That’s enough solar shingles to make 1,000 of Tesla’s smallest capacity solar roof, allowing what Musk called a “significant milestone” because it met the 1,000 roofs per week target he had set last year. Musk said this spring he hoped to be installing 1,000 solar roofs a week within a year, if not by the end of 2020.
But it’s been all downhill since.
The company installed just 27 megawatts of rooftop solarÂ â€“ both conventional panels and its high-priced solar roofÂ â€“ during the second quarter. That’s the fewest installations since at least 2013, when the solar business was part of SolarCity. Tesla’s solar business, which had started to slowly recover after bottoming out in early 2019, hit the skids again at the start of this year and the pandemic only made it worse.
“Our solar installation business was impacted by permit office closures, limiting installation volume,” said Zachary Kirkhorn, Tesla’s chief financial officer, during the conference call.
If Tesla was to return to its pre-pandemic production level of making 4 megawatts of solar roof each week, it would need to install 52 megawatts of its Solarglass roof just to keep pace. That’s almost double its second quarter installations, and only a small part of those were for the solar roof.
And it’s not just Tesla. Panasonic, the company’s partner at the Buffalo plant, has scrapped that arrangement. Its solar panel-making equipment is going up for auction next week and its nearly 400 workers are out of a job.
That leaves Tesla as the sole tenant in the factory that taxpayers paid nearly $1 billion to build, in hopes that it would bring 1,500 good-paying jobs to Buffalo. So far, that’s just a dreamÂ â€“ the company was down to 474 full-time workers at the end of April, and that included an undisclosed number who were on furlough.
Tesla doesn’t make conventional solar panels in Buffalo. It buys them from other manufacturers, so an uptick in its conventional rooftop solar business doesn’t do anything to increase solar production here.
For that to happen, it would take a big increase in sales of its solar roof, which looks like a conventional roof but has solar cells inside. It’s an innovative productÂ â€“ one that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly said he thinks is a game-changer for the industryÂ â€“ but it also costs two to three times more than a conventional roof, and that makes it a hard sell to roof-hunting consumers during the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
Because of the pandemic, the company has asked the state for – and received – an extra year to meet its job targetÂ â€“ and avoid a $41.2 million penalty for falling short.
Â “This relief is available to all ESD partners that can demonstrate that they have suffered pandemic-related business interruption that makes them unable to meet their commitments for the current year,” said Pamm Lent, an Empire State Development spokeswoman.
Tesla executive Yaron Klein told state officials in late May that the company, which had 1,834 workers on its payroll in early March, is confident that it can rebuild its workforce and meet its employment promises.
To get there, Tesla has brought some of its electronic assembly work to the Buffalo plant, which now makes cabinets for its electric vehicle chargers and other power electronics equipment that go into its high-capacity battery storage products.
Musk said he’s still committed to his vision of making Tesla a renewable energy powerhouse, built around electric vehicles, solar energy and the Powerwall batteries to store that energy or power its cars. To spur sagging demand, Tesla cut prices by 30% for its conventional rooftop solar systems.