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Tesla’s Solar Roof: Worth the wait?

Nov 21, 2016

Tesla’s Solar Roof: Worth the wait?

With all the buzz the announcement received, it’s likely that every homeowner currently considering solar has the same question:

Is Tesla’s Solar Roof Worth the Wait?

Ultimately, that’s up to you. But we can help you look past the hype and understand what these products actually deliver. Don’t get us wrong: we applaud Musk’s vision and creativity, and we’re fully behind any efforts to drive the adoption of renewable power for a cleaner, greener planet. We’re just not convinced this particular product is as groundbreaking as Musk makes it seem.

Tesla has yet to reveal some important details about the roof (including any specifics about the inverter used), but here’s a breakdown of what we do know – and why we see some pretty significant causes for concern.


 

The rundown on solar roof tiles

 

They look good.

To be sure, the solar roof is visually impressive. Multiple finish options (including ‘Tuscan’ and ‘slate’) allow for a solar roof that looks almost indistinguishable from a normal roof. It’s sure to appeal to homeowners with an aesthetic objection to solar panels. (But there’s a reason no one’s successfully eliminated the solar panel before – multiple reasons, in fact. Read on.)

They’re not cheap.

After initially stating that the solar roof would cost “less than the traditional roof plus the cost of electricity” (an estimated $50,000-plus), Musk is now claiming that it will cost even less than a normal roof. Seem too good to be true? That’s because it probably is. When Musk says “normal roof,” he’s likely referring to slate, clay, and terracotta tiles -- in other words, some of the most high-end roof materials out there, and up to 20 times more expensive than the asphalt shingles that top most American homes.

Despite Musk’s best efforts to reduce cost, it’s likely that the solar roof will only be a competitive alternative for those customers already planning to splurge on a luxury roof. And regardless of the ultimate price tag, it becomes considerably steeper when you consider that you’re investing in a technology with an uncertain return, especially when there are numerous solar technologies out there with known costs and known returns.

Performance is a big question mark.

In solar, efficiency is everything; every .01% matters. The company itself admits that the aesthetic coatings reduce efficiency by 2%, which adds up to a big blow to your financial return.  There are other causes for concern about the roof’s performance, too: while solar panels are angled to best capture sunlight, roofs generally aren’t. And the lack of airflow (normally created by the gap between standard panels and the roof) could reduce efficiency. Roof shading and obstructions won’t be possible to design around, dragging down production. Plus, BIPV (building-integrated photovoltaics) have had historically lower efficiency.

The fire hazard is real.

One of the primary reasons that the solar panel endures? Rooftop solar tiles pose a greater fire hazard, due to increased heat inside the roof and dissipated throughout. In fact, one German study found that roof-integrated PV systems had a fire risk 20 times higher than standard systems. Plus, the super robust tiles would be impermeable by firefighters. It’s unclear how Tesla plans to avoid this long-standing problem, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What happens if a tile fails?

Even with the best-crafted equipment, things sometimes fail. But when a solar tile fails and needs to be replaced? It’s hard to imagine how that could be accomplished without tearing out an entire section of your roof.

Like we said before, we truly admire Musk’s efforts to create beautiful products that attract a wider audience to clean energy living. We just haven’t yet seen any reason