Tesla’s solar business sinks to near all-time low

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Still, CEO Elon Musk says, "we are confident" the solar business will be "a very significant part of the company over time."

Tesla reported its second-lowest solar and energy storage totals in its history as questions linger about operations at its Buffalo facility.

Tesla reported Wednesday that it deployed only 35 megawatts of solar and energy storage installations, which includes its Solar Glass Roof. That is a 35% drop compared to the final quarter of 2019.

State taxpayers covered a nearly $1 billion tab to build and equip the vast facility near the Buffalo River, the centerpiece to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development plan.

The company suspended production temporarily at its facility in Buffalo, where it makes solar products, including the “Solar Glass Roof”, electric vehicle charging stations and parts for its car batteries. Panasonic, which shares about half the Buffalo facility for its solar cell production facility, plans to exit in May.

There was no mention during Wednesday night’s earnings call of whether Tesla would make ventilators at the Buffalo facility, which CEO Elon Musk said last month he would do as fast as “humanly possible.”

A member of Gov. Cuomo’s team later clarified that Tesla considered making a ventilator part in Buffalo, but it is unclear if that will ever happen, either.

Tesla also repeated a milestone that it said it reached in March: the Buffalo facility made 4 MW of Solar Roof, which is enough for roughly 1,000 homes.

Musk said during Tuesday night’s earnings call, that installing the Solar Roof is the current challenge. Musk said the Buffalo factory has proved it can hit the 1,000 Solar Roof per week benchmark.

“So, that’s not a problem, but it is building up the install teams, the third party channels” that Musk said the company is trying to overcome.

Musk said he wants to have 1,000 Solar Roof “install teams” that take a week or less to install the Solar Roof. In addition, he expects to have a “diverse group of companies in the roofing industry” to help Tesla scale well beyond 1,000 per week.

“Demand is good, production is good, so it is really all about the install,” Musk said, specifically mentioning international appeal, including in China.

“We are confident this will be a very significant part of the company over time,” Musk added.

Musk was expected to visit the Buffalo plant earlier this month until the coronavirus pandemic struck New York State.

Musk turned political for a moment on the call, criticizing as being “fascist” any “stay at home” orders by government.

“Give people their god damn freedom back!” Musk roared.

Electric vehicles continue to be the focus of Tesla, by reporting $5.1 billion in revenues from vehicle sales and leasing. That’s compared to only $293 million in revenues for its solar and energy storage products, which includes the Solar Glass Roof.

The company reported $16 million in net revenue, surprising some investors who expected a downturn because of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the third consecutive quarter in which Tesla has reported net revenue. But this is the first time the company reported net revenue in a first quarter of any given year.

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