Tesla’s Solar Roof is just the latest cool sounding technology from the same people who brought the world Tesla’s luxury electric cars and the sleek PowerWall home battery packs.
Not to mention SpaceX, the rocket company “with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”
Nothing humble about a goal like that.
But then “humble” is not the word you associate with the man with the plan behind all these intriguing ideas, entrepreneur Elon Musk.
His admirers consider Musk a revolutionary innovator with the combination of vision and business smarts to turn science-fiction ideas into reality. His critics dismiss Musk as a showman who’s more about hype than about delivering real products to the market that you can actually buy anytime soon.
When it comes to Tesla’s beautiful Solar Roof, is it all hype or is the Solar Roof something you should wait for if you’re thinking of going solar? I’ll give you my take below.
The Promise of the Solar Roof
For anyone thinking of going solar at home, the solar roof sounds like a dream come true. As Musk explains in the Solar Roof launch video, if you combine solar roof tiles with battery packs and electric cars, then you have an integrated clean energy solution for your home.
To state the obvious about the Solar Roof — not only is it solar. But it’s also a roof. At least that’s the idea.
That is, not only does it generate electricity from the sun, as ordinary crystalline photovoltaic solar panels do. But instead of sitting on top of your roof as crystalline solar panels do, Tesla’s Solar Roof is also intended to replace your roof tiles.
If they work as advertised, roof tiles with PV capability built right in can offer several advantages. As Tesla’s marketing copy for the Solar Roof explains, it’s a “roof with invisible power.”
The solar cells on our roof tiles are invisible to the naked eye, yet incredibly efficient. So when you’re on the street, you simply see a stunning roof. From above, the solar cells are fully exposed to the sun, so they can power your home in the cleanest, most effective way possible.
And if you worry that tiles that are also solar panels might be made of glass that could easily break, Tesla touts “glass that’s as tough as steel. Made of extremely strong tempered glass, our solar roof tiles can withstand nearly three times the force of standard roofing tiles.”
Finally, Tesla says that the Solar Roof will be affordable. The company claims that it costs less than “an equivalent roof when combined with projected utility bill savings.”
The Solar Roof is available in four attractive designs for any tile roof whether contemporary or traditional: Tuscan Glass Tile, Smooth Glass Tile, Textured Glass Tile and Slate Glass Tile.
If the Solar Roof can do double duty as an energy system and roofing tiles at a lower cost than getting solar and a new roof separately, then, as Musk asks, “Why would you buy anything else?”
Of course, that’s if all the company’s claims about the Solar Roof turn out to be true. We’ll discuss those in a minute.
For now, Tesla is hoping that you’ll agree with their pitch, and that join their waiting list for a new Solar Roof, when it comes to your area.
And that’s where things get interesting. How long will you have to wait?
When You Can Buy Tesla’s Solar Roof in Virginia
The quick answer to when the Solar Roof will be available in Virginia is, nobody knows.
In May 2017, Tesla got lots of attention for announcing that it was starting to take orders with a deposit of $1,000. If you’re on Facebook, you may have seen multiple friends and pages that you follow sharing the story that the roof tiles were now available.
The real story is that they may be available on a limited basis and only in California to start with. Installations could begin in June, 2017. However, given the company’s history of delays in rolling out its products, it’s likely that even homeowners who get on Tesla’s list in California may have to wait months or even years beyond that date.
The Solar Roof could become available nationwide in mid-2018 according to EnergySage, but again, given the company’s history of delays, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
And while rollout timing is unclear, pricing is not any clearer at this point. But it’s safe to say that the tiles will be more expensive than Tesla has promised. Journalists have questioned the company’s own estimates of cost as too low, saying it’s more likely that the roof tiles will cost more than PV panels plus a new roof — much more. As EnergySage explains,
Consumer Reports crunched the numbers and determined that a Tesla solar roof would cost somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000, based on Tesla’s own pricing guidance. This is much more expensive than a standard asphalt roof replacement, which should cost homeowners between $8,000 and $16,000 depending on their roof size and property location. Labor and installation costs could add an additional premium to the price of the Tesla solar roof, although the lack of information about its technical design makes this price premium difficult to estimate. But think of it this way: roofers aren’t trained as electricians and vice versa, so it’s likely that more highly-specialized contractors will be needed to install the Tesla roof shingles, increasing costs further.
When asked about cost, even Musk had to admit that the Solar Roof would make less economic sense in parts of the country with low electricity rates. That of course includes Virginia, where our average rate of 11.09 cents a kilowatt hour is lower than the national average of 12.82 cents and much lower than the 19 cents that you’d pay in California or the Northeast.
Finally, many experts question whether the technology of the Solar Roof is really ready for prime time.
Several journalists have questioned whether the Solar Roof has been tested enough to verify the company’s claims about durability and efficiency. Some experts feel that the new product has been rushed to market. They predict that, once homeowners get their Solar Roof, they’ll be disappointed. Forbes is especially bearish on the Solar Roof:
For now, this roof is just another of Musk’s expensive toys for rich, green people. As Forbes contributor David Levine — CEO of solar services company Geostellar — has pointed out, there’s about as much market for Tesla’s new roof as there was for the $17,000 gold Apple Watch. The problem, he says, is that the Tesla solar roof isn’t particularly good as solar or as roof.
Like other solar installation companies who keep up with solar technology, Main Street Solar is eager to offer new products that we feel offer superior value to our customers. Tesla’s Solar Roof certainly looks great. But at this point, even if the Solar Roof were available in Virginia — which it may not be for years, if ever — I can’t recommend it. There are just too many unanswered questions about cost and reliability.
Instead, for homeowners in Virginia who need a new roof, we recommend going with expert roofers who can put up the latest tiles at an affordable price. Once your roof is ready, then we’d be happy to talk to you about putting up the best solar PV panels for your situation. That may be the latest, most efficient technology. Or it may be a more tried-and-true equipment that offers outstanding performance at a good price.
And in my opinion, some of the PV panels we put up these days are sleek and elegant, making your home more beautiful — while clearly showing your neighbors and the world that you’ve gone solar.
Many of our customers enjoy it when their neighbors and visitors notice their solar panels and comment about them. That can be the opening to start a nice conversation about solar, which could even lead the person who sees the solar panels deciding to get their own in the future.
We’re happy to discuss your options. Just contact us today for a free quote, and we’ll come out to your place. There’s no cost and no obligation.
— Andrew Brenner, Main Street Solar