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Panels are ~50% more efficient than SolarCity's current supplier's, a third better than the market leader

SolarCity Corp. (SCTY), America's largest solar power systems firm, made a bold step forward this week into the realm of panel manufacturing, announcing it has come to terms to acquire top startup Silevo, Inc.  If SolarCity can make good on Silevo's bold claims, which both it and national laboratory scientists claim are as good as they sound, it could be sitting on a veritable gold mine.
According to RE/Code the deal is worth $350M USD.
I. Elon Musk's "Other... Other" Company
Aside from its dominant market position, SolarCity is perhaps best known for its iconic top investor -- Elon Musk.  After cofounding, which became PayPal in 2000, Mr. Musk cashed out in 2002 via the firm's $1.5B USD sale to eBay, Inc. (EBAY).
But Musk -- now an elite Silicon Valley millionaire -- hardly rested on his laurels.  In the time since he's served as a tireless evangelist and technologist for many of mankind’s most ambitious and -- at times -- scoffed at dreams, almost single-handedly driving some of them towards reality.  As CEO of Tesla Motors, Inc. (TSLA) he is revolutionizing the battery industry with his "Gigafactory," which aims to power the first profitable mass-market EV in the next 4-5 years.  Oh, and it just open-sourced its industry-leading patent portfolio to advance the development and proliferation of electric vehicles.
Elon MuskDubbed the "real life Tony Stark", American visionary Elon Musk is now promising to take the solar industry by storm, thanks to a wily acquisition. [Image Source: jurvetson/Flickr]

And as CEO and majority owner of privately held SpaceX, he's offered up the most affordable commercial satellite and space station resupply launch platform.  Not stopping there, Mr. Musk wants to put men on Mars in a decade or so.

By contrast to SpaceX and Tesla, SolarCity is more of a side project for Mr. Musk, but one that he's passionate about.  His holdings are not publicly disclosed, but as Chairman of the board he's thought to be the solar power firm's largest shareholder.  A 2012 report by Bloomberg suggested that Mr. Musk owns a quarter (25 percent) of SolarCity shares, although that figure may have changed.

SolarCity IPO
Elon Musk serves as chairman of SolarCity. [Image Source: AP]

Needless to say, even in sparing quantities, Mr. Musk's tireless optimism, intuition, and vision has been a great asset to the solar firm.
II. Silevo -- Aiming to be the Best Commercial Cell
Silevo was founded in 2007 by a pair of Silicon Valley veterans -- Zheng Xu, Ph.D and Dr. Jianming Fu, Ph.D.  Mr. Xu started his career at Toshiba Corp.'s (TYO:6502) cutting edge thin film solar division in the late 1980s.  He then founded his own firm -- Sierra Solar Power, Inc. -- in the early 90s. However, he was wooed away by coating, display, and semiconductor giant Applied Materials, Inc. (AMAT) -- where he worked from 1992-2007.
It was at Applied Materials that Mr. Fu -- a fellow executive -- formed a strong working partnership with Mr. Xu.  While he had worked at Applied Materials, Mr. Xu had kept Sierra Solar active.  Based out of Fremont, Calif., it bought and installed panels at homes in the region. But Mr. Xu wanted to make panels of his own.

Silevo Triex
Silevo holds key patents on its n-type cell, which it calls "Triex" technology. [Image Source: Silevo]

In 2007 he and Mr. Fu left Applied materials and spun Sierra Solar into a stealth startup.   On the name -- which resembles a certain conservationist organization -- Silevo's business VP Chris Beitel comments, "It was born Sierra Solar Power, and we didn't really have any ties to the Sierras, even though they imply a green environment."
Naming aside, the startup kept a low profile from 2007 to 2011, when it felt its technology sufficiently mature and patent protected to publicize its work.  In 2011 it had $33M USD in seed money.  The next year it raised $55M USD and moved to China, where it built a 30 MW (of annual panel production capacity) plant, located in Hangzhou, China.
III. Silevo's Triumphant Return to American Production has Been a Long Time Coming
But while it jump an ocean away, its roots lingered in the U.S.
VP Chris Beitel in 2012 said an American return might be possible, stating:

We absolutely did an intense assessment of all the various options—we looked at California, Oregon, and Arizona.  [Locating in China is] a commitment that we have for phase one.  When we look to expand to a phase two, we will certainly look into our options.

