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Why Tesla Slashed Its Solar Panel Prices

May 2, 2019, 7:32 PM UTC

Tesla hopes to heat up its struggling renewable energy business by slashing prices for its solar panels.

The company will now charge customers $1.75 to $1.99 per watt of solar panel energy capacity. That’s 16% less than the national average of $2.08 per watt that U.S. residential customers typically pay, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The price cuts are a blatant “attempt to stimulate demand, which has been very soft for Tesla on the solar panel front,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives told Fortune.

Once a big hope for Tesla, solar has slumped over the past year because of what the company described as “a cumbersome buying experience” for customers. But analysts question whether the company can turn around its solar business because of the strong competition.

The stakes high for Tesla as it tries to simultaneously revive its solar division and ramp up its electric car production after failing to meet its goals. On Thursday, the company announced that it needed to raise $1.5 billion through a convertible note and share sale to keep its business afloat.

First quarter revenue in Tesla’s division that includes solar panels and other renewable energy initiatives slid to $324.7 million from $410 million in the same period in 2018. Solar deployments fell to 47 megawatts in the first quarter of 2019, down from 76 megawatts in the year-ago period.

Tesla’s latest price cuts, reported by the The New York Times earlier this week, are its second in six months. In November, the company said that it would reduce prices for residential solar by up to 25%, saving customers up to $5,000.

Speaking about those initial price cuts, Shah told Reuters that they would change the dynamic so “the customer comes to you rather than you going to the customer.” But Tesla’s solar sales continued to fall, leading to the news this week that it would make further cuts about which it declined to provide more details.

Earlier this month, Tesla tried to fix its clunky shopping experience for solar panels by letting customers buy them directly through its website. Before, customers had to go through a third party or get a sales consultation from a Tesla salesperson.

Tesla declined to comment to Fortune.

In 2016, Tesla expanded into solar by acquiring the residential solar panel maker SolarCity for $2.6 billion. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who also had a small stake in SolarCity, said at the time that the acquisition put Tesla on a path to building an “integrated sustainable energy company” that could compete in more than just the car business.

Since then, Musk and his team have been working on restructuring the solar business and finding ways to fend off competition.

Competitive Woes

Last year, Tesla lost its position as the top U.S. residential solar company to competitor SunRun in terms of deployments, according to data from research firm Wood Mackenzie. In the first three quarters of 2018, the latest data from the research firm, SunRun installed 163 megawatts of residential solar while SolarCity installed 156 megawatts over the same period.

Despite Tesla’s price cuts, SunRun, and another Tesla competitor, Vivint Solar, are continuing with business as usual. A Vivint Solar spokesperson told Fortune that it has nothing new to announce about its prices while a SunRun spokesperson said the company “welcomes…efforts to reduce costs” and said that SunRun continues a long-term policy of working to reduce “soft costs” like permits that can push the solar costs higher.

The SunRun spokesperson added that what customers need more than anything is improved customer service that can walk them “through the process of going solar.”

Ives, the analyst, told Fortune that Tesla’s price cuts are a risky strategy. They could increase Tesla’s already sizable losses, which amounted to $667.6 million last quarter.

And considering that Tesla’s price cuts haven’t worked, Vivint and SunRun need not try to match them, Ives said. Instead, he predicted that the rivals would take a “wait-and-see approach.”

Even with the price cuts—or perhaps because of them—Ives is skeptical about Tesla’s solar division. The business has been a drain on Tesla overall, he said, and most investors share little optimism about it.

“The solar business continues to be a head-scratcher,” Ives said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the national average that U.S. residential customers pay per watt of power for solar. It is $2.08 per watt, not $2.98 per watt. Tesla’s new price is actually 16% less than the national average, not 41%.