At the end of December 2016, Panasonic and Tesla agreed to build solar Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York for making solar cell and components. In December 2017, this factory began to produce glass solar tiles for the roof. They look similar to traditional ceramic roof tiles. Tesla is predicted to start to install solar roof tiles for its customers in the coming months.
Tesla once pointed out that in order to develop Gigafactory 2, it must integrate its technology with those of Panasonic’s Li-ion batteries & solar power, and those of SolarCity (a solar roof company). The cost of integration was initially too high, so Tesla bought SolarCity in 2016, so as to merge the technologies and invent solar roof tiles and solar cells.
A traditional solar panel requires elevation on the roof, so that vendors can install solar panels. However, this method has some potential issues. First, renovating the roof might require much of its structure to be torn down. Next, it is uncertain whether the rooftop will be able to sustain solar panels after its renovation. Tesla’s solar roof does not have these issues, because they can be used directly as roof tiles. Also, inside each of Tesla’s solar roof tile, there is a solar panel that can generate power.
Originally, these solar roof tiles were to be launched in Summer 2017. However, Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, expressed that six months of testing was not enough, and that this product would need extra time before commercializing. By May 2017, Tesla began to accept customers’ orders by asking customers to pay an initial payment of USD 1000 (nearly NTD 30 thousand). Currently, Tesla’s solar roof tiles are installed on some of its employees’ rooftop.
Tesla explained that when compared with traditional solar roof equipment, Tesla’s solar roof costs 10% ~ 15% lower. Peter Fannon, vice president of Corporate & Government Affairs in the Panasonic Corporation of North America, expressed that in order to fulfill growing demand, Tesla is currently expanding the production of its solar roofs.
Capacity expansion increases job opportunities
As Gigafactory 2’s capacity increases, job opportunities have risen. Its employee number increased from 132 in October 2017, to above 300 by the end of 2017.
Fannon stated that in the future, solar roof and solar cell will be manufactured on a massive scale. As this occurs, job opportunities will double.
Having sufficient employees is critical to Gigafactory 2. In order to build the 1.2 million square feet factory in Buffalo, New York, the state government of New York promised to create 1,460 job opportunities locally. Currently, there are about 500 employees in this plant.