After Tesla acquired SolarCity in 2016, the world watched to see what the tech giant and renewable energy steward would get up to next. Not long after that, Musk announced the development of the solar roof. It would consist of solar roof tiles and regular tiles that look nearly identical. Customers put in orders but then waited for 3 years.
Here’s what happened to Tesla Roof Tiles. Tesla discovered that the roof tiles they were developing did not have the lifespan that they had initially promised. The company had to redevelop their roof tile technology before they could begin to tackle mass production.
Mankind has come a long way in its use of solar energy. While Elon Musk and Tesla continue to do groundbreaking work, they also seem to have a habit of over-promising on the timeline of their product releases. Continue reading today for a discussion about the hangups Tesla has experienced with its solar roof tiles.
The Promise of Tesla Solar Roof Tiles
Tesla began manufacturing its solar roof Tiles in August of 2017. The initial rollout seemed to be more of a testing phase, as the solar roofs were to be installed primarily on employee roofs. 2018 was to bring Tesla solar roofs to commercial buildings and then, finally, regular customers were to be able to purchase these roofs.
Once Tesla accomplished the installation of roofs on a large scale within the United States, they fully intended to begin installations on a global scale. In early 2020, before the Covid-19 global health crisis, Elon Musk announced the global installations were scheduled for later that year.
Utilizing a cutting edge solar glass technology they named Solarglass, the Tesla solar roof boasted:
- Individual solar roof tiles
- Solar roof tiles in various styles
- Durability stronger than regular shingles
In addition to the creation of the Tesla Powerwall, a battery system intended to store excess energy produced by the solar roof Tiles, the future of residential solar power looked promising. Not only would someone be able to utilize the sun’s energy and reduce their carbon footprint and utility bill, they would also look great doing it.
Tesla promised not only the integrated roof tile design, but also a variety of roof tile textures and styles. Unfortunately, customers would soon learn that even though they paid for a spot in line, they were nowhere close to getting a new Tesla solar roof. Many were left with more questions than answers.
The Initial Rollout of Tesla Solar Roof Tiles Was Disappointing
In 2017, Tesla began offering pre-orders of solar roofs in 2017 for $1,000. In addition to promises of these roofs eventually paying for themselves through utility savings, the company promised that their solar roofs would generate solar power for at least 30 years and further offered a generous warranty.
Predictably, it is not hard to imagine that many customers jumped at the chance to reserve their spot on the list to have a new Tesla solar roof installed. Tesla seems to have the same effect on people as the announcement of the latest Iphone. There is a rush to sign up even before all of the details are known.
Installation for these roofs was supposed to begin shortly after the pre-order sales. Three years after its initial pre-sale, however, customers found their orders being canceled after having already endured a multi-year wait. Adding insult to injury, they received no real explanation regarding their canceled orders.
Here Is What Went Wrong With The Solar Roof Rollout
There was not just one single problem that resulted in the cancellation of customers’ solar roof pre-orders. In some ways, Tesla put the cart before the horse. In other ways, unforeseeable circumstances created monumental roadblocks. The combination of issues served to build the perfect storm.
Any one of the factors that served to delay Tesla’s solar roof installations could have accounted for the cancellation of the pre-orders, but with this particular product, there are a multitude of inconveniences to blame, including the following:
- Problems with the Buffalo Gigafactory
- Development problems
- Competing Tesla rollouts
- Training installation experts
Although Tesla ramped up for production and hired a large number of installation experts, the company ultimately found problems with the longevity of their roofs. It would have been bad business, not to mention illegal, to distribute a product that did not live up to what was promised.
Tesla Solar Roof Tiles Hung Up in Gigafactory
In addition to the difficulties Tesla encountered in the development phase of their solar roofs, there were also some issues tied to the plant where the company intended to build the photovoltaic shingles used in the manufacturing.
This factory, known as the Buffalo Gigafactory, has been in the news over the years.
The state of New York pledged $750 million to help Tesla build out its operations at the Buffalo Gigafactory in exchange for the company’s promise to spend $5 billion within the state over a 10 year period.
