"Too good to be true"

New York spent nearly $1 billion over the past decade on Elon Musk’s ambitious plan for what was supposed to be the largest solar-panel factory in the Western Hemisphere, one of the largest-ever public cash outlays of its kind.

“You almost have to pinch yourself, right?” New York’s then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a construction ceremony for the factory in 2015. “That this is too good to be true.”

Eight years later, that looks like a pretty good assessment.



Of course we recall that early on Musk started a solar panel company that would use his lithium batteries. He did that to increase battery demand at his Panasonic JV battery plant in Nevada. Higher volume made it more efficient and made his batteries more affordable for his EV business.

The business did not go well and eventually was acquired by Tesla. We don’t hear much about Tesla solar these day but I suppose it is still around some place – probably reported in fine print or in the footnotes.

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I vaguely recall that he bought the solar company from his brother (?) to keep it from going into bankruptcy. He was sued by Tesla shareholders but won.



It’s not all that hard to look up Solar City.

The business went fine, but due to their method of financing they ran into trouble when attacked by short sellers. Tesla bought them, and with deeper pockets were immune to the short seller tactics of generating doubt and compromising access to the credit markets.

Tesla, however, has not concentrated on the solar business and has let it languish. Nowadays it’s part of the Tesla Energy portion of the business, along with batteries and the solar roof. Pretty much the only part of that that’s getting much love is the batteries segment, with commercial energy being the bulk of that.




Musk also used to speak of repurposing used auto batteries for stationary energy storage. That would seem to fit with solar power systems. And extends useful life of the battery after its EV range begins to fade.

Years ago Tesla said that they had determined that approach wasn’t best. Treating old batteries as “high grade ore” and recycling them made much more sense.

It’s probably a few years before serious volumes of recycling will be needed, but JB Straubel’s Redwood Materials is on the job.