SolarCity unveiled Friday a new solar panel product that the company says will be the "world's most efficient." The new panel, to be manufactured in the U.S., will produce 30 to 40% more power than standard panels while costing less than the average panel now when manufactured at scale, the company said.
"The breakthrough here is high efficiency at a lower cost," said SolarCity Chief Technology Officer Peter Rive in an interview. "In the past those have been opposed to one another."
The solar power industry has grown at a rapid clip in recent years as panels have become more efficient and the cost has decreased. Last year alone, nearly 200,000 homes and businesses installed solar power. SolarCity—which is backed by Elon Musk, who is also behind SpaceX and the electric car company Tesla—has become the leader within the residential solar power industry, arranging 1 in every 3 residential installations in the U.S.
The new panel announced Friday us a hybrid between a traditional crystalline panel and a silicon model, has a module efficiency greater than 22%. Many commercially available panels have module efficiencies between 15 and 20%, meaning they produce less electricity per the same amount sunlight. SolarCity says the panels are intended for homes, businesses and schools, but the product will also work for large-scale projects, including utilities.
The move is aimed at helping SolarCity company keep solar power cost effective even after a federal tax credit expires next year, Rive said. Currently, the federal government provides a 30% credit to help homeowners pay to install solar panels. "We're lowering the costs so that we're able to control our own destiny," said Rive. "The company has been laser focused on cost reduction and this represents a [dramatic] change in our cost structure."
Solar power accounted for less than 1% of U.S. electricity generation in 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But in recent years policymakers have increasingly seen solar power as a viable renewable energy source to help wean the world off of fossil fuels in the face of climate change. Last year, solar power made up nearly a third of new energy capacity. Policies like the tax credit and other incentives from the U.S. federal government have driven the first steps in that transformation, but experts say room for growth remains. A 2014 report from the International Energy Agency suggested that solar power could generate more than a quarter of the world's energy supply by 2050.
"All energy is ultimately derived for the sun and harvesting it directly through solar power seems to be the best way to transition to renewable energy," said Rive. "The transformation will take many decades but we’re seeing the rate of growth in solar being massive."