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Power Businesses

Elon Musk's Solar City Is Ramping Up Solar Panel Production 262

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-big-or-go-home dept.
MarkWhittington writes: Elon Musk is well known as a private space flight entrepreneur, thanks to his space launch company SpaceX. He is also a purveyor of high end electric cars manufactured by his other company, Tesla Motors. But many people do not know that Musk has a third business, Solar City, which is a manufacturer of solar panels. On Tuesday that company announced a major play to increase the output of solar panels suitable for home solar units. Solar City has acquired a company called Silevo, which is said to have a line of solar panels that have demonstrated high electricity output and low cost. Silevo claims that its panels have achieved a 22 percent efficiency and are well on their way to achieving 24 percent efficiency. It suggests that 10 cents per watt is saved for every point of efficiency gained. Solar City, using the technology it has acquired from Silevo, intends to build a manufacturing plant in upstate New York with a one gigawatt per year capacity. This will only be the beginning as it intends to build future manufacturing plants with orders of magnitude capacity. The goal appears to be for the company to become the biggest manufacturer of solar panels in the world.
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Elon Musk's Solar City Is Ramping Up Solar Panel Production

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  • by OneSmartFellow (716217) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @08:35AM (#47261635)
    The sun is the BEST source of power there is. It powers all life on this planet.

    The problem is not the power source, it's how to store it. Plants do that pretty well, our problem is we're inneficient at extracting that power to produce electricty.

    Luckily we're highly efficient at extracting it to produce body heat.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @08:53AM (#47261707)

    " It's the worst source of power there is"

    Funny, virtually all energy sources are based on it. Wind energy is simply temperature differentials in the atmosphere created by the sun, hydroelectric is only possible because the sun heated oceans evaporate and the resulting rainfall can be harnessed, even fossil fuels are the remnants of ancient plants (which use sunlight) compressed into a energy source over millions of years by heat & pressure. The only thing we need to make it a viable energy sources is come up with a cheap, high density storage medium and refine our ways of capturing it (solar panels of course have issues). At a minimum solar thermal use should be expanded (hot water preheating, supplemental furnace, industrial, etc)

  • Re:Engineering win (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @09:32AM (#47261999) Journal

    Once I heard that solar panels output more energy in their service lifespan than it takes to manufacture them. Is that true?

    For all solar panels except those used on satellites, yes.

    Then there is no reason to not make as many as possible. It's an epic win on the engineering/physical science level.

    It would not be an epic win for our monied overlords so it's not so straightforward.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @09:35AM (#47262027) Homepage Journal

    The sustainability of solar panels is tied to the end-user cost per kWh.

    Unfortunately, it has to compete with forms of power for which sustainability is not even being considered, obviously namely coal and oil. As long as the cost of cleaning up the pollution of using "traditional" energy-generating sources is handwaved away, solar's gonna have a bad time.

  • by necro81 (917438) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @09:51AM (#47262165) Journal

    Right now a typical installation (complete, by a contractor, not DIY) is $7/watt for residential, and sunny places like LA get 5-5.5 hours/day, or 1800-1900h/year, with most panels warrantied for 20 years. That's 37000Wh life per panel watt, or 37kWh

    you need to refresh your dimensional analysis, because you are missing a term or two. 1800-1900h/year * 20 years = 37000 hours of productive life per panel, not 37000 watt-hours of total output. If the total lifetime output of a solar panel over 20 years was a measly 37 kWh (roughly the daily energy consumption of a home in the United States) no one would buy them.

    What's missing in your analysis is the power output of the panel during those daylit hours. For the 5 hours of peak generation during the day, you could expect about 200 W for a "standard" panel. (You'll get not-insignificant power generation during all daylight hours, but we'll focus on peak generation for now.) That brings the lifetime output to something like 7.4 MWh, which at wholesale (not residential customer) electrical rates of $50/MWh equates to $370 worth of electricity. Even taking net present value into consideration, the energy cost breakeven for manufacturing solar cells is measured in years, if not months.

    Solar panels are not merely an energy storage device that captures conventional energy sources during their manufacture, only to trickle that energy out with sunshine. They are a net energy producer many times over. With (currently impractical, not-at-scale) methods for storing and buffering the power, it is feasible to power the entire PV manufacturing and installation pipeline entirely with solar power.

  • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @10:12AM (#47262369) Homepage Journal

    They SAY they are a solar panel company.

    Really? They are a finance company - selling debt. The sales come-on is laid on pretty thick, by cold calling with a claim to having you pay negative energy bills.

    If the actual numbers work out when their quota sales guy arrives? Then you buy their SolarCity system, which you cannot modify or upgrade. Do you want emergency off-grid capability? Sorry, no can do. Thiel has arrangements with the big, incumbent local monopolies. When they are down? You are down.

    There are better options, and cells with better efficiency. Shop around if you want solar, and don't get stuck with a 15 year finance deal on panels that become obsolete several years before they add equity.

  • by Immerman (2627577) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @11:08AM (#47262955)

    Down-and-dirty logic for doubters:
    Solar panels are cost effective to install in most locales, even without subsidies
    Manufacturers are making a profit selling them
    Manufacturers have to pay for the energy to make them, plus materials, labor, rent, etc.

    Therefore the cost of producing the panels MUST be substantially lower than the cost of buying grid energy. Given that basis, the only way to call energy effectiveness into question is to assume that manufacturers are paying so much less for energy that even the added costs of materials and labor are insignificant in comparison.

  • by tbannist (230135) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @12:49PM (#47263913)

    It's pretty simple, Bill Gates built two things: Microsoft and the Gate Foundation. Most of the innovative things that Microsoft has done have come from company's that Microsoft bought. Furthermore, Microsoft's (and Gate's) money comes mostly comes from anti-competitive and illegal agreements that shut competitors out of the PC marketplace and the monopoly rents those agreements enabled. The money came from overchanging PC manufacturers for an operating system, and those manufacturers, in turn, passed that cost onto computer purchasers. Microsoft skimmed money from the entire computer industry for over a decade by hiding the cost in the price of a new computer. They required every computer to have Windows on it. If a distributor didn't put Windows on every computer or at least charge for it on every computer, then Microsoft would prevent them from putting Windows on any computer. Ditto if they promoted any computer that didn't have Windows on it.

    So because Gate's wealth was won mostly through deception and illegal practices, and Microsoft has a habit of buying new and interesting things and then letting them die, Bill Gates simple does not seem praiseworthy as a visionary. Jobs, on the other hand, was an asshole but it's reasonable to credit to his obsession and micromanagement as being integral to the success of the iPod and iPhone, which earns him the visionary credit (even if we ignore his role in the original idea that personal computers could actually be a thing).

    So Bill Gates can be legitimately viewed as a con man because most of his wealth was earned through anti-competitive practices and extortion. Furthermore, as Bill Gates has been moving into charitable work, there have been disturbing indications that he's been repeating the boot stomping that Microsoft did while it was trying to be "the only company in computers". The rumours of NDAs or other agreements requiring research exclusivity with the Gates Foundation, for example, seem to indicate a greater concern for control and credit than results.

    I suppose it comes down to the simple question: Can you actually name anything revolutionary that Gates has done? If you can't (and I can't), it's very difficult to justify calling him a visionary.

    Personally, I tend to view Bill Gates as a very successful parasite, more than a con man.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @01:46PM (#47264459) Journal
    Musk is treading on some big toes. When he went into electric cars, no one took him seriously. But he proved them wrong, smeared eggs on the faces of performance/luxury car makers, earned the enmity of car dealers across the nation. That has earned him a reputation and now he is being taken quite seriously.

    Now he is upsetting another huge industry with trillion dollars in assets, the electric utility companies. And the technique he is using requires someone with great credibility to raise incredible sums of money. Solar never threatened utilities before because, the system cost was high, and individual home owners had to do some complex breakeven analysis, raise funds and take some risk. But Solar City is zero risk to the home owners, perfect distributed competitor to the utilities, plans to make electricity using zero cost fuel (sunlight). The entire cost is cost of servicing debt. Interest rates are lowest in known memory.

    The technology and the business model will make it immaterial who the prime-movers are backing it. But the speed at which change happens depends on a charisma and credibility of players like Musk. The utility companies would not hesitate to find scandals, astro turf to create fake scandals, engage in character assassination etc to bring him down personally. So he should be careful with his dealings.

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