SolarCity’s Manufacturing Shift Will Keep the Solar Boom Going

SolarCity may be America’s installation leader, but it still wasn’t a manufacturer like SunPower, whose Maxeon systems happen to be the PV industry’s efficiency leader.

But that all changed with Elon Musk and the Brothers Rive’s announcement that SolarCity is acquiring Silevo — which also happens to make panels with a quite competitive 22 percent efficiency. And did I mention that Silevo is locally sourced down the street from SunPower in Fremont, California? Oh, and that SolarCity is also planning to build, in New York, “one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world?”

Musk and the Rive brothers did, thanks much, and just in time. America’s solar tariff war with China was about to make SolarCity’s reliance upon foreign manufacturers like Trina Solar quite expensive. Indeed, the trade spat forged a hastily announced deal between SolarCity and “unsubsidized” European manufacturer REC. But of many great things about Musk is that he has a lot of money — and he knows how to use it. With one acquisition, SolarCity has made itself a triple threat — manufacturing, sales, installation — in a consolidating industry looking for visionaries.

It’s not clear to some that the U.S.-China showdown led to this momentous sector convergence, which could set the industry’s template for years to come. “Silevo already seems exempt from tariffs because it has PIN junction cell,” Greentech Media editor Stephen Lacey tweeted after I proposed the tariff dispute played a greater role than Musk and the Rives disclosed. But it doesn’t matter in the end.