public across the internet, mobile phones and television. “With Solar Trak customers can better understand how to change their lifestyle to fit in with the natural cycles of the planet,” says Booth. “They can track both their carbon and cash savings”.

A glance at SolarCity’s list of commercial and government clients – including the Ministry of Economic Development, the Department of Conservation, EECA, The Warehouse and Europe’s largest solar company, SolarCentury – proves that the Kiwi Company are punching well above their weight. In the international arena SolarCity provides world-class consultancy and engineering services to architects, builders and other solar businesses in Europe and Australia. Specifically, they have been involved in the specification, design and documentation of over 700kWp of PV systems world-wide. Across the Tasman, SolarCity are taking advantage of the abundant green growth opportunities for solar power. Modelled on the Solar Saver Scheme pioneered in Nelson, SolarCity has developed a partnership with the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, and are well geared to take advantage of the Queensland Government’s five-year plan to invest AUS$115m into solar throughout the region. This is in addition to the federal government’s AUS$1.5bn solar flagship fund.

Because the solar systems are designed and manufactured in New Zealand, increased demand for SolarCity’s systems in domestic and international markets has a direct positive impact on the availability of green jobs for Kiwi workers. Currently SolarCity directly employ 18 people. They then work with 20 other companies around the country who install and maintain the systems. In total 418 people work for SolarCity but Andrew Booth says this number should nearly double within the next year. Moreover, keeping it local means transportation costs and the environmental footprint are kept low when compared to overseas manufacturers, enabling (in part) SolarCity to become the world’s first carboNZeroTM certified solar power company.

Entering the Clean tech business is not without barriers. Booth comments that consumers place a very low value on ongoing energy costs compared with the up-front capital costs. SolarCity’s solution is to make smart partnerships to make solar energy options more affordable. Strategic partnerships with Meridian energy, Kiwibank, and UDC make financing solar easier for the customer.

Furthermore, SolarCity have a technical advisory board that includes leading academics from Victoria and Massey universities and the Argonne National Laboratory USA. They are working with key national trade associations including Master Plumbers and Electricians and the National Roofing Association to work on establishing training schemes to establish a national network of renewable energy installation specialists.

What does New Zealand’s number one solar power company have to say about the state of green growth in New Zealand? Booth agrees that aligning reality to the vision of the New Zealand brand is critical to our international success. “As a nation we are already closer than any other country to being powered by renewable energy. We have a global opportunity to be the first nation in the world to be powered 100% by renewable energy to showcase our technology and approach. SolarCity has developed unique patent protected technology and IP which could lead the way in the coming energy revolution and help drive growth and jobs in the New Zealand economy”.

“The nation that leads the world in clean energy in the 21st Century will be the nation that leads the global economy in the 21st century” – Barak Obama

“As a business we are concerned that New Zealand seems more focused on drilling for oil than building a clean tech industry”, says Booth. “If New Zealand takes a back seat and does not, at a minimum create the right economic conditions for the development of clean technology, then our businesses will have no domestic market to develop in. Our innovation and our talented staff will be forced offshore. We need to establish an investment environment that will drive the development of clean technologies here in New Zealand so that Kiwis can take a leading role in the multi-billion dollar energy revolution that climate change and peak oil are driving”. Not only will a drastic change in focus assist clean tech companies like SolarCity, it will put New Zealand on track to a more stable, secure and efficient energy economy.

Over the years, SolarCity has accumulated some impressive awards, nominations and achievements. They received the EECA Industry Excellence Award in 2011 and SolarCity’s Thermocell Panel gained Bronze in the Sustainable Design category at the 2011 New Zealand Institute of Design Awards. In 2010 SolarCity earned their carboNZero ™ certification and were finalists in the Sustainable Business Network Awards Social Innovation category. The Graham Stevens Award acknowledged SolarCity’s outstanding contributions to solar energy in New Zealand.

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