Tesla hopes to expand its newest innovation, solar roof tiles, to an international market. However, in Africa, and Kenya in particular, someone else has already beaten the large tech company to the market: Charity Wanjiku and Tony Nyagah, two siblings who founded Strauss Energy.
Strauss Energy developed their solar roof tiles in 2013, three years before Tesla’s release. Unlike Tesla which focuses more on cleaner energy, Strauss Energy’s goal is to provide more reliable and affordable electricity in areas where many people do not have functioning electricity.
Not only did Strauss Energy beat Tesla to the solar roof tile game, but their approach to the product is markedly different from Tesla’s and more suited to the Kenyan and African market. Keep reading to find out why Tesla probably will not be moving their solar roof tiles into Kenya.
Why Can’t Tesla Move Their Solar Roof Tiles In Kenya?
Tesla is a huge corporation. It may seem that they should have no problem competing with the smaller Strauss Energy in the solar roof tile market in Kenya. However, Tesla’s approach to solar roof tiles is simply ill-suited to the Kenyan market.
Tesla is a company known for its devotion to sustainable energy. Their electric cars and solar roof tiles are all part of an overarching goal to help bring the world into a future that does not rely on fossil fuels.
While this is important and admirable, it means that Tesla spends time finding ways to replace traditional energy sources with sustainable ones. Tesla wants you to switch out your gasoline chugging car for an electric one and to get power from the sun rather than from the pollution spilling power plant.
However, in Kenya, there is a lack of traditional electricity sources in the first place. For many people, it is a matter of finding a reliable electricity source and not simply switching their source to a more sustainable one.
The Problem of the Grid
It may seem like a simple solution. It should be easy to make Tesla’s solar roof tiles an original source of electricity rather than an alternative. However, Tesla has designed their solar roof tiles as a sustainable alternative to traditional power, which means their tiles have been designed around the main feature of traditional electricity: the grid.
People receive their electricity through the grid. The electricity is made in plants and then delivered to customers through the grid. When the connection to the grid is lost, a house loses power. This is what causes a blackout.
Because Tesla’s solar roof tiles are designed to be a sustainable alternative, they are designed to work with the grid. When you buy a Tesla roof, you cannot store the energy you create. Instead, the electricity created by your solar roof travels through the grid. This means if a blackout occurs, which is a disruption in the grid, then your home will also be without power.
You can set up your Tesla solar roof to store energy outside of the grid, but you will need to buy one of Tesla’s Powerwalls. A Powerwall costs around $7000, and if you truly want to be able to power your home completely off of one, you will need two to four.
The point is that Tesla’s solar roof tiles are designed to fit well with the already existing electrical system. This makes sense considering that Tesla’s goal is to give people sustainable energy options. They need to make products that fit well with what people are already doing. However, this cohesion with the grid becomes a downside in a country like Kenya.
The Situation in Kenya
Many Kenyans do not have reliable electricity at all. The grid is not fully dispersed, especially in rural areas, and it can be incredibly unreliable. Constant blackouts and the high cost of bringing the grid to rural areas leaves many Kenyans without functioning electricity.
Without Powerwalls, Tesla solar roof tiles will not work in houses without a grid connection nor will they prevent the problematic blackouts in houses that are connected. The need for these costly Powerwalls will certainly not help the high cost issue.
Tesla solar roof tiles are designed to work with the grid, and thus adding them to houses with no grid connection or an unreliable connection will hardly solve Kenya’s electricity problems. Tesla simply did not design their roof tiles with the idea of putting them in places that have either no or problematic electricity.
How is Strauss Energy Different?
If Tesla’s product is not suitable for the Kenyan market, what makes Strauss Energy better? This small company began its work with solar roof tiles before Tesla but with a slightly different purpose that has made Strauss Energy more valuable to Kenya.
Strauss Energy’s Goal
Strauss Energy was founded with the goal of solving Kenya’s energy problem. Currently, Kenya’s national grid does not have enough power to sustain industrialization nor to give reliable electricity to much of its population.
Strauss Energy thus works not to replace current energy production but to fill a gap by generating energy production. This may seem like a small difference, but it results in a company whose approach is far more suited to Kenya’s electrical needs.
A Case Study: Gaitheri Secondary School
Perhaps the best way to understand the difference between Strauss Energy’s and Tesla’s approach to solar roof tiles is through an example. In 2017 Strauss Energy installed a solar roof on a school that served a large rural community.
The system Strauss Energy installed for the school was connected to the grid, but it included a large backup battery system, which allows the school to function when the sun is not out. The solar roof can handle all of the school’s power needs and has even allowed them to get a computer lab up and running. The roof also collects rainwater as a source of freshwater.
Strauss Energy’s work in Gaitheri Secondary School was designed to meet a need. The inclusion of the backup storage and even the rainwater collection show that Strauss Energy is concerned primarily with creating highly functional systems. Their tiles are also meant to last longer than Tesla’s.
Strauss Energy is working to create reliable power where none previously existed. Thus, their projects, like the Gaitheri Secondary School, are designed with more self-sustainability than Tesla’s.
Strauss Energy versus Tesla
None of this is to say that Tesla is bad and Strauss Energy is good. It only means that although the two companies make similar products they have different markets and goals, which are not as easy to cross as it might appear.
However similar they may be the two companies do not have to have a hostile relationship. Strauss Energy even uses Tesla Powerwalls sometimes in order to create installations that are not reliant on the grid.
Tesla may eventually try to move their solar roof tiles in areas like Kenya. If they do so they will first need to consider how to make their product work in areas with less reliable electricity infrastructure. However, it seems more likely and more effective that Tesla will instead work with Strauss Energy to bring clean energy to Kenya.
The efforts of Strauss Energy in Kenya and Africa as a whole is much better suited to the region’s electricity needs. Hopefully, both Strauss Energy and Tesla can continue their work to bring both accessible and sustainable energy to the entire globe.