March 11, 2016

Solarcity gigafactory for solar cells could make solar plus batteries cheaper than fossil fuels

“Right now [Solarcity] can sell you energy in 14 states at a rate lower than what you’re currently paying the utility,” says SolarCity chief technology officer Peter Rive. The Buffalo gigafactory for solar sets us up for a future where solar plus batteries is cheaper than fossil fuels.

SolarCity’s sprawling Buffalo factory, built and paid for by the state of New York, is nearing completion and will soon begin producing some of the most efficient solar panels available commercially. Capable of making 10,000 solar panels a day, or one gigawatt of solar capacity a year, it will be the largest solar manufacturing plant in North America and one of the biggest in the world.

When production begins, SolarCity, already the leading installer of residential solar panels in the United States, will become a vertically integrated manufacturer and provider—doing everything from making the solar cells to putting them on rooftops.

Solar panels installed by SolarCity cost the company $2.84 per watt (including sales and marketing plus overhead, in addition to the cost of the hardware), down from $4.73 in 2012. The combination of the new, highly efficient panels, the volume of product coming out of the new factory, and a simplified manufacturing process is a big reason why the company expects its costs for residential solar to fall well below $2.50 per watt by the end of 2017, when the Buffalo facility reaches full production.

The solar technology from the plant will combine a standard crystalline-silicon solar cell with elements of a thin-film cell, along with a layer of a semiconductor oxide. Last October, SolarCity announced that test panels made at a small facility in Fremont, California, had tested at just over 22 percent efficiency. Today’s commodity silicon-based solar panels have efficiencies of between 16 and 18 percent.

The Tesla gigafactory for batteries is the other part of the solar + batteries cheaper than fossil fuels equation.

Elon Musk dual big bets could put him on a path to unassailable market dominance.

SOURCES - Technology Review

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