US installer and leasing company SolarCity appears to be stepping up its move towards vertical integration, with reports emerging that the company has leased a factory formerly occupied by Solyndra.
The California-based industry leader purchased solar module manufacturer Silevo in June last year. At the time, the company said it would open a facility in Buffalo, New York State that could surpass 1GW production capacity within two years. SolarCity chairman, Elon Musk and co-founders Lyndon and Peter Rive also said following the acquisition that “one or more significantly larger plants at order of magnitude greater annual production capacity” would follow shortly after.
The company broke ground on the 1GW fab in September. On Friday, the Silicon Valley Business Journal said in a report that SolarCity has since then leased one of the two shuttered production facilities of Solyndra, the CIGS thin-film specialist which made iconic cylindrical modules before going bust and leaving a trail of recriminations and bad publicity behind, mostly over the sums of money loaned to it by the US federal government.
According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal report, the 200,000 square feet facility, which is in Fremont, California, will serve as Silevo’s research and development (R&D) base and company headquarters. The area of Fremont where the ‘new’ facility is located is mostly industrial and land there is generally cheaper than locations in Fremont which are closer to Silicon Valley. There has already been speculation from industry sources that the ex-Solyndra plant could be ramped up as a production facility after the 1GW fab in Buffalo is up and running. SolarCity is scheduled to hold its quarterly earnings conference call tomorrow afternoon.
PV Tech hailed the 1GW Silevo announcement last year as proof of something of a return to form for US solar manufacturing, with First Solar also looking to boost capacity, by about 178MW.
As a footnote, industry opinion on Solyndra since has recast it in a more favourable light, with analyst Stefan de Haan of IHS telling PV Tech last year that the firm’s products were actually considered to be good quality and reliable but that Solyndra simply couldn’t bring costs down enough to stay in business.