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Everybody’s Dancing in a Ring Around the Sun

1,000 jobs for Buffalo. Maybe more.

Not 19th century dirty jobs, but 1,000 jobs that are part of the new green economy. This could be the best news that Buffalo has received in decades, because this is a real thing involving real jobs. SolarCity is buying Silevo. 

Last November, Governor Cuomo announced that the state would build a “hub facility” for high tech and green energy businesses at RiverBend, as part of his “Buffalo Billion” plan. One of the two California companies to locate at RiverBend is “Silevo”, which would join with another company to invest $1.5 billion and locate operations in Buffalo. 

RiverBend is in South Buffalo, located on the site of the former Republic Steel and and Donner Hanna Coke facilities. The city is literally replacing its defunct, dirty industries with clean, green, state-of-the-art ones. At the November presser, Silevo was introduced thusly

Silevo is a California-based company that develops and manufactures silicon solar cells and modules, with an already established manufacturing plant in China. Phase 1 of Silevo’s project, with a $750 million investment which will create at least 475 jobs, involves a 200 megawatt production facility sole establishing its sole North American manufacturing operations at RiverBend.

The state investment of $225 million through Empire State Development would set up the necessary water, sewer, utility, and road infrastructure, as well as 275,000 square feet of building.  The state will also set up the equipment, which would be owned by the SUNY Research Foundation. No money was being paid directly to the companies.   

Zheng Xu, CEO and Founder of Silevo said, “Inspired by the bold leadership and demonstrated commitment of Governor Cuomo, and buoyed by the strong regional infrastructure and highly skilled workforce present in Western New York, Silevo is excited to bring its next phase of high-volume manufacturing operations to the United States with our new location in Buffalo. Working closely with the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, we look forward to accelerating innovative and cost-effective solar module technology that will position both Silevo and New York as leaders in driving the next wave of solar adoption in homes and business nationwide.”

 Yesterday, Tesla Motors and SpaceX wunderkind Elon Musk announced that his SolarCity venture was buying Silevo for $350 million

Peter Rive, SolarCity chief technology officer and co-founder, said the $350 million acquisition will lead to a factory in Buffalo, N.Y., and create more than 1,000 jobs within the next two years.

The plant will be “one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world,” according to the post, and it will be followed by one or more even bigger facilities in subsequent years. Rive said he hopes SolarCity will eventually create several thousand panel-making jobs.

On Twitter, Musk’s personal feed posted “SolarCity to build the world’s largest advanced solar panel factory in upstate New York” with a link to the blog post…

…Until now, SolarCity has purchased its solar panels from other manufacturers. Rive said the acquisition will finally allow the company to make its own photovoltaic panels.

Synergy!  The Buffalo News notes

That initial plant at RiverBend was envisioned to have the annual capacity to produce enough solar panels to generate 200 megawatts of electricity. But SolarCity executives said they were interested in expanding the capacity of that plant to be five times bigger than the original plan.

“At a targeted capacity greater than 1 gigawatt within the next two years, it will be one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world. This will be followed in subsequent years by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity,” SolarCity said.

SolarCity executives said they view the Silevo acquisition as a key step in their efforts to reduce the price of solar energy systems to the point where they can compete with electricity generated from fossil fuels without the lucrative subsidies that now are needed to offset the higher costs of solar panels.

By combining Silevo’s technology, which is more efficient at generating electricity than most other solar panels on the market today, with lower production costs from the economies of scale that come from high-volume production, SolarCity executives said they believe they can make solar systems more affordable.

“What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today, where there are indeed too many suppliers, most of whom are producing relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs, but how we see the future developing,” the blog post said.

“Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed,” said the post.

Chinese companies and manufacturers dominate the global market for solar modules. Silevo and SolarCity intend to challenge that dominance by building the largest module manufacturer in the United States in South Buffalo.  

