Elon Musk's SolarCity buys solar panel maker Silevo

One of America's largest installers of personal rooftop solar power systems is buying solar panel manufacturer Silveo in the hopes of making solar power more prevalent and more affordable.
A SolarCity Corp. employee installs a solar panel on the roof of a home in Los Angeles. The company bought one of America's largest panel-makers Tuesday. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

One of America's largest installers of personal rooftop solar power systems is buying solar panel manufacturer Silevo in the hopes of making solar power more prevalent and more affordable.

"Our intent is to combine what we believe is fundamentally the best photovoltaic technology with massive economies of scale to achieve a breakthrough in the cost of solar power," SolarCity founder Elon Musk said in a statement.

The move is the latest in a flurry of activity in the solar space aimed at centralizing all branches of the industry, from manufacturing, to servicing the end user.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the company says it is in advanced discussions with authorities in New York State to build one of the largest solar panel production facilities on earth there soon.

The facility would produce solar panels capable of producing a Gigawatt worth of electricity — about three times as much power as one unit at Darlington nuclear power plant in Ontario currently produces.

Musk pushes solar 

Currently, individual home solar systems can cost upwards of $20,000. Although believers say they pay for themselves both in resale value and energy savings, the high upfront cost can be prohibitive for cash-strapped homeowners.

"We absolutely believe that solar power can and will become the world’s predominant source of energy within our lifetimes, but there are obviously a lot of panels that have to be manufactured and installed in order for that to happen," Musk said, noting that the Sun radiates more harnessable power on to the Earth than the entire human population currently consumes in an entire year.

"This means that solar panels, paired with batteries to enable power at night, can produce several orders of magnitude more electricity than is consumed by the entirety of human civilization," he said.

Shares in SolarCity gained about 18 per cent to trade at $65 on the Nasdaq on Tuesday.

Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric car maker Tesla, has put all Tesla's patents into the public domain in an attempt to advance electric car technology. 

Tesla Motors is planning what it calls a "gigafactory" to supply batteries for its cars, a technology critical for the future of both electric cars and solar energy.

Musk's future customer could ignore traditional energy companies completely. They'd have SolarCity panels on their roof that would generate enough power to also charge up a Tesla in the garage. A Tesla battery could then power the home at night with stored solar power.

Panels on your roof

But first Musk has to reduce the cost of both solar and the electric car to the point that they seem accessible to the average consumer.

"We want to have a cool-looking aesthetically pleasing solar system on your roof," he said.

SolarCity wants to make panels that are more efficient than those currently on the market and make them at a low cost in huge factories.

However, the Silevo deal is a risk because there is currently a global glut of panels has decimated the profits of panel makers.

Musk, who has advocated for a carbon tax to begin a shift away from a fossil fuel-based economy, has said believes that innovation is needed to address issues associated with climate change.

With files from the Associated Press


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