For us, it’s very important to have the right cost ratio.  We do that two ways—one is through the operation strategy, and the second is through our fundamental product. The manufacturing strategy was a difficult decision, but if you look at other peers, like Intel or Apple, all of their manufacturing has been done offshore in China. We thought this was the appropriate stage for us moving forward.

Silevo scaleup
Silevo's temporary exodus to Chinese production was merely one step on its ambitious and well-thought-out roadmap. [Image Source: Silevo]

The pilot plant was a convincing success.  In 2013, Silevo announced a key technical milestone -- its near-commercial 125 x 125 mm (4.9 x 4.9 in.) shingles achieved a whopping 22.1 percent efficiency in Sandia National Labs tests, within 0.5 percent of the record for any silicon cell and in the top three of lab-certified cell efficiencies.  That's a great result for a long-shot R&D firm, but the fact that Silevo was nearing production readiness was eye opening.
The key to Silevo's success, and why it kept under wraps so long is its clever technology, for which it holds over 300 patents.
Silevo's cells use a technique called tunneling oxide junctions (n-type silicon), which is often used in electronics, but was widely considered a dead end in the solar power business.  Most solar power makers use p-type silicon, as it's easy to work with.

Silevo tech
Silevo is on a different road than most other PV panelmakers. [Image Source: Silevo]

Silevo has achieved far better results that past n-type crystalline silicon tunneling oxide coated cells, thanks to a couple tricks.  First it operates at a higher voltage, allowing it to escape some of the format's problems.  Second, it uses a patented, proprietary cell architecture to "improve cell defect or interface trap density (Dit)", according to its company website.
These tricks have Silevo on target to achieve its near term goal of 24 percent panel efficiency.
IV. Already at the Top of the Market in Efficiency
Silevo also enjoys a couple of other advantages.  Thanks to its novel architecture, its cells can ditch the silver paste and use copper electrodes instead.  This not only saves money, but is also easier to scale to larger cell sizes and reduces the silver paste's shading effects, which hurt efficiency in p-type cells.  It also has a relatively simple six step semiconductor fabrication process to make the panels -- an art not that far removed from the CPU-wafer fabrication of Intel Corp. (INTC) and its peers.
SolarCity's current primary supplier -- Kyocera Corp. (TYO:6971) -- was last year offering up efficiencies of 14.74 percent with p-type traditional silicon tile panels.  Costs remained high and product laborious, as the p-type panels typically require silicon paste electrodes on one side.  SunPower Corp. (SPWR) and the Panasonic Corp. (TYO:6752)/Sanyo Denki Comp., Ltd. (TYO:6516) joint venture saw efficiency of around 17.6, the highest among top commercial producers.

200 W panel efficiencies
220 W panels
200 and 220 watt commercial panels available in 2013 topped out at around 17.7 percent efficiency. [Image Source: SRoeCo Solar]

Silevo's panels, if it can scale them up to full production, could be more than a third more efficient than the next closest competitor, and more roughly 50 percent more efficient than the Kyocera panels that SunPower typically buys.  Of course that is assuming that Silevo's claims of better efficiency scaling in p-type cells hold true.  Silevo's current production efficiencies of around 17.6 percent -- on par with top p-type cells, but not necessarily better.

T-Series panels
Silevo already is reaching record commercial efficiencies at impressively low costs.
[Image Source: Silevo]

In case studies in the Netherlands, Silevo showed that its 295 Wp Silevo T-Series (17.6 percent efficient) last year outperformed a 245 Wp standard crystalline cell -- similar to SolarCity's bread and butter -- by near a quarter, producing 23.5 percent more power over the course of a year (9.9 MWh vs. 8.03 MWh).
V. Elon Musk Promises Solar Gigafactory in Two Years
Given Mr. Musk's involvement, you might guess what's coming next -- an American solar gigafactory.
A 2013 slide deck showed Silevo was hoping to build a 230 MW capacity plant in the U.S. or China by the end of 2014.  While it is unclear whether it will make that mark, Silevo and its new owner have an even more ambitious plan -- a 1 Gigawatt "Gigafactory" in the vein of Tesla Motors' upcoming $5B USD Southeast U.S. battery Gigafactory, which will be located in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, or Texas (with an announcement of which forthcoming later this month).

