Panasonic is hiring 80 workers at the massive solar factory in Buffalo, New York which it operates in collaboration with Tesla, according to The Buffalo News. Panasonic had not yet confirmed this number by press time, however the company’s web site shows a number of open solar cell and module manufacturing positions at the plant, including production operators, engineering positions and supervisors.
Both Panasonic and Tesla have declined to answer questions about the details of current production volumes at the plant, with Tesla repeatedly stating that the plant will reach 1 GW of cell production in 2019 (and 2GW sometime after that). According to Tesla, the plant began producing both Panasonic’s Heterojunction Intrinsic Thin Film (HIT) solar cells last August, and is also currently producing both HIT PV modules and Tesla’s Solar Roof product.
Tesla has confirmed that the plant already has 600 workers on site, but does not offer a breakdown of Panasonic versus Tesla employees.
The news of this hiring comes as the company’s solar sales, which were formerly under SolarCity, remain in a major slump. Upon acquiring SolarCity Tesla changed the company’s direction towards direct sales instead of leases and a focus on profitability, along with moving sales from door-to-door into Tesla stores. Along with this the company’s volume deployed plummeted, and towards the end of 2017 Sunrun replaced Tesla as the company with the largest share of the U.S. residential solar market – though Tesla might have snuck ahead in this most recent quarter.
2017 also saw a 16% decline overall in the U.S. residential solar market, which is at least in part due to the pull-back by both Tesla and Vivint. However, initial 2018 numbers based on permit data show a resurgence in the national market. And in what is perhaps the biggest news, California will begin mandating solar on new homes in 2020, which could end up as a major boost to building integrated solar products like Tesla’s Solar Roof.
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