Tesla’s solar roof technology has provided a promising option for people to install solar energy for their homes. But the company has seen a number of delays in deploying their solar roof. When will the Solar Roof become available in South Africa?
Nobody knows when Tesla will finally deploy the solar roof in South Africa. Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed in 2019 that the roof would be ready for deployment soon, yet now as we enter 2021, no solar roofs have been installed in South Africa.
If you’re looking for a roof replacement in the near future, you may be better off steering clear of Tesla’s Solar Roof, as nobody knows how long you’ll have to wait. Tesla has faced numerous delays and is still struggling to bring its innovative technology to the market.
What Is The Solar Roof?
Long dreamed of by renewable energy advocates, the solar roof is a technology that integrates solar energy production directly into the roof of your home. It’s not just solar panels that go on the roof – it is the roof, and it generates enough solar electricity to power your home and sell the extra back to the grid.
Solar power has been getting cheaper and growing exponentially over the past decade with an economy of scale. More people are interested in installing solar energy to power their homes than ever before.
Traditionally, installing solar power for your home meant putting solar panels up. In an effort to make home solar more fashionable, Tesla created a solar roof. It looks like a normal roof and has the durable characteristics of one too – all while generating solar energy.
The “Musk Effect”
Let’s be clear about something: Tesla didn’t invent the solar roof. Other companies have been making and deploying solar roofs for a few years in the US such as Dow Powerhouse, Suntegra, and CertainTeed. So why the sudden hype?
To be honest, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this. In what has been called the “Musk Effect” named after CEO Elon Musk, Tesla has repeatedly repackaged technologies to make them seem cooler and more fashionable than ever. This perception then leads to unprecedentedly high new sales of old technologies.
Led by Musk, who is a brilliant, tech-enthusiastic entrepreneurial success story, Tesla creates and markets high-end products for a high-end market. While Tesla didn’t invent the electric car, they sure did popularize it. Owning a Tesla these days is a status symbol in a way that owning electric vehicles never previously became.
Not to make them sound like the evil empire, either. Electric cars, solar energy, and energy storage are all innovative technologies that will help decarbonize the energy sector, fighting climate change and leading to a cleaner planet. What Tesla has done is actually quite admirable.
However, it’s important to understand that Tesla sells hype for products more than it sells the products themselves. This has led to delays in some of its technologies, including the solar roof.
Solar Energy in South Africa
South Africa is a potentially large market for the solar roof, with residential solar energy increasing steadily over the past decade. The country is committed to increasing its share of renewable energy.
Despite its push for cleaner energy sources, South Africa is still relying massively on coal, which supplied around 89% of its electricity in 2018. Solar, on the other hand, only provided 1.7%.
But South Africa receives an abundance of sunlight, so solar power could provide a viable solution to decarbonizing the electricity sector. While most solar capacity is likely to be installed at the commercial power plant scale, greater installation of residential solar will help integrate renewables into the electricity market.
If the solar roof can be made cheap enough, there is a potential market for it in South Africa. South Africa is also Musk’s home country, so perhaps he feels emotionally invested in bringing his technology there. However, Tesla automobiles are not popular in South Africa due to their high cost, and the solar roof will probably not be any different.
How Much Does a Solar Roof Cost?
Solar roofs, like most of Tesla’s products, are expensive. While the company argues that the energy produced by the roof will offset its cost, it is likely to take three or more decades to pay for itself, assuming it lasts that long.
That’s just the cost of the roof tiles themselves, too, which are sold for $21.25 per square foot or $42,500 for a 2,000 square foot roof. It doesn’t include the cost of installation, which is also expected to be quite high, since few contractors know how to install the tiles.
Compared to a regular roof, a Tesla Solar Roof can cost 10 times as much upfront.
Tesla has never aimed at making its products cost accessible to everyone, of course. Their business sells luxurious products to high-paying customers. The solar roof is no exception.
