A beautiful new roof is entering the market soon and it’s made of solar shingles! At a Tesla event in October last year, Elon Musk unveiled the prototypes for a solar roof, built in partnership with SolarCity. The glass tiles will be available in four designs, each replicating a standard style: Textured, Slate, Tuscan and Smooth Glass.
These solar tiles will feature tempered glass made by Tesla, a new solar film from 3M specifically designed for this project, as well as solar power technology jointly developed by Tesla, SolarCity and Panasonic. From most viewing angles, these solar tiles resemble ordinary shingles, but the design actually allows light to pass through to a standard flat solar cell at the bottom. The tiny louvers in the film are responsible for making the tile appear to be the color of slate or an earth tone when viewed from the ground. Pretty cool right? This is unique to solar tile offerings that we are aware of. It is exciting to see how far solar technology has come over the years.
Elon Musk claims that they have the best solar cell at the lowest price, but there hasn’t been much information about what the price and efficiency levels of the solar tiles are going to be. SolarCity CTO Peter Rive spoke about the company’s goals in a recent interview with Fortune. He said that the company thinks it can get to a solar cell cost of 40 cents per watt over time at large scale, which is competitive with current commodity solar panels. With any product, as long as there is a high demand for it, economies of scale can be achieved and the production cost will eventually drop.
A quote from Bloomberg New Energy Finance solar analyst Hugh Bromley describes it best:
“It is the metaphoric ‘super-car’ of residential solar. It portrays cutting-edge technology with broad appeal, but … it competes in a solar market where most customers are comfortable in a family sedan.”
We have worked with building integrated (BIPV) solar tiles in the past and have found wire management and the electrical installation to be time consuming. Concealing and building the electrical interconnections underneath the tiles (with locking connections as required) will be a challenge. We are very interested to see how Tesla works through these challenges to provide a safe, simple and cost effective product.
So here’s our overall opinion on the Tesla solar tiles:
- It is an undeniably beautiful product – the most stunning BIPV solar shingle product we have seen!
- There is a market for the Tesla solar tiles but we feel it will likely be more expensive and thus limited to higher end or luxury homes.
- In communities where there are architectural constraints, it could allow for solar where otherwise not possible.
- It would possibly be a more durable roof with a longer warranty than a traditional asphalt shingle roof.
We really know very little about it including:
- Price – We believe the Tesla solar tiles are very likely to have a premium over asphalt roof plus traditional solar modules
- Electrical interconnection – Safely concealing the interconnecting electrical conductors will be a difficult design challenge for Tesla
- Building integrated solar technology has lower energy production as there is no or limited airflow beneath the modules/tiles. Solar photovoltaics produce more power when they are cold, less when they are hot.
- As the solar tiles are overlaid like regular roof tiles, it may be challenging to maintain or replace a single tile if there is an issue (again depending on the specifics of the mechanical attachment to the roof and electrical interconnection between tiles). Typically, with other solar tile products in the market, all of the tiles in that section will need to be removed in order to replace a single tile.
Only time will tell if this product is able to meet the high expectations. The final product will most likely be available for purchase in 2019 in Canada. We are keeping a close eye on it and hope to know more this summer. We look forward to installing some Tesla solar tiles in the future and remain hopeful that the product will be accessible to all consumers at an affordable price.