Silevo utility scale
Silevo, SolarCity, and its chairman Elon Musk are planning a gigafactory to blanket the U.S. with record-setting solar panels. [Image Source: Silevo]

The SolarCity/Silevo solar gigafactory will be located in New York State and will ramp up to 1 Gigawatt of annual production within two years, according to Mr. Musk.  At the announcement of the Silevo purchase, he cheered:

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.

SolarCity was founded to accelerate mass adoption of sustainable energy. The sun, that highly convenient and free fusion reactor in the sky, radiates more energy to the Earth in a few hours than the entire human population consumes from all sources in a year.

This means that solar panels, paired with batteries to enable power at night, can produce several orders of magnitude more electricity than is consumed by the entirety of human civilization. A cogent assessment of sustainable energy potential from various sources is described well in this Sandia paper.

Even if the solar industry were only to generate 40 percent of the world’s electricity with photovoltaics by 2040, that would mean installing more than 400 GW of solar capacity per year for the next 25 years.

We absolutely believe that solar power can and will become the world’s predominant source of energy within our lifetimes, but there are obviously a lot of panels that have to be manufactured and installed in order for that to happen. The plans we are announcing today, while substantial compared to current industry, are small in that context.

SolarCity shareholders are clearly optimistic about the plan.  Shares surged 17.5 percent at close, according to Forbes, following the announcement.

Elon Musk
Maybe Elon Musk will use the stellar cells in his bid to colonize Mars.
[Image Source: Art Streiber/August Image]

Who knows -- maybe we'll see some Triex solar cells powering Mr. Musk's Mars colony in the next few decades.  You know what's in the back of his mind.

Sources: Silevo, [PDF on tech], Forbes, RE/Code

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Positioning himself pretty well
By tayb on 6/18/2014 5:35:28 PM , Rating: 5
He builds some really enticing electric cars to get attention of the US car market.

Starts building a gigantic battery factory to reduce the price of battery packs.

Invests deeply into solar. The solar output will store excess energy in his batteries which can... charge the car and power the home.

He releases the vehicle patents to lower the cost of entry to competitors... who will need batteries to operate their vehicles.

This guy isn't operating on a 1-2 year plan. He is thinking 10-20 years ahead and trying to position his chess pieces. I hope he is successful. The landscape of the US market could change fundamentally if he (or anyone) is able to seriously push solar + batteries + electric vehicles.

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By p05esto on 6/18/14, Rating: -1
RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By someguy123 on 6/18/2014 6:15:33 PM , Rating: 5
How exactly is the tech going to improve if everyone drops it?

You don't go all in on either. You leave the diesel alone and create another market for electric.

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By Argon18 on 6/19/2014 10:48:49 AM , Rating: 4
"You don't go all in on either. You leave the diesel alone and create another market for electric."

Precisely. Electric isn't an all encompassing wonder replacement for all internal combustion engines. Clean diesel and CNG for example are both mature efficient solutions too. Getting "off of oil" isn't going to be a flip-the-switch kind of transition, it's going to take many many decades. And in the mean-time, solutions like Clean Diesel, CNG, and Tesla, will extend the exiting oil supply even further.

By highlander2107 on 6/18/2014 6:23:10 PM , Rating: 5
This type of thinking is why you're some hating internet loser and he's a world changing billionaire.

Must suck to be you. The self hate must be unbearable.

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By JasonMick on 6/18/2014 6:29:54 PM , Rating: 5
Too bad only pansies drive hybrid cars now...
5:42 pm? Back in my day, school children played sports after class. I'm guessing your idea of after school fun is calling people sophomoric insults?
only pansies drive... any small car for that matter
Oh those pansies with their small diesels... Your diatribe is fascinating. Do tell us more.
I say go bid (sic)...
Maybe one day the tech will improve
drop electric like the garbage
The technology is improving, but should be dropped like garbage. Right.