Although problems with the factory began before Tesla acquired SolarCity, the 1.2 million dollar factory was always intended to be a dedicated space for the fabrication of solar products. It has been plagued with problems for years, though. At one point the Buffalo Gigafactory even became the subject of federal inquiry.
The nature of the federal inquiry stemmed from misappropriated funds and although executives of the developers who won contracts to build the factory were arrested, neither SolarCity nor Tesla were implicated in the matter, it ultimately held up the initial construction of the project.
Buffalo Gigafactory Workers Had Complaints
In addition to the red tape difficulties associated with building a multi-million dollar, cutting edge tech factory, workers also noted problems. In early 2019, some former employees were interviewed and they described a work environment that lacked direction and working equipment.
The former employees noted that machinery and equipment that had been funded with taxpayer dollars was often malfunctioning and as a result, they were unable to meet quotas. Because workers were unable to see improvements even after raising concerns to management, morale was low and workers became increasingly less motivated.
Ultimately many of the workers were laid off as Tesla began a 7% reduction in its workforce globally. Although Tesla indicated that the delay in solar roof production is attributed to its development issues, the laid-off workers certainly felt that there was a lack of managerial direction and preparedness at the Buffalo Gigafactory.
Solar Roof Tiles Were Stalled During The Development Stage
The current iteration of the solar roof, also known as the Solarglass roof, is the third version. Elson Musk originally announced the solar roof in 2016, and some claim that it was really just an idea at the time, designed to incentivise Tesla’s company executives to purchase SolarCity. The general timeline of the versions is as follows:
- 2017 – 1st version
- 2018 to 2019 – 2nd version
- 2019 to 2020 – 3rd and current version
Regardless, as with many of Musk’s innovations, he spoke it into the universe and the more interest the idea drummed up, the more it became a reality. The first version of the solar roof was installed on only a few houses. It was very plainly in the development stage.
The second version of the roof, while operational, was so expensive that large scale production and installation of it could have actually lost Tesla money. The roof tiles were smaller and there were certain parts of the roof installation just simply took too long. In the second quarter of 2019, Tesla only installed 29 megawatts of solar power.
Version 3 is supposed to be the version that will take off. It has larger roof tiles and is made of the Solarglass. This roof requires fewer subparts in the assembly and so, overall, the cost time it takes to manufacture and install is cut down considerably.
The Competing Model 3 Tesla Car Rollout
During the first part of 2018, the solar roofs were not the only back log on Elon Musk’s plate. The highly anticipated Model 3 electric vehicle was supposed to be manufactured at a rate of 2,500 cars per week.
Unfortunately for Tesla, there were significant issues with the automated assembly line fabricating the Model 3 vehicles and a significant amount of the company’s energies were put into solving this car problem that coincided with the solar roof delays. Musk even claimed to be spending most of his time at the auto plant.
While the Model 3 rollout delay may not have had as direct of an impact on the solar roof delay as the other issues discussed, it certainly divided Musk’s attention. Perhaps if Tesla had not been experiencing the issues with its most anticipated electric vehicle, it could have put more energy into solving the solar roof hang ups.
Covid-19 Related Setbacks
It takes no stretch of the imagination to assume that the Covid-19 global health crisis further hindered Tesla in the production of its solar roofs. Elon Musk has been in the news a number of times regarding his views on California’s Covid-19 shutdown. The shutdowns have affected Tesla’s manufacturing capacity.
Due to mandates in multiple states, including at the Buffalo Gigafactory, manufacturing of the solar roof was temporarily shut down for Covid-19 related safety concerns. In addition to being unable to manufacture the solar roof tiles, the shut downs restricted the company’s ability to complete the installation of the roofs.
For example, the consultation and installation process requires experts to visit the homes of customers to prepare an appropriate design. Further, before the installation experts can put the actual solar roof on a house, Tesla must obtain local permits for the construction process. Many government offices were closed for non-essential work.
In 2019, Musk had indicated he planned for Tesla to produce 1,000 solar roofs by the end of 2020. Some question whether these numbers would be feasible even in normal times, but the Covid-19 pandemic ensured that the company would not meet these goals regardless.
