Tesla’s Solar Panel Roof: Solar Glass Tiles are New Solar Shingles

tesla solar roof shingles

If you’ve found it difficult to stay up to date on the future of Tesla Motors and SolarCity in recent months, you are not alone. Numerous industries (solar, electric vehicles, and ridesharing, to name a few) worldwide are starting to feel the impact of a merger that could significantly alter growth plans for manufacturers and executives across the globe. Now the concept of an integrated solar glass shingle – the Tesla solar tile – is on everyone’s mind. 

We had already heard about Tesla’s plans for total clean energy integration – a one step carbon reduction process that involves pairing solar panels with your Tesla electric vehicle. Now for the latest: thanks to a surprise appearance of Chairman Elon Musk in SolarCity’s second quarter earnings call that lead to a highly anticipated Tesla solar roofing product launch at the end of October, we’ve now seen the future of PV roofing and the future of Tesla. One thing is certain: building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are going to be a part of Tesla Motors – or should we say Tesla Energy’s – future.

What’s the latest news on the Tesla solar roof? (updated August 2017)

Tesla had begun taking orders for their solar roof tiles as of May 2017. Timeline information offered on Tesla’s websites suggested that installations would begin in June starting in California. New information on Tesla’s website as of the beginning of August showed this change in language:

“When will my Solar Roof be installed?
Initial trial installations are complete and undergoing evaluation, customer installations are about to start and will ramp up through 2017.”

Elon Musk revealed that he and another Tesla executive have already had the roof installed on their respective properties and the language change implies that those at the top of the wait list will begin to have their systems installed as soon as this month. Tesla’s roof installations will be administered by SolarCity, it’s newest asset. It is unclear when the roof product will be available nationwide though some estimates suggest it will be mid-2018.

Tesla has also revealed a standard solar panel product that it will begin producing in 2017 in addition to its solar roof – a black Panasonic solar panel with no visible mounting apparatus. Tesla has launched a calculator that provides estimates for its solar roof and has released the pricing information of $21.85 per square foot.  To compare the cost of the Tesla solar roof to a traditional solar system, check out our price comparison or checkout the pricing analysis by Consumer Reports.

Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) vs. Building-Applied Photovoltaics (BAPV): what are they?

Even before the latest Musk upheaval, building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) technology has been garnering attention as part of solar’s gradual expansion into broader markets like sustainable roofing design and green building.

A building in Spain with a BAPV side solar facade

A building in Spain with a side solar facade. This type of solar building is known as BAPV where the solar module is retrofitted rather than included in the original construction.

Simply put, BIPV replaces materials of the building envelope with photovoltaics. This is in contrast with traditional rooftop solar installations, which entails attaching a PV module to a building separately. The goal of BIPV is to integrate installation as part of a construction project, rather than a separate post-construction addition. In theory, this would result in significant savings by reducing labor and installation costs and eliminating the need for separate racking equipment. With BIPV, solar becomes an efficient building material rather than a luxury add-on.

Often confused with BIPV is building-applied photovoltaics, or BAPV, which refers to solar that is retroactively integrated into a building. While BAPV is much more common than BIPV in today’s day and age, BIPV is truly the ideal scenario for cost efficiency – hence why Elon Musk named it Tesla’s next move.

The Tesla/SolarCity solar panel roof: what you need to know

A view of Dow Powerhouse solar roof shingles

A view of Dow Powerhouse solar roof shingles on a U.S. home. Dow cancelled their solar shingles product line in June 2016.

Many stakeholders recognized that solar installation needed to be rebranded as an aesthetic and technical improvement that could be a part of a home renovation rather than a hefty module that is nailed onto your rooftop. That sentiment was punctuated in Elon Musk’s late October launch of Tesla’s new roofing product which will aim to bring solar further into the mainstream by removing any sort of visual setbacks homeowners may fear. 

I think there’s quite a radical difference between having solar panels on your roof that actually make your house look better versus ones that do not, I think it’s going to be a night-and-day difference,” said Musk in a statement before the product’s official launch. Two months later he unveiled the solar roof, using a crowded, suburban event in California to demonstrate that his panel design is so seamlessly integrated that an entire audience of press needed to be told the house they were looking at even had solar installed. 


Tesla solar glass tile and roofing product materials

Much of what we had expected for the roof product is what we got on October 28 – the only surprise was the appearance and the use of a supposedly unbreakable glass material for the tiles. Now that Tesla and SolarCity have merged, Tesla is starting to leverage the new resources available to them.