I'll tell you what you should do to fix this problem.

You should take a logic class your senior year if your high school offers one. While you may touch on a bit of truth when it comes to heavily subsidized EVs like the LEAF or Chevy Volt, your criticism of small cars and hybrids is bordering on parody.

I don't own a hybrid, but your arguments are laughably bad. My parents bought a Prius for roughly ~$26,000 and its more than paid off its small difference in cost, as they regularly get over 50 mpg on their daily commutes and on family trips.

I think closed minded comments like yours also miss one of the biggest advantages of small diesels and so called "mild hybrids" -- range. My parents also own an SUV -- before the Prius all they owned was Jeep Cherokees (and my dad owned a Chevy truck back in the day).

They still will drive the SUV a few miles down the road to get groceries or go to the park. But any longer shopping excursion they almost always take the Prius, as they only have to fill up every couple weeks.

But life is so horrible for them, right?

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By mike66 on 6/18/14, Rating: -1
RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By JasonMick on 6/18/2014 10:05:58 PM , Rating: 5
Why do you feel it necessary to comment on your own stories? do you feel that you've written such a poor article that you need to be an insufferable egotist (welcome to the age of Tony Stark's), shouldn't you just let the negative comments flow as they will dig there own grave by sounding foolish and hopefully being out-numbered.
Oh well I can only guess that's the difference between being a real journalist and a blogger.
Naw, maybe that's how you feel, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the premise that journalists should refrain from interacting with their readership. Quite to the contrary: I enjoy interacting with the readers & learn a lot from (some of) you!

Really commenting in reply to comments to your article is a time honored journalistic tradition. In the olden days, "comments" were "letters to the editor" and the author/editor often did choose to reply, with typical replies ranging from snark to serious.

I'm not overly worried about someone writing off my work as a "blog". I don't care what you call it, I work hard at my job and offer pieces that are typically, in my opinion better researched on the topic at hand than most pieces.

I take pride in my work and always try to link readers to the background on the pieces, as well as provide ticker symbols, URLs to universities/institutions, all the reference papers/press releases/and other forms of source material, and pictures that help breaking the monotony of a wall of text, making it more magazine-like.

If you like it I'm glad for you to read it. If not, nothing I can do about that, I'm working as hard as I can for you guys!

I think the hard work pays off though; most of my in depth pieces see hundreds of thousands of unique views, and at times a couple hundred comments. In any given month my writing is viewed by at least a couple million readers. As long as I keep working hard for you guys I expect that to continue.

Sometimes I do moderate the comments a bit with some sarcasm to try to counter whatever malarkey is afoot. But I'm always open to different opinions that don't consist of namecalling. :)

As a closing aside, I've seen editors for The Guardian and Forbes comment fairly regularly on their articles and respond to comments.

Those are some of print/electronic print's most venerable and widely viewed publishers, so if it's good enough for them, I'm not going to feel all bashful about shooting the breeze with you guys on here.

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By mike66 on 6/18/14, Rating: -1
RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By Spuke on 6/19/2014 2:28:06 PM , Rating: 5
In any given month my writing is viewed by at least a couple million readers.
Nice work Jason!

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By ven1ger on 6/19/2014 4:20:47 PM , Rating: 2
Just wanted to add, my Prius's gas tank is only 11.9 gallons, my wife's car is 18.5 gallons. We both have to refill about 1 every two weeks, and I drive approximately 50% more miles than she does.

I used to own a mid-size SUV that had to be refilled weekly.

After getting the Prius, driving actually became more interesting because I didn't fret as much about the rising cost of gas and could go where I want without worrying about how much gas I'd use up and less frequent visits to the gas station.

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By Gungel on 6/19/2014 7:13:36 AM , Rating: 1
Too bad only pansies drive hybrid cars now...

So is that why Porsche and Ferrari is using hybrid technology for its highest performing cars to attract pansies?

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By Samus on 6/18/2014 6:01:10 PM , Rating: 2
You're right he's thinking ahead, but his long-term goals have nothing to do with electric vehicles. His focus is on space, and what technology is needed to make space travel work.

