Lyndon Rive: The Science and Incentives Behind Solar [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

October 30, 2015
Stanford eCorner
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Lyndon Rive: The Science and Incentives Behind Solar [Entire Talk]

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In this video, Lyndon Rive, the co-founder and CEO of SolarCity, answers a wide range of questions about his personal life as well as the solar industry. He discusses his theme song, the game of underwater hockey, his motivation for starting SolarCity, the company's financial model, government subsidies for solar energy, the future of the solar industry, the role of customer ambassadors, competition in the market, managing a large number of employees, communicating with employees, and his vision for SolarCity in the future.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is Lyndon Rive's theme song?

"We are the World" or "Kung Fu Fighting" Lyndon Rive mentions that he doesn't listen to music very often, but if he had to pick a theme song, he would choose "We are the World" or "Kung Fu Fighting".

Q: How is underwater hockey played?

Six players a side, one-handed stick, and pucks made of lead Underwater hockey is played with six players a side in the water. Each player wears a mask, fins, and uses a one-handed stick. The pucks used in the game are made of lead and are placed at the bottom of the pool. The game involves players taking turns to play as long as they can before running out of air.

Q: Are there any rules in underwater hockey?

No dunking allowed, some light physical contact allowed In underwater hockey, dunking (holding an opponent underwater) is not allowed. Light physical contact and checking is permitted, but the game is generally friendly and often played in a coed format. There are no specific rules against fighting, but it is not a common occurrence.

Q: What are the criteria for playing underwater hockey?

You need a pool with a flat or uniform bottom To play underwater hockey, you need a pool with a flat or uniform bottom. The game is typically played over the width of an Olympic-size pool, which is around 25 meters by 50 meters. The game can also be played from side to side if the pool does not have a flat bottom.

Q: Did Lyndon Rive and Elon Musk grow up with a focus on saving the world?

Environmentalism came later in their lives Lyndon Rive explains that he and Elon Musk grew up in South Africa, where environmental issues were not a big focus during their childhood. The desire to solve environmental problems and contribute to saving the world came later in their lives, after they had already started a software business and felt the need for a more meaningful and impactful mission.

Q: How did Lyndon Rive's previous business, Everdream, influence SolarCity?

Experience from the dot-com crash made them better entrepreneurs Lyndon Rive discusses how his previous business, Everdream, which was a software company, went through the dot-com crash. He explains that facing real challenges and working through difficult times made them better entrepreneurs by forcing them to work harder and hone their skills. The experience gained from Everdream helped them solve problems in SolarCity that they might not have encountered otherwise.

Q: How does SolarCity's financial model work?

Customers pay for energy, not the equipment or installation SolarCity's financial model allows customers to install solar systems for free. Customers only pay for the energy produced by the solar panels, at a price lower than what they would pay the utility company. The model makes it easier for customers to adopt solar energy and helps SolarCity grow. The model originally had government subsidies, but now the focus is on making it financially viable without those subsidies.

Q: What is the current state of government subsidies for solar energy?

Subsidies have declined, but federal tax credits are still in place Government subsidies for solar energy have declined in recent years. In California, there are currently no state incentives for solar, while other states have also reduced or eliminated their incentives. The primary remaining incentive is the federal tax credit, which offers a 30% tax credit for solar systems. However, the federal tax credit is set to expire in 2016 for residential owners and decrease to 10% for commercial owners. Lyndon Rive believes there is a high probability that the tax credit will not be renewed, which he considers to be bad policy given the urgency of addressing climate change.

Q: Is SolarCity delaying the inevitable or actually making a difference in addressing climate change?

SolarCity is making a difference and can help stop global warming from getting worse Lyndon Rive believes that SolarCity is making a difference in addressing climate change. While it may take a long time to undo the damage already done, SolarCity can help stop global warming from getting worse by transitioning to clean energy sources. He expresses the need for widespread adoption of solar energy, not just in the US but also in other countries, especially developing countries. He emphasizes that if widespread adoption of solar energy is achieved, it can solve the problem of climate change.

Q: Does SolarCity have any plans for innovative technologies like space solar panels?

