The beautiful solar roof

Tesla and SolarCity have launched a solar roof and the next generation Powerwall and Powerpack battery storage.
Published: Mon 07 Nov 2016

A Tesla-SolarCity solar roof, Powerwall battery on the wall and a Tesla electric vehicle (and charging point) in the garage – the “obvious three-part solution” that Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants you to adopt.

To make the proposition a no-brainer – “why would you buy anything else?” – the solar roof must “look better than a normal roof, last longer, have better insulation and have an installed cost less than the cost of a normal roof plus electricity,” Musk said at the launch of the company’s new product, promised with its acquisition of SolarCity. [Engerati-Tesla gets SolarCity]

And this has apparently been achieved with a glass tile concept – at least in a weight dropping demonstration the SolarCity tile remained intact while traditional terracotta, clay and slate tiles broke. The concept also comes in four different designs – a textured tile, French slate tile, smooth glass tile with microlouvres (transparent to the sun but opaque at ground level) and a Tuscan tile design.

Next generation Tesla batteries

On top of this Musk also announced the second generations of the Powerwall and Powerpack batteries, with a doubling of capacity a “big step above” the first generation. The Powerwall 2 retailing at US$5,500 is a 7kW/14kWh battery and the Powerpack 2, which started shipping in September, is 50kW/210kWh.

This latter battery is being used in the recently announced 20MW/80MWh storage installation – set to be the largest Li-ion installation in the world – for Southern California Edison. [Engerati-Tesla Powerpack gets an SCE boost] In addition a 12MW/52MWh solution along with a 13MW solar PV project is under way for Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii and Musk promised that other project announcements are coming in the future. [Engerati-SolarCity Snaps Up Opportunities in Hawaii’s Energy Sector]

According to a blog post, nearly 300MWh of Tesla batteries have been deployed in 18 countries to date. The company anticipates “the impact and growth rate of energy products around the world to be far greater than that of electric vehicles alone.” [Engerati-In Focus Retail Predictions for 2017 - Customer Centricity]

Solar roof prospects

With the solar roof concept Tesla is targeting primarily the niche of new roof opportunities. Musk claims there are from 4 to 5 million new roofs per year in the US and perhaps 20 times that number worldwide. He envisages that as homes in neighbourhoods have roof replacements, over time they will all come to have solar roofs.

“It’s all about making solar desirable,” he said, noting that there is still a “huge market” for the traditional solar PV systems. “Beautiful, affordable and seamlessly integrated.”

However, there were also some things he didn’t mention. He didn’t put a price to the solar tiles, nor did he mention their efficiency or for example the assembly requirements.

These new developments look and sound very impressive and the crowd at the launch indicated that the cult-like status of the Musk/Tesla brand continues unabated. Of course, they have to put their money where their mouth is but if the demand for the Tesla 3 EV and Powerwall and Powerpack batteries to date is anything to go by, then there also will be demand for the solar roof.

But will Tesla-SolarCity succeed where other companies have failed, or at least not managed to become a major commercial success? Tesla isn’t the first company to bring to market a solar roof, although it is the highest profile name. At least two dozen companies are known to be in or have been in the space of solar roofing or other form of ‘building integrated’ PV.

For example, some five years ago Dow Chemical launched the Powerhouse system but discontinued it earlier this year, citing company strategy following the acquisition of Dow Corning.

In the US among the longer standing companies are New York based SunTegra – which has recently snapped up Dow Chemical Powerhouse exec Mark Paille to head up its sales – and Michigan based Luma Resources, which has been in the business for almost a decade. The French multinational Saint-Gobain has both thin film and tile solar roof products.

Tesla titbits

During his presentation Musk dropped a few other titbits, among them that Tesla isn’t an EV company but its purpose is “to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy.”

He also highlighted the need for both utility and rooftop power into the future, estimating that rooftops will contribute about one third of future generation with utilities contributing the two-thirds balance.

A couple of days after the rooftop launch Tesla put out a long statement on the SolarCity acquisition, punting its importance to realizing the sustainable energy future envisaged with solar PV, storage and EVs.

“Tesla and SolarCity have a tremendous opportunity to create a vertically integrated sustainable energy company offering end-to-end clean energy products.”

According to the statement SolarCity provides nearly one out of three new residential solar power systems in the US, and now has more than 300,000 installed residential and commercial customers across the country.

And for the record, another recent Tesla titbit is that all the vehicles being produced now have the hardware for full self-driving capability “at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.” This includes eight surround cameras providing 360o visibility, 12 ultrasonic sensors and a forward-facing radar with enhanced processing.

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