solarcity glass slate tile

If you have seen Elon Musk’s latest dramatic video you may have gotten the impression that affordable, beautiful, fully roof-integrated solar is just around the corner.  The holy grail of residential solar is a product that can't be distinguished from the rest of the roof; many big companies have tried and failed to meet the challenge of creating such a product that:

  • Has a competitive manufacturing cost
  • Is installer friendly,
  • Meets the electrical, fire, and building codes
  • Will produce power for decades.

I wish it were so, but upon closer examination the video reveals some snags, starting with an indication of what the cost could be.  The solar roofing is not a composition shingle, but imitates roofing types that are expensive and unusual here.  Have you ever priced a slate or tile roof?  According to Homewyse, a slate roof will cost about $1,700 per 100 sq. ft. installed, and tile is about $1,350 per 100 sq. ft. versus $425 per 100 sq. ft. for composition shingles.

Then there are the questions of what is installed on the rest of the roof (north facing, fire access areas, etc) and how their system will be installed and meet the codes.  The house in the video with the tile roof had non-solar mission tiles on the house and solar “S” tiles only on the garage.  The products do look very attractive, but Musk makes a big leap at the end of the video where he envisions that all neighborhoods will, over time, install his beautiful, expensive roofing on every home.

SolarCity may have created a viable roof-integrated product for high end homes, but many more details have yet to be revealed, so I'm withholding further comment. My initial observation is that the bar is already artificially low for their claim that these products' cost compares favorably with non-solar roofing + electric bill offset.

This announcement seems to have been timed to boost Elon's Tesla-SolarCity merger prospects, and is classic Elon in that respect.

That said, it would be pretty cool if they are able to succeed in cracking the solar roof code where all others have failed.

The Powerwall 2 does seem to take a big step forward in battery integration.  The original Powerwall had many limitations, and some of those seem to have been addressed in the new version.  The inclusion of the inverter in the package is a welcome change that will eliminate the clutter of boxes that accompany an original Powerwall installation.  Stay tuned on this one.

About the author


Started Puget Sound Solar in 2001 with 30 years of construction contracting experience, and a desire to turn Seattle on to solar energy. Achieving NABCEP certification in 2004, Jeremy believes that our customers often follow a path similar to the one he took, starting out with solar daydreaming, then progressing to education on the subject, and eventually leading to action. In addition to leading the company he also does some teaching and speaking engagements about various aspects of solar energy, and experiments relentlessly with various solar, energy efficiency, and electric vehicle projects.

Jeremy Smithson

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