ELON MUSK last week launched Tesla’s latest version of its solar glass roof, claiming version three will be cheaper, more efficient, faster to install and more robust.
Setting out his vision, Musk said, “I think the future we all want, is to look around at a neighbourhood and see the roofs all gathering energy and doing something useful. The intention behind the solar glass roof is to make the roof come alive. I think in the future it will be odd for roofs to be dormant or dead and not gather energy.”
Tesla’s first solar roof was launched in 2016. Rather like Tesla’s cars, the solar roof appealed to those with deep pockets and lots of patience.
Now, Tesla says, Version 3 of the solar roof has improved on its cost, installation, and manufacture.
The company has increased the size of the solar glass roof tiles and therefore its power density, reducing the number of parts and self-assemblies by half, and changed some materials and technology in the production of the solar cells.
Elon Musk said, “We take some knock down, around 10%, in cell efficiency to achieve aesthetics, but we can put far more cells on the roof – so the total power generated is significantly improved over a conventional solar roof. We are not married to a particular solar technology, so as it improves, we can incorporate that.”
Tesla solar roof finances
However, as the company admits, Tesla’s Solar Roof Version 3 is not going to make financial sense for anyone with a relatively new roof that has more than about 10 years life left in it.
“We have achieved with V3 a price point that is less than the average cost of a new roof, plus retrofitting solar panels. If you need a new roof and are considering adding solar panels versus the integrated solar glass roof – the solar glass roof will generally cost less, around 80% of the time.”
Most of the cost savings in version 3 seem to have come from measures designed to cut installation time. In what the firm calls ‘edge conditions’ – the hips, ridges, verges and eaves – version 3 avoids the need to cut tiles (although it was not explained how), and the company says it’s introduced flashing kits for the eaves and gutters.
“The goal is to re-roof in eight hours. We want you [householders] to go to work and come back and there’s a new roof.”
Elon Musk explained how they plan to stage ‘installathons’, with two competing teams, to see which one can install the roof the most efficiently. They plan to use their own, employed roofers to install v3 initially, but said, “we’re going to get some of the best roofing teams externally to try it as well.”
The goal is to install 1,000 roofs per week, a target, they say, they should reach “in the next few weeks”.
“I don’t think we’ll have a demand problem,” said Elon, “the addressable market is something like 1000,000,000 roofs worldwide, 4 million a year in the USA. It’s quite a big market.”
Like other roofing manufacturers, Tesla plans to develop a certified installer scheme, saying “I think that will be a driver of demand and let us grow much faster than we would otherwise.”
Although Elon Must admitted Tesla doesn’t have any contractor partnerships yet, he confirmed that they are now formulating them, and will offer a 25-year warranty to customers, no matter who has installed the V3 roof.
The longevity of the Tesla solar roof has been “a difficult journey “, in particular the reliability of the photovoltaic cells. Musk said they’ve also found the accelerated life testing, conducted to prove the system is robust, “has not been easy”.
Delivery has been another issue the company hasn’t found easy in the past, with long lead-in times in versions 1 and 2. The business says that for solar roof orders it’s taking now, they expect to be able to “deliver within months” in 25 American states; although international delivery times were not mentioned.
“Version 3 is the first version we think can be ramped up at scale. V2 was too expensive, it was quite artisanal,” said Musk. “Waiting times might be a few months, but we’re going to grow exponentially. The factory in Buffalo is ramping up production”
Currently customers can only order the textured black glass roof, but it hopes to offer other variants in six months’ time. “It’s harder to achieve the look of a clay tile roof or of French slate. Not all roofs should look the same and that’s the next major challenge for the next 12 months,” Musk added.
In many respects, Tesla seems to be attempting to re-invent a roofing wheel that is already well-established by the roofing industry’s main players. Yet, the launch of Tesla’s solar roof version is not driven by a desire to manufacture roofing. For Elon Musk, the vision is for a sustainable energy future: generating electricity, storing it and consuming it, including with electronic transport. The solar roof is but a stage to achieving that vision: “They look beautiful, they’re very robust and resilient and powering the houses that they shelter – that’s the future we want to make happen,” says Musk.