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.
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 Energy’s future.
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 pegs 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.
How did Tesla get their Solar Roof to where it is now? The complete production timeline
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 solar shingle product at their Buffalo Gigafactory. Then in mid-March, they completed some of the first initial installations for customers at the top of their waitlist 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 solar roof on their respective properties already. While the company stated that they have begun installations for their waitlist, it was 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 said there is more time to take to make sure all of the details and production estimates for the tiles are spot-on. “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, the statement lacked commitment, let alone a clear timeline.
According to a Bloomberg report at the end of 2018, work at their Buffalo Gigafactory accelerated with the implementation of 24/7 operating hours and about 80 employees per shift working solely on Solar Roof shingles. The company was working through about 11,000 orders for the Solar Roof that it had received up through May 2018. While not perfect news, those solar shoppers looking to finally install a solar roof could see a small light at the end of the tunnel. Tesla still hasn’t given any specific production numbers, but several reports say that they had worked out major manufacturing hiccups. 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 in summer 2019. According to an Electrek report, a full installation of the Tesla Solar Roof takes about 2 weeks.
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, saying customers can expect to pay around $21.85 per square foot for their solar roof. To compare the cost of the solar roof to a traditional solar system, check out our price comparison of Tesla’s solar roof vs. traditional panels.
Elon Musk announced Tesla’s work on the 3rd version of the Solar Roof in late-2018, and he spoke to progress on the product at a shareholder’s meeting, saying the company has approached finalizing the new version. “I am very excited about version 3 of solar roof,” he added. “We have a shot at being equal to a comp shingle roof plus someone’s utility cost or being lower than that. That’s one of the cheapest roofs available. So you can have a great roof with better economics than a normal fairly cheap roof and your utility bill.”
At the launch event for the Tesla Model Y, Musk declared 2019 as the “year of the Solar Roof.” He blamed previous Solar Roof delays on the challenges that came with manufacturing the Model 3 sedan, as the company had to divert almost all of their resources to car production. At the same event, Musk said that his team can “finally allocate engineering attention” to solar-related projects.
At the Autonomy Investor Day in April 2019, Elon Musk said that “We’re now on version three of the solar tile roof, and we expect to spool up production of the solar tile roof significantly later this year.” This could have been taken to mean that the Telsa Solar Roof was finally getting close to a full rollout, but given Tesla’s history of production difficulty with the product, we expected more delays incoming as they work to perfect their roof tiles.
Simply put, Musk seemed to be saying that the new version of the Tesla Solar Roof could be cost-competitive with traditional tile roofing. However, a report by Electrek released during the same week that cited an actual Solar Roof quote suggested otherwise, and noted that this particular customer paid $35/square foot of solar tiles, far above the promised $21.85/square foot by Tesla itself.
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.
Colored tiles for the Tesla Solar Roof?
A potentially exciting new wrinkle in the solar roof landscape is the prospect of uniquely colored solar roof tiles. Tesla filed a patent that was published November 2018 titled “Uniformly and Directionally Colored Photovoltaic Modules” that may allow solar roof shingles to be colored to match customer’s roofs without compromising solar efficiency. There’s no saying how (or even if) this patent will impact solar roof production, but it’s an interesting development as Tesla continues their crusade in making the solar roof product as aesthetically perfect as possible, while still delivering on power production.
Cost and economics of the Tesla Solar Roof
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 notably 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 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 EnergySage’s 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?
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.