SolarCity will make its most sophisticated rooftop solar panel in the US – not China

SolarCity, co-founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, is bucking a trend by bringing production of its most-cutting-edge solar panels to the U.S.

The San Mateo, Calif.-based company – which sells and makes solar panels and provides turn-key solar products for homes and businesses – will build its most-efficient rooftop solar panels at a massive facility in Buffalo, N.Y., the company announced Friday.

The new SolarCity panels will generate more power per square foot and harvest more energy over a year than other rooftop panels in production, and will be the highest volume solar panel manufactured in the U.S., the company said in a statement.  SolarCity will initially offer the solar panel for rooftops and carports for homes, businesses, schools.

“What’s really exciting is that we’re bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.,” SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive told, adding that the panels will eventually be “produced in really high volume.”

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So, why the U.S. and not China, which has, almost overnight, become one of the world’s leading manufacturing bases for solar panels? “If you build a module (panel) that’s better than any other in the world” it makes economic sense to build in the U.S., Rive said, adding that the more standard, less-cutting-edge panel production can be left to China.

SolarCity said that it has created a process that reduces the manufacturing cost but produces 30-40 percent more power.  Its panels also perform better in high temperatures, which allows more energy to be produced on an annual basis, the company said.

Currently, SolarCity is building the panels at a low-volume, test-production production facility in Fremont, Calif. right next the Tesla electric car plant, according to Rive.  “We’ve taken the exact line that we have in Fremont and multiplied that by 10 for the factory in New York,” he said.  The New York factory will reach full capacity in 2017, Rive said.  By that time, SolarCity will be producing between 9,000 - 10,000 solar panels each day at the New York facility.

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SolarCity has close business ties with Tesla, a company that is also expanding its manufacturing base in the U.S.  Tesla will soon have two factories in Fremont, Calif. for building its Model S and Model X electric cars and is building a so-called “gigafactory” near Reno, Nevada for making batteries.  SolarCity offers Tesla Powerwall battery storage systems for individual home owners and businesses.

In the case of Powerwall, lease deals from SolarCity for homeowners include installation of the solar panels, warranty, the Powerwall, the hybrid solar/battery inverter (which converts direct current electricity from solar panels or a home battery into the alternating current used by a home’s lights, appliances and devices) and the controls systems.