Tesla’s New Solar Roof
While we wait for Elon Musk to build his human colony on Mars to combat global warming, his latest product — Tesla’s Solar Roof — aims to help protect the planet in a far more practical and cost-effective way.
Musk, never one to shy away from grand statements, says the panels are positioned to revolutionize how we power and design our homes.
Unlike the bulky and ugly panels on most solar roofs, these are sleek and stylish, designed for a clean, streamlined look. Moreover, the panels come with an "infinity warranty."
Let’s explore this latest invention from our favorite visionary entrepreneur and mad scientist — starting with some background on how Musk got to this point.
Ready to feel like an underachiever? Ok, here goes. At age 12, Elon Musk sold video game computer code that he created for approximately $500. After earning a bachelor’s degree in both physics and economics, he moved to California with his brother and using $2,000 they borrowed from their father, started Zip2, a web software company. Four years later, in 1999, Compaq acquired the company for $307 million. Musk was 28.
Following this, Musk would go on to start nearly a dozen other innovative and ground-breaking companies, including PayPal and Tesla. Moreover, he’s emerged as one of the country’s most powerful and influential voices on matters of business, science, and the environment. One of his more aspirational goals is to establish the Mars colony.
And now, we have Telsa's Solar Roof.
Tesla, the company Musk is perhaps best known for, was incorporated in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, who were both active in the company's early development. While Musk led a series of investments for the company, served as chairman of the board, and helped oversee design of the Tesla Roadster, he wasn’t initally involved in day-to-day business operations. That changed after the recession. Musk took over as CEO in 2008 and spearheaded a number of innovative new electric cars, including the Tesla Model S and Model X, which are priced between $84,800 to $128,650.
While still involved with Tesla, Musk invested in and helped launch SolarCity in 2006 with his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive. By 2013, the company was the leading residential solar installer in the U.S. Last summer, Tesla acquired SolarCity for $2.6 billion. Musk says the acquisition is part of his plan “to change the world and humanity” and will enable Tesla to transition from an electric-vehicle automaker into a renewable-energy products company. Tesla is now developing a $900 million, 1.2-million-square-foot factory in Buffalo, New York, where it will produce proprietary solar cells. The factory just recently got started. As the new factory ramps, the company continues to manufacture it’s solar roof tiles in a Fremont, Calif., factory.
Tesla offers four styles of the solar glass panels: textured, smooth, Tuscan and French slate, which are produced using a special hydrographic printing process that makes each tile unique (Musk uses the French slate tiles on his own roof). With each tile, the solar cells are located behind the glass, so the roof is both aesthetically appealing and efficient.
The tiles are warrantied for the “lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first,” according to the website. Tesla released a video recently that shows how the solar panel can withstand the impact of a two-inch hailstone traveling at 100 mph, while more traditional roof tiles (clay and terra cotta), shatter.
As part of the Solar Roof, Tesla offers the Powerwall, which provides backup power during emergencies like utility outages or natural disasters. These compact, stackable devices are typically mounted to the side of a house and store the energy that the solar tiles collect during the day. The device enables the user to self-power his or her home and even go off-grid, ensuring reliable power day and night. Tesla claims that the new Powerwall 2, priced at $5,500, can power a four-bedroom house indefinitely when used in conjunction with the Solar Roof.
In his quest to promote sustainable energy—and no doubt make a few bucks in the process—Musk says he envisions a day when everyone has an electric car in the garage, a Solar Roof, and a Powerwall, all integrated into a seamless system.
The Powerpack is yet another innovative Tesla product. Using similar technology found in the company’s integrated car battery systems, Tesla built the Powerpack for the electric grid. The device supports a host of applications that offer commercial consumers and energy providers greater control, efficiency and reliability. Among its many capabilities, the Powerpack can shift energy consumption from one point in time to another to avoid paying high energy prices. Moreover, it can provide intermediate backup power in the event of a grid interruption.