Other than SolarCity’s massive installer workforce – which will be doing more building and less installing in the future – the asset most important to Musk’s solar glass roof will be Panasonic’s impressive panel efficiency and the durability of the tiles and shingles being made. Musk demonstrated in the launch the strength of his new roofing product, testing heavy weights on three common roofing shingles as well as his own. Sure enough, the Tesla roof was the only one that could withstand the weight and pressure. “It’s made of quartz,” explained Musk. “It has a quasi-infinite lifetime.” Tesla is now stating on its website that the roof tiles used in its solar roof installations have an “infinite warranty” because of the strength of the roof glass. 

This shingle and roof durability will be a huge selling point for homeowners who are looking for more value added than just the benefits of a clean energy roof type. In a sense, Tesla wants to make inroads into both the solar industry and roofing industry and offer competitive advantages in both. Solar panel warranties are often a huge selling point for homeowners who are concerned about the longtime production value and durability of their solar panel systems. Musk seems on a mission to put those concerns to bed and reach a broader audience than solar power ever could before. 

tesla solar glass roofing materials

The four roofing types unveiled at Tesla’s solar roof launch: Tuscan Glass Tile (left), Slate Glass Tile (middle left), Textured Glass Tile (middle right), Smooth Glass Tile (right)

The new roof will be offered in four model designs: Tuscan glass tile, slate glass tile, textured glass tile and smooth glass tile. This versatility and choice for homeowners will certainly change the consumer experience of “going solar.” Musk’s BIPV innovation can be described with two improvements that both are focused around choice:

  1. Going solar no longer requires any perceived drawback in the appearance of large panels on your roof – homeowners can make solar as a roof styling improvement if they so choose.
  2. Solar can now be fully integrated and customized to match the texture and appearance of your roof – it can now be thought of as an integration rather than an addition where a homeowner chooses what fits their aesthetic preference.

Solar roofs vs. solar panel shingles vs. solar glass

Though it might keep Musk up at night, Tesla will not be the first company to launch a solar roof product. Development of solar roof tiles and solar shingles (most famously by Dow) has been evolving for many years, and a number of companies have taken a stab at designing a versatile, subtle rooftop solar medium that could be considered a genuine roofing material rather than a module add-on.

According to New York installer Suntegra, three out of four homeowners would prefer an integrated solar system. The common types of BIPV to date are the following:

  • Semi-transparent solar glazing that can replace windows and skylights
  • Solar cell membranes that can be integrated into a roofing design (what Tesla has mirrored with solar roof glass)
  • Solar panel shingles: also referred to as solar tiles, solar roof shingles are a versatile photovoltaic product made with flexible thin film cells, placed above a roof’s dew point. Solar shingles were offered by Dow before the company went bankrupt in 2015.
  • Solar facades for sun-facing sides of buildings (typically only used for BAPV)

For Musk, the real innovation is the production of a solar system that truly is considered a roof model. While the four forms of BIPV (listed above) have been around for some time, the concept of a completely solar roof has not yet been successfully brought to market. What’s standing in Musk’s way? The real solar efficiency of these Tesla glass shingles and the price are two major factors that were only ambiguously addressed by Musk in the launch. 

elon musk presentation solar roof

Ultimately, the solar roof is a premium product made of quartz and is virtually unbreakable. Though nationwide estimates are still unclear, Tesla has said their roof will cost $21.85 per square foot. The simple context is that the roof will be very expensive compared to any common roof installation but could be competitive in terms of long term net benefit when the energy savings are factored in. (You can dig more into the economics in EnergySage’s comparison of the solar roof vs. standard panels.)

Another deciding factor for the roof product’s success is efficiency. Musk briefly touched on this in the product release when he mentioned that the glass material shielding the solar cell results in a very minimal efficiency drop for the photovoltaic shingle. But in an industry where a new record for PV efficiency is announced almost every month and the cost of solar is directly tied to how well a solar panel produces electricity, the real numbers on what this glass shingle can achieve will be crucial. Musk’s enthusiasm is contagious and he certainly has a history of audacious ventures grounded in revenue, but his entrepreneurial vision has its limits. The Tesla/SolarCity solar roof could succeed, but it will unequivocally shoulder great adversity. 

New BIPV, More Innovation, Same Musk

At the end of the day, solar roofs are not going to be a seamless product integration for Tesla. And yet, the concept certainly has the feel of the Tesla brand. Many had been questioning how Musk could possibly give solar panels the exquisite Tesla feel when they usually stick out, often contrasting with a roof’s design. The solar roof and the sleek glass roof tiles appear to be just the answer Musk was seeking for Tesla’s entrance into the solar industry.

