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 Roof – is on everyone’s mind.
- While the Solar Roof is a potentially revolutionary product, it hasn’t yet become a mainstream option for solar (and it might never get there)
- The Tesla Solar Roof costs more than traditional solar panels, all said and done
- Solar Roofs are being installed – but slowly. As more show up, we’ll know more about the product and its capabilities.
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 Roof 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’s future.
There’s a lot in here, and we’ll try to speak to every aspect of the Solar Roof. Skip ahead to any of the sections below:
- Latest news on the Solar Roof
- What the Solar Roof is made of
- Cost estimates
- Should you wait for the Tesla Solar Roof?
- Tesla’s rivals
The Tesla Solar Roof: what you need to know
The Tesla Solar Roof is a building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) product that takes the functionality of solar panels and integrates it into roof shingles. A home with Tesla roof shingles installed would have both a protective and complete roof and the capacity to generate solar energy, but without installing solar panels as well. Solar shingles like Tesla’s product alleviate the common concern about aesthetics held by property owners. By installing the solar roof, you don’t have to install solar panels to generate electricity, which some property owners find visually unappealing. The cost of a Tesla solar tile installation remains largely unknown, but one thing is for sure: there will be a price premium over traditional solar panels for a roof made of solar shingles.
Many solar industry 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 company aims to bring solar further into the mainstream by removing any sort of aesthetic concerns that homeowners may have.
“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.
What’s the latest news on the Tesla Solar Roof tiles?
At the end of October, Elon Musk announced the official launch of the Tesla Solar Roof V3. Among the several updates, version three of the product has larger tiles, lower production costs, increased power density, and easier installation. Additionally, the total number of parts in the product has been reduced.
New price estimates for the Solar Roof come in at $33,950, a number that includes a new roof and all estimated solar incentives you would claim upon installation. The Tesla website puts the Solar Roof at $1.99 per watt (W), a number far below the national average cost of solar panels ($2.99/W). It will be interesting to see how prices end up looking in real quotes if and when the Solar Roof actually ends up rolling out in large numbers soon.
And for those who want more: a complete timeline Tesla Solar Roof news and announcements
Tesla began taking orders for their Tesla solar tiles as of May 2017. The pre-order requires a $1,000 deposit that can be paid online with a credit card. Timeline information offered on Tesla’s website suggested that installations would begin in June on the west coast starting in California. In January 2018, the company announced they were ramping up production of the roof product at their Buffalo Gigafactory. They then started initial installations with customers at the top of their waitlist in the California area in mid-March, roughly eight months after their initial estimate.
Elon Musk revealed in August 2017 that he and another Tesla executive already have the roof installed on their respective properties. While the company has begun installations for their waitlist, it’s unclear when Tesla will be installing the roof at a national, mass-market scale. As of August 2018, only 12 solar roofs had been installed in California, the leading state in the country for solar. Tesla had blamed the slow rollout of the solar roof on production delays at its Buffalo Gigafactory. Some estimates suggested large-scale installation wouldn’t start until late-2018 or early 2019.
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 are right. “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. This kind of statement lacks commitment, let alone a clear timeline.
Tesla also revealed a standard solar panel product that it began producing in 2017 in addition to its solar roof – a black Panasonic solar panel without a mounting apparatus. Tesla 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 the related analysis done by Consumer Reports.
According to a Bloomberg report, work Tesla’s Buffalo Gigafactory was on the rise due to the implementation of 24/7 operating hours and around 80 employees per shift working on Solar Roof shingle production. The company was working through around 11,000 orders for the Solar Roof that have been taken through May 2018. Solar shoppers looking to finally install a Tesla Solar Roof could see light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel may still be long. Tesla hadn’t said any specific production numbers, but several reports say that Tesla worked out manufacturing kinks that previously hindered solar roof production on a large scale. The company’s SVP of Energy Operations, Sanjay Shah, said Tesla is gearing up for the Solar Roof side of their business to see “tremendous growth in 2019”. Musk himself tweeted that the first solar roof deployments will begin around summer 2019.
The new solar roof will be offered in four designs: Tuscan glass tile, slate glass tile, textured glass tile, and smooth glass tile. 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.
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.
Before launch, 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.
How much does the Tesla Solar Roof cost?
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 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 complete 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. In other words, for a home needing 2,000 square feet of roofing, the total cost for a Tesla Solar Roof might come out to be a little less than $44,000. 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 these economics in our comparison of the cost of the solar roof vs. standard panels.
As far as real-world examples of the cost of the roof, there aren’t many. However, one customer in Northern California who had a Solar Roof installed gave some details and insights into the price of installation. According to this customer, the entire installation ended up costing $100,000, which included a complete roof replacement for his 1,000 square foot roof and three Tesla Powerwall 2 batteries. The Solar Roof and roof replacement alone came to around $70,000. The system produces up to 10 kilowatts (kW) of power in the abundant sun of Northern CA and keeps the lights on at the customer’s home without any need for the electrical grid 80% of the time.
