In December 2016, Panasonic and Tesla finalized an agreement to begin manufacturing solar PV cells and modules at the “Gigafactory 2” in Buffalo, New York.
Under the arrangement, Panasonic agreed to cover the capital costs associated with the factory and Tesla agreed to purchase Panasonic’s custom-manufactured solar products.
“These high-efficiency PV cells and modules will be used to produce solar panels in the non-solar roof products,” according to Tesla’s statement. “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.”
Production of Tesla’s Solar Roof product did not begin for months after the initial announcement. But one year later — following delays and a brief trial run — Panasonic reports that cell manufacturing for the solar roof is now officially underway.
“Panasonic is already inside that factory making solar panels. That started in October of last year,” said Peter Fannon, vice president of technology policy at Panasonic Corporation of North America, in an interview at CES. “Also, we are just now beginning to manufacture cells.”
The Japanese multinational made an initial $260 million investment in the Buffalo facility, where it makes HIT (heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer) solar cells for Tesla. With the plant now up and running, Panasonic is prepared to invest more.
“We expect that investment, along with Tesla, as it grows, will grow with it,” Fannon said.
But it’s unclear how much growing is going on.
Tesla completed the first solar roof installations on the homes of executives and employees in August. Little was heard about the solar roof after that, save for reports of several more installations for employees. The tiles were initially produced at small scale at the former SolarCity pilot production line in Fremont, California.
Last summer, Tesla CTO JB Straubel said solar roof production at Gigafactory 2 would ramp up “in a substantial way” by the end of 2017, and increased the company’s goal to achieve 2 gigawatts of solar panel capacity per year. But as the new year arrived, the status of Tesla’s solar tile production was still murky.
Tesla confirmed today, however, that solar roof manufacturing began in Buffalo in December. The company also said that it is now starting Solar Roof Textured and Smooth installations for non-employee homeowners.