All You Ever Wanted to Know about the Tesla Solar Roof and other Solar Shingle Roof Options
What if you could build a better mousetrap that looked cooler than any other mousetrap and also cost less than all other mousetraps at the same time? Who wouldn’t want that?
“I’ve never seen a solar roof that I would actually want.” – Elon Musk, 2016.
The mousetrap is a solar roof and the builder is Elon Musk. Yes, that Elon Musk of PayPal, and Tesla, and SolarCity, and private space travel fame.
Musk introduced his foray into consumer building materials in the Fall of 2016 by saying, “I’ve never seen a solar roof that I would actually want. Every one of them that I’ve seen is worse than a normal roof, without exception. Unless you’re going to beat a roof on aesthetics, why bother?”
Solar Glass Tiles Permeated with Integrated Solar Cells — The Better Mousetrap
“Check out this sweet roof,” Musk gushed as he unveiled not one, but four prototypes for his Tesla solar roof: Slate Glass Tile, Textured Glass Tile, Tuscan Glass Tile and Smooth Glass Tile. And they are indeed stunning.
The roof does look fantastic and since the glass is permeated with integrated solar cells the Tesla solar roof is indistinguishable from any other house with a high-end roof on the block.
Musk then ponied up $2.6 billion to acquire Buffalo, New York-based SolarCity to take the lead on manufacturing the tiles.
The glass, Tesla promised, will be even more durable than conventional roofing materials, safe to walk on and all the while churning out electricity that is whisked to a Powerwall 2 battery pack for storage to use at night and on cloudy days.
Since the tiles are fabricated using a water-based immersion process, no two tiles are ever alike (Musk calls them “snowflake tiles”) so your gorgeous solar roof will never look exactly like your neighbor’s gorgeous solar roof.
The Elephant on the Roof — How Much Will It Cost?
So how much is a Tesla solar roof going to cost? If you are the type of consumer who prefers to make decisions on an apple to apple comparison, evaluating the Tesla roof for your pocketbook will drive you batty. It is not just an apples to oranges comparison, it is more like apples to kiwis. 😉
In his opening salvo last autumn Musk asserted that the price of his solar roof was going to be comparable to a typical roof. He has recently amended that claim to clarify that the cost of solar tiles would be less than a traditional roof, PLUS projected utility bill savings, which would encompass at least two decades of monthly electric bills.
And my “typical roof” is different than your “typical roof” and probably Elon Musk’s “typical roof” as well. For the record, Musk’s roof uses French slate roofing tiles that run about $1,000-$1,500 per square (100 sq. ft. of materials), depending on your locale as opposed to $80-$100 for asphalt shingles (cost of materials only).
Some roofs using ceramic or concrete tiles can cost twice as much as billionaire Musk’s. 😉
For comparisons, let’s start with the installation. Installing a Tesla solar roof will likely be beyond the capabilities of your local roofer or electrician or solar installer. So there will be extra cost involved in buying that installation expertise.
The Tesla roof is not an add-on, but a roof so if you have a perfectly good roof already, it will need to be removed, jacking up the installation cost still further.
For that reason, the target customer will likely be a home owner with a roof that needs replacement or new construction. But, as Elon Musk points out, there are five million new roofs installed in the United States every year, so there should be plenty of customers to woo with the solar roof option. 😉
Next, you have to ask if your house is a candidate for solar power in the first place. If your house has limited areas of exposure to the sun, what is the point in buying expensive Tesla glass tiles just to have the coolest looking roof in the neighborhood? Maybe that is the point. But even then, it is still not known what angle and pitch limitations the Tesla solar roof will be subject to when available to the masses.
Enough Already, How Much Is This Thing Going to Cost?
Tesla is taking orders for its solar roof as of this April, but no one knows what it is going to cost. Industry observers have been engaging in a parlor game of estimating just that, using a potion of price points for existing products and current utility rates. Those estimates produce prices from $70,000 to $100,000 and up for a 3,000-square foot Tesla solar roof.
This compares to $12,000 to $21,500 for a similar sized asphalt roof.