SolarCity's focus is on improving efficiency and making solar more accessible SolarCity's main focus is on improving the efficiency of solar panels and making solar energy more accessible to customers. Lyndon Rive explains that the current process of generating energy from the sun involves multiple steps with a lot of inefficiencies, while solar panels directly capture sunlight and convert it into energy. The goal is to make solar panels more efficient and cost-competitive. He believes that the industry needs to push for higher efficiency and move away from standard efficiency modules to make a significant impact.

Q: How does SolarCity communicate with its large number of employees?

Weekly broadcasts, emails, and open communication encourage information sharing SolarCity uses various methods to communicate with its employees. One of the main channels is through weekly broadcasts called "SolarCity TV," where different people speak on various topics, and the broadcast is accessible to the entire company. Email is also used but not considered the best method. Open communication is encouraged, and Lyndon Rive personally responds to emails from employees, although response times may vary. Additionally, the company fosters a culture of open communication, where feedback from employees is valued.

Q: How does SolarCity get its customers to become its sales force?

Customer referral program and ambassador program SolarCity has a customer referral program where customers who refer their neighbors receive incentives, and their neighbors receive discounts when they sign up for solar. This program has been successful and contributes to about one-third of the company's business. Additionally, SolarCity has an ambassador program where passionate individuals who can't have solar installed on their homes but still want to help refer customers to the company. These programs rely on the trust and satisfaction of existing customers to spread the word about SolarCity.

Q: What is SolarCity's competitive advantage and how does it plan to stay ahead in the market?

Vertical integration strategy and pushing for innovation SolarCity's competitive advantage lies in its vertical integration strategy. Unlike many competitors who rely on multiple vendors for various aspects of the solar installation process, SolarCity handles everything from sales to installation to financing. This allows the company to optimize costs, customer experience, and product quality. Additionally, SolarCity is investing in new technologies to improve the efficiency of solar panels and push for innovation in the industry. Lyndon Rive believes that other manufacturers need to follow suit to drive these innovations and make solar energy more accessible.

Q: What challenges does SolarCity face from utility companies and potential blind spots in the future?

Utility companies as competitors and regulatory barriers SolarCity faces challenges from traditional utility companies, which are its main competitors. The current regulatory framework often favors utilities over distributed energy providers like SolarCity. Utility companies are slow to adapt to new technologies and may resist the changing energy landscape. However, Lyndon Rive believes that the future holds opportunities for collaboration, where utilities can make use of SolarCity's infrastructure and software applications to manage distributed energy systems. Regulatory barriers, such as restrictions on connecting homes' electrical systems, are potential blind spots that need to be addressed to enable a more efficient and innovative electrical infrastructure.

Q: What are Lyndon Rive's thoughts on balancing work and family life?

Setting quotas for quality time with family and working towards better balance Lyndon Rive acknowledges the challenges of balancing work and family life. He shares his personal approach, which is setting a quota of 16 hours per week for quality time with his family. He believes that having a supportive partner makes a difference and tries to make the most of the time he spends with his family. He also emphasizes the importance of open communication and negotiation with family members to find a reasonable balance.

Q: How does SolarCity plan to adapt to the changing energy landscape in the future?

Enabling utilities to use their infrastructure and software applications SolarCity sees a future where utilities become customers as well and use SolarCity's infrastructure and software applications to manage their grids more efficiently. By allowing utilities to access distributed energy systems and balance the grid, SolarCity aims to create a more reliable and stable grid. Lyndon Rive believes that this shift in policies, along with continuous innovation and optimization, will lead to a more sustainable and efficient energy landscape in the future.


Lyndon Rive envisions a future where solar energy becomes more widespread and integrated into the electrical infrastructure. SolarCity aims to be a leader in the industry by improving the efficiency of solar panels, making solar energy more accessible, and providing innovative solutions for the grid. The company faces challenges from traditional utilities but remains focused on its vertical integration strategy, customer advocacy, and pushing for policy changes to accelerate the transition to clean energy. Through open communication and a dedicated workforce, SolarCity is determined to make a significant impact in addressing climate change and transforming the energy landscape.

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