SolarCity To Build One Of World’s Largest Solar Panel Manufacturing Plants In New York


SolarCity Residence

SolarCity Residence

SolarCity seems to follows in the footsteps of Tesla Motors and is now planning its own photovoltaic Gigafactory.

The company announced that it signed an agreement to acquire Silevo, a developer and manufacturer of solar modules with a “unique combination” of high efficiency and low cost.

A post on this matter can be found on SolarCity blog (one of the authors is Elon Musk – who also serves as Chairman at SolarCity).

“SolarCity has signed an agreement to acquire Silevo, a solar panel technology and manufacturing company whose modules have demonstrated a unique combination of high energy output and low cost. Our intent is to combine what we believe is fundamentally the best photovoltaic technology with massive economies of scale to achieve a breakthrough in the cost of solar power. Although no other acquisitions are currently being contemplated, SolarCity may acquire additional photovoltaics companies as needed to ensure clear technology leadership and we plan to grow internal engineering significantly.”

On the efficiency side, we see 22% on the Silevo website with “proven headroom to reach 24%.”

Silevo: Comparing Efficiency Loss of various technologies

Silevo: Comparing Efficiency Loss of various technologies

If the acquisition is successful, SolarCity will build a new manufacturing plant with annual capacity of more than 1 GW. Then there is a plan to build something 10-times that size (more than 10 GW).

“We are in discussions with the state of New York to build the initial manufacturing plant, continuing a relationship developed by the Silevo team. At a targeted capacity greater than 1 GW within the next two years, it will be one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world. This will be followed in subsequent years by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity.”

We heard many times that there is oversupply of photovoltaic modules on the market, so why would SolarCity be willing to produce its own panels? Well, the company is preparing for an unsubsidized market when lower cost panels will be needed and the scale must be larger.

“Given that there is excess supplier capacity today, this may seem counter-intuitive to some who follow the solar industry. What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today, where there are indeed too many suppliers, most of whom are producing relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs, but how we see the future developing. Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed.

SolarCity was founded to accelerate mass adoption of sustainable energy. The sun, that highly convenient and free fusion reactor in the sky, radiates more energy to the Earth in a few hours than the entire human population consumes from all sources in a year. This means that solar panels, paired with batteries to enable power at night, can produce several orders of magnitude more electricity than is consumed by the entirety of human civilization. A cogent assessment of sustainable energy potential from various sources is described well in this Sandia paper:

Even if the solar industry were only to generate 40 percent of the world’s electricity with photovoltaics by 2040, that would mean installing more than 400 GW of solar capacity per year for the next 25 years. We absolutely believe that solar power can and will become the world’s predominant source of energy within our lifetimes, but there are obviously a lot of panels that have to be manufactured and installed in order for that to happen. The plans we are announcing today, while substantial compared to current industry, are small in that context.”

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23 responses to "SolarCity To Build One Of World’s Largest Solar Panel Manufacturing Plants In New York"
  1. Brian says:

    When I first heard of this project, I came up with two or three locations in the state that I thought would be under consideration. I have to admit – Buffalo was not one of them.

    Good for them, I hope this pans out!

    1. ClarksonCote says:

      Indeed, same here.

    2. Spec9 says:

      Yeah, Buffalo needs the jobs. I’m sure they’ll get access to really cheap land and relatively low cost labor.

    3. sven says:

      The main reason for choosing Buffalo is because in NY State new and expanding businesses can operate absolutely 100% TAX FREE for 10 YEARS under the Start-UP NY intitive!!! “No income tax, business, corporate, state or local taxes, sales and property taxes, or franchise fees.”

      The second reason for choosing Buffalo is renewable power. While the gigafactory will be powered by solar power, SolarCity’s solar panel plant will be powered by hydro power from Niagra Falls and wind power from Lake Erie. Buffalo also has plenty of abandoned industrial sites that are brownfields. In fact, just south of Buffalo they built a wind turbine farm on a brownfield site that was the old Bethlehem Steel Plant on the shores of Lake Erie.

  2. Dan Hue says:

    If I were a mid-west politician, or from some other old industrial areas, I would promote renewable energy in my state, especially wind if it’s in the plains, bring the cost down and concentrate it in areas for prime for re-industrialization. Looking forward, I think that there is a market for green manufacturing, including cars (e.g., BMW i3).

