On Friday, Elon Musk unveiled a way to make solar panels as sleek and cool as Tesla has made electric cars. You can watch the video above, but it’s hard not to feel like this is the future of solar panels. The panels are broken down into tiles that (according to the video and photos) look pretty much exactly like real roofing material. According to Musk, they are also supposedly sturdier than everyday roofing material. In short, there’s no negative aesthetic impact from the panels, while you get a better roof in the process.
You can see photos here from Tech Crunch. And here’s the slate tile model, in the photo on the right. As you can see, it’s hard to tell that there’s any solar PV modules in there. It looks “real.”
Musk made a point to say that the cost of the solar roof is less than the cost of a new roof plus electricity. That could be the case, but right now we don’t have any cost figures on the solar roof. We also know that the solar roof panels are not as efficient as regular solar panels (as the Tech Crunch article points out), and presumably any homeowner would be paying for panels in inefficient (i.e. shaded) parts of the roof. Plus, they wouldn’t be sized to the demand on-site, so customers may be paying for too much solar production compared to the retail credit they can get to offset their usage.
And of course, how many people are replacing their roofs in any given year? If the average roof lasts 25 years, that means just 4% of the market, and probably less given that many people are renting or living in multi-unit dwellings without access to their roof.
But Musk knows that the incentives around rooftop solar are diminishing across the country. As his PowerWall battery gets cheaper, solar customers are going to want to bundle solar with storage, effectively making any utility credit system pointless. After all, why be dependent on regulators giving you retail credit for any surplus solar you generate, when you can just use all your solar energy on-site as you store it for nighttime and cloudy days in your battery?
So lots of unanswered questions, but one thing is clear: solar panels just became sleek and cool — something you couldn’t necessarily say before Friday.