Delays in Solar Roof Deployment
The problem with the Musk Effect is that Tesla unveils its products long before they are ready for deployment. This generates hype, buzz, and investment, but it has little to do with the actual success of the technology.
For example, the Tesla Model 3 sedan was introduced in 2016 but took another 16 months to reach the market. And even then, the car had many problems that needed to be addressed, forcing the attention of the company’s entire engineering department.
So perhaps it is no surprise that Tesla’s solar roof has also been delayed numerous times. The product was first unveiled in 2016, and the company began taking their first orders in May 2017 with a $1,000 deposit. It wasn’t until a year later that the first installs began to occur, and even these were slow.
By August 2018, only 12 solar roofs had been installed in California, the US’s largest solar energy user. Problems were revealed with the technology in September 2018, leading to prolonged delays and worry that the roof would never make it to the market at scale.
With over 11,000 orders since May 2018, Musk believed that the technology would have “tremendous growth in 2019”. But instead, it continued to stagnate, with production and technology issues persisting.
In October 2019, Musk revealed version 3 of the solar roofing tiles, with most technology issues supposedly fixed. But deployment still continued slowly, due to production delays.
In 2020, the Solar Roof has finally become available in most of the US, although the company still does not disclose how many it has installed. It claims the number is over 400,000. It also isn’t clear when the roof will become available in other countries, like South Africa.
Challenges For Solar Roof Technology
Delays in deploying solar roofs mostly come down to the technology. While traditional solar panels have been on the market for decades, allowing them to mature and lower costs while reaching economies of scale, the solar roof is an entirely new technology. Without much of any presence on the market, it is still highly expensive.
Besides, the technology itself provides a substantial engineering challenge. Solar panel materials are usually not known for their durability. But to make a roof that is solar, it has to have the durability of a roof – it must withstand high winds, rains, snow, and hail. This was the biggest problem with the roof tiles version 2.
Even if solar roofing technology was perfect, there would still be an installation challenge. The solar panel roofing tiles are unlike any tiles that have been used for roofs before. Originally, Tesla wanted to do all the installation itself, but then in 2018, Musk hinted at the certified contractor program that is now in place.
Normal roofing contractors don’t know how to deal with Tesla solar roofs. The roofers who learn how to install Tesla roofs will have to go through a lot of training and will become a niche market. There aren’t many roofing contractors prepared to install the roofs, which is one explanation of why the installation has been so slow.
The Model 3 Problem
Another reason for delays in solar roof development and deployment is the problems with the Model 3 sedan. After its release in 2017 and 2018, Model 3 cars were being produced with a lot of defects. A Bloomberg report in 2018 cited 80% of cars coming off the assembly line with defects.
Later, in 2019, buyers were having reliability issues with the car, and the model lost its consumer recommendation.
In response to these issues, the Tesla Energy engineering team was called in for an all-hands-on-deck effort. Efforts to redeem the shoddy Model 3 thus took away time for engineers to work on the solar roof, further delaying its progress.
Delays in solar roof technology isn’t a solely economic or engineering matter – it’s also a practical one. If you’re ordering a solar roof, chances are, you need a roof replacement. That’s not something that can wait two years – you need to get it done ASAP.
Many of Tesla’s original buyers for the solar roof, who put down their deposits in 2017 and 2018, had to back out. They simply couldn’t wait so long to have their roofs replaced.
While some buyers received their solar roofs in 2018, the release of upgraded, version 3 tiles in October 2019 meant that early buyers lost out on the best iteration of the technology.
You can’t simply download the upgrade from one tile to the next, and if you were lucky enough to get your roof within a decent amount of time, then you were also unlucky because you got a worse version of the roof.
Tesla’s Solar History
It’s not just the solar roof that has given Tesla and consumers a headache. In 2016, the company acquired SolarCity, a solar panel manufacturer, and installer. It has been selling run-of-the-mill solar panels (not roofs) since then.
Tesla quickly became the leading installer of solar panels in the United States in 2017. Over time, however, their installations dropped significantly. In the fourth quarter of 2019, installations hit their lowest point of 29 MW, almost 10 times less than the fourth quarter of 2016.