Hiring Experts to Install Tesla Solar Roofs
Tesla is largely on the other side of its issues with the initial design and manufacture of its solar roofs. In addition, many of the Covid-19 shutdowns have relaxed even though there are restrictions still in place. At the very least, roofs are being made and installations can take place to some extent.
Because the bottleneck now lies with the installation process, Tesla has expressed it will focus on training and hiring installation experts. Although a huge attraction of the solar roof is that it looks more like a regular roof than a roof with bulky solar panels attached, installation experts are not the average roofer.
In order to meet installation targets, Tesla needs to train individuals to install not just a roof, but a roof made of glass shingles, many of which include the solar cells that make the solar roofs so unique. For the interested electrician or roofer, Tesla’s website currently indicates they are hiring roof installers in several states, including:
- New York
In addition to hiring their own installers, Tesla plans to outsource their roof installations to third parties. This will require a certification process and currently, there are not very many installers outside of Tesla itself. It will be interesting to see how this plan progresses as Tesla attempts to catch up on its back log.
The Status of Tesla Solar Roof Tiles Now
Assuming most of the kinks discussed earlier in this article are well on their way to resolution, if not already resolved, then the waiting process for a Tesla solar roof should be as it was always intended. That is to say, customers should not have to wait any longer than they would to simply move through the ordering process.
So what is the process for the ordering and installation of these touted Solarglas roofs?
If you visit the Tesla website and select their solar roof page, you will now be able to pre-order a solar roof for just $100.
Notably, the warranty has been scaled back and now lasts only 25 years. Tesla does boast, however, that their solar roofs still last longer than most roofs. Installation has been moving forward but it is important to note that the entire process is fairly complex. The steps in ordering and installing a Tesla solar roof is as follows:
- Place solar roof pre-order
- Consult on solar roof design
- Apply for local permits
- Install the roof
- Connect to the local utility
After you receive the go ahead to begin the planning and installation process, a team of experts comes to your house to design the roof. Customers report this step taking as long as 5 weeks. Although Tesla handles the permitting application on their end, the speed at which permits will be approved depends on local authorities.
Once the solar roof designs are approved and the appropriate permits are acquired, the installation team comes to the home and puts the roof on the house. Fortunately, this step does not take much longer than it would to install a regular roof.
Pre-Ordering Solar Roof Tiles
Most of those who pre-ordered Tesla solar roofs the first time around with their $1000 down payments were unfortunately disappointed after their orders were canceled by Tesla. Now, you can hop onto the Tesla website and sign up for a spot in the solar roof line with an easier down payment of just $100.
Although you can go ahead and pre-order the roof, you would not be wrong to have some reservations. After all, this is how the process started 4 years ago. You can rest a little easier these days because there are confirmations of the roof installation processes beginning and at least the deposit is quite a bit cheaper now.
Solar Roof Tile Initial Consultation
After you place your order, you will need to wait on the solar roof tile consultation to occur so that the Tesla team can determine the best layout of Solarglass tiles for your roof. One reason highly qualified experts are needed in this process is because the efficacy of the roof depends on a correct ratio of regular tiles to solar tiles.
Additionally, the solar tiles need to be placed in the correct places with the most direct sunlight throughout the day. Some customers note that once they got their initial design, it was then tweaked one or two times.
The initial wait was about a month or two, but once the design process began, even the design changes were wrapped up within 72 hours or so. Overall, customers say this step in the process takes a reasonable amount of time and generally comports with the estimated times that Tesla provides the customer.
Local Permits for Solar Roof Tiles
While the consultation process can be handled internally by Tesla, the permitting process actually requires coordination between the company and the city you live in. This process can be relatively simple in some locations, and quite a bit more complicated in others. Some permitting factors include:
- Size limitations
- Structural integrity of house
- New building codes since last reroofing
In locations that require more legwork in obtaining the required permits, there will also be longer waiting periods because it takes the city employees longer to review the files and you may have to wait your turn. Fortunately, Tesla handles the red tape here, and handles this process.
Tesla’s website says this step should take between 1 and 5 weeks, but it should be noted some customers report waiting almost twice that amount of time. They express frustration at the fact that Tesla does not communicate more with them during this process and their questions go unanswered.
