Solar energy has been widely available to homeowners for the better part of two decades, and for many, it still represents the leading edge of what it means to go green. If you get a solar system on your roof, you will be able to decrease your dependency on the grid. But there is now a way to go solar that is at the vanguard of this technology.
Tesla’s Solar Roof takes the technology of photovoltaic cells and puts them in the functionality of roof shingles to create a roof that:
- Collects solar energy
- Keeps rain from entering the home
- Resists high winds, fire, and hail
Tesla’s Solar Roof represents not just a technological advancement but an aesthetic one as well. Homeowners now have a way to go solar without compromising their home’s good looks by installing ugly solar panels on top of their roof. Tesla hopes their Solar Roof is not just the replacement we need but the one we want.
The Tesla Roof Replacement We all Need
The Solar Roof by Tesla is an advance on the solar energy concept. Traditional solar systems involve solar panels that are installed on existing roofs on homes. Typically, the installer will look for pitches of the roof that receive the most sun and install the panels there. In America, that usually means the south-facing pitches.
Solar panels could theoretically be installed on the ground (and in some cases they are), but for most homeowners, the roof is the ideal place for photovoltaic cells in any form to be placed because most roofs are:
- Open to the sun
- At the right pitch to receive sunlight
- An existing structure (as opposed to building a new one)
What the Tesla Solar Roof does is eliminate the middleman, as it were. Instead of creating another structure on top of the roof for photovoltaic cells to collect solar energy (as is the case with solar panels), why not let the roof itself do the work?
That is the Solar Roof in a nutshell. The shingles that make up the roof also contain the photovoltaic cells that collect solar energy. So instead of having your roof only do one function, the Solar Roof maximizes the potential of the surface by accomplishing two functions at once.
Advancement of Concept, Not Just Technology
When Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Solar Roof in 2016 on a TV show set that had been used for Desperate Housewives, he said that the houses on the set had been retrofitted with a Solar Roof, pointing out the fact that probably no one had noticed. It was a “bet you did not see this coming” moment.
Ignoring the fact that the Solar Roofs were made up entirely of non-functioning tiles, the unveiling was not the demonstration of a working product (however much that seemed to be the implication) as much as the unveiling of a new concept: the structure of your home does not have to be dormant. It can be active.
By intention, the Solar Roof is a paradigm shift for the solar industry that goes something like this: do not add something to your home to make it more energy-efficient when you could make the structural elements of the home itself greener and more energy-efficient.
So the roof replacement that we all need is a change in the mindset of what your home can do for you. A roof that keeps the elements off your head (and your furniture) is good. But a roof that does that while creating cheap energy from a renewable resource is fantastic.
How The Solar Roof Works
The entire Solar Roof is not made up of tiles containing photovoltaic cells. On the typical Solar Roof:
- Some tiles are solar tiles
- Some tiles are non-solar tiles
But whether the tiles are functioning solar tiles or not, they all look the same so that they have an even appearance on the home. The number of functioning Solar Roof tiles depends on the size of the system that Tesla recommends for your home.
Solar roof tiles are made from tempered glass and have a shiny black appearance. Those that collect solar energy send it through a series of string inverters to the main inverter, which would be installed next to the utility company’s power box. The inverter’s job is to change the solar energy from DC to AC, which is what your home runs on.
Much like normal solar panels, a Solar Roof provides energy for your home to use instead of the energy that is provided to you by your local utility company through the power grid. Using electricity from your Solar Roof enables you to lower your energy bill because you are not using the electricity from the power company at their prices.
How the Solar Roof Looks
The Solar Roof tiles from Tesla have a sleek black appearance, and they look similar to other roof tiles in a variety of ways:
- They have a low profile.
- They fit snugly together.
- They lay one on top of the other as normal tile would.
Nevertheless, there are some differences in how they appear when compared with other roofing materials. Typical roofing materials often come in grey, cement-like colors or have a degree of variation in their appearance due to the material they are made from. For example, even black asphalt shingles have a bit of grey in them.
On the other hand, the Tesla Solar Roof tiles have a uniform appearance. Being made of glass, the tiles have a shiny appearance and look slicker than normal roof tiles or shingles. This also causes them to show dust, dirt, and ash more than normal roof tiles or shingles would show it.
How Do You Know if You Need the Solar Roof?
Of course, the Tesla roof is far from dominating the solar market (to say nothing of the roofing market). In fact, it has been a rough go for the company in the last five years since the roof’s inception. So how do you know if the Solar Roof is the roof that you need? See if you can check off the following criteria:
- Your roof needs to be replaced
- You either want to go solar or upgrade your current solar system
If you do not fit into both of the criteria above, then a Solar Roof does not make sense financially. If you just bought a new home or recently replaced your roof and have more years to go with it, then you do not need a Solar Roof but solar panels if you want to go solar.
If you need to replace your roof, then a Solar Roof is the option to consider, especially if you are ideologically committed to going green as thoroughly as possible while maintaining a healthy appreciation for aesthetics.
The Process of Getting a Solar Roof
If you fit the criteria above and are interested in getting a Solar Roof, the process looks like this:
- Go to the Tesla Website and click Order Solar Roof
- Input the information in their calculator
- Review what they recommend
- If you order, be prepared to wait
The process, at first glance, seems a tad simplistic given the fact that you are talking about a roof. Should an estimator come out and look at it? The company will create a design for your roof and will submit it to get a permit after you have approved it. This will be done through an offsite rep.
But according to their website, once you order it and agree to the price, that is it. You will see the whites of Tesla’s eyes when their representatives come to install the roof.
