Tesla starts selling solar roofs

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tesla Inc. is ramping up its entry into the solar power market with an announcement today it is taking orders for a new “solar roof” product.

The company unveiled the solar roof concept in October as part of its broader vision to fight climate change and acquire SolarCity Corp. Analysts said the product could be transformational, but some said they were skeptical, considering CEO Elon Musk did not outline pricing or announce contracts with the construction industry (Greenwire, Oct. 31, 2016).

Many of those questions remain, but Musk said in a tweet this morning that the company would begin taking orders this afternoon for its “black glass smooth” and “textured” roof products, with two additional models available in six months.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Tesla added it plans to start pilot manufacturing of solar roof tiles in the second quarter of 2017 at its factory in Fremont, Calif. Later production this year will occur at Tesla’s “Gigafactory 2” in Buffalo, N.Y., in partnership with Panasonic Corp.

Musk said solar roofs would be deployed overseas next year, after first deployments in the U.S.

The company is targeting the 5 million Americans who install new roofs annually. The idea is that over time, more and more people could shift to an option that cuts their utility bills and lowers emissions.

In an interview after the unveiling, Lux Research analyst Tyler Ogden said the product could be significant because of Tesla’s size. Ogden added in an email today that the announcement doesn’t resolve a lot of unanswered questions about system design, maintenance and how Tesla backs up its claim that its roof will ultimately be cheaper than a traditional one.

“Is this over the cost over a lifetime of a house, given that Tesla is claiming its tiles will last longer than a standard roof?” Ogden asked.

Attempts by other companies to produce solar-roof-style products have stumbled. Dow Chemical Co., for example, abandoned plans earlier this year to sell a solar shingle line.

Hugh Bromley, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, called the roof an “architectural gimmick” initially. That may still be the case, he said, although it is significant that Musk has said a skeleton frame for the product exists. That could lower costs and divert from problems with earlier products that swapped out roof tiles one by one with solar modules.

The announcement comes as the future of solar manufacturing is up in the air. Bankrupt Suniva asked the Trump administration earlier this month to impose tariffs on imported solar cells to push back against a flood of low-cost products from Asia and other countries (E&E News PM, April 26).

“It’s not a great time to be a U.S. solar manufacturer,” Bromley said. At the same time, a ruling in Suniva’s favor also could boost Tesla, he said.