Tesla unveils a bigger, better, simpler Solar Roof – at a 40% discount


Listening to Elon Musk on conference calls is always an experience.

“We can make roofs come alive,” Musk began the call. “There are all these roofs out there just gathering sunlight, but not doing anything with it. In the future it will be odd for roofs to be dormant, or dead, or not gathering energy.”

With this allusion to a future of android roofs, Musk revealed the basic features in V3 of the product, where he aims to go where no company has successfully gone before – to a successful business based on photovoltaic-integrated roofs.

The redesign of this highly ambitious product appears to have centered on several changes: bigger tiles, easier manufacturability, fewer parts and easier/faster install. And of course, lower cost.

Tesla had advertised that its cost would be 40% lower for the Solar Roof versus previous versions. Online, it is advertising a 2,000 square foot roof for just under $34,000, at $17.00 per square foot (Tesla mistakenly says $7) or $1.99 per watt; however this appears to assume full monetization of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC).

Electrek is showing slightly different numbers on a customer quote on a 1,862 square foot roof at $38,000, before the tax credit. This comes out to more like $20 per square foot; with the tax credit it is more like $2.83 per square foot. Either way, this is still a 40% reduction on an earlier estimate for V2 of the solar roof.


Cheaper, or no?

Elon Musk’s approach to rooftop solar has featured an obsession with bringing down costs, as was seen with the move to online sales for Tesla’s rooftop solar.

One of Musks’ big arguments for the solar roof is that it will be cheaper than the combination of a new roof and new solar panels, which Musk argued will be the case for the majority of homeowners. However, there are inevitably assumptions here, and Tesla’s new solar roof is compared to the combination of a “premium roof” with PV.

“Maybe 80% of the time, or more, the Tesla Solar Roof should make the most economic sense, and look the best, and be the longest lasting,” stated Musk on the call.

But while economics are important to getting to mass adoption, too much of a focus can be misleading. A glass tile, building integrated photovoltaic roof is a premium product, and can’t realistically be compared to an asphalt composition roof with the least expensive solar panels on the market.

If Tesla can do this for $4.04 per watt before incentives and $2.83 per watt after the ITC, that’s major progress.


Roofs for installers

An important piece of strategic information on the Tesla call was that while only Tesla employees are currently installing the Solar Roof, that in the future the company plans to open this to outside contractors, who of course must be Tesla certified.

Along with this there were clearly a number of installations to make it easier and faster to install the roof, with Musk claiming that an 8-hour install time is possible.

This appears to have been a major focus of the redesign of the Solar Roof. “Figuring out how to install it successfully is non-trivial,” mused Musk on the call. Musk has also noted challenges with accelerated life testing, noting that testing a product for a 30-year life in only six months is inherently difficult.

But another big aspect is the simplicity. Tesla reports that the new solar roof product has less than 1/2 the parts of the previous design. “We changed some of the materials in use, changed some of the methods, and the technology we are using to something that is more scalable,” explained Musk.

All of this will be produced at the Buffalo Gigafactory, with Musk targeting deployment of 1,000 solar roofs per week. pv magazine has very little visibility into what is currently going on at that factory, but the news so far indicates that the facility has been under-utilized.

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