Tesla Panasonic solar deal could signal smart home future

Cooperation between the companies could go deeper than manufacturing

Panasonic smart town
Panasonic opened its Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town southwest of Tokyo on Thursday. Houses eq Credit: Tim Hornyak

Deepening ties between Tesla and Panasonic could help the U.S. car maker fast track its ambitious plan for solar-powered systems that charge smart homes and electric cars.

The two companies said Monday that Panasonic will use what would have been a SolarCity factory in RiverBend, New York, to manufacture up to 10,000 solar panels per day. Tesla will buy the panels for use on houses as part of the deal, which is contingent on its acquisition of SolarCity.

The partnership extends work between the two companies that began with Panasonic's Gigafactory in Nevada. The multi-billion-dollar factory is a huge manufacturing facility for lithium-ion batteries used in Tesla's electric cars.

But the companies share a grander vision: one where energy from solar panels is pumped into storage batteries in each house rather than being sold to the power company. Combined with smart home technology, the batteries could virtually eliminate reliance on the power grid and recharge Tesla electric cars each night, but adoption of the batteries remains an elusive goal due to their high cost.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has already dipped his toe into the market with pilot production the Tesla Powerwall, a 6.4kWh storage battery designed for daily storage.

And Panasonic, too, has been experimenting, building a high-tech home of the future in Tokyo in 2009 and recently opening a smart city near Tokyo that will house around 3,000 people in homes that drastically cut CO2 emissions and use more renewable energy.

The Tesla units won't be widely available until battery production ramps up at Panasonic's Nevada factory, giving both companies a chance to consider closer cooperation on the smart home.

The Panasonic homes in Japan are full of energy-saving gadgets, such as air conditioners and lighting that automatically adjusts depending on the presence of people.

The homes combine Panasonic's renewable energy strengths with that of two other businesses that aren't widely known in the U.S. and Europe.

In Japan, the company has a large home appliance division that makes goods as varied as toasters, heated carpets, garbage composting units, and vacuum cleaners. And an affiliate company, PanaHome, manufacturers entire houses. It's sold nearly a half a million homes in Japan in the last 50 years and also has operations in Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The Panasonic homes also feature charging ports for electric cars. It doesn't make those but Tesla's does, meaning the two companies might find future cooperation beneficial as they both work toward their smart home goals.

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