Will the Tesla Solar Roof live up to the hype?
Is it better than a regular roof?
Tesla is a car company. Everyone knows that when you talk about Tesla you're talking about cars like the electric Roadster, the mass-market Model 3, and the upcoming Tesla truck. So why are solar panels sometimes first thing you see when you visit Tesla's website?
That's because Tesla appears to believe that solar energy and green energy is the future. And they've invested a lot of money in positioning themselves as a leading solar installation company. But is that really what's important to Tesla and do their solar products live up to the hype? As a disclaimer I own some Tesla stock myself, so I try very hard to keep up with what they're doing.
A little history.
Tesla purchased Solar City and integrated it with the rest of it's electric business. The idea is that a synergy between a company that makes electric cars and a company that could provide the power for those electric cars makes sense. And this logic seems to follow in a lot of Tesla's other business decisions, such as marketing the Tesla powerwall, a battery backup system.
The crowning jewel of Tesla's solar installation is supposed to be the Tesla Solar Roof.
Now bear in mind there's a difference between a Solar Roof and Solar Panels On A Roof.
The solar roof that Tesla proposes replaces the shingles you would normally put on a roof with shingles that have integrated solar circuits. Essentially a solar panel + shingle wrapped up into one. The technology is more like a metal roof than your typical asphalt shingle roof.
Is it a good roof?
Let's look at how roofs work. Most of the time they consist of asphalt shingles on top of a wooden base. Essentially this is using a layer of rock and oil composites to seal and protect the top layer of your house. Your roof has several jobs, the most important of which is to prevent water from getting into your house when it rains. That's what roofs have always existed for as priority number one - providing shelter and cover from rain (and by extension sun exposure).
So is it possible to replace this layer of rock and asphalt with something else? Yes, of course. Metal roofs exist and are growing in popularity. There are some parts of the US like Iowa that don't have many metal roofs except on farms, while other areas like southern Georgia have solar roofs galore.
This means that adding something to the roof tile to collect solar panel should be possible, and this is what Tesla created with their solar shingles. Essentially it acts as a metal roof that just has some extra wires underneath to connect the solar panels together.
So far it's been working fine too!
Elon Musk says that their solar shingles will last 2-3 times longer than your regular roof. As asphalt shingles are the most common roof right now and they last around 20 years this means that solar shingles should last 40 to 60 years, which is an incredible lifespan for a roof product.
Also these shingles are good for the environment. Few people know that the tear-off and replacement of asphalt shingles is one of the biggest waste products of any home construction.
Who installs it?
Tesla has been partnering with local solar installers to install their solar shingles. Companies like Iowa Solar or Big Red Solar can install the Tesla roof on Tesla's behalf. Tesla generally doesn't train its own solar installation teams, at least in many parts of the country you're unlikely to see a "Tesla Solar" van driving around and doing installations.
So this means that Tesla partners with a local company that knows local rules and regulations and they work together to provide green energy, which is a win win for both the local partners and for Tesla.
Are they cost effective?
Now this is the real question to answer before knowing whether or not Tesla's solar roof will be worthwhile. There's a reason that asphalt shingles are common and that is because they are relatively inexpensive and many people know how to install them. All it takes is a nail gun and a lot of elbow grease. Installing shingles on a home might cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.
Tesla's shingles are much more expensive than that, however they seem almost comparable to the cost of a metal roof. If they will actually last the 40 to 60 years that Musk claims, this could result in a clear winner in terms of cost when it comes to the long-term value of your home.
Drawbacks of a Solar Roof
One of the first potential drawbacks of a solar roof is that it might not fit in with surrounding rooftops. Neighborhoods often have a consistent style of roof throughout the area, and a solar-panel-shingle roof might stick out like a sore thumb. Although there do seem to be several different kinds of solar shingles offered, including those that look like normal shingles, as well as others that look like ceramic shingles more common to the American Southwest.
Overall however, the biggest downside to this new technology is a stunning lack of information and lack of practical experience. Until these solar shingles have been installed across the country and have been up for a few decades, we won't know if they will actually last as long as promised. Without this kind of experience it's tough to say whether or not the Tesla solar roof will live up to the hype and be a worthwhile investment.
All in all that just means we'll have to wait and see.