    1. Spec9 says:

      Oh this is definitely happening. Look at Iowa . . . they are quite the wind capital. So much so that even Tea Party nut Steve King is now a big wind supporter despite the Koch brother’s wishes.

  3. Anon says:

    Solar city needs to design a modular solar carport…

    1. Big Solar says:

      Check out Schletters.

      1. Anon says:

        All I can find via web search, is a closely spelled disease…

        Got a URL?

  4. Red HHR. says:

    With the low cost of money today, a purchase could be made with savings. That would also include the new Tesla.

  5. kdawg says:

    The only thing left for Elon Musk to do, is to build his own power plants, implementing the the solar panels & li-ion batteries. Then sell the energy to the grid.

    It’s sort of like Google, taking the place of the middleman and putting in their own fiber lines.

    1. Ocean Railroader says:

      I think this solar panel factory might be the gunshot wound that finally puts the aging coal industry out of it’s misery. I also hope it takes out a good junk of the natural gas industry that all the fossil fuel lobby have taking about the best thing since sliced bread.

      As for this giga solar factory I came across a story about it were the New Company is right now building a 200 megawatt a year factory. The new factory is building about 200 megawatts of new solar panels a year. Solar city meanwhile ants to take this new 200 megawatt factory and expand it to a Giga watt.

      As for a 200 megawatt factory that can still do a lot of damage to the coal industry.

  6. Jesse Gurr says:

    Taking over an old steel mill facility. That’s cool. Will they do it like the NUMMI plant and re-purpose it or will they demolish and start over?

  7. Spec9 says:

    This is interesting. I’ve always dismissed solar city as just an installer with a scammy financing model.

    But now they are going vertical integration with building panels. They already bought a a racking company to get racks cheaper.

    I guess this is the SolarCity gigafactory play.

  8. koz says:

    Has Elon put Solar on the NUMMI roof yet?

    1. Anon says:

      Not until costs in US made panels drop significantly in price…

  9. Mike999 says:

    1) Solar already employs more people then coal.
    2) China has said that Solar will be cheaper then coal, in China, in 2 years. Essentially coal is already dead.
    3) The population centers of the US are on the coast.
    So, there really should be one plant on the east coast, and one on the west to reduce distribution cost.

    The southwest has the benefit of more sunny day’s, so if you wanted to power the factory with a solar field, that would be a great idea for the southwest.

    But, keeping the factory close to the east coast installers reduces a lot of transportation cost.

    1. Suprise Cat says:

      Lies, lies, lies.
      Coal is booming worldwide and will dominate the power market in the next 50 years.

      1. Anon says:

        Better divest now, before you get a nasty portfolio surprise. 😉

  10. QCO says:

    Higher efficiency is nice for reduced physical size, but photovoltaic panels sell based on $/watt.

    With current prices around 90 cents per watt for reliable Chinese built panels it’s hard to see how something made in New York could be cheaper.

    But perhaps they have a plan….

    1. mike w says:

      I’m with you on the cheaper panels but they are only one aspect of the total cost of a system. When I put my system in I had to spend almost as much for the electrician, permits and required engineering analysis (to get the permit)and ground mount rack. We need to see some of these “other” cost to drop if solar is going to take off.
      I like solarcity business model. you pay them rent on the system and they do all the work. Elon is on to a good model.

      1. Fabian says:

        I agree, these additional solar install costs are artificially high and have been since the times of 50k home installs.

        Now that solar costs less than 10k to get running for a whole home, these additional costs are more visible and are excessive.

        My county charged me 500 bucks just to get a simple permit which took the inspector 5 minutes to sign off. That was a money grab IMHO.

  11. TomArt says:

    What I don’t understand is, SunPower already makes the most reliable, most efficient and most durable solar PV panels in the world (X-series) – their module and panel numbers already matches or exceeds the “potential” quotes of the tech that Silevo has. And the X-series came out on the market over a year ago!

    I understand that they charge a premium, as well, but making more should still be able to lower the $/W prices of SunPower panels and not cut into profits.

    Of course, it would be hard to buy SPWR since the French oil company Total owns approximately half the stock (I forget if it is 40% or 49%).