Tesla and its esteemed chairman have a long way to go to affirm their status as a real player in both the solar PV and green roofing industries. How they will make this roof concept cost-competitive and how they will effectively absorb the financial turmoil of SolarCity are two big hurdles for the clean energy behemoth. But for now, Musk has done his job. The world’s interest is piqued and millions of homeowners are already anxiously anticipating Tesla Energy’s new solar product coming to market in 2017. For those solar shoppers who are wondering what a rooftop solar installation would cost them today, check out our Solar Calculator to get a free personalized estimate.


22 thoughts on “Tesla’s Solar Panel Roof: Solar Glass Tiles are New Solar Shingles

  1. William

    The same type of panels used in solar roadways and parking lots could be used on solar roofs. They would withstand walking on them. Lower maintenance costs. Give this some thought.

  2. CWP

    I am in the process of building a house. It is impossible to get reliable, specific basic information about solar installations online. All I see is the usual evangelism, without even any attempt at being specific about costs and production. If this is the way your “industry” makes its sales, you have long, long, long way to go.

  3. Leslie Baker

    A design professional, by trade, this product is exciting. I just flew back from Denver where I assisted clients in their selection of a new roof required as the result of a massive hail storm. Will this glass product hold up to that beating? Not being able to walk on it also precludes any environment with trees. I see this as an upcoming trend for new construction. As for remodels, my guess is the Home Owners Associations won’t let homeowners install it. The look would be too much of a departure from the surrounding homes.

  4. Joshua

    The author states that there is no pricing information, but will only be accessible to the top 1-5%.

    Elon’s vision isn’t to cater to the top 5%, it is to revolutionize solar with a product that replaces standard roofs with something better. He repeats that the cost will be that of a standard roof plus the cost of power for a year. But I’m afraid there are some hidden costs that do limit the demographic.

    A high quote for a standard roof on my house is about $10,000. +$2,000 elec/1yr brings us to $12k.

    The real issue is that PowerWalls are very expensive. Teslas calculator recommends 3 powerwalls to fully power my 5 bedroom home which is nearly 18k. I would do two and depend on grid backup for $12,000.

    That brings total cost before installation to $24,000 for solar vs $10,000 installed for conventional.

    The savings for me would be $2,000/yr in electric plus what? Save the world?

    He’s in the process of working economies of scale on the battery sector and I could honestly see the total system cost dropping significantly in the next five years.

    1. sebastien

      Bravo Tesla! This is a great perspective. Solar energy is one of the natural resource that we should take care more right now. It is sure that solar glass tiles will find customers around the world. I will be one of them and contribute to the collective effort to reduce fossil energy. One step at the time for a better legacy to humanity!

    2. Jeff

      I have always viewed the argument for solar as similar to “do I rent or buy a home”. The rule for a while has been a 10 year or so payoff time with solar panels. Even if you do not achieve a 100 percent replacement it still reduces consumption of energy use which is a step and progress in the right direction.

    3. Chris Bungart

      I’m hoping the same thing will happen to battery development that happened earlier to cpu speed evolution – doubling every 18 months. It is a nice thought anyway.

    4. AndrewK

      The “quasi-infinite” lifetime of the product also means it’s probably better compared to tile or metal roofing than asphalt shingles. Metal roofs tend to go for a little less than twice what you would pay for a conventional asphalt roof – so a $10k roof becomes closer to $20k, which would be in the range of the the installed cost for the entire system of $24k you have above.

    5. Jacob Cooper

      in 20 years it would be 40k, this is what you ned to think of with solar integration the long haul overtime price.

  5. Joseph Constantino

    I think Tesla is on the right track, but I have solar city panels on my roof now because I had a pool put in about 3 years ago and my electric bill was running about 2-3 hundred dollars a month because I had to run my pool filter 6-8hours a day, but I am currently leasing my solar from solar city for the next 20 years because I thought it was too much to purchase it out right($45,000). I just didn’t have that kind of extra cash. I just spent about $48,000 on my pool and landscaping and I ‘m still not done. My point is I would like to buy a Tesla, but I agree with the comment above in regards to your solar roof tile being accessible to the top 1-5% of the populous. People talk about global warming and reducing the carbon foot print, but it comes with a price. I work in the operating room and listened to a conversation between a surgeon and a physicians assistant talk about his tesla SUV and solar panels and how much he paid for his Tesla. I was shocked to hear him say that he paid a whopping $160,000 plus for his vehicle. I can’t afford that. Period. I drive a honda civic to and from work. Would I like the Tesla? Absolutely, but not for that price. I would love to try one out just for the sake of saying that for a time I drove a Tesla. I don’t know if I will ever be able to afford one, but I guess I will have to continue to contribute to the carbon foot print like everyone else who doesn’t own a Tesla.

