Panasonic to 'integrate' SolarCity's PV technology at New York factory

Silevo’s PV technology will be combined with Panasonic’s and put to use at a 1GW factory in upstate New York, SolarCity says, with manufacturing on track to commence in mid-2017.

A week ago Tesla unveiled a “collaboration” with Panasonic that will see the Japanese electronics giant operating SolarCity’s under-construction factory in New York, if Tesla’s proposed acquisition of SolarCity goes through.

The arrangement with Panasonic would represent a major strategic pivot for SolarCity, which acquired Silevo in 2014 for as much as $200m and confidently launched itself into the brutal and China-dominated business of PV manufacturing.

The wording of Tesla’s announcement, and a follow-up statement from Panasonic, raised questions about whether Silevo would have any role to play in Tesla’s manufacturing future.

But SolarCity insists Silevo’s technology will be blended with Panasonic’s own heterojunction with intrinsic thin-film layer (HIT) solar technology, given the similarities between them.

“SolarCity/Silevo technology remains an important and applicable component of the end solar module,” Kady Cooper, SolarCity’s director of communications, said in an emailed statement.

“Both SolarCity/Silevo and Panasonic have been working on similar cell architecture on similar process equipment already,” Cooper says.

“Together we will combine the best cell components and integrate them into the new solar module that will be produced in Buffalo, New York.”

While such a blending of technology could be expected to complicate ramp-up efforts at the factory, Cooper says manufacturing is still expected to commence during the summer of 2017.

According to Tesla’s announcement, Panasonic would operate the taxpayer-supported factory, and sell finished PV modules to Tesla under a long-term supply agreement.

The plant will become the largest PV factory in the western hemisphere, although it will be coming online at a time of oversupply in the global module market.

SolarCity, the largest US rooftop PV installer, expects to install around 1GW of distributed solar capacity this year. The company currently buys modules from other suppliers.

Shareholders will vote on whether to accept Tesla’s offer for SolarCity in mid-November.

Meanwhile, on 28 October, SolarCity is expected to announce a newly designed roof with integrated PV panels, battery storage and a Tesla charger – the kind of combined product Tesla intends to offer if the acquisition is completed.