10/9/2014 10:18:26 AM
Fortune: Mr. Sunshine
Lyndon Rive thinks solar power can overtake fossil fuels, one rooftop at a time. Some say Solar City’s CEO is dreaming—but that’s what they said about his cousin Elon Musk.
In the lobby of SolarCity’s glass and stone headquarters in San Mateo, Calif., six young men in Dockers and solid shirts—Silicon Valley’s uniform—sit waiting, glued to their smartphone screens. A middle-aged manager ambles through a door into the waiting area and announces, “I’m here for the new hires.” All six stand.
This is a typical day at SolarCity, which is hiring more than 350 engineers, technicians, and salespeople a month and now employs a total of 7,500, more than Facebook. Launched eight years ago, the company has become the nation’s largest installer of residential solar systems. So far SolarCity has installed systems for more than 140,000 customers (it’s No. 2 in commercial installations), and its sales, which doubled in the latest quarter from the year before, are on track to hit $250 million in 2014, according to Credit Suisse. Wall Street has noticed. Since going public two years ago, the company has seen its stock jump from $8 a share to a recent price of $59.62—giving it a market cap of $5.3 billion—even though it has yet to post a profit. (It is reinvesting all its cash flow in growth.)
With economies of scale the cost of solar power has plunged much faster than many people expected—and some are actually arguing that solar will become cheaper than fossil fuels within the next few years. Now the difference is only about 25% after subsidies, a margin so small that people like Lyndon Rive, the co-founder and CEO of SolarCity, can taste victory. As he stated flatly in an exclusive interview with Fortune: “The core mission of the company is selling clean energy at a lower cost than fossil fuels. Period.”