On Tuesday Tesla announced that it had struck a deal with Panasonic to produce photovoltaic cells at the new Buffalo, New York, solar panel factory scheduled to go online in 2017. The factory’s construction was started by SolarCity, which was purchased by Tesla in November in a $2.6 billion all-stock deal. Tesla had teased the announcement in October, but the electric vehicle and stationary battery maker noted that the deal would fall through unless investors approved the SolarCity purchase.
Reuters now reports that Panasonic is investing $256 million in the factory. In a blog post, Tesla wrote that “Panasonic will cover required capital costs in Buffalo and Tesla is making a long-term purchase commitment from Panasonic.” The deal is similar to the partnership between Tesla and Panasonic at the Gigafactory, a $5 billion battery factory outside of Sparks, Nevada, that has been ramping up production throughout the year.
According to Tesla’s blog post, the factory will produce Panasonic’s “high-efficiency PV cells and modules.” It’s unclear if these solar cells will be the same as the HIT (Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin layer) solar cells that Panasonic currently produces. Panasonic’s solar panels use several thin layers of silicon, a two-sided cell design, and heat-resistant cell structures to trap and produce energy more efficiently.
In June, Green Tech Media reported that SunPower broke rooftop solar efficiency records with panels that captured 24.1 percent of the Sun energy they were exposed to. The two runners-up were Panasonic’s panels with 22.5 percent conversion efficiency and SolarCity’s panels with 22.04 percent conversion efficiency.
Tesla noted this morning that Panasonic’s solar cell technology would also be used to create the solar roof tiles that Tesla showed off in October. A Tesla spokesperson said that the solar tiles are still on track to start rolling off the line by mid-summer 2017, and the company expects to produce both solar roof tiles as well as more traditional solar panels at the Buffalo factory. Tesla wrote that it intends to produce a full gigawatt’s worth of solar tile modules by 2019.
Reuters notes that Panasonic’s experience in solar panel production is the result of a years-long push to focus on corporate clients rather than on low-margin consumer electronics.
In the wake of a contentious election that centered around the perceived undermining of the manufacturing industry in America, Tesla also noted in its Tuesday blog post that it would keep SolarCity’s earlier promise to bring 1,400 jobs to Buffalo, with at least 500 of those being in manufacturing. In addition, the company will work with Panasonic to continue solar panel research and development at SolarCity’s Fremont, California, facility.