California-based solar installer Sunrun plans to acquire competitor Vivint Solar for $3.2 billion, the companies announced Monday night. The price rivals that of other high-profile clean energy acquisitions; Tesla bought SolarCity for $2.6 billion in 2016, while Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion in 2014.
The all-stock deal will grow the portfolio of Sunrun, already the nation’s leading home solar installer, to more than 3 gigawatts and over 500,000 customers. In the last quarter Sunrun alone logged nearly 300,000 cumulative customers and just over 2 gigawatts of solar installed.
The boards of both companies have approved the sale — and Vivint CEO David Bywater is expected to join Sunrun’s board — but stockholders and regulators must also okay the transaction. Sunrun expects to close the deal in the last quarter of this year; based on monday’s stock prices, the combined entity would be worth $9.2 billion.
This isn’t Vivint Solar’s first dance with a larger renewables company. SunEdison offered to acquire it for $2.2 billion in 2015. But that deal fell apart amid the larger unraveling of the would-be renewables supermajor in March 2016.
The new proposal rolls together two publicly held companies that claim significantly overlapping business models and similar, solar-forward visions for the future. Though they have slightly different coverage areas — Sunrun installs in Wisconsin while Vivint does not, and Vivint offers solar in Virginia, but Sunrun does not — both sell home solar in much of the Southwest, Northeast and parts of the Southeast and Midwest, through leases, loans and direct sales.
“This transaction will increase our scale and grow our energy services network to help replace centralized, polluting power plants and accelerate the transition to a 100 percent clean energy future,” said Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich in a statement on the purchase.
Despite their similarities, the competitors have pursued different strategies in some business areas. Sunrun has postured itself as an early leader in residential storage sales, reporting in its last earnings call that more than 60 percent of its customers in California’s Bay Area now choose to add storage to their solar installation. Though the rate is higher in that region than elsewhere in the U.S., Sunrun overall has installed more than 10,000 of its storage systems and is at work on plans to network those customers into virtual power plants in Hawaii and ISO-New England. Jurich suggested Vivint customers could help Sunrun build out future networks.
Vivint has recognized in the past that it was “behind” on deploying storage. But the Utah-based company has a strong ground game and has long been a leader in door-to-door solar sales — a distinction that has caused it some trouble in the past due to consumer complaints. Vivint also claims an edge in installations in residential solar’s largest market, California, according to the latest data from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.
Bringing in Vivint should also knock out $90 million per year from expenditures on overlapping organizational functions for the two companies. Sunrun said it could cut redundant costs by consolidating business divisions such as accounting and policy, and reducing similar spending on technology, among other areas.
The acquisition comes at a particularly painful time for residential solar, which this spring was sent reeling by coronavirus-related shutdowns in the U.S. Many companies reported bottoming-out sales in April, with a slight uptick in demand in May. With the virus growing at an alarming rate in many states across the country, it’s unclear if further shutdowns or infections will hamper solar installations or sap consumer demand amid a depressed economy.
Sunrun, which began selling a limited-time $1 per-month solar contract in April, has repeatedly insisted its product is “countercyclical” and able to weather an economic downturn. But ultimately, Jurich said, Vivint “adds an important and high-quality sales channel that enables our combined company to reach more households.” And that’s the goal for any solar company — especially in a crisis.