SAN MATEO -- SolarCity, one of the nation's leading installers of rooftop solar systems, hopes to raise as much as $150 million in an initial public offering set for this week.

SolarCity Chairman Elon Musk, the serial entrepreneur who is CEO of Tesla Motors (TSLA) and SpaceX, is doing his part: He intends to purchase $15 million worth of common stock at the IPO price, according to a recent regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Musk's willingness to put more skin in the game could help San Mateo-based SolarCity attract other investors at a time when many on Wall Street remain skittish about clean energy in general and solar companies in particular. Experts say it's highly unusual for IPOs to have pre-committed buyers.

"Musk is giving investors messaging that he believes in SolarCity's business model and investment proposition and is voting with his wallet," said Sam Hamadeh, the head of New York-based financial analysis firm PrivCo. "We think the vote of confidence will help SolarCity's IPO actually succeed and price, despite so many clean-energy IPOs recently having been pulled or postponed."


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SolarCity is expected to price its shares after the market closes Tuesday and is expected to begin trading on the Nasdaq exchange Wednesday under the symbol SCTY. The company plans to sell 10 million shares at $13 to $15 a share. At the midrange point of $14 a share, the company would raise $140 million and have a market value of roughly $1.2 billion.

Founded in 2006, SolarCity does not manufacture solar panels, focusing instead on installation. While the prices of solar panels have been hammered by a supply glut, hurting manufacturers, installers are benefiting because solar power is now affordable for more consumers.

"There is little institutional interest in anything solar, so marketing this deal will be difficult," Theo O'Neil, managing director of Litchfield Hills Research, said of SolarCity's IPO. "That being said, installing panels here is perhaps the only thing that could make money in solar."

In six years, SolarCity has created a national brand as a leading installer of residential and commercial rooftop systems in 14 states across the country. It also pioneered the concept of a "solar lease," which allows homeowners to switch to solar power for no money down in exchange for monthly lease payments, typically on a 20-year contract. The company intends to expand internationally and has more than 2,000 employees.

Ben Kallo, an analyst at Robert W. Baird, said SolarCity can be viewed as a finance company rather than a solar company.

"SolarCity has a complex business model, and there are potential risks around interest rates and how this company scales up," said Kallo. "I think it will price at the lower end of its range."

Silicon Valley hasn't seen a big cleantech IPO since Tesla's blockbuster debut in June 2010. Other cleantech companies that have gone public, including battery maker A123, which filed for bankruptcy in Octoberand biofuel maker Amyris, have seen their valuations plummet. In April, Oakland-based solar thermal startup BrightSource Energy shelved its IPO plans at the final hour.

"Everyone in the U.S. is watching the SolarCity IPO," said Dallas Kachan of cleantech research firm Kachan. "Cleantech stocks are still underperforming. It's an important bellwether exit for U.S. investors and entrepreneurs. "

Other analysts question the wisdom of trying to go public when financial markets are preoccupied with the battle between the White House and Congress over the looming "fiscal cliff."

SolarCity was co-founded by Musk and two cousins -- CEO Lyndon Rive, a native of South Africa who has been a member of the U.S. National Underwater Hockey Team, and his brother Peter, the company's chief technology officer.

Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch are lead underwriters of the IPO; investors in the company include Musk, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, DBL Investors and Mayfield Fund.

Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.

SolarCity's IPO
Founders: Lyndon Rive, Peter Rive and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk
Chairman: Elon Musk
CEO: Lyndon Rive
Headquarters: San Mateo
What SolarCity does: Installs solar systems on residential and commercial rooftops in 14 states
Number of shares to be sold: 10 million
Expected price range: $13 to $15 a share