In 2019, Tesla announced a reinvention of one of their pioneering products for the Australian marketplace – the solar roof. It sounds nearly too good to be true, and it might well be so far, but Tesla is looking to expand its customer base by making green power more efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and affordable to the average Australian.
Developed in response to a serious energy crisis in Australia, Tesla solar roofing is aesthetically pleasing and surprisingly powerful overall but has a high upfront cost, limited availability, and potential for long-term maintenance problems that can make it difficult to invest in right now.
If you’re considering buying a Tesla roof in Australia, you’ll need to consider why and how it works, the benefits of its installation, and the problems that might arise in using this early version of the product.
The Pros of a Tesla Roof in Australia
The introduction of a new method of solar production that could potentially operate on any house in the country is a serious point in Tesla’s favor. With the successful impact of their battery reserve, they’ve already got proof of credibility in the market.
Aside from the general excitement of solar roofing being an innovation, the idea has quite a few noteworthy benefits that should be considered when deciding whether or not it’s worth the investment.
The Tesla roof comes with a standard 25-year weatherization warranty, which covers “weather intrusions” such as leaks. The tiles are rated as Class 3 for hail, Class F for wind (meaning they’re stable in up to 166 mile-per-hour winds), and Class A for fire, which is the best available rating.
The tiles are also stress-tested against shattering, and, according to Tesla, fair significantly better than their standard counterparts due to the extra layering. If they’re installed properly, this can mean less noticeable weathering and wear-and-tear damage over time than traditional roof tiles, which can mean less money invested in repairs.
Solar panels are most efficient in places that are cool and have fairly clear weather more often as, although solar panels can produce energy while it’s raining, their efficiency is reduced pretty significantly.
Although it’s a bit warmer than ideal, Australia’s dry summers are a perfect climate for solar energy harvesting as most parts of the country will get ample direct sunlight for large parts of the year. This means that you’ll see efficient energy production with no byproducts, which can mean a huge reduction in pollutant emissions over time.
Given that the Tesla tiles look nearly identical to regular roof tiles, they have a certain aesthetic appeal. Instead of a glaring large panel, you can maintain the look of your roof while still reaping the benefits of solar power.
On top of that, the individual tiles are easier to manipulate into smaller portions of the roof where a larger panel wouldn’t fit, meaning that you would be able to utilize more area overall for energy production. It also takes advantage of different angles that will receive sunlight coverage throughout the day in a way that single panels can’t.
The Cons of a Tesla Roof in Australia
As with any new technology, however, solar roofing has its drawbacks. It’s important to consider both sides of the argument before making an impactful decision like this for your home.
Potential for Weather Damage
The tiles themselves may not break, but there could be other significant damage to deal with when it comes to the effects of long-term weather exposure. While long-paneled metal sheet roofs protect well against heavier rain, traditionally tiled roofs like the Tesla design are more prone to water ingress, or the seeping of water into the many small joints and overlaps between tiles.
This is of course covered by the included weather warranty, but can still cause major structural issues resulting in massive repairs or even replacement over time. Even covered by insurance, it could mean rendering parts of the house nearly or completely unusable while the renovations are happening.
Inefficiency and Waste
Because each of the tiles is effectively an independent solar cell, they would need to be encased in a corrosion-resistant material separately. This means that more waste is produced in their production than in a larger panel.
Another drawback to having individual tiles as opposed to larger panels is the wasting of space between the panels. The joints between them are not producing any energy, so there are small “dark” spots between each tile, meaning the production potential per covered square foot would be slightly less.
Overall Cost in Australia
Generally, you wouldn’t need to cover your entire roof with these tiles to gain the tiles’ benefits. The Solar Trust Centre estimates that a medium installation of Tesla tiles would produce between 26 and 36 kWh per day, which would more than cover the average household’s needs.
Unfortunately, you would still need to completely retile your roof to have a Tesla roof installed. Solar Reviews estimates the cost after tax to replace your roof would still be around $21,500. Because of the intense upfront cost, the most logical integration of solar roofing is on new properties currently being built.
This means that the purchasers might be able to spread the cost of installation across their mortgage term rather than paying the lump sum. There’s already a large market for this, given that, according to Energy Matters, roughly 20,000 new homes are built in Australia every year.
Still, unless you are already in need of a roof retiling, it is generally cheaper upfront to install larger solar panels which will produce roughly the same amount of solar energy and last about as long as solar roofing would. It’s also easier and cheaper to replace or repair due to a wider availability of replacement parts and maintenance companies.
Reservations and Installation for Tesla Solar Roofing
Though the rollout of the Tesla solar roof has been significantly slower than many people expected, at least in the United States, there have been several installations since 2019. The reactions have been strongly mixed.
Positive Reviews from Installation
On one hand, The Neumann family had a Tesla solar roofing system installed in their home in the early part of 2020 and posted a video reviewing the product at roughly 100 days after installation. According to them, the energy produced by the tiles is more than enough to bring them primarily off the grid, so much so that they didn’t notice a serious local power outage in May.
It looks as if, if you can get your hands on an actual installation, the tiles work as promised, producing significant amounts of solar energy that mean you and your family do not have to rely on a larger power grid for day-to-day energy consumption. This will be especially helpful in Australia’s already weakening power system.
The Problem of Availability
At the same time, there have been several issues with actually getting the tiles. Dan from What’s Inside? and his family attempted to install Tesla solar roofing on their home in southern Utah, but were unable to do so because of this limited availability. Even when he offered to pay for the team to come in from Salt Lake City, he says, they were unable to do so because of the limited availability of product.
