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: with Tesla’s highly anticipated solar roofing product, we’ve seen the future of PV roofing and the future of Tesla. One thing is certain: building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are going to be a big part of Tesla Motors – or should we say Tesla Energy’s – future.
What’s the latest news on the Tesla solar roof tiles? (updated October 2018)
Tesla started accepting deposits to reserve solar roof tiles in May 2017. In January 2018, the company announced that they are ramping up production of the roof product at their Buffalo Gigafactory. Then in mid-March, they completed some of the first initial installations for customers at the top of their wait list in the California area approximately six months after their initial estimate.
Elon Musk revealed in August 2017 that he and another Tesla executive have installed the roof on their respective properties already. While the company has stated that they have begun installations for their waitlist, it’s unclear when Tesla will be installing the roof at a national, mass-market scale. In August 2018, it was reported that only 12 solar roofs had been installed in California, the country’s leading solar market, by the end of May 2018. Tesla blamed the continued delays on an imperfect process at their Buffalo Gigafactory, and they planned to ramp up production toward the end of 2018.
September 2018 brought more news coverage, this time a report that we may not see solar roofs widely installed for a long time. According to CNBC, Musk has said there is more time to take to make sure all of the details and production estimates for the tiles. “There’s only so much accelerated life testing that you do on a roof. So before we can deploy it to a large number of houses we need to make sure that it’s that all elements of the roof are going to last for at least three decades,” said Musk in a summer 2018 meeting. Unfortunately, this kind of statement lacks much commitment, let alone a clear timeline. For the time being, don’t expect Tesla’s solar roof to be rolled out on a large scale in the near future.
To give prospective solar roof customers more information, Tesla launched a calculator that provides estimates for its solar roof tiles. The company has also released basic pricing information: customers can expect to pay around $21.85 per square foot for their solar roof. To compare the cost of the Tesla solar roof to a traditional solar system, check out our price comparison of Tesla’s solar roof vs. traditional panels.
The Tesla/SolarCity solar panel roof: what you need to know
Many stakeholders recognize that solar needs 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 emphasized in Elon Musk’s October 2016 launch of Tesla’s new roofing product. The cleantech company aims to bring solar further into the mainstream by removing any sort of visual setback that 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
Before the launch of Tesla’s solar roof product, we knew that the company was working on a solar shingle option. The real 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 the strength of his new roofing product by testing heavyweights on three common roof 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.
The new roof will be offered in four designs: Tuscan glass tile, slate glass tile, textured glass tile and smooth glass tile.
With these four different designs, Tesla can 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.
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.
For Musk, the real innovation is the production of a solar system that is a roof first. While building-integrated photovoltaics 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 price and the actual solar efficiency of these Tesla glass shingles are two major factors that were only ambiguously addressed by Musk in the launch.
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.
Should you wait for the Tesla solar roof?
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. Ultimately, the Tesla solar roof is a premium roof product with additional solar electricity-generating benefits. The best candidates for a Tesla solar roof (rather than standard rooftop solar panels) are homeowners who prioritize roof durability and aesthetics, rather than up-front cost or maximizing long-term electricity savings. (Read more in EnergySage’s articles, Should you wait for the Tesla solar roof? and Tesla solar roof cost vs. solar panels: worth the premium?)
Regardless of whether you’re considering the Tesla solar roof, you should also take a look at quotes for standard solar panel systems. Use the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to get competitive quotes from installers local to you, or give the EnergySage Solar Calculator a test drive to receive a free personalized estimate of your solar costs and savings. Compare your results against Tesla’s solar roof calculator to determine whether the sleek aesthetics are worth the wait.