Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

Elon Musk’s Solar Company to Use Former Solyndra Buildings

Wed, 02/25/2015

Andrew Szal, Digital Reporter, IMPO

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SolarCity, the California-based solar power company chaired by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, will soon set up shop in the property that formerly housed Solyndra.

The two-building, 200,000-square-foot complex in Fremont, California has been vacant since Solyndra went bankrupt in 2011, an event that made the solar cell manufacturer the poster child for criticism of energy policy under the Obama administration.

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SolarCity, however, recently leased the buildings to serve as its manufacturing research and development headquarters and plans to hire hundreds of new employees to staff the facility.

Musk’s cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive co-founded SolarCity in 2006 as an installer of solar panels, with the SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO serving as chairman. But last year the company acquired a New York panel maker as part of an effort to move into manufacturing.

Musk said at the time that panel manufacturing would enable business growth over the long term, although the move into production proved costly for other solar companies in the past.solyndra 03

SolarCity’s increased investments led to a fourth quarter loss that exceeded analysts’ expectations, despite sales that increased from $47.3 million to $71.8 million.

“It’s very tough to say right now whether it’s a stroke of genius or unnecessary,” said Shyam Mehta, an analyst for clean energy research firm GTM Research, of SolarCity’s move toward manufacturing.

Although SolarCity’s success on the manufacturing front remains uncertain, the lease of Solyndra’s headquarters could provide a public relations boost to the solar industry.

Solyndra infamously collapsed in 2011 despite receiving $528 million in loans through the U.S. Department of Energy. The company then became an issue in President Obama’s re-election campaign the following year, with critics alleging the administration directed loans to the president’s political allies.

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In recent months, however, the clean energy loan program reportedly eliminated its losses and now expects to earn more than $5 billion for the federal government amid rapid growth as the solar power industry. A recent report found solar energy jobs increased by more than 20 percent in 2014, while an energy consulting firm projected solar’s share of the U.S. energy market to grow six-fold over the next 20 years.

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