On the SolarCity company blog

[Silevo] modules have demonstrated a unique combination of high energy output and low cost. Our intent is to combine what we believe is fundamentally the best photovoltaic technology with massive economies of scale to achieve a breakthrough in the cost of solar power.

and

Given that there is excess supplier capacity today, this may seem counter-intuitive to some who follow the solar industry. What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today, where there are indeed too many suppliers, most of whom are producing relatively low photonic efficiency solar cells at uncompelling costs, but how we see the future developing. Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed.

The Buffalo plant’s planned capacity would be large enough to challenge the Chinese market with a superior product

SolarCity’s chairman who is also chief executive of Tesla Motors, said the goal is to produce solar panels capable of generating power “cheaper than coal or fracked gas power.”

Imagine a factory in Buffalo producing something that could render hydrofracking and Tonawanda Coke the NRG Huntley plant obsolete, and 1,000+ jobs, to boot. SolarCity does not yet operate in western New York, but it leases solar systems to homeowners and businesses. 

As solar systems improve in terms of energy production and storage, adoption will grow. SolarCity is setting itself up to dominate the market with a superior system that will save people money and provide sustainable, renewable energy. This is a huge deal for Buffalo and the country.  


  • UncleBluck

    I’ll believe it when I see it……..

    • Ah, there’s the rub.

      • wnyresident

        “Zheng Xu, CEO and Founder of Silevo said, “Inspired by the bold leadership and demonstrated commitment of Governor Cuomo”

        Must be bold to give away other people’s money. Paying for the equipment and building is giving away other people’s money. I can understand building a road/sewer to buildings but then the business should do the rest.

      • “The facilities and equipment will be owned by the State University of New York (SUNY) Research Foundation. SUNY Buffalo will also benefit from the partnership and contribute to the project’s future growth.”

        Also, it is a net benefit to attract a major player in green technology and over 1,000 proper jobs. There will be more people to buy vinyl wraps for their cars and whatnot.

      • 1 potential “success” story vs. a bunch of losers. SolarCity and Silevo sound a lot like Solyndra.

      • JordanThen

        Why, because they all start with “S”?

      • also “solar”

      • Something seems stinky with all these sibilant-sounding businesses. Ssssss.

      • Not really.

      • Kevin Hickey

        Yeah, they all start with “S”. Very “s”uspicious.

      • wnyresident

        I don’t care if SUNY owns the equipment or not. The money was taken away from other net taxpayers/businesses and then used to subsidize another business. Far as you know the tax burden on other businesses to subsidize this could have caused a loss of 1,000 jobs while Cuomo boasts how 1000 new jobs were created.

        I do understand we need to invest in “basic” infrastructure to support job growth. Paying for a building and equipment is not basic infrastructure.

      • I love it when you whip out “net taxpayers” as if it meant something.

        The state is paying money to set up infrastructure and to buy buildings and equipment for SUNY.

        It just so happens that this private entity will get to use these buildings and equipment, and in so doing create possibly over 1,000 new, high-paying manufacturing and R&D jobs.

        These people will, in turn, inject money and build wealth in the local economy, to everyone’s benefit.

      • wnyresident

        Well it does meant something specially to the actual “net tax payer”

        And while these 1000 new possible employees add to the economy the tax burden in general can cause 1000 other employees to leave the area. Those people will, in turn, take their money and build wealth in another local economy.

      • No, it doesn’t really mean anything. Everyone pays taxes.

        If you can point out the state taxes that will go up to finance the purchase of equipment and build-out, then I’m all ears.

        I’ve never heard of 1,000+ tech jobs being a net drain on an economy. Which 1,000 “other employees” are going somewhere, and where are they going? Where did you get your economics degree?

      • wnyresident

        We can not say if taxes would increase but we know money doesn’t grow on trees. Can we agree on that part? What is spent that isn’t collected through taxes is usually turned into debt. Correct?

        I did not say 1000 jobs would be a drain on the economy. It is possible those 1000 jobs don’t make up for the cost invested per job though. If you look at the performance of other past “solar” companies we have seen the tax payer on the hook for the debt when they folded up. I’m not saying that is going to happen either but it has in the past.

