Tesla strengthens Panasonic solar bond with cell and module collaboration

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Electric vehicle company Tesla on Sunday signed a non-binding letter of intent agreement with Japanese conglomerate Panasonic for the production of solar cells and modules at the former’s factory in Buffalo, New York.

The collaboration hinges upon the completion of Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity, the U.S. solar lease provider that is part-owned by Tesla founder Elon Musk. The acquisition rests on shareholders’ approval, which is expected shortly.

Once approved, Panasonic will begin manufacturing its solar cells and modules at the Buffalo plant, and while the language on a blog post was not entirely clear it appears that Tesla will buy Panasonic cells under a long-term purchase commitment. At the time of writing pv magazine staff were still waiting for clarification on this point from Tesla.

This would be a huge move for SolarCity, in moving away from Silevo for its cells and modules to Panasonic. Both Panasonic and Silevo make heterojunction cells based on a crystalline silicon wafer with integrated layers of amorphous silicon, however Panasonic has been doing this much longer with its heterojunction intrinsic thin film (HIT) PV cells and modules.

The two companies are already collaborating closely on the development of electric vehicle and grid storage battery cells at a Gigafactory in Nevada.

This further deepening of the relationship will see Panasonic’s solar output used in the development of integrated solar energy systems designed for residential, commercial and grid-scale customers, and will be bundled with Tesla’s Powerwall and/or Powerpack storage products.

"We are excited to expand our partnership with Panasonic as we move towards a combined Tesla and SolarCity," said Tesla CTO and co-founder JB Straubel. "By working together on solar, we will be able to accelerate production of high-efficiency, extremely reliable solar cells and modules at the best cost."

Tesla added in a statement that the partnership with Panasonic is "an important step in creating fully-integrated energy products for businesses, homeowners and utilities".

Panasonic’s VP for the firm’s eco solutions unit said in a statement: "We expect that the collaboration talks will lead to the growth of the Tesla and Panasonic relationship."

Production of the solar cells and modules is penciled in to begin next year. The two firms originally signed an agreement to cooperate on the construction of the battery cell "Gigafactory", located in Nevada, more than a year ago.

That plant has a planned production capacity of 35 GWh for cells and 50 GWh for battery packs by 2020. Construction costs are thought to be in the region of $4 billion to $5 billion, with Tesla investing around $2 billion.

Tesla did not reveal the exact solar cell and module production capacity at the Buffalo plant, but the facility has also been dubbed a ‘Gigafactory’ thanks to a planned output of 1 GW.