Solar Energy Investments In Factory
It is usually places like California that receive all the praise and investment when it comes to solar power. This time is the turn of Buffalo, New York. An industrial park near Lake Erie is set to become the home of SolarCiy’s new factory. The aim is to produce the most efficient solar panels for the commercial sector.
Their aims are not small either, with a total of a gigawatt of panels expected from the site each year. That equates to 10,000 panels a day. It this too risky a venture? Or, have SolarCity tapped into the right part of the solar energy market at the right time?
There Are Some Concerns Over The Scale Of The Investment And The Cost
This is not a cheap investment for Buffalo, as the facility has already cost around $750 million. The facility came about through the kind funding of New York State, who perhaps see the benefits in large scale solar power investments. In fact, this will be the largest plant in the whole of North America.
This will place the plant on a global scale, placing them in competition with big Chinese giants. There is a big risk here. SolarCity has lost money in recent years while trying to build the brand. There may be a nice little partnership with Tesla in the pipeline, but this is still a big gamble. This massive factory could make or break them.
There are also those that haven’t failed to notice that SoalrCity lacks manufacturing experience. This is the new venture into the unknown of solar energy in some ways. In addition to this, it didn’t help that the company pushed their start date back.
Full-scale production is now not expected in Buffalo until much later in 2017. However, the costing and familiarity with the product mean that there are still high hopes for a great, affordable product.
SolarCity Is Confident That Their New Take On Solar Power Products Will Attract Buyers
The company believes that the new factory will help to cut costs considerably and make the product more attractive. The use of new tech, the efficiency of the panels and the volume of the product should reduce costs.
The use of a deposition manufacturing process means that it is cheaper and quicker to build these panels. Reports state that the number of steps in production has been halved. They have also removed the silver and replaced it with copper.
That should make a big difference to the costs, because silver is so expensive, and there are also strong costing forecasts too. There is also the potential for federal subsidies and net metering, although this could change with the new presidency. There is a forecast of $2.50 per watt by the end of 2017. This is a big drop on previous costs.
The aim here is to see the world where the combination of solar panels and batteries is cheaper and more appealing than fossil fuels. It will take a lot for America to give up on its reliance on fossil fuels entirely, but money talks.
Is This New Technology A Better Option Than The Silicone We Are Now Used To In Cheap, Chinese Solar Energy?
A scale of the project is not the only cause for concern here. The technology in use is different to that of commonly used, cheap panels that the Chinese make. This new tech came about in an acquisition of the company Silevo in 2014. The company uses a different form of the panel to the Chinese, taking inspiration from an Australian method.
The panels use crystalline silicon cells with a layer of semiconductor oxide. Tests on these panels in California last October showed an efficiency rating of 22%. This is clearly favorable compared to the 16-18% shown by the Chinese silicon-based panels.
This efficiency rating is crucial for the success of this product. The better the cells within a panel, the fewer panels that are required to build a solar power system for the home. The fewer the panels, the more appealing the setup because users don’t want massive, complicated systems on their roofs.
The panels are just a small part of the final package. There are also inverters, wires, batteries and connectors to think of, as well as the mounting apparatus. There is a need for a simple, consumer-friendly approach to solar energy and SolarCity believes that they are on course to provide it.
Could This Mean That America See The Start Of A New Solar Power Revolution In 2017?
Work is set to finish on the factory in the latter quarter of the new year. This means that these new, efficient solar energy panels could soon be available to homeowners in the US. It makes sense that the medium homeowner would show interest in purchasing these panels if deciding to go green.
That is because many homeowners already have a decent relationship with SolarCity. The company is the leading installer of residential systems, so there is some trust in their reliability and service. The company also states they hope to create lighter, more flexible panels that are even more efficient and affordable.
If SolarCity is the leading figure for cheap solar installations, they should find a way to bring cheaper panels into the equation. This would make this risky venture a win-win situation in Buffalo and beyond.
Unfortunately, there is one final black cloud hanging over the company. That is the threat of a bigger, better development elsewhere. They may claim to have the best, most efficient solar energy panels entering production at the end of 2017.
However, we have to ask what may happen in the meantime. We could have an eight-month gap between promises of great product and full-scale production. This is plenty of time for a new model to come about elsewhere. Panasonic already claims that they have such a panel in development that has 22.5% efficiency.
Experimental materials in some labs are up to 40%. It probably won’t be long until someone catches up with SolarCity. That will be when this factory has to prove it has the longevity to keep hold of the solar power market.