        What other employees are going somewhere? Why not just read the paper. Quite a few companies have left NYS state. Just look at the job lost due to the safe-act. That has been in the news.

      • 1. I have no idea where the money is coming from. Suffice it to say, it’s been budgeted-for and allocated as part of the Billion for Buffalo.

        2. Let’s put it this way: Elon Musk doesn’t bet hundreds of millions of dollars on loser companies into which he hasn’t done due diligence and that is likely to “fold up”. I don’t know what you mean by the jobs not being made up by the cost invested per job, but what I do know is that government does – and must – play a role not only shepherding the economy along, but also in helping to fund research & development, and in attracting companies that would otherwise go elsewhere.

        3. If other companies are leaving the state, then it would seem to me that a gain of 1,000 good-paying, non-gun-manufacturing jobs would be just the ticket.

      • jimd54

        Does anyone know how the 225 mil is divvied up, infrastructure as opposed to building and equipment?

      • $$$

        The ROI for the panels that were installed at UB about two years ago is approximately 80 yrs. That number doesn’t include interest, repairs and maint..

  • Dave Bradley

    Tonawanda Coke makes carbon that is used to make steel and creamics and to add carbon to steel alloys. It does cogenerate and no longer buys electricity off the grid. You apparently are conflating the NRG huntley plant that burns Wyoming lignite to make electricity.

    In general, these PV panels will be installed elsewhere, so we aren’t going to get ailed with expensive PV electricity. Instead, we import money from elsewhe by exporting a MANUFACTURED product from Buffalo, which is awesome. Hopefully the jobs pay more than minimum wage. And don’t forget, NY State is forking over a lot of money for this (better than most stuff, like the UB misadventure). And they are taking Niagara Falls electricity with a delivered price of 2.5 c/kw-hr and converting that to systems that will make electricity at a cost of 25 to 50 c/kw-hr before massive tax avoidance subsidies pay for 70% of the installed cost of these. But that could be changed if we just priced electricity sensibly, such as via Feed-In Tariffs. But a sensible renewable electricity pricing system and NY State seem to be incompatible with each othr, which is unfortunate.

    Anyway, manufacturing jobs – the keay to real actual economic growth, and ones making renewable energy systems, too. Hopefuully some of the supply chain components can grow here, too, to replace the now defunct HSBC money laundering economy. For example, Globe metals in Niagara Falls makes silicon, PV grade and ferrosilicon, again using Niagara Falls electricity. If that won’t work, we have hydrogen, chlorine and HCl to purify the silicon. Then there is Oxy and POCl3 that will be used as a dopant. And maybe someone will make the boron based dopant. And then the is the copper compounds to be used to make the copper wiring…..

    • Thank you. You are correct. I got my smokestacks mixed up.

    • Brian Buckley

      Sounds to me that you should be applying for a job with Silevo. Thanks for the great info. I doubt these jobs will be minimum wage. They are going to require highly skilled workers to run the manufacturing of the panels. This could be a huge game changer for the area. I’ve been wishing for someone like GE to come in to the old Bethlehem Steel site to turn it into a windmill production facility, but this could be even better. Let’s not forget too that Silevo is also going to be doing R&D here. As they increase their efficiency, it will go directly into the manufacturing processes. By having Musk throw his considerable weight behind the facility, it makes it less likely dissolve. He doesn’t seem like he gives up easily on projects. Just look at what he’s done with SpaceX. They are the only private company approved to dock with the ISS. They have developed a crew module (Dragon v2.) And they are in development of a reusable rocket (Grasshopper.) This should be great for us here in Buffalo.

  • Lanie

    Oh, yet another reason I continue to my tech geek swoon over Elon Musk. Smart, early adopting, dude.

    • ckg1

      This on top of Musk openly putting the patents for Tesla cars out in the open for anyone to use.

  • JoeGenco

    The most significant thing in all of this is hearing Musk say he believes it is possible to generate solar electricity at less cost than other methods without subsidies. That sounds world-changing.

  • Sean Danvers

    Truly outstanding news. I can only hope it comes to fruition!