Naturally, taking a closer look at the ordering process will reveal more about what you can expect (which this article will do in just a moment), but if you do decide to go with a Solar Roof, the general consensus is that you may be in for a wait.
Design and Cost of the Solar Roof
The first thing you will need to do when ordering a Solar Roof is put in your address. From that, the Tesla website will be able to get information on your roof’s design that will tell it what it needs to know about putting a roof on your home. Specifically, it will need to know how complex your roof is.
For Tesla’s sake, roof complexity is divided into three categories:
Complexity affects the price of the Solar Roof. Simple roofs will cost less than roofs that are moderate or complex. From that, Tesla is able to determine a price to replace your current roof with a Solar Roof.
For example, for a roof size of approximately 2,500 square feet with an average electric bill of $250, Tesla recommends a 10.2-kilowatt Solar Roof. According to their calculator, the price would be $61,136. With the federal tax incentive of 26 percent, the cost drops to $50,695 for the Solar Roof.
Tesla’s contention for the Solar Roof has always been that it costs roughly the same to get a Solar Roof as it would to get a normal roof with solar panels. The selling point is that if you are going to get a roof replacement and solar panels anyway, why not just simplify the process and get the roof you need? Get the Solar Roof.
But does it work out that way? The answer is: yes, sort of. Take a look at a comparison using the example presented above. For a 2,500 square foot roof with an average monthly electric bill of $250 (using the solar panel system that Tesla recommends):
- An asphalt shingle roof with solar panels costs, on average, $28,562.
- Slate tiles with solar panels cost, on average, $52,312.
As you can see, the Solar Roof, at $50,695, sits at the higher end of roofing costs, just barely beating out the roof with premium materials such as slate tiles. But does it cost roughly the same? Depending on how you define “roughly,” yes. It is not outside the normal spectrum of roofing costs.
But one thing to keep in mind is that as recently as April 2021, it has been reported that Tesla is raising prices on customers who already have a contract in place. In one case, the price went up to $87,000 from $66,000.
Solar Roof and the Powerwall
When you calculate the cost for the Tesla roof that you need, Tesla will also recommend the number of Powerwalls to go with your system. Notice that they do not recommend whether or not you need a Powerwall.
You can choose not to buy one, but in Tesla’s mind, the Powerwall is an essential component with the Solar Roof (or solar panels) because it enables you to store the excess energy that the panels create, which gives you further independence from the grid. Otherwise, you are just selling it to the power company.
Depending on how you configure the Powerwall(s), you can use them purely for storage until you decide you need it, or you can have them kick in during:
- High use periods
- High-cost periods
- Power blackouts from the grid
You can see how the Powerwall could be useful for furthering green energy use and having less reliance on the power grid. Bear in mind; each Powerwall costs about $5,800.
Development of the Solar Roof
Tesla’s Solar Roof has had a difficult history. It began life in October 2016 as a prop more than anything else. It was a complicated unveiled by Musk before Tesla had officially acquired SolarCity, the solar installation giant on whose coattails Tesla has been riding.
About six months after Tesla did acquire SolarCity, the car company turned solar company began accepting orders for the new Solar Roof. Orders came in, and then people had to wait while Tesla began figuring out how to make the concept work on a scalable level.
Version 1 of the tiles was apparently a non-starter. It was not until they developed Version 2 of the tiles that Tesla began installing the Solar Roof, but the installations were limited. V.2 tiles were:
- Larger than they are now
- Prone to breaking during the installations process
Nevertheless, some received them positively and said they reduced their energy bill and also worked well with the Powerwall.
Current Version of the Solar Roof
It was not until October 2019 that Musk announced that the company had developed Version 3 of the tiles and that this was the version that was scalable. With this version, Musk promised to scale up installations of the Solar Roof.
Contrary to earlier promises, the version three tiles come in only one style: black. Early versions promised a variety of styles to appeal to different tastes and aesthetic needs. But, alas, such is not to be, for now at least. Apparently, Tesla Solar Roof fans will have to wait for the company to resolve other issues before it tackles this one.
One of the problems that was plaguing Tesla in 2019 was the decline of installations of normal solar panels. They had declined sharply from SolarCity’s heyday. So the problem was not just getting the Solar Roof off the ground, but their solar business in general.
A Host of Problems
Meanwhile, in early 2020, installations had to wait for the Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York, to pick up speed and produce the needed supplies. By the time March came along, Tesla had said that it had manufactured 4 megawatts worth of Solar Roof tiles and could ramp up installations.
But while that was going on, Tesla had another problem: labor. In addition to trying to accomplish a paradigm shift in the solar world, Tesla was also trying to create a workforce who were part roofers and part solar technicians. Not an easy task.
The difficulties of this created a huge hiring push for roof and solar-related tradespeople, as well as developing a certification process through which outside companies could be trained to install the roof.
By the end of 2020, Tesla claimed Solar Roof installations were picking up but did not show statistics for what that looked like. While there are success stories of the installation timeline, a perusal of Tesla forums in 2020 shows there are also complaints of long waits.
The Tesla roof replacement we all need is a concept whose time may finally have arrived. The idea has been in play by Tesla for a while, but the actual product has had a difficult time rising to the expectations that the company has set for it. After five years, it seems that installations of the Solar Roof have finally picked up speed.
If that is the case, then the Solar Roof could have huge implications for what it means to go solar. If Musk succeeds in truly changing the paradigm of both the solar and the roofing industries, then he has achieved a significant change in how houses are viewed. That means Tesla really could have the roof replacement we all need.