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: 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? (updated August 2017)

Tesla started accepting deposits to reserve solar roof tiles in May 2017. The webpage for the Tesla solar roof initially suggested that installations would begin in June 2017 starting in California. However, 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 in August that he and another Tesla executive have installed the roof on their respective properties. However, it’s unclear when the roof product will be available nationwide, and this language is still present on the solar roof website in late November 2017. Some estimates suggest large-scale installation won’t start until mid-2018 or even later.

To give prospective solar roof customers more information, Tesla has launched a calculator that provides estimates for its solar roof. 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

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 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 heavy weights 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.

tesla solar glass roofing materials

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

elon musk presentation solar roof

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.


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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