A recent report from Reuters has claimed that the “great majority” of solar cells currently being manufactured by Panasonic Corp at Tesla’s Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York, are being exported to other countries. Citing an anonymous employee who reportedly works in the facility, the publication noted that Tesla is only sporadically buying the solar cells produced by its Japanese partner, resulting in Pansonic selling most of the cells it produces on the site to other solar module manufacturers.
Back in 2016, Tesla and Panasonic announced that they would be collaborating on cell and module production in the Buffalo, NY facility, with the electric car maker making a long-term commitment to purchase cells produced by the Japanese corporation. A principal aim for Gigafcatory 2 is the production of Tesla’s Solar Roof, which look like conventional roof tiles but function like solar panels. The tiles are a part of Elon Musk’s plan to encourage a low-carbon lifestyle among Tesla’s customers, since electric car owners can power their vehicles from the energy gathered by their Solar Roofs.
Unfortunately, the Solar Roof ramp has been slower than expected. Customer installations have begun, but only in small quantities. Musk explained this delay in the product’s ramp due to the long development cycle for the solar shingles. “That’s quite a long development cycle for — because anything that’s roof has got to last 30 years. So even if you do accelerate life testing as fast as possible, there’s still a minimum amount of time required to do that,” Musk said.
Citing data from California, Reuters noted that only around 21 Solar Roof installations were connected by the state’s and investor-owned utilities as of the end of February. A former Tesla employee further claimed that only a few other installations had been completed in the northeastern United States. Tesla, for its part, declined to comment on its purchase of cells from Panasonic or the actual figures of its Solar Roof installations, though an official from the electric car maker has stated that “the number of solar roofs you cite in the story is low and unrepresentative as we are actively installing the Solar Roof in eight states currently.”
Elon Musk has pledged to increase Tesla’s efforts in its Energy business this year, remarking during the unveiling of the Model Y that 2019 will be the “Year of the Solar Roof and Powerwall.” With the first quarter over and the second quarter well underway, it would be an excellent idea for Tesla to ramp its activities in Gigafactory 2, whose output and operations greatly affect Tesla’s Energy business.
Gigafactory 2 currently employs 800 workers, though Tesla is required to have 1,460 employees by this time next year to avoid penalties. Despite the slower-than-expected ramp of the facility and the products that it manufactures, the state of New York remained optimistic about the factory, as noted by Pamm Lent, spokeswoman for Empire State Development, in a statement to Reuters. “We have two of the leading clean energy companies in the world in Buffalo at the RiverBend facility. Tesla produces their innovative solar roof tiles largely for development and testing with the goal of full-scale launch in the future. Panasonic is now the largest producer and employer at RiverBend with a customer base independent of Tesla,” Lent said.