A second real-world example ended up costing $35 per square foot, far above the promised price by Tesla Energy. Unfortunately, Solar Roof installations seem to have many complicating factors (such as obstructions and unique roof designs) that can inflate the price for the product far above the sticker price announced by Tesla.
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? It depends on your priorities.
Standard solar panel technologies are typically evaluated based on their performance, durability, and warranties. However, there are relatively few technical details available for Tesla’s solar roof shingles. Tesla has not revealed how efficiently the panels will generate power, what kind of warranty the company will offer, or how they will be installed.
The company has also claimed that their tiles are significantly stronger than a traditional roof tile, and even shared video footage during the launch to demonstrate their durability. That being said, Tesla hasn’t provided any information about durability or stress tests – standard information that is publicly available from most solar panel manufacturers.
One thing is for certain: Tesla solar roof shingles look great. The shingles, which are made of glass, come in four different patterns that have the look of a standard roof, with one key difference – they generate electricity for your home. The solar cell embedded in Tesla roof tiles isn’t visible from the street, unlike a traditional solar panel.
Not every home is a good candidate for the Tesla solar tile roof
Price is a serious consideration if you’re deciding whether to wait for the Tesla solar roof. However, an equally important factor to keep in mind is whether your home is a good candidate for solar roof tiles.
Most existing solar shingle technologies are also known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) because they are integrated with your existing roof, and are a similar size and shape to standard roof tiles. Tesla has created something different.
In August 2016, Musk first explained the difference between solar shingles and Tesla’s solar roof: “It’s not a thing on the roof. It is the roof.” Unlike other solar shingles, Tesla’s roof tiles are designed to completely replace your existing roof. As a result, the most cost-effective way to install them is when your home is being built, which means that they are best suited for homebuyers who have a say in the design and materials of their newly constructed home.
While this doesn’t mean that they can’t be used on existing homes, retrofitting your roof with Tesla solar tiles will come at an additional expense, because you’ll need to pay contractors to remove your old roof first. As a result, retrofitting your roof with Tesla solar tiles is only practical when your roof is already due to be replaced.
Who are Tesla’s solar roof rivals?
Though the buzz around Tesla’s illustrious roof product has made it appear like its a new concept, it is merely the continued repackaging brilliance that some call the “Musk effect”. Just as Tesla motors did not invent the electric car or the lithium-ion battery, the concept of integrated solar roof tiles is nothing new – Tesla has just brought it to the world’s attention thanks to the company’s mastery of product design. Here are some of the former competitors and now rivals of Tesla’s solar roof:
- Dow Powerhouse – this solar manufacturer was one of the first to ever offer an integrated solar roof product. In May 2018, RGS Energy bought the exclusive rights to manufacture Powerhouse 3.0 shingles.
- Suntegra – this Northeast solar manufacturer is at the forefront of the solar roof product line. The company hails from New York and began offering its two solar roof products just a few months before the announcement of Tesla’s shingles
- CertainTeed – originally a roofing company, this contractor now offers solar shingle installation as well. This product cannot compete with Tesla in terms of aesthetics or subtlety and should not be considered a true “solar roof” but the thin apparatus offers quasi-integration nonetheless.
Learn how much solar can save you today before you make your decision
Just as Tesla Motors doesn’t make electric vehicles for the masses, Tesla Energy isn’t developing a solar roof that belongs on every home. In many ways, the company’s solar roof product is similar to its first electric car. If you are an early adopter of new technologies, don’t care about price, and are prepared to wait for a product with an uncertain manufacturing timeline, then waiting for Tesla solar roof tiles could be the right decision for your home.
However, there are always risks associated with installing a brand-new, untested technology. Unlike Tesla’s solar roof tiles, many of the premium solar panels currently available on the market today are produced by well-known consumer electronics manufacturers (such as Panasonic and LG) that have been producing solar panels for a decade or more.
Additionally, waiting to go solar has its risks, even if you’re interested in a brand-new technology. The cost of going solar is falling every year, and there are premium solar panels already available today that come with high-efficiency ratings and a sleek black design. If you wait years for the Tesla solar roof, you will lose out on years of savings on your electricity bill. You also run the risk of missing out on financial incentives for solar – many state tax credits have already expired, and the federal investment tax credit for solar will be lowered to 22 percent in 2023.
Before you make the decision to wait for the Tesla Solar Roof, use our solar calculator to learn how much you can save today by going solar. If you’re ready to explore the solar options for your home, join the EnergySage Solar Marketplace and get custom quotes from solar installers in your area. You might be surprised by just how much you can save now by installing traditional solar panels on your roof today.