The Solar Roof Installation
Elon Musk has indicated he thinks the entire roof installation can take place in a day, but currently it appears that the installations are taking closer to 7 or 8 days. Of all the steps, this may be the most impressive when it comes to the amount of time it is taking installation experts to put the new solar roofs onto customer houses.
The reason this is fairly impressive is that the installers do not just put the new roof on, they take the old roof off. In placing the solar tiles on the roof, they are supposed to comply with the design plan but if something goes wrong here, the final inspection is intended to catch it.
Connecting to Local Utilities
The final step in this rather tedious process is getting permission from your local utility to connect to the grid. Luckily, this is not a step that requires you to convince your local utility to let you join because they have an incentive to connect you.
When you connect, you can also contribute the electricity you do not need to the grid, which comes in particularly handy for utilities during hot summer months when huge numbers of people are taxing the system by running their air conditioning units.
This is another part of the process that Tesla promises to handle, so at least it is not one more thing that the customer needs to worry about. That said, on their website, Tesla notes this back and forth with the utility could take between 1 and 6 weeks, depending on the location.
General Complaints Remain
It is good news that Tesla has mostly resolved the original issues it had with rolling out its solar roof tiles and as the process becomes increasingly streamlined, there is hope that customers will run into fewer and fewer snags.
There is one complaint that seems to plague Tesla, and it does not appear to be contingent on extenuating circumstances. Time and time again, customers report at every step of the solar roof installation process that their inquiries go unanswered.
As often as Tesla has dropped the ball, it is odd that the company has not sought to emphasise customer service. Maybe this approach is part of its cost saving strategy, but it may ultimately cost them more money than it saves and Tesla customers become disenchanted with the same old story.
The Problems With Tesla’s Promises
The incident with the delay of Tesla solar roofs is not an isolated event. It is inconvenient that individuals who have purchased solar roofs have literally waited for years on the installation of the product but some could argue they should not have been surprised.
In all fairness, Tesla has accomplished a considerable amount since its inception in 2003. It has revolutionized electric car technology and is pushing boundaries with its solar roof.
Perhaps Tesla’s promises to deliver products at a certain time suffer setbacks because these products are marketed to the average consumer, requiring mass production in pretty new industries.
Still, many customers wish Tesla was a little more transparent in its timelines. It is hard enough to plan big expenditures on vehicles or solar roofs without the guesswork of when the product will arrive with its bill.
Tesla Tends to Over Promise
As mentioned above, Tesla has a tendency to overpromise. Most recently, this occurred when Tesla announced that they would begin mass installation of solar roofs only to later state they had put the cart before the horse.
Tesla promises do seem a little bit different in at least one regard, though. Although their timelines appear to often be unreliable, they do eventually hit the mark with their technology and research.
Ultimately, this outcome is preferable to the alternative of getting a $40,000 solar roof installed only to discover that it has a 10 year lifespan rather than the 30 year lifespan originally promised.
Critics of Tesla’s overpromises also need to consider that Tesla does not have much to lose by over-hyping a product. Consumers get excited when Tesla announces the next clean energy innovation and that level of promotion probably outweighs the costs of delivering a much delayed product.
Tesla’s Communication Policies Come at a Cost
Through all of the ups and downs of not only Tesla’s solar roof tiles, but also their other tech endeavours, it seems like they do not put much effort into keeping the word at large in the know. Their websites lack abundant information and require quite a bit of digging that seems out of line for a tech giant.
Perhaps one reason for this seeming lack of communication is that Tesla emphasises it keeps its product costs relatively low, and within the reach of the everyday individual, because it does not spend exorbitant amounts of money on advertising or its websites.
Indeed, it seems Elon Musk’s approach to advertising is making a few public statements every few years, followed up with some status updates on social media. The public is left to do the rest. Because those who are interested in Tesla products are passionate enough to do their own legwork.
In the end, it is frustrating that Tesla struggled with the installation of its roof tiles and left so many potential customers hanging while the company worked to perfect its product. If Tesla had been more transparent, customers could have timed this costly expense more effectively. For many loyal Tesla patrons though, the wait was and will be worth it.