  6. Penn Martin

    As a solar design professional with over 8 years of experience, an engineering background and over 340 installations in California, I am skeptical not only of Tesla’s rescue (not buyout) of Solar City, but also their new BIPV product offering.

    Solar City is seeing the inevitable decline of their leasing/PPA business model as consumers become more savvy to the higher expense of it. The solar financing market is transitioning toward more traditional financing methods as banks are warming up to solar as a secure collateralized investment for homeowners and business. Solar City has recently unsuccessfully courted offers from six other potential buyers, who all took a pass before Elon Musk, who owns 22% of Sthe company, stepped in to bail them out. This proposed acquisition has created a bit of an uproar among Tesla shareholders.

    If Tesla’s BIPV solar tiles are anything like the Tesla Powerwall battery storage solution debacle, then the marketing and hype are WAY out ahead of the engineering.

    The following issues haven’t been addressed yet wtih Tesla’s BIPV product:

    1. BAPV solar arrays shade the roof, creating a typical 40 to 45 degree temperature differential between the unshaded roof and the adjacent area under the array on a 95 degree summer day. BIPV does not offer this passive solar benefit because the solar tiles are the roof.

    2. So far most BIPV solutions have been amorphous rather than crystalline silicon, which is inherently less efficient and less durable, typically with a 20 year rather than a 25 year warranty life. It remains to be seen what the tesla BIPV cell material will be.

    3. BIPV is an installation and service nightmare thus far. The wiring is problematic to install and if something goes wrong with a solar tile, now you’re tearing off part of your roof.

    4. BIPV tiles are hotter than a BAPV array mounted 4 to 6 inches off the roof. Solar cells inherently operate more efficiently when cooler, so because of the temperature, BIPV will by default, operate less efficiently than BAPV. This mean you need more surface area and more solar to get the same power output.

    As mentioned in the article, who knows what this will cost?

    Also, if Solar City crews are going to be installing this, I’d be extremely wary. I have interviewed several Solar City employees and know the quality of their workmanship well. Speed and low cost installations over quality have been the driving factor for their operational protocol. These are not the people I would want ripping off and re-installing my roof.

    1. Doug uhren

      Good comments. But no one has discussed that only part of the roof is actually facing the southern direction so panels on the other roof slopes would be wasted money. I have a large ground installation and I can chart the power input based on solar angle.

    2. B. Pearson


      Good explanation re these new Tesla roof tiles. Warranty issues and longevity of this new product is questionable focused as well to ROE, etc. Truss weight stresses are to be considered too. Also, have been reading small articles on new Mini Wind Turbines of recent designs are moving forward. We’ll see.


  7. Robert

    New homes should be required to have solar or wind. Why states don’t adopt it is beyond me. They already have building codes for flooding, earthquakes and wind. Why not energy?

    1. Edna

      It’s a Free country! We don’t need to be regulated into doing something before the Free market gets the pricing right! Then housing will be too high for the poor and middle classes, and you will get shanty towns.

    1. Sara Matasci

      Tesla/SolarCity has stated that the roof panels will be manufactured at their new factory in Buffalo, NY. (See Fortune.com for more on that.

      Content @ EnergySage

  8. Arkadii Boiko

    Excellent material
    As a real estate agent and the landlord confirms the main idea of the article.
    Three out of four homeowners acquire a solar roof.
    Thank you

  9. Rachel Girshick

    I am an Elon Musk fan, eagerly awaitting my Tesla 3. Although the base price is $35k, I am asssuming @ a +30% price increase by delivery. I will rejoice in no longer funding the fossil fuel industry to drive my car. My home will need a new roof soon. We are already reaping thebenefits & the satsifacion of PV panels virtually eliminating our electric bill, so I am VERY interested in Tesla’s new roofing PV system, and just as the cost of the original Tesla S was for the +5%, the Tesla 3 is in the range of the Common Man. I believe Musk will succed in making this venture affordable to the masses. He is bringing is a small, but significant window of hope, for the health of the planet, in these desperate times. Thanx Elon!

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