Solar Tribune

SolarCity vs. Sunrun


In a crowded residential solar marketplace, SolarCity and Sunrun are among the most recognizable names in the industry.

SolarCity is perhaps most well-known for its ties to Elon Musk and Tesla, while Sunrun’s claim to fame is that they pioneered the business model of solar leasing arrangements, which are a mainstay in the industry today.

Company Overviews


Founded in 2006 by brothers Peter and Lyndon Rive, SolarCity is a full-service solar provider headquartered in San Mateo, CA. SolarCity was acquired by Tesla in 2016. Thanks primarily to its affiliation with Tesla, SolarCity is a major player in the energy storage and electric vehicle charging markets, in addition to offering conventional residential and commercial solar products.

SolarCity claims over 300,000 residential customers and several thousand cumulative megawatts of installed solar capacity.


Founded in 2007 by Lynn Jurich, Sunrun is a full-service solar provider headquartered in San Francisco, CA. Initially, the company was strictly a third-party ownership provider, offering solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs). In 2015, Sunrun began offering customer ownership options.

Sunrun claims over 160,000 customers and over 1,100 cumulative megawatts of installed solar capacity.

Service Territory

The footprint of both SolarCity and Sunrun is comparable, with both companies covering much of the Northeast, West Coast and Southwestern United States. SolarCity operates in 23 states, while Sunrun operates in 21 states.

SolarCity states served, Sunrun states served

How do They Compare?

 Business modelManufactures panels?Own installers or sub-contractors?Offer home energy storage?Production warranty
SolarCityRents you solar panels, manufactures solar panelsYes (Tesla solar roof)Own installersYes, Tesla Powerwall25-year
SunrunRents you solar panelsNoSub-contractorsYes (Brightbox)20-year

As a larger vertically-integrated company, SolarCity’s main difference with Sunrun is that they manufacture some solar products and that they use their own workers to install their products. SolarCity also has a reputation for having longer lasting solar panels, which is reflected in their attractive warranty terms.

How Much Do They Cost?

On their website, Sunrun mentions that the total cost of installation for their products can fall between $15,000 and $29,000 for average sized solar energy systems between 4 kWh and 8 kWh. This would work out to a price per watt of $3.75 for the 4 kWh system and $3.63 for the 8 kWh system. These figures should be viewed as rough estimates given the myriad of factors that will ultimately affect the total cost of a solar PV installation.

SolarCity is less public about the price of their systems, but their earnings statements reveal a low creation cost per watt. In Q3 of 2016 (before Tesla acquisition) SolarCity reported a cost per watt of $2.89. By comparison, Sunrun’s cost per watt was $3.44 in Q3 of 2017. SolarCity’s premium solar products, like the Tesla solar roof, come at a price premium, however, that puts it out of reach for most American households. A Tesla solar roof covering 70% of an average American home will set the homeowner back over $50,000.

Customer Reviews

Individual customer experiences are going to vary, but the below aggregation of customer reviews from various sources gives Sunrun a slight edge in customer satisfaction over SolarCity. All ratings are out of 5 stars. (San Fran area location)
SolarCity2.4 (based on 108 reviews)2.8 (based on 503 reviews)1.5 (based on 115 reviews in past year)1.3 (based on 26 reviews)2.0 (based on 276 reviews)3.8 (based on 99 reviews)
Sunrun3.1 (based on 14 reviews)3.4 (based on 342 reviews)3.4 (based on 166 reviews in past year)1.2 (based on 29 reviews)2.5 (based on 171 reviews)3.9 (based on 41 reviews)

Which Should You Choose?

SolarCity and Sunrun are both stable and reliable companies in an industry that can be prone to volatility.

Generally speaking, Sunrun may be a good fit for you if you plan to lease your panels or if you want to set up a PPA since this is Sunrun’s bread and butter. SolarCity may be a better option if you want to buy your PV system, especially given their reputation for having long-lasting panels.


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