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To make up those cost-savings, the Tesla solar tiles would need to save the home-owner over $55,000 in electric bills.
For anyone waiting for a Tesla roof, break out the solar calculator (tax credits, energy prices, installation costs, etc.). Obviously a comparison with more expensive roofing materials than asphalt would require less energy savings for the Tesla solar roof to measure up on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
But wait. Tesla has not yet announced how much wattage its solar roof can be expected to produce or what the life expectancy of the tiles will be or what the warranty will cover or how exactly they will be installed. So any price guesses are just that – guesses. All you have to go on as a potential roof buyer now is that a Tesla solar roof looks great, it will probably cost a lot of money to install and you may be ahead of your investment by the year 2050.
Where are We Now?
Tesla solar roofs were initially expected to be available in 2017. We are now in 2021 and thus far, there has only been a very limited number of Tesla solar tiles roofs installed. The price of the latest version of the Tesla solar tile roof has recently increased by over 50%.
Like the Tesla automobile, the Tesla solar roof does not appear intended to become a product for the masses, regardless of Musk’s belief that the roof will be the cheapest roofing alternative in the long run. American consumers are just not hard-wired to make future value calculations like that. 😉
Prediction: In all likelihood, the Tesla solar roofs will have the same buyers who hanker for Tesla automobiles — those early technology adopters who don’t worry about price tags but want to have the latest and greatest thing on the market.
The Old Mousetrap — Solar Shingle Roofs Before Elon Musk
Like electric cars and lithium ion batteries, Elon Musk did not invent solar roofs. He has not been the only person to look at clunky solar panel set-ups on roofs and dream of a better way forward.
By the way, for those who skipped history class during 19th century Inventors Week, Musk did not invent the Tesla name either. Nikola Tesla was equal parts electrical wizard and showman who pioneered alternating current and wireless communication. But that is a story for another time and place.
Solar Shingle Pioneers Prior to Tesla Solar Roof
Several companies have beaten Musk to the solar roof space. In the early 2010s, Dow Chemical trumpeted the arrival of its Powerhouse Shingles as “integrating flat on the roof, instead of popping up from the surface of the building.
The concept simplifies solar installation, too, by combining it with roof construction.” Dow’s green product was not really a building material for roofs, but flatter, less intrusive solar panels.
Dow solar shingles were also less efficient than traditional rooftop solar installations. That calculus doomed Powerhouse in the marketplace and taps were officially played for Dow on June 28, 2016.
CertainTeed, the biggest name company in the solar cell game, offers a low-profile Apollo II roof-top energy system that also integrates flat on top of the building. The shingles install directly into the existing roof sheathing with standard deck screws and produce an industry-best 60 watts per solar shingle, slicing electric bills in half or more.
Nonetheless, for lovers of Musk’s aesthetics these all-black monocrystalline silicon solar cells still look like something laid on your roof.
The SunSlates are larger than traditional slate tiles, but not as big as PV solar panels. Based on European-styled ideas, the solar panels are glued onto the over-sized slates to present a more seamless appearance — at least on the south side of the house on which they are installed.
SunTegra began life in 2013 on the Hudson River as Integrated Solar Technology and comes the closest to offering what Musk has proposed.
Founded by industry veteran Oliver Koehler, SunTegra offers solar solutions that include Solar Shingles and Solar Tile Roof Systems. These products integrate and replace existing roof materials.
While more attractive than solar panel racks, from the street a SunTegra roof will definitely make you think something is going on up there, unlike Musk’s solar roof. 😉
Did you know? A SunTegra solar roof tile is capable of producing 40% more power than the defunct Dow Powerhouse Shingles. The system is lighter than a conventional racked system and boasts a built-in ventilation system channeling air beneath the solar cells that is promised to keep the roof cooler than conventional shingles. SunTegra solar roofs are still viable and the company has signed on a former Dow executive as Director of Sales.
Those sorts of product features are lacking with Tesla solar roofs because nothing more is known beyond the existence of a glass shingle with a solar cell embedded in it. But, boy, those house models seen so far look great from the street. 😉
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