Tesla is simply a research and testing laboratory where vehicle owners are helping test (and partially fund) forward-thinking technology that will eventually end up in space.

There are three things that you need in space. Efficient solar generators (Solarcity panels) efficient, safe and lightweight storage (Tesla batteries) and space craft (SpaceX)

Everything he's focused on since PayPal has all lead up to space travel. It's already been a long 15-year walk and it's all finally coming to fruition.

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By Spuke on 6/18/2014 6:39:24 PM , Rating: 2
It's already been a long 15-year walk and it's all finally coming to fruition.
How is it coming to fruition? I still see a long walk ahead.

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By Samus on 6/19/2014 12:38:58 AM , Rating: 2
Because for the first 10 years of SpaceX, they didn't launch a single vehicle into space.

RE: Positioning himself pretty well
By Spuke on 6/19/2014 2:28:42 PM , Rating: 2
I see what you're saying, thanks.

By MrBlastman on 6/20/2014 12:19:59 PM , Rating: 3
If we ever hope to leave our solar system, we need far more than solar power. We need nuclear at the very least.

Remember, the wattage of solar potential per square meter only doubles once you leave our atmosphere. That is, in Earth's orbit around the sun. As you move farther away, that wattage drops off per the inverse square law. If you double the distance away from the sun, say two AUs (Astronomical Units) instead of one, where we are at now, the output isn't halved... it is only one quarter what it is now. Mars is on average, 1.5 AUs from earth, and 1.66 at the aphelion (furthest), 1.38 at the perihelion (closest) to the Sun. So in space... around Mars, the power generated by a panel is only equivalent to what we receive on Earth in our atmosphere, now. Go further out, it gets worse.

Solar is a stop-gap and nothing more. It isn't useful beyond terrestrial needs unless you are sending a probe towards the sun and even then, you must contend with the solar wind and drag from it (however minor that is). True interstellar travel requires something far beyond solar power--and even manned travel to the outer solar system will as well.

By letmepicyou on 6/18/2014 10:14:08 PM , Rating: 2
Lets first consider the fact that we have two solar rovers on Mars that ran for what, 7 years on 1/6th the solar energy earth gets? Solar is obviously feasible once you loosen the oil and steel industry's vice like grip on the auto industry.

Electric cars are the best idea to come out since splinter free toilet paper. Anyone with more than 1st grade knowledge about gas & electric power knows this. Internal combustian is a horribly outdated technology. Why do you think auto makers are putting 6, 7, and 8 speed transmissions in cars? Because internal combustion has a pathetically narrow power band. And in the 100 or so years the best solution thus far is more transmission gears. Solenoid valves seemed to have promise, but nobody seems to be developing the technology, probably once again because of the oil industry.

Electric motors, however, are IDEAL for vehicles. An electric motor doesn't HAVE a torque curve. With an electric motor, 100% current = 100% torque, rpms be da**ed. The Tessla electric vehicles are gen 1 electric vehicles. Given improvements in battery technology and better (non steel) construction materials, gen 2 and 3 purpose built electric vehicles should offer performance that will blow your mind.

Now if we can cover cars with ultra efficient solar cells, we can begin to see all-day drivers we don't need fo gas up OR plug in.

By HoosierEngineer5 on 6/19/2014 11:05:54 AM , Rating: 2
You do realize that the rovers only went a couple of dozen miles, and have not been blasting around Mars at 60 miles per hour?

"On May 16, 2013, NASA announced that Opportunity had driven further than any other NASA vehicle on a world other than Earth.[38] After Opportunity's total odometry went over 35.744 km (22.220 miles) it surpassed the total distance driven by the Apollo 17 Lunar Roving Vehicle"

Solar cells can't provide enough continuous power for propulsion of a practical commuter vehicle without major compromises.

One could argue that infernal combustion engines are IDEAL for vehicles due to the high energy storage density of chemical bonds.

By letmepicyou on 6/19/2014 12:35:09 PM , Rating: 2
Haha. Lets recap. 1/6 the available sunlight. About what, 8 square inches of solar panel area? Surface of a car is what, roughly 40 or 50 square feet? With 6x the energy available?

