Tesla posts first gain in solar panel installations since 2018

Brian Eckhouse

In a quarter where Tesla Inc. blew past profit expectations, even its foundering rooftop-solar business managed to stage a bit of a turnaround.

Installations increased for the first time in a year, the company said in its earnings statement Wednesday. The 43 megawatts of solar deployed were a 48% jump from the previous three months – a period when Tesla installed the fewest megawatts since it bought debt-burdened SolarCity in 2016.

The Palo Alto, California-based electric-car maker has lowered solar prices and in August announced no-contract panel packages to lure more customers. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has taken to Twitter recently to promote the company’s solar offering, including for Californians affected by blackouts.

Installations of Tesla's rooftop solar panels increased for the first time in a year, the company said in its earnings statement Wednesday.

“There’s no money down and you instantly save on your utility bill,” Musk said on the company’s earnings call Wednesday. “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Tesla’s shares soared more than 20% in after-hours trading after the company reported a surprise profit and said it’s ahead of schedule on a new plant and vehicle. Musk acknowledged on the call that the company’s focus on its auto business may have come at the expense of solar, saying it “had to divert a tremendous amount of resources” from its energy business for about a year and a half to ramp and simplify its Model 3 sedan.

Tesla has since restored resources to solar and storage, he said.

Also on the earnings call, Musk said Tesla would reveal its third version of its sleek solar roof on Thursday. He first unveiled the roof three years ago to help seal the SolarCity acquisition, but the company has struggled to commercialize the technology.

Tesla’s “really low prices” helped to boost sales volumes in the third quarter, said Michelle Davis, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

“If they continue their solar business in this way, they can see their volumes stay at 30 megawatts to 50 megawatts,” she said in a telephone interview. “But it’s really uncertain whether they’re making any money.”

Still, installations at those levels are well below the 103 megawatts deployed in the second quarter by Sunrun Inc., the rooftop company that displaced Tesla as America’s largest.