This is apparently a common problem, as the limited availability of Tesla’s certified installation teams and the actual batteries and tiles themselves are holding back the company’s ability to meet the demand for this particular solution. Musk’s insistence on thorough testing and improving the tiles means that making them cheap and mass-produced is extremely hard to do right now.
Tesla Roofing Installations in Australia
The third iteration of Tesla’s solar roofing tiles was greenlit for production in Australia in February of this year. Musk tweeted about being excited to expand internationally “later this year.” Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, any plans for expansion were quickly tabled for the foreseeable future.
Even after removing the option to pre-order from their website, Tesla has been notoriously vague about future availability, giving reservation customers no specific timeframe for the delivery of their product. Installations scheduled to happen in the United States are far behind schedule, and there has been no official word from Musk or Tesla as a company about what this means for their Australian clients.
This is again due to the very limited availability of the actual product, and the fact that there do not seem to be any active installation teams in Australia yet. It seems that the roofing will not actually be physically available in the country until very late 2021 at the earliest, but more likely not until 2022.
Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on, especially if you are living in southern Australia, as that’s the most likely place for installations to begin when they do eventually make it into the country. You can still reserve a spot for early alerting to availability through the website by entering a few personal details. This doesn’t require a deposit, but it also doesn’t actually reserve an actual installation slot.
The Green Benefits of Solar Power
Traditional methods of producing electricity rely heavily on processes that produce huge amounts of waste products to be released into the environment, including toxic chemicals that destroy local ecosystems and greenhouse gasses that damage the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. It can also be physically dangerous to work around, relying on large, hard-to-operate machinery.
Solar power is freely available, relatively easy to harness, and powerful enough to completely remove Australian households, and possibly communities on a large enough scale, from the standard grid. This is a significantly more eco-conscious option than traditional power methods like fossil fuels and natural gases as it produces no pollution and is limitless.
Australia’s Energy Crisis
On top of an already declining system of outdated technology, storm damage to the electrical network in 2016 caused a serious uptick in the price of electricity across southern Australia. This meant that Australians were generally paying nearly one and a half times what they’d been paying a decade earlier for power, elevating electrical power to nearly a luxury item.
When Musk heard about the crisis, he vowed to contribute to its resolution. He created the largest lithium-ion battery reserve in the world in South Australia, which helped to stop the spiking of the cost of power and restabilize the grid. But of course, Musk wasn’t satisfied with this momentous achievement. Tesla’s solar roof project was announced in 2016 in the United States.
Solar Roofing – How It Works
Solar power has been a talking point in environmentally conscious circles since the electric potential for solar energy was discovered in the early 1800s. It’s been a commercially viable option since the 1950s and has steadily gained popularity since then, becoming one of the most commonly relied upon green energy sources in the world.
Solar energy works in much the same ways as traditional power production but draws from a different source. Instead of relying on the energy gained from burning or using up a resource, it relies on radiant sunlight’s potential to create voltage.
Traditional Solar Power
It may sound complicated, but really, solar energy is relatively simple. Solar panels function through a series of photovoltaic (sunlight-converting) units, or “cells,” linked together. These cells are made of two sandwiched layers of silicon and conductive materials, one of which is positively charged and the other is negatively charged, to create a conductive electric field.
Traditionally, these cells functioning on their own have not been strong enough to produce usable power, so they’re strung together into large, flat panels with enough surface area to function on a larger scale. There have been serious advances since these early models, including the ability to produce much smaller cells so that now, solar energy can be harnessed on something as small as a watch.
How Solar Roofing Is Different
Tesla’s solar roofing takes the idea of working on a single or small count efficient cell basis and runs with it. The basic premise is that, instead of having several large solar panels covering your roof, the panels would be built into the roof tiles themselves. These panels would be significantly smaller but more numerous.
From there, their function is exactly the same as a standard panel. They convert sunlight, or solar energy, into electricity. The electricity can either be directly used to power the house off the grid or stored in a battery (such as the Powerwall Tesla sells alongside their roofing) to be used as a reserve generator later on.
The Challenges of Producing a Solar Roof
CNBC covered the production of Tesla’s solar roofing in California in 2018, in which they covered the challenges of producing the miniaturized panels. Andrew Beebe, the managing director of Obvious Ventures, compared calling the roofing tiles a “smaller solar panel” to calling the screen of an iPhone a “smaller flat-screen TV.”
The production and development of these tiles have required an impressive amount of testing. CEO Elon Musk has explained that the company is still testing to ensure that the Tesla roofing tiles can live up to the promise of at least 30 years of solar energy production, which is why it has taken quite a long time to make the roofing commercially available.
The Future of Solar Roofing in Australia
In the end, this solar roofing is being marketed to an upmarket clientele. It’s a symbol of status more than it is a reasonable alternative at the moment because of its primarily aesthetic advantage over cheaper-to-install larger panels, and because of the serious challenges that come with creating a brand-new piece of technology, it isn’t going to be affordable to the average Australian for many years.
That being said, it is a step generally in the right direction for a greener and more environmentally conscious society. Speaking purely from a marketing standpoint, as more competitive options come along and are forced to vie for customers, and as innovations are made in the technology used in solar power, solar roofing and similar options will slowly but steadily become more affordable.
Beyond the marketing aspect, though, is the general shift in focus to environmental responsibility worldwide. People are actively seeking out greener alternatives to power, so are investing in the development of the tech as it’s discovered. Tesla is developing an excellent product, yes, but possibly more importantly, they have opened the door to the market for other companies.
Continuing to invest in solar energy is an important step in the direction of recovery from the effects of global warming. If we continue to invest in it now, we can not only help our planet stabilize, but we can work on making it more affordable and easier to transition into in the coming Australian future.