Being dead serious. Do you work for the oil industry, and are here to sway public opinion or what? Internal combustion engines in modern cars are PATHETICALLY inefficient. A modern I.C. engine is roughly 12% efficient. Oh yeah gas has awesome energy density, which a modern engine wastes 82% of as heat, converting just over 10% to workable mechanical energy.

SUPER great technology. Diesel hits like, 15%, and gas turbines hit maybe 25% or 30%. Electric motors are roughly 85% efficient, depending on the motor. If you think internal combustion is ideal timeto either give up your job with BP or go back to physics class.

By M'n'M on 6/19/2014 1:25:41 PM , Rating: 2
Haha. Lets recap. 1/6 the available sunlight. About what, 8 square inches of solar panel area? Surface of a car is what, roughly 40 or 50 square feet? With 6x the energy available?

Yes, let's recap. I have no idea where you think you have 40-50 sq ft on a car that could be covered w/PV cells (I just measured 6.5' x <4' on the roof of a Ford Escape) but let's say it's a big SUV and it's 50 sq ft. The solar power available at high noon at the Earth's surface is about 1kW/m^2. On your 50 sq ft that's 1000 W x 4.64 sq meters or 4645 W. The solar cells mentioned in the article can convert that solar power into DC electrical power at 18% efficiency. Lab PV cells have hit about 50%. But let's even assume you get to 99% efficiency someday. Now you have 4600 W to move your car. That's just below 6.2 HP.

I hope you're not planning to go very fast as even a Prius (or Tesla S) needs 14 HP to go 70 MPH.

As for electric motors not having a torque curve ... I can only hope your EE degree isn't from an accredited university.

By HoosierEngineer5 on 6/19/2014 1:57:52 PM , Rating: 2
Let's assume you live in Detroit and want to drive your solar-powered car in December (many folks do). The AVERAGE solar irradiance in Detroit is 2.4 kWh/m2/day, assuming your car has a 2-axis tracking flat-plate collector.

Your 50 ft^2 roof (about the size of 1.5 sheets of plywood by the way), 4.65 m^2, would collect about 11 kWh of energy per day, average (no snow on the roof).

Now let's assume you have a commute of 1/2 hour each way, and don't go out to do anything else. In order to complete your hour drive, you would need to produce less than 15 horsepower on the average.

I have assumed 100% efficient solar cells which is a theoretical impossibility

You would need to drive a very small car for limited distances or very low speeds in order to achieve reasonable utility (i.e. year-round in most of the U.S.). Driving continuously, you would get around 0.5 horsepower, enough to move a bicycle at a pretty good clip.

Ok, I showed you mine, let's see yours.

BTW, Do you work for Disney?

By letmepicyou on 6/20/2014 3:06:20 AM , Rating: 2
In 2013 the Nuon team won the challenger class of the Solar Challenge with an average (average, meaning they actually went faster) speed of 90 kmh.

According to your data, such a thing is a theoretical impossibility.


By atechfan on 6/20/2014 6:18:59 AM , Rating: 2
And how much did the Nuon team's vehicle weigh? We are talking actual vehicles here, ones that have to carry passengers and cargo, not a sheet of solar panels with a bubble sticking up for the driver's head and some bicycle wheels.

I'm all for electric cars, when they make sense. But battery tech isn't there for us to go all electric.

By HoosierEngineer5 on 6/20/2014 9:52:00 AM , Rating: 2
And you don't think that vehicle embodied any major compromises?

OK, I'm going to stop feeding the troll.

By letmepicyou on 6/21/2014 10:50:01 PM , Rating: 1
So, knowing the technology exists (or is being purposely held back by the big oil companies, which is KNOWN to happen) and demanding it as a consumer makes me a troll?

If I'm a troll for this, then you're DEFFINITELY a big oil employee paid to makes posts like this on popular message boards. How much does manipulating public oppinion pay these days, anyway?

By snyper256 on 6/21/2014 11:59:11 PM , Rating: 1
You're acting like someone in the 1970's who thought a computer would never make it into the home, sir.

By Nexos on 6/19/2014 2:37:13 PM , Rating: 2
its not 1/6 of the sunlight, its closer to 1/2.

