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Editorial: Changing solar market challenges Tesla, but Buffalo remains on the front lines

Western New York should bet long on Tesla, as the solar-everything company becomes the manufacturing cornerstone of the region, with the largest solar panel factory in the Western Hemisphere right here in South Buffalo’s RiverBend.

The effort will prove beneficial and vindicate the state’s calculated risk on expending a large share of the Buffalo Billion to build and outfit the sizable plant. The company’s top officials call it Gigafactory 2, while pledging to move the production process from Freemont, Calif., to Buffalo.

Solar roof production here is expected to ramp up considerably in 2018. Already, 100 jobs have been filled and two dozen others have been posted on the company website. That is still short of the hundreds of promised jobs, but it is early. Production is expected to gear up “considerably” in 2018, according to Tesla executives. Momentum is likely to grow and the economy around here will benefit.

These are the positive thoughts every stakeholder – resident, local business owner, politician, minister, rabbi, imam and priest – should repeat and understand. Tesla’s success will be our success.

It puts us at the forefront of a developing industry.

There is no room for negativity, despite the slowing demand and outside pressure on the industry – from the threatened removal of tax incentives to competition from China. And that is to say nothing of the company’s looming deadline to produce midlevel-priced electric vehicles amid a growing field of electric vehicle “generators,” including by legacy automakers.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s dynamic CEO, has proven himself to be a great multitasker, and up for a challenge. He’s also fond of thinking outside the box (SpaceX, anyone?), and has said that installations will start growing again, once the solar panels start selling at its Tesla vehicle stores. (Remember, Musk’s vision integrates electric vehicles, improved batteries and rooftop solar energy systems.)
It is safe to say that when Tesla absorbed SolarCity last year, the entrepreneur understood the risks and rewards. He knew it was a big bet, and that getting a partner with experience would be a must. Enter solar panel manufacturer Panasonic to provide capital and operational support.

These will not be your grandfather’s solar roofs, either. The company has devised a solar roof that looks like a regular roof but with solar cells built in to generate electricity. It is genius.
However, the rollout to average consumers will have to wait while Musk and his executives and insiders test out the roofs on their own homes. It should entice customers with older roofs – and homes – who want to incorporate renewable energy while maintaining classic aesthetics. Owners building brand-new homes also should be enticed by the prospect of integrating technology and aesthetics.

Tesla – and especially Musk – are not afraid to innovate, to change, to evolve to best fit the needs of consumers while building a sustainable business based on renewable energy to power homes, businesses and this local economy.

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