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SolarCity IPO shines

December 13, 2012: 12:50 PM ET

SolarCity (SCTY) is shining on its first day of trading.

In its debut on Nasdaq (NDAQ) Friday, SolarCity closed 47% above its $8-a-share initial public offering price.

To get that pop, SolarCity was forced to scale back its expectations. The company had originally tried to price its offering between $13 and $15, which would have given it a valuation close to $1 billion, and raised $141 million.

Even though the company upped the number of shares it offered, the IPO raised only $92 million, giving SolarCity a market cap around $600 million.

The company, which installs solar panels, said it plans to use the proceeds for working capital and to expand the business through acquisitions or investments.

SolarCity is the first clean technology company to brave the public markets since Enphase Energy (ENPH) went public in March. Enphase Energy, which makes products to help improve solar efficiency, has seen its stock price slashed in half. BrightSource Energy, another solar company that had planned to go public in April, canceled its IPO.

"Investors have been burned so badly from the solar sector. We've faced that stigma while selling our company to investors," said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive.

Companies seeking to harness the power of the sun have struggled in recent years, as U.S. firms face competition from cheaper solar panels manufactured in China. Solyndra, which received a $535 million loan from the U.S. government, has been the highest-profile casualty. The company declared bankruptcy in September 2011 and laid of all its employees.

Related: U.S. slams Chinese solar panels with new tariffs

But SolarCity has been able to sidestep some of those cost challenges because they don't manufacture the panels. They install them and help consumers finance them. Demand appears to be relatively robust so far. "We told investors that we sell energy not equipment," said Rive.

Since the company's 2006 founding, it has provided systems or services for more than 45,000 buildings. The company more than doubled its revenue during the first nine months of the year, but its losses continued to mount. SolarCity lost $78 million during the first three quarters of the year, compared with a loss $57 million during the same time period of 2011.

SolarCity garnered the attention of investors at least partially because its chairman, Elon Musk, runs Tesla Motors (TSLA). Tesla manufactures electric cars and has been one of the few clean tech success stories. The company's shares have risen more than 20% this year.

And things may be looking up for solar stocks, which have gotten a nice post-election boost. Despite the issues surrounding Solyndra's bankruptcy and the government's investment in the company, investors think the Obama administration will be friendly to the clean tech space. Shares of  First Solar (FSLR), which are down 5% in 2012, have surged 35% since Election Day.

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