Solar has generally been a difficult business, and that isn't looking to change under President-elect Donald Trump.
Tesla officially acquired SolarCity in a deal worth roughly $2 billion on Monday. Prior to the shareholder vote, Musk unveiled several solar products that will become the focus of Tesla's energy line. They includeroof shingles that look like a normal roof, but are embedded with solar cells to generate energy, as well as an at-home battery,Powerwall 2.
Tesla will also continue to install larger solar array projects using its commercial battery,Powerpack 2, as was the case withthe island of Ta'u that is now running almost entirely on solar power.
As is always the case with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, he did not enter the solar business half-hearted.
He has an entirely new product, the solar roof, to make converting over to solar energy more aesthetically pleasing , and therefore more alluring, transition than traditional, clunky solar panel installation.
He's also generating excitement for solar power through projects like the Ta'u solar project, similarly to what he did for electric cars. As Business Insider's Matt DeBord has written, Musk is a master marketer , and it could pay off for solar the same way it did for EVs at a time of general unpopularity.
But the solar industry, in general, has been fledgling — and it doesn't look like a Trump presidency will make things any easier.
SolarCity's cash problem
Mark Von Holden/AP
Tesla acquired SolarCity's roughly $3 billion in debt as part of the merger. According to Bloomberg , debt is endemic among the solar industry — the industry has borrowed $200 billion since 2010. Industry-wide cash flow also declined massively in that period by $3 billion.
As for SolarCity itself, the company posted losses in all but three quarters since its IPO in 2012, and its shares have declined by over 50% this year.
Now, debt is fairly common among project power developers. Tesla commented on SolarCity's debt in a Nov. 1 blog post, stating that SolarCity's assets significantly exceed its recourse and non-recourse debt. Musk has also said he would personally pay off SolarCity's debt if need-be in a Nov. 4 tweet .
Still, debt issues aside, whether SolarCity can generate the cash flow it needs has yet to be seen.
SolarCity did change its strategy in 2016 to become more cash positive. The company has conventionally leased panels, but is now selling more panels to increase cash flow. SolarCity introduced a loan program in June to incentivize purchasing as part of that change in strategy.
Tesla will also look to cut costs elsewhere in 2017 now that the merger has been approved through "synergies," orlayoffs.
There's also been speculation that Musk will need to eventually raise capital as Tesla looks to launch the Model 3 as it takes on the solar business. Musk said in late October that Tesla "probably" would not do a capital raise in the first quarter of 2017, though.
So in general, Tesla will look to increase SolarCity's cash flow as part of its goal to have it add $500 million in cash to Tesla's balance sheet over the next three years. Tesla will also likely be prepping for a capital raise at some point in the 2017 fiscal year.
But a Trump presidency throws a wrench in those plans.
Solar subsidies in question