Technology First Look

Tesla and Panasonic to begin solar production in Buffalo next year

Tesla Motor Inc. and Panasonic Corp. announced they will begin producing solar cells and modules at a plant in Buffalo, New York next summer.

A Panasonic lithium-ion battery, which is part of Tesla Motor Inc's Model S and Model X battery packs, is pictured with the Tesla Motors logo during a photo opportunity at the Panasonic Center in Tokyo, in 2013.
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In a statement released on Tuesday by Tesla Motors and Panasonic Corp., the two companies  announced that they will begin the production of photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules this summer at a plant in Buffalo, New York.

The announcement, published on both companies’ websites, stated that this week they had finalized an agreement to begin jointly producing the solar technology from the Buffalo factory, beginning in the summer of 2017 and building up to 1 gigawatt of module production by 2019.

“These high-efficiency PV cells and modules will be used to produce solar panels in the non-solar roof products. When production of the solar roof begins, Tesla will also incorporate Panasonic's cells into the many kinds of solar glass tile roofs that Tesla will be manufacturing,” the statement read, continuing on the note that as part of the agreement, Panasonic will cover the production costs in Buffalo, while Tesla is making a long-term purchase commitment from Panasonic.

Panasonic’s projected investment in the Buffalo factory is expected to be more than 30 billion yen, or $256 million, Panasonic spokesperson, Yayoi Watanabe told Bloomberg News.

This deal is not the first between the two tech giants. They are already engaged in constructing a $5 billion lithium-ion 'Gigafactory' in Nevada that will produce batteries for electric cars, as well as energy storage solutions for homes and utilities.

“In cooperation with Panasonic and other strategic partners, the Gigafactory will produce batteries for significantly less cost using economies of scale, innovative manufacturing, reduction of waste, and the simple optimization of locating most manufacturing process under one roof,” reads the section on Tesla’s website dedicated to the factory, which receives its name from the intended production capacity of 35 gigawatt-hours.

As the Nevada factory continues construction, Tesla reaffirmed in its statement that it expects its Buffalo factory to create more than 1,400 jobs in the upstate New York city, with more than 500 of those being manufacturing positions.

The Buffalo factory is expected to begin producing solar technology for Tesla’s November acquisition, SolarCity, which they purchased for about $2 billion with the aim of integrating the two companies’ skill-sets; as outlines by Elon Musk himself in his self-published Master Plan Part Deux.

The most recently released announcement detailing the agreement between Tesla and Panasonic, also stated that “Panasonic, with its technological and manufacturing expertise in PV production, will also work with Tesla on developing PV next generation technology at SolarCity’s facility in Fremont, CA.”

The collaboration between the Japanese tech giant and serial-entrepreneur Elon Musk could mean big steps forward in the development of alternative energy sources, specifically solar power in the short term.

Musk, who has consistently said that climate change poses a grave danger, has long been working towards furthering sustainable energy sources.

"We actually did the calculations to figure out what it would take to transition the whole world to sustainable energy... and you'd need 100 gigafactories,” Musk said in a recent National Geographic documentary on climate change, quoted by Forbes. Now, with the current collaboration with Panasonic, some of the Gigafactories are closer to becoming reality.