World's richest man
By Shig on 6/18/2014 6:46:52 PM , Rating: 2
It could easily be Musk in 10 years. The growth potential of all of his companies is exponential. Not only that, they are all vertically integrated and structurally reinforce one another.

The main reason I think he'll have a chance at world's richest is because no matter what happens to the cost of fossil fuels, he's ready.

RE: World's richest man
By BZDTemp on 6/19/2014 5:58:44 AM , Rating: 2
Easily is a mighty big word in this context - it taxes a lot to get to the top of the list.

Sure Musk has positioned himself for the future, but that does not mean others haven't or won't be able to react when needed so there will always be competition.

RE: World's richest man
By FITCamaro on 6/19/2014 9:04:59 AM , Rating: 1
Especially since tax payers are making him rich since we're the ones paying for the vast majority of solar panels in the US.

RE: World's richest man
By Shig on 6/19/2014 11:41:42 AM , Rating: 2
That is part of his genius. He vertically integrated large parts of his companies through US government spending. That's what the big boys do, profit from other people's money.

He's that scary combination of incredibly motivated, government funded, and brilliant.

He's the ultimate hedge against fossil fuels. Every single time oil starts going out of control, he's there to make the maximum amount of money.

RE: World's richest man
By atechfan on 6/20/2014 6:20:10 AM , Rating: 3
Which makes him no worse than General Electric or McDonnal-Douglas.

RE: World's richest man
By FITCamaro on 6/20/2014 7:36:00 AM , Rating: 2
Don't disagree. GE is one of my least favorite companies.

RE: World's richest man
By snyper256 on 6/22/2014 12:00:50 AM , Rating: 2
Except he's pushing changes that benefit all instead of a few.
Oil addiction is a detriment to all of Earth's inhabitants.

I like this idea
By tng on 6/19/2014 8:43:23 AM , Rating: 2
We absolutely believe that solar power can and will become the world’s predominant source of energy within our lifetimes, but there are obviously a lot of panels that have to be manufactured and installed in order for that to happen.

I would love to install solar with battery backup on my house, it is just the cost that makes it impossible for me. I like Musk's ideas, kinda like the Model S, a good looking EV with good range for a change, but out of most people's price range. I hope this is not more of the same.

RE: I like this idea
By Murloc on 6/19/2014 10:43:15 AM , Rating: 2
Usually houses are connected to the grid so a battery back-up is a HUGE waste of money and you'll never get your money back.

Just sell the extra electricity during the day and buy at night.
It's less costly and there are no worries about accumulator age and recouping the investment.

The one thing you can do right now and is surely convenient unless you live much north, is solar water heating.
A huge % of new installations are in China, 10% in the EU, and only 0.3% in the US. It looks like the state is subsidizing only stuff that doesn't hurt big oil.

RE: I like this idea
By Solandri on 6/19/2014 12:15:33 PM , Rating: 2
Yup. The pie in the sky technologies like PV solar get all the attention. But the most practical renewable techs are much less glamorous. I crunched the numbers for all sorts of energy-saving (cost-cutting) measures for a renovation of a hotel in the desert about 5 years ago. The two best candidates were:

- Solar hot water pre-heater.
- Geothermal heat pump.

Both had a payback period of 3-5 years. That is, the energy and money they'd save would pay for their installation cost within 3-5 years.

At the opposite extreme, PV solar had a 30-40 year payback, though I image that is "down" to about 20-25 years by now. It still needs a lot more R&D before widescale rollout makes sense. (The payback period can be reduced either by increasing conversion efficiency, or by decreasing cost. Both of which Musk's project seems to do.)

RE: I like this idea
By ven1ger on 6/19/2014 3:51:46 PM , Rating: 2
With various state and Federal credits, PV solar currently has a payback of about 5-10 years, depending on where you live. Costs of PV have gone done dramatically, within the past few years. I'm referring to PV home installations, and nothing on the size a large business installation.

Intel Fabs in China?
By HoosierEngineer5 on 6/19/2014 9:11:07 AM , Rating: 3
"...if you look at other peers, like Intel or Apple, all of their manufacturing has been done offshore in China"

Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Ireland, and Israel are not located in China.