The company claimed that it was reworking its user experience and support for the panels, but it also seems to have backed out of the market. It’s hard to say what the future of solar will be for Tesla.
Hands in Many Baskets
While their residential solar deployment has plummeted, Tesla has been deploying greater amounts of energy storage battery capacity.
The biggest problem for solar energy these days is not cost – it’s intermittency. Even if you have a ton of solar panels, the sun only shines for so many hours each day. The rest of the time, you don’t get any electricity.
Some states like California have installed huge amounts of solar capacity. However, California has failed to decarbonize its electricity grid. To provide enough electricity to meet demand, the state has had to increase high-carbon natural gas electricity production as well.
A breakthrough may be around the corner, though. Energy storage technology can solve the problem of renewable intermittency by charging batteries. While the sun is out, the solar panels (or roofs) can provide electricity to the grid while charging batteries. Then, when the sun goes down, the batteries take over and supply electricity to the grid.
Tesla has been developing energy storage technologies for many years, both for usage in its electric cars and in solar-powered homes. They’ve recently unveiled a new product, called the Megapack, which shows a new commitment to utility-scale energy storage technology.
So while it may look like a cool technology, Tesla is not invested in the success of only its solar roof. It dumped its solar panels, and some people worry that the roof will be next.
Energy storage technology is a breakthrough waiting to happen and a market waiting to explode. There’s no reason to believe that Tesla won’t go all-in on its Powerpacks, Powerwalls, and Megapacks if and when that happens, abandoning its solar roof technology like the solar panels before it.
Solar Roofs Reaching the US
There is some good news, though. Since developing the solar roof tile version 3 technology in late 2019, Tesla has installed over 400,000 solar roofs in the United States.
Customers are generally happy with their purchases, though some complain about having had to wait so long.
Orders in other countries still haven’t been filled. Optimists believe that Tesla will begin installing solar roofs worldwide in 2021.
When Will Tesla’s Solar Roof Be Available in South Africa?
It’s hard to speculate when the solar roof will finally become available in South Africa, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. Since the South African market for the solar roof is relatively small due to its high cost, other countries are likely to see deployment first.
There is at least some good news. Beginning in September of 2020, Tesla opened orders in South Africa for its Powerwall, a home energy storage technology designed to work in synergy with solar energy. Reservations have no indication of the delivery date.
Nonetheless, if you can buy a solar energy storage device from Tesla in South Africa, there’s a better chance that you’ll someday be able to buy a solar energy generating device from them too. One day, the solar roof will probably come to South Africa.
However, my guess is that it won’t be in 2021. To me, it seems like the Powerwall reservations are a probe to estimate South Africa’s market for high-cost energy technologies. A single Powerwall unit costs R166,800 ($11,375 USD). If Tesla receives boatloads of orders, then they’ll know that the market is ready for the solar roof.
That seems unlikely to happen, since the per capita GDP of South Africa is a little over half of one Powerwall. People have better things to spend money on. Besides, the Powerwall is not guaranteed to be delivered anytime soon, so the solar roof probably won’t come for the foreseeable future either.
Tesla’s solar roof technology has been delayed over 3 years from its initial bid to the market, and it only recently has started being deployed in the US. It is likely to reach wealthy countries before moving on to deployment in middle-income countries like South Africa.
Who knows if more delays will come in the meantime, too. While Tesla is taking orders for Powerwall units in South Africa, these orders are for the indefinite future. The bottom line is, solar roofs will still take a while to reach South Africa.
It’s possible the technology will fade and die before then, like Tesla’s solar panels. If a breakthrough in energy storage takes place in the next few years, Tesla might abandon its solar roofs altogether.
If you’re a South African thinking about replacing your roof, buying a Tesla solar roof could be a good investment if you have the money and you can afford to wait. Otherwise, you’d be best off with a normal roof, since there’s no telling how long you’ll wait for the solar roof.