Want to turn your roof into a giant solar panel? Tesla’s solar-powered roof shingles are designed to do just that.
Tesla, Inc. acquired the solar panel maker SolarCity Corporation back in November 2016. Since then, there had been little news from either Tesla or SolarCity about the company’s touted solar roof shingles – until last week.
On March 27th, Tesla CEO Elon Musk suddenly and casually announced via Twitter that the company will begin taking pre-orders for its solar shingles in April.
Casual as it may have been, the news immediately sparked massive interest in the product. After all, while traditionally solar panels are powerful and eco-friendly, they tend to be large and unsightly. Tesla’s solar shingles are designed to blend seamlessly onto an existing structure.
That’s an entirely subjective view, of course. But it’s typical of the confidence we’ve come to know from Elon Musk. And it’s not his only big claim about solar shingles – he also says they last twice as long and cost less to install than their old-fashioned counterparts.
SolarCity makes its solar shingles from panels of quartz glass, which come in four different styles.
The tiles integrate into a roof in three layers. The top layer of impact-resistant glass is designed to protect the sensitive bits from weather. The solar cell lies at the very bottom layer, where it stores energy from the sun shining down from above. Sandwiched between them is a layer of film that makes the tiles nearly invisible from street level.
Tesla and SolarCity are not the first to try their hand at solar roof technology. Whether they can succeed where others have failed will depend largely on cost. Cost is the main reason previous contenders struggled to market their product. Solar roofs have been a dream of solar enthusiasts for years, but the average person simply couldn’t afford to retrofit their entire roof.
Even if solar shingles cost less than the typical roof tile, installing them still means financing completely new roof. Traditional solar panels, on the other hand, can be installed one at a time based on the homeowner’s budget.
Consumer Reports estimates that a 3,000 square foot solar roof will cost an average of $73,500, whereas the average solar panel installation costs between $25,000 and $35,000.
Solar roofs could represent a technical and design breakthrough in the world of renewable energy. But that’s only if Tesla can get the product off the ground.