First Look: The Tesla Solar Roof

Tesla’s solar roofing products will bring new energy options to homeowners.

“It’s looking quite promising that a solar roof will actually cost less than a normal roof before you even take the value of electricity into account,” said CEO Elon Musk at the roll-out of Tesla’s new solar roof last November.

Musk tesla roof tile

“So the basic proposition would be, ‘Would you like a roof that looks better than a normal roof, lasts twice as long, costs less, and by the way generates electricity?’ It’s like, why would you get anything else?”

Tesla’s solar roofing products are certainly not the only building integrated solar products on the market.  The first thin-film solar shingles entered the market in 2005, but have never garnered the large-scale adoption that manufacturers had hoped for. The reason for the limited success is simple: cost. The installed cost of solar shingles has not been competitive with solar panels, and they have remained a boutique product within the limited market of high-end homes.

tesla solar shinglesMusk’s introduction of the new Tesla product looks like the first major step forward in solar roofing since it’s introduction. Tesla’s products are not just shingles. They mimic the look of a slate or tile roof, and all eye-witness reports agree that they are attractive and indistinguishable from other high-end roofing products.

Specific details of the Tesla solar roof are yet to be revealed to the public, but experts are speculating that the solar tiles will be delivered to the home in pre-assembled sections, eliminating the need to make all of those individual electrical connections on the roof. Because of fire code, a three-foot strip around the edges of the roof would need to be non-solar “dummy” tiles. North-facing roof sections could also be non-solar tiles to reduce project cost and increase efficiency.

So what about the cost?

The biggest question in everyone’s mind is, how accurate is Musk’s statement about the cost of the product? Could it really be cost-competitive with a conventional roof? Green Tech Media’s Barry Cinnamon did his best to guesstimate what the breakdown would be on the Tesla roof. He expects to still see a longer payback on the Tesla product when compared to panels;

  • Regular solar system, simple payback of 6.5 years
  • Tesla retrofit, simple payback of 11 years
  • Tesla new production home, simple payback of 8.2 years
  • Tesla custom home construction, simple payback of 11 years

Cinnamon does not, however, speculate on the life-span of the roofing slate itself, and how it might compare to conventional roofing materials. Musk claims that they will last “twice as long.” There are also still question marks as to how labor costs might compare when it comes to installation of the product. If the Tesla product is engineered in a way that seriously brings down labor costs, it could make a serious difference in those payback with tesla roof

Even if the Tesla product hits the market with an eleven year payback, it’s still pretty impressive. If sales of Tesla electric cars are any indication, there will be no problem attracting early adopters to buy the Tesla solar roof. Elon Musk continues to put out game-changing products, and we can expect to see other solar roofing manufacturers upping their game to compete with Tesla in the years to come.

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