Sunrun cements residential PV dominance with 413MW full-year installs

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Image credit: Sunrun

Sunrun’s ascendancy in the US residential solar segment looks set to go nowhere after annual results revealed installations broke the 400MW mark last year.

The update released on Thursday shows PV installs reached 413MW throughout 2019, a 11% jump on the 373MW posted for 2018. By comparison, Tesla – once the top US residential installer but overtaken by Sunrun two years ago – deployed a more modest 173MW throughout 2019.

The full-year results confirmed Sunrun’s success in pushing up solar installs every quarter this year. From an initial 86MW of additions in Q1 2019, the firm went on to post 103MW in Q2 2019 and 107MW in Q3 2019. In Q4 2019, roll out reached 117MW, the group said this week.

Growth extended to Sunrun’s customer base, which numbered 285,000 people by the end of 2019 where it counted 180,000 in 2017 and 233,000 in 2018. The 50,000-plus new customers in 2019 alone equalled the additions by the next two largest residential firms combined, Sunrun said.

Sunrun’s new guidance this week shows the firm expects the momentum to further strengthen in 2020. As CEO Lynn Jurich noted in a call with analysts, the residential specialist foresees solar deployment to grow by 15% this year, coupled with a 20% boost to its customer base.

Like fellow residential players Sunnova and Tesla, Sunrun appears to put increasing stock in the prospects of its solar-plus-storage offering. Jurich explained roll-out of its Brightbox systems has passed the 9,000 mark nation-wide. This year, she added, deployments could “nearly double”.

In line with earlier Sunrun statements, the firm linked the rising uptake of its Brightbox home solar batteries to citizens’ wariness of blackouts. Where 20% of PV installs featured the storage add-on nation-wide in Q4 2019, the rate reached 50% in California’s outage-stricken Bay Area.

Staff shortages ease as cost of revenues rises

For Sunrun, the posting of bullish installation forecasts came as its stock traded at around US$20 per share on New York’s Nasdaq exchange, down from a US$23.4 peak on 20 February.

After losses in Q1 2019 and Q2 2019, Sunrun went on to become money-making again in Q3 2019 and Q4 2019. It finished 2019 with a full-year positive net income of US$26.3 million, a drop from the figures for both 2017 (US$125 million) and 2018 (US$26.6 million).

The firm boosted full-year revenues between 2018 (US$759 million) and 2019 (US$858 million) but saw, in turn, total costs of revenues rise 18% to US$182 million and total operating expenses grow by an identical 18% to reach US$292 million.

During the earnings call, CEO Jurich laid out the steps Sunrun will follow in a bid to shave costs. The firm will work to shorten timeframes between customer signature and actual system installs, she said, adding that scheduling, inspections and other processes Sunrun controls will be “optimised”.

In earlier updates, Sunrun had singled out staff shortages as a key growth barrier, amid claims it had 600-plus openings to fill across sales and installation teams. Last November, the firm had claimed these “labor challenges” were likely to go away by Q1 2020, in part aided by its benefits package.

Based on this week’s update, the workforce strains appear to have eased somewhat. During the call on Thursday, CEO Jurich explained Sunrun’s vacancies have dropped to 400-plus all in all, split between over 300 sales openings and 100 installation openings.

Pressed on this front later by analysts, Jurich stressed that Sunrun is “vigilantly watching” given the tight labour market but added: “It is nothing we don’t have the recruiters or pipeline to staff, it is not really a feature in terms of restraining anything or a worry for us for hitting the growth target.”

See here to browse Sunrun's Q4 2019 and FY 2019 results in full.

The prospects and challenges of solar's new era in the US will take centre stage at Large Scale Solar USA 2020 (Austin, Texas, on 23-24 June 2020).

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