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Published on May 31st, 2015 | by James Ayre

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SolarCity’s Solar Panel “Gigafactory” Resembles Tesla’s Gigafactory So Far

May 31st, 2015 by  

Following on the company’s acquisition of the solar module manufacturer Silevo last year, SolarCity began work on a “Gigafactory” of its own — following in the footsteps of “sister company” Tesla Motors, you might say. The SolarCity version will of course produce solar modules, though, not lithium-ion batteries.

Unsurprisingly — given the somewhat similar functions, similar people, similar mind sets, etc — the two projects both seem to be sharing a resemblance. Well, during these early stages on construction anyways. This is despite the fact that the two projects are on opposite sides of the country — the SolarCity facility being under construction in Buffalo, New York, and the Tesla facility under construction in Nevada.

Of course, who can travel anywhere in this country without thinking that much of the man-made environment looks remarkably similar to what you see practically anywhere else? There just isn’t that much variety with regard to modern constructions, to be honest.


 

Electrek provides a bit more information:

SolarCity and Tesla are not sharing any designs or contractors for their respective factory projects according to Kady Cooper, Director of Communications at SolarCity.

The plant, which should start low volume production in 2016, is expected to produce 1 GW of solar modules per year at planned capacity starting in 2017, and the company says it could expand the facility to 5 GW. According to the general contractor in charge of the project, LP Ciminelli, the structure is 35% complete. In comparison, drone footage of Tesla’s construction site in Nevada emerged last week and Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO and SolarCity’s Chairman, confirmed the structure seen in the video represents about 25% of the final building.

While Tesla could break the record for the biggest footprint for a single building with the Gigafactory’s 10 million square-feet, SolarCity trails behind with 1.2 million square-feet, but it should still be enough to be the biggest solar panel plant in the northern hemisphere.

Worth noting here is that the solar panels that are set to be produced at the SolarCity facility currently under development will reportedly possess solar conversion efficiencies as high as 24% (as compared to conventional panels with 21% conversion efficiency, as those used by the company currently have).

For side-by-side pics, see the electrek article.


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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • Rikaishi Rikashi

    The genius with this plan is in the rock-solid dependable market for these panels, even if the initial costs are much higher then expected.

    A notable feature of the envisioned Tesla Gigafactory is the 10 million square feet of roof-space completely covered in photovoltaics. It seems safe to predict that those panels will be manufactured by Solarcity. It’s also noticeable that although Musk has long claimed he will cover all his Tesla service centres and superchargers with solar panels, so far that has only happened at a few locations. I bet I can guess why that roll-out of solar has been delayed for so long.

    Just as Tesla’s battery storage business insures a market for Gigafactory 1 batteries in case Model 3 sales do not eventuate, Tesla itself will become a huge customer of the Solarcity gigafactory’s panels, insuring its solvency in case demand is low or Solarcity’s cells are made pre-maturely redundant by new advancements.

    And Tesla is well placed to make best use of those panels by deploying its own battery storage solutions at cost.

    Whether from a consumer or business perspective, the synergies possible between Solar, batteries and EVs are delicious.

  • Stan Hlegeris

    “the biggest solar panel plant in the northern hemisphere”

    Is there a bigger one in the southern hemisphere?

    • Jobo

      Haha… this is world record breaking stuff by South African boys, go big or go home.

    • Jacob

      They probably mean Western Hemisphere.

  • Steven Geiger

    Great to see progress in American-made solar products, rather than the usual laziness of just importing Chinese panels. Hats off to SC for negotiating a super-sweet deal risking very little of their own money, while NY takes most the risk financing a technology with a limited track record.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    What sort of legal recourse will SolarWorld find to stop SolarCity from producing solar panels?

    • eveee

      They are made by South Africans?

    • Hahaha. It’ll find something. 😀

  • Dag Johansen

    Rive was concerned about having their own supply of PV panels as the solar market took off, so they bought panel maker. I like that optimism. I hope he is right, the world needs it.

    • Jacob

      Actually the cost of panels is now a minor part of the cost of a house getting solar PV on its roof.

      So even if Silevo solar panels are not the cheapest, it would not kill SolarCity.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Thanks. I’m very curious about this factory and its progress.

    SolarCity and Tesla are not sharing any designs or contractors for their respective factory projects according to Kady Cooper, Director of Communications at SolarCity.

    Why not?!

    Worth noting here is that the solar panels that are set to be produced at the SolarCity facility currently under development will reportedly possess solar conversion efficiencies as high as 24% (as compared to conventional panels with 21% conversion efficiency, as those used by the company currently have).

    Those numbers seem high. As if about 6% have been added on to each of them. Have you got links to back the numbers?

    • vensonata

      Indeed, 21% now for silevo panels, and solarcity claims they will produce their new panels with 24% efficiency conversion. Those are the correct figures.

      • newnodm

        thin film, right? that seems high

        • vensonata

          Not sure if is thin film. Yes, it seems high, but these sudden improvements seem to be popping up everywhere these days, including batteries. I follow this stuff quite closely and it is like watching paint dry, then you look away for a minute and suddenly everything is 25% better! Go figure.

        • Larmion

          No, they use monocrystalline solar. As long ago as 2013, their products had an efficiency of 18% with 22% demonstrated at lab scale (http://www.twentezon.nl/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Silevo_EUPresSept-2013.pdf)

          The numbers are very much in line with expectations. Trina is starting to manufacture polycrystalline solar panels with 20% efficiency, so 24% for monocrystalline seems realistic.

        • Frank

          “As high as” so they are aiming high. The plant isn’t finished yet. Today’s efficiency may not be good enough by the time they open.

          • Shiggity

            You have to multiply efficiency by the co-efficient of production scale.

            You’ll find that everyone talking about super high efficiencies don’t produce said cells at any meaningful quantities. Right now in order to have a meaningful quantity you need at least 100’s of MWs of production. In the near future you’ll need GW’s of production to even be relevant.

            Producing super high efficiency at the GW level is really hard!

            Then the big guys also have legacy cost calculations. They typically are producing very high % panels but then they have to average that back across their lines where they still have to make the older type stuff before they can transition to the newer tech.

          • Rikaishi Rikashi

            The main point of the Solarcity Gigafactory is to address this problem. Elon Musk has in the past expressed frustration that high-efficiency cells were not being produced with any efficiencies of scale. This is their solution.

            The % listed here may still be a bit high. The mass-production version of their cells would normally be less efficient then the lab versions, because they have to be optimised for cost/kW. On the other hand this optimisation is easier then some would assume since you can take in to account the reduced cost of installation/kW that comes with more efficient panels.

    • Offgridman

      On the different designs and contractors for these production plants.
      Even though they often associated because of the participation of Elon Musk in both, it is two separate companies with different business plans and etc.
      Then too they are each almost on opposite sides of the country with different environments, weather conditions, and etc.
      What could be an optimal building for the battery Gigafactory in its higher elevation near desert climate, would not be the same for the panel factory that will be in an area with higher humidity due to the prevailing weather off from the Great Lakes, and the severe snowstorms during the winter that are also a result of that lake affect.
      The other commentors have given explanations for the efficiency factor of the panels to be produced, so I will just add that the gradually improving numbers that we have seen from other production facilities make these seem reasonable.
      Hope this helps, have a great day.

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