If you look at the lone fab actually in China, you see 65 nm which is a pretty old process.

RE: Intel Fabs in China?
By atechfan on 6/20/2014 6:23:35 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly. Fabs are highly technical jobs that really do not benefit from offshoring the way assembly lines do. They are not repetitive, low skilled jobs that can be done by people treated like drones. Intel will always have the majority of their fabs in the US.

Solar roadways
By Grimer21 on 6/19/2014 12:44:00 PM , Rating: 3
Bring on the solar freakin' roadways and autonomous cars communicating directly with the smart roads. This is the not-so-distant future my DT brethren and I couldn't be more excited about it.

RE: Solar roadways
By Grimer21 on 6/19/2014 12:48:25 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry to reply to my own comment but I figured I should throw this in:

p-type Si
By drwho9437 on 6/21/2014 2:21:11 PM , Rating: 3
p-type silicon is used as the low doped side of more solar cells because of basic semiconductor physics, not because it is easier to work with. pn junctions are minority carrier devices and the distance a carrier can move within a certain lifetime is dictated by the mobility in part. Because electrons have high mobility it makes sense to make the majority of the collection area of a cell out of p-type Si where the minority carrier will be an electron.

Work functions of metals and things will matter for tunnel junctions though so this could well be why n-type material was needed in this case.

Good plan
By Jaybus on 6/19/2014 11:15:48 AM , Rating: 2
Solar must be made cheaper, and mass production is the way to do that. It is encouraging that solar cells are getting more efficient, but even 24% is not so great. By contrast, water turbines in hydro plants are very near the 90% theoretical limit, steam turbines in nuclear plants are also very near their limit of 60%, wind turbines are very near their 59% limit, and even ICEs are near their 40-50% limit. The theoretical limit for photovoltaic cells is 85-90% depending on cell type.

With such low efficiency, the world's silicon wafer production is not enough to support the desired goal of 40% solar power by 2040. So Musk is right. Mass production is not enough. The technology's efficiency must be improved. Doubling efficiency cuts in half the number of panels needed, and even doubling current efficiency level would still only be half of the potential.

By Kazinji on 6/20/2014 11:44:29 AM , Rating: 2
They will prob go with 'American materials' which would mean Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. Since the retro active tariff on Polysilicon(to let china companys a chance, as HSC can make it much cheaper and better) from china has been hit with customers backing out of contracts.

And Japan factories wiped out, HSC has been hurting laying off 500+ workers. Hiring some back friend works there. Even starting pay is 20+ an hr.

Just glad to hear more solar companies in the US.

Elon Musk is no Tony Stark
By YearOfTheDingo on 6/18/14, Rating: -1
RE: Elon Musk is no Tony Stark
By Dr. Kenneth Noisewater on 6/18/2014 6:25:28 PM , Rating: 2
Military contractors aren't 'subsidized'?


RE: Elon Musk is no Tony Stark
By JasonMick on 6/18/2014 6:34:27 PM , Rating: 4
Military contractors aren't 'subsidized'?


Clearly he is talking like an expert about comics which he has not read.

Heck, even if he had seen the occasional Marvel movie he'd realize that's the plot of like every Iron Man movie and a key plot element in the Avengers and Captain America -- Tony Stark selling technology to and developing technology for the government.

During the events of Civil War, Tony Stark for a little while their was bordering on hardcore evil, supporting Norman Osborne and whatnot.

By YearOfTheDingo on 6/19/2014 9:44:36 AM , Rating: 2
It's a joke, for Pete sake...

By highlander2107 on 6/18/2014 6:25:31 PM , Rating: 2
Thank you for clearing up the fact Elon Musk is not a comic book character. Without you, we could not have known.

RE: Elon Musk is no Tony Stark
By M'n'M on 6/18/2014 9:21:11 PM , Rating: 1
Finally, Tony Stark never experimented on mutants.

You're inferring that Musk has experimented on mutants ? Are they solar powered or battery powered ? Just what mutated qualities do they possess ? Perhaps an over-whelming sex drive combined with a high tolerance for ugliness ?

Elon is Da Man !!!

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton

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