SolarCity plans 1GW NY PV factory

In an announcement that will reverberate across the global PV industry, SolarCity on Tuesday said it has acquired Silevo, a module technology company, and intends to build a module factory larger than 1GW in the state of New York within the next two years.

The all-stock deal could be worth $350m. SolarCity will pay an initial $200m for Silevo with earn-outs of up to $150m if the company meets certain production and cost targets through 2016.

The deal means that SolarCity, the largest installer of rooftop PV systems in the US, will become a module maker in its own right – presumably meaning that it will no longer have need for its existing suppliers, which include Canadian Solar, Trina and Yingli.

The announcement follows a preliminary ruling by the US to impose countervailing duties on Chinese and Taiwanese PV kit.

The two-year timeframe would mean that SolarCity would be producing its own modules before 2017, a turning point for the US solar sector, when the current 30% Investment Tax Credit is scheduled to drop to 10%.

SolarCity’s initial factory will be followed in subsequent years “by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater” in terms of annual production capacity, the company says.

Even at 1GW, SolarCity’s initial factory will be by far the largest module plant outside China, and indeed one of the largest in the world.

SolarCity left the door open to more acquisitions of PV technology companies.

SolarCity’s core downstream installation business intends to install about 500MW of capacity this year, and as much as 1GW next year.

Silevo was founded in 2007 in Silicon Valley by two engineers from Applied Materials, and operated in stealth mode until 2011.

The company claims its hybrid solar cell technology – known as Triex – combines “the best attributes of crystalline silicon, thin film and semiconductor CMOS device architectures”, with the ability to hit a conversion efficiency of 24% in commercial products.

In explaining the move, SolarCity acknowledged that the module industry currently suffers from overcapacity, but says most suppliers today are producing “relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs”.

“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.”