Canadian Manufacturing

SolarCity acquires solar panel maker, owner Elon Musk promises ‘gigafactories’

Elon Musk, chairman of SolarCity, said he will build factories "an order of magnitude" bigger than the plants currently churning out solar panels



NEW YORK—The energy world is not keeping up with Elon Musk, so he’s trying to take matters into his own hands.

Musk, chairman of the solar installer SolarCity, CEO of the electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors and Chief Designer and CEO of space ship manufacturer Space X, announced Tuesday that the company would acquire Silevo, a solar panel maker and build factories “an order of magnitude” bigger than the plants that currently churn out panels.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“If we don’t do this we felt there was a risk of not being able to have the solar panels we need to expand the business in the long term,” Musk said in a June 17 conference call.

Musk’s Tesla is also planning what it calls a “gigafactory” to supply batteries for its cars.

In both cases, Musk’s goal is to make sure that the components critical to his vision of the future—electric cars and solar energy—are available and cheap enough to beat fossil fuels.

Musk’s future customers could ignore traditional energy companies completely. They would have SolarCity panels on their roof that would generate enough power to charge up a Tesla in the garage. A Tesla battery could then power the home at night with stored solar power.

The acquisition of Silevo is a risk for Musk and SolarCity because it gets the company into panel manufacturing at a time when a global glut of panels has decimated the profits of panel makers. Some, including onetime industry leader Suntech Power, were forced into bankruptcy. Others were forced into solar development and installations, the kinds of things SolarCity already excels at.

SolarCity says it wants to make panels that are more efficient at a lower cost in huge factories in order to reduce the overall cost of solar electricity. Silevo’s relatively complex panels generate more power per square foot than typical panels.

SolarCity said it is negotiating with the state of New York to build what would be among the biggest factories in the world in the next two years. It would manufacture enough panels each year to produce 1 gigawatt of peak power and outfit 200,000 homes with a typical-sized rooftop system.

Musk explains the deal’s signifigance in a blog on SolarCity’s Website.

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