As part of its ongoing quest to lower the Earth’s reliance on fossil fuels, Tesla & CEO Elon Musk have unveiled the next step in the company’s eco-revolution: Tesla Solar roof tiles.
Solar roof tiles are nothing new. However, Tesla’s brand weight, technology and aesthetic approach suggest these latest solar shingles could revolutionise how houses generate electrical power.
The first thing readers will notice is that Tesla Solar tiles do not look like regular solar panels. Those familiar dark-blue photovoltaic cells have been done away with complete. Tesla’s tiles look exactly that: your everyday roof shingles.
Four finishes are available, each reminiscent of some common roofing tile materials:
• Tuscan – Resembles the terracotta tiles found in Italian and Mediterranean architecture
• Slate – A classic, weathered slate finish resembling classic Western aesthetics
• Textured – Deeply running grooves add a well-worn aesthetic to this finish
• Smooth – A rich, smooth finish
Slate and Smooth Glass
Terracotta and Textured Glass
From the street, the cells are not visible to the eye thanks to clever angling of the internal sunlight collecting cells. Only a bird’s eye view betrays the fact these are no ordinary roofing tiles.
Three layers are used in construction too:
• Tempered glass provides the outer shell for protecting the tile’s important innards
• A colour louvre film slots into the middle of the shingle sandwich which allows the cells to blend into the roof while still being exposed to the sun
• Underneath sits a high-efficiency energy cell where power collection takes place
Quartz glass has been used in Tesla Solar tiles’ construction. According to Mr Musk, this means each tile is extremely durable and will last longer than traditional slate or asphalt options. “They should last longer than the house,” Mr Musk said at the tiles’ launch ceremony held in California, USA in October 2016.
Tesla has designed its tiles to be compatible with its Powerwall-2 domestic battery. The tiles collect energy from the sun, which would then be stored in a Powerwall’s battery cells. In theory, the combination of both elements could supply a household with its entire daily power needs.
Musk’s green vision for the globe (solar tiles on every roof, a battery in every home and an electric car in every garage) is certainly admirable. There is one major stumbling block holding back mass adoption, however: cost.
Updating a roof won’t just revolve around the cost of replacement tiles. Building specifiers would have to also invest in Powerwall battery units to ensure they run. These do not come cheap. The Powerwall-2 costs $5,500 and it is likely houses would need more than one of the 14-killowatt-hour (kWH) units to be completely self-sufficient in power generation. In total, a complete system could reach a costly $27,300.
That is only for roofs that need replacing or maintaining. New builds featuring Tesla Solar tiles could incur an additional $7,000-$70,000 in costs. So far, Musk’s green revolution is not one geared-towards the budget end of building.
Tesla says that much of the initial cost can be recouped over the lifetime of the roof in energy savings.
However, given that we are still in the relatively early stages of solar tiles and their development, unit prices could drop considerably if the technology becomes more widespread. Tesla is also in the closing stages of acquiring SolarCity, another eco-friendly technology producer, which may also lead to price reductions.
The future of housebuilding and power generation may see both become inseparable if Tesla’s tiles are a success. Still, costs will need to drop before wide-scale adoption takes place.