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With SolarCity IPO, Elon Musk May Get Clean Tech Right

Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Tesla Motors, at a Bloomberg Television interview in New York
Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Tesla Motors, at a Bloomberg Television interview in New York Photograph by Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg

Over the past few years, Silicon Valley has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into a vast array of “clean technology” companies. You probably can’t name many of them because, on the whole, they’ve been tremendous failures or totally underwhelming. Companies participating in particularly difficult areas such as solar have turned into laughingstocks and symbols of huge investments gone wrong.

There does, however, seem to be one person getting quite wealthy off green technology, and that’s Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Motors and the chairman of SolarCity. When SolarCity began trading on Thursday, its shares jumped more than 50 percent in early trading (although the company had lowered its IPO price in recent days due to lackluster demand). Musk is now the largest shareholder in a pair of public clean-technology companies. (Going into the offering, Musk owned 31 percent of SolarCity, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. That would be worth $150.8 million at the $8 offering price. A second filing said he intended to buy more shares at the offering.)