Soon after SolarCity acquired solar panel maker Silevo in the summer of 2014, it announced the construction of a 1.2-million-square-foot 'Solar Gigafactory' in Buffalo, New York. The move had two main goals: 1) For the solar installer to get its own secure supply of high-efficiency solar panels (Silevo panels are currently 21% efficient, but the company claims that they can get to 24%) and 2) drive down the cost of the panels and of installing them.
If the panels are higher efficiency, you need fewer of them per roof for a given capacity, lowering installation costs, and if you make them in very large quantities in a 'Gigafactory', you can further reduce costs through economies of scale.
The Buffalo solar gigafactory, which can be seen in the photo at the top of this article, aims to start producing solar cells in 2016, with a ramping up to 1 GW of annual capacity by 2017. If all goes well, the facility could eventually be expanded to 5 GW/year at some point. The solar cells produced there have a target price of around $0.50/watt, which would make them very competitive with other power sources.
While the exterior of the plant seems pretty close to complete, there are still 950 workers finishing the interior. Once operational, SolarCity says that it will create about 500 jobs, with the possibility of more if they go forward with the expansion to 5 GW/year.
SolarCity won't have trouble finding use for the production from the Buffalo plant: Their own demand for panels already exceeds what it will be able to produce, so they'll still have to buy from other solar panel manufacturers. This makes the 5 GW/year expansion seem very likely.
One thing that's obviously missing from the factory is solar panels on the roof, like with the Tesla battery Gigafactory (pictured above). I hope that SolarCity will eat its own cooking and do it -- otherwise it's a missed opportunity!
Here's a model of what the finished thing should look like:
The Bufallo solar gigafactory is expected to start production in about 6 months