The cost of a Solar Roof is based on estimated roof square footage, provided by Google Project Sunroof where available, and the portion of your roof covered with solar tiles. Tesla’s online cost calculator uses a home’s address to determine the ratio of solar to non-solar tiles your house would need to get 100 percent of your energy from solar. The calculator deducts the upfront cost of the roof and the Powerwall battery from the cost of what you’d otherwise spend on energy over 30 years.
Consumer Reports performed a cost analysis and determined that, for a Tesla Solar Roof to compete with a conventional asphalt roof, it should not cost more than $24.50 per square foot for an average-sized (~3,000-square-foot) home. The analysis was based on the estimated cost of 30 years of electricity. Tesla has indicated that its average cost to install a solar roof on a 3,000-square-foot house is $65,550 ($21.85 per square foot), which includes the cost of the Powerwall battery. Tesla’s calculator factors in a 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit, but not the incentives and credits that are available from various states and local utilities.
Should You Install a Tesla Solar Roof?
The Tesla solution is quite different from more traditional residential solar installations because it requires you to replace your existing roof. Now, maybe your roof needs to be replaced anyway, but if not... there's an upfront cost inherent in the Tesla project. Is it worth it? Honestly, probably not yet, at least based on the financials when your current roof is in acceptable condition.
Can Tesla continue to innovate and lower costs? Well… Musk is a serial entrepreneur with a history of success. A deeper look at his background may boost your confidence.
All in the Family
Musk, 46, was born in Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa. His mother was a model and dietician and his father was an electromechanical engineer. His younger brother, Kimbal, is also an entrepreneur and environmentalist. He has invested in multiple technology and food companies and owns a series of restaurants. He also co-founded The Kitchen Community, a nonprofit that brings outdoor vegetable gardens to schoolyards and community spaces. Musk’s sister, Tosca, is a film and TV director and producer.
To Infinity and Beyond
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002. The company designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. It is the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit. Using its Dragon spacecraft, the company also delivered cargo to and from the International Space Station. In 2017, SpaceX successfully achieved the first reflight of an orbital class rocket. Musk says the company’s ultimate goal is to enable people to live on other planets.
Digging in the Dirt
One of Musk’s more audacious endeavors is The Boring Company. Dreamed up by Musk while he was stuck in Los Angeles traffic, the company’s mission is to develop a multi-level series of tunnels to help relieve congestion and enable rapid transit across densely populated regions. As proposed by Musk, vehicles would travel through the one-lane tunnels via a stabilized electric skate—an autonomous flat plate on wheels propelled by an electric motor capable of speeds of up to 125 mph. In early 2017, The Boring Company started digging a test tunnel on the SpaceX campus in Los Angeles.
With such a big personality and headline-grabbing companies, Musk has segued into show business. He’s made cameos on films like “Thank You for Smoking” and “Iron Man 2,” as well as the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” But in perhaps the ultimate Hollywood accomplishment, he’s made guest appearances on multiples episodes of “South Park’—often poking fun of himself—as well as “The Simpsons.” In the episode titled “The Musk Who Fell to Earth,” Musk collaborates with Homer and comes up with a number of wacky inventions, including the Springfield Hyperloop and the Glavinator
Check out the 1999 video in which a casually cocky Musk is filmed outside his home excitedly awaiting the delivery of his McLaren F1, one of the world’s fastest and most expensive cars (only about 100 were ever made). The video was taken shortly after he sold his company Zip2 for $4OO million. “I could go and buy one of the islands in the Bahamas and turn it into my personal fiefdom, but I’m much more interested in creating a new company,” Musk says in the video. That new company turned out to be X.com, which would later become PayPal.
Musk married Canadian science fiction writer Justine Wilson in 2000. Through in vitro fertilization, Wilson gave birth to twin boys in 2004 and then triplets in 2006. Two years later the couple divorced. Next, in 2010, Musk married English actress Talulah Riley, who had small parts in films like “Pride & Prejudice,” “Inception,” and “Thor: The Dark World.” The couple divorced in 2012, remarried the following year, then divorced again in 2016.
For a closer look, check out Elon Musk’s bio and background.