Tech

Tesla aims to revitalize its solar energy and storage business this year after 2019 slump

Key Points
  • Tesla notched a record fourth quarter for solar energy and storage systems, but a decline for the full year.
  • According to a filing, Tesla is now making solar panels with Panasonic at its plant in Buffalo, New York.
  • CEO Elon Musk is expected to stand trial in Delaware's Chancery Court in March, and defend Tesla's decision to acquire SolarCity for $2.6 billion in 2016.
Elon Musk reveals prototypes of the Tesla Solar Roof on October 28, 2016
Tesla

Even with a record fourth quarter for its solar energy and storage systems business, Tesla's energy revenue declined by over $24 million in 2019, after several rounds of layoffs that started the prior year.

The company is now under pressure to get the business going again. Tesla said, in its annual financial report on Thursday, that it's ramping up solar photovoltaic production at its plant in Buffalo, New York.

"We have recently started manufacturing solar panels at this facility in collaboration with Panasonic," the filing states.

CEO Elon Musk needs to increase headcount at the Buffalo plant, dubbed Gigafactory 2. If Tesla fails to employ 1,460 people there in April, it will have to pay a $41.2 million penalty to the state of New York or get an exemption. The mayor of Buffalo said, citing company officials, that there are currently around 1,100 workers at the plant.

Empire state taxpayers doled out $959 million to build Tesla's factory, including equipment purchases, which is $209 million more than originally expected.

In addition to his race against the clock in upstate New York, Musk is also in a battle with Tesla shareholders, who sued the automaker in 2017 over its $2.6 billion acquisition of SolarCity. They say the deal never should have happened and called it a bailout of Musk and his cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive, who started SolarCity.

Musk was co-founding chairman of SolarCity and its biggest shareholder at the time of the acquisition. He's expected to stand trial in Delaware's Chancery Court in March.

Tesla told Reuters in September that the allegations were "based on the claims of plaintiff's lawyers looking for a payday, and are not representative of our shareholders."

Since the acquisition, solar energy has been a relatively small and dwindling business for Tesla, in part because of delays in manufacturing and a longer development cycle than expected.

Musk said last March that 2019 would be the "year of the solar roof." But even with the company rolling out new ways for customers to lease solar systems and with a new version of its Solarglass roof tiles promoted last year, solar energy and storage made up just 6.2% of the company's $24.6 billion in 2019 revenue.

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