Today, SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY.DL) announced an agreement to acquire Silevo, a solar cell technology innovator and photovoltaic (PV) solar module manufacturer founded in Silicon Valley in 2007. With this acquisition, SolarCity moves one step closer toward becoming a vertically integrated business controlling the supply and delivery of affordable solar energy.
The vision for SolarCity
A blog post published today by SolarCity chairman Elon Musk and his cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive (who founded SolarCity), outlines the reasoning behind acquiring a solar technology and manufacturing business:
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.
This announcement comes on the heels of new import duties set by the U.S. earlier this month on solar panels imported from China. SolarCity hopes to build a solar panel manufacturing facility with Silevo in New York -- something Silevo has already been working on with the state -- with a targeted capacity of 1 gigawatt over the next two years. To put it in perspective, in two years, this Silevo manufacturing facility is slated to produce panels with nearly as much capacity deployed by SolarCity so far in its eight-year history. (SolarCity projects it will have deployed a cumulative 2 gigawatts by 2015.)
According to Musk and the Rive brothers, this will be one of the largest solar panel manufacturing plants in the world. This vision exceeds far beyond one manufacturing facility, however, with SolarCity's leadership imploring that this will be followed "by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity" in future years.
Musk and the Rives are not ones to get caught up in the short term. With the acquisition of Silevo -- coupled with the acquisition of solar installation solutions provider Zep Solar in December 2013 -- SolarCity is effectively becoming a vertically integrated solar provider. In other words, SolarCity will engage in the manufacturer and installation of solar panels in addition to maintaining its presence as an electricity provider through solar energy.
"What we are trying to address is not the lay of the land today," say the cousins, "but how we see the future developing." SolarCity has big plans to reduce -- and eventually eliminate -- solar energy's dependence on government subsidies:
Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed.
Similar to Elon Musk's vision with Tesla Motors to develop massive gigafactories to produce lithium-ion batteries at incredible scale, SolarCity now hopes to generate massive economies of scale to reduce the overall costs of solar panels, installations, and electricity delivery. As solar costs are driven down thanks to these growing economies of scale, SolarCity will be able to expand into new states (beyond its current operating base of 15 states) and gain exposure to hundreds of thousands of potential new customers.
Perhaps SolarCity's goal of attaining 1 million customers by 2018 isn't so off-base after all.
Foolish bottom line
Few companies today have the visionary leadership to match Elon Musk and Lyndon and Peter Rive. SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive continues to oversee a strong company culture, earning a 90% employee approval rating on Glassdoor. As a whole, SolarCity employees give the company a 3.7/5 rating.
SolarCity is rapidly expanding, but the company has its eyes set on transforming both solar energy and the delivery of energy as a whole. "We started this company to be your next energy company," said Lyndon Rive. "Our goal is to become the most compelling energy company of the 21st century." With the acquisition of Silevo, this long-term vision for SolarCity is all the more attainable.