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SolarCity’s Rive talks energy and more at UB RENEW lecture

Peter Rive, co-founder and CTO of SolarCity, talks about how his company plans to remain the largest installer of residential solar panels. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CORY NEALON

Published March 10, 2016

“I can’t imagine any greater threat that we should be collectively responding to other than climate change.”
Peter Rive, SolarCity CTO and inaugural speaker
UB RENEW Distinguished Lecture Series

Drive around Buffalo — or any city in the United States. The odds are stacked against you seeing solar panels on the roof of a house.

Peter Rive is working to change that.

Speaking at UB’s Davis Hall on Wednesday morning, Rive described how the company he co-founded, SolarCity, has become the nation’s largest installer of residential solar panels and how it plans to retain that title.

Key to the company’s continued growth, Rive said, is the SolarCity plant under construction at Riverbend in South Buffalo. Once fully operational in the summer of 2017, the plant will produce enough solar panels each day to install on 450 homes.

“That’s pretty exciting,” said Rive, the company’s chief technology officer, who spoke as part of UB RENEW’s inaugural Distinguished Lecture Series. “The opportunity is quite massive.”

The 1.2 million-square-foot-factory, he said, will be the “heartbeat of the cadence of our deployment” of solar panels across the nation.

The $900 million plant, which will be the biggest solar panel factory in the Western Hemisphere, is being built by New York State through Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development initiative. At full production, the plant and its suppliers are expected to bring 2,900 jobs to the region.

Amit Goyal (left), director of UB RENEW, moderates a Q&A session with Peter Rive. Photo: Douglas Levere

Rive discussed how SolarCity is working — from developing more efficient solar panels to operational improvements to cut internal costs — to reduce the price tag of installing residential solar energy systems. The goal, he said, is for the company to not rely on government subsidies.

Rive applauded Cuomo’s comprehensive energy plan, dubbed Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which he said is among the most progressive plans in the world. And he spoke of how he, his co-founder brother, Lyndon, and business magnate cousin, Elon Musk, created SolarCity in 2006 with the goal of developing a business that addresses climate change.

“I can’t imagine any greater threat that we should be collectively responding to other than climate change,” Rive said.

He also participated in a question-and answer-session with the audience, which numbered about 150. That part of the event was moderated by Amit Goyal, director of UB RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water), who joked earlier that Rive brought to Buffalo a “nice glorious solar day,” a nod to the unusually warm weather on Wednesday.

Goyal explained how UB RENEW, which was launched in 2014, is a university-wide institute that tackles global energy and environmental problems, as well as intertwined social and economic issues. The institute includes roughly 100 faculty from seven schools at UB.

Provost Charles F. Zukoski discussed how UB RENEW, the model for the university’s Communities of Excellence, is a “transformative program that will take UB forward and take society forward” by focusing on critical and emerging issues, both regionally and worldwide.