Elon Musk unveiled prototypes of tesla ’s solar roof tiles in October 2016. They came in four styles that looked just like reveals roofing material but were essentially miniaturized versions of traditional solar panels.
The roof tile reveals helped Tesla justify a 2.6 billion dollar acquisition of SolarCity and represented Musk’s vision for what businesses could do together. It’s been almost two years since then, so where are the tiles?
“We now have several hundred homes with the Solar Roof on them, and that’s going well. It takes a while to just confirm that the Solar Roof is going to last for 30 years and all the details work out,” said Elon Musk.
As in May this year, Reuters reported there are actually only 12 tiled roofs connected to the grid all in Northern California.
Tesla declined to give an updated figure but later clarified that hundreds of homes refer to roofs that are scheduled for install or are only partially installed.
Tesla has been accepting a $1000 deposits for the Roof Tiles since May 2017, but at that point, the company wasn’t even close to mass producing them.
It established a factory in Buffalo New York to make the tiles but it is not running at full capacity yet.
In one of the company’s most recent annual shareholder meetings, Musk blamed ongoing delays on the need for more testing.
“There is only so much accelerated live testing that you can do on a roof, so before we can deploy it to a large number of houses we need to make sure that all elements of the roof are going to last for at least 3 decades. Ideally for half a century or more,” Musk at the June 5, 2018, Annual Shareholder Meeting.
Solar Tiles like large solar panels use silicon solar cells to convert sunlight into electricity but it turns out this tech is difficult to shrink and to manufacture.
“It’s like saying the early iphone screens which were real breakthroughs were just smaller versions of the flat screens on your wall. Making things small, actually changes the way the technology will work, and that has been a big challenge for Tesla, but certainly for the entire industry as well,” said Andrew Beebe, Obvious Ventures Managing Director.
“To try and miniaturize the product in a way that keeps it cost effective and also giving it the very reliable performance that solar is known for,” Mr. Beebe added.
One of the customers with the tiles already installed is San Jose resident and Tesla Model 3 owner Tri Huynh. He pre-ordered as soon as possible and the roof is installed earlier this year.
“I was extremely surprised when I got the call because you never know with this stuff. I thought there would be extreme delays but I didn’t know how long it’ll take,” said Tri Huynh, Tesla Customer and San Jose resident
in an interview with CNBC
While traditional solar panels can be installed in a day, it took a team of ten to fifteen workers two weeks to install this roof.
When asked the why his home was chosen:
“They said it was kind of at proximity to headquarters and they could do quick troubleshooting. I think the simplicity of the house helps, you can see my house has a very simple roof layout, I think that goes into account as well,” answered Tri Huynh
Tesla’s customers are paying a premium for the tile’s sleek look. Huynh’s roof cost him about a US $100,000; though he did need to replace his roof anyway.
For people that don’t need any roof but want to install solar, traditional panels are definitely cheaper.
“People have often asked me: do we need to find some new type of technology to make solar work? I think the answer is no! The solar industry has won in America. We have made solar cost-effective in most of the country,” adds Andrew Beebe.
Huynh is excited to be an early adaptor and see his energy bill decrease.
“Traditionally in the summer my power bill is around US $400 – $450. My last bill was only US $40,” adds Huynh.
Ultimately Tesla goal is to make the tiles a cost-effective option partly be ensuring there are more durable than other rooftops. Tesla is promising 30 years of solar power generation.
“I would expect that these Solar Roofing Tiles to be reasonably priced in just a few years if they can get the market interested,” said Dan Kammen, PhD, Professor of Energy at UC Berkeley.
Experts anticipate a wave of new solar installations within the next three to five years.
“Not just for homes. For businesses, for mini-malls, all kinds of built infrastructure where we can make solar the “go-to” product. It’s no longer a roofing shingle anymore, its a power plant on your roof,” adds Kammen.
Tesla says solar roof installation will scale up later this year and into 2019.
“Its highly likely that great engineers and incredible technologists, and a lot of these people might be at Tesla; are going to be able to take on this very difficult challenge and engineer the heck out of it to get us to that cost parity. We are not there yet,” says Andrew Beebe.