SolarCity says new panel will be industry's most efficient

Fri Oct 2, 2015 9:00am EDT
 
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By Nichola Groom

Oct 2 (Reuters) - SolarCity Corp on Friday said it had built a solar panel that is the most efficient in the industry at transforming sunlight into electricity.

The top U.S. solar installer, which expanded into manufacturing through its acquisition of Silevo last year, will make the panels at a major solar panel factory it is building in Buffalo, New York. That facility will open in 2017.

SolarCity, which is backed by Tesla Motors Inc founder Elon Musk, has increasingly moved beyond its primary business of installing solar panels in an effort to keep driving down the cost of going solar.

Making its own panels will bring system costs down by 15 to 20 cents a watt, said Chief Executive Lyndon Rive, who added that Friday's announcement should assuage concerns about the company's foray into a new line of business.

"Now that we are going to be making the best module in the world hopefully that addresses anyone's skepticism," Rive said in an interview.

Third-party testing measured the SolarCity panel's efficiency at 22.04 percent, the company said. SunPower Corp , a U.S. panel manufacturer that has long made the most efficient panels in the industry, is currently producing modules with 21.5 percent efficiency on a mass scale.

SolarCity is currently producing its panels at a 100 megawatt pilot facility in Fremont, California, near Tesla's factory. SolarCity's $750 million Buffalo facility will ultimately have ten times that capacity.

Still, fast-growing SolarCity will never make enough panels to fulfill its installation needs, Rive said. Currently most of the panels SolarCity installs are made in China by companies including Canadian Solar, Trina Solar and Yingli Green Energy, among others.

Because the SolarCity panels are very efficient, they will be used in locations where they work best, such as those with space constraints. Customers will not be able to choose the in-house panel over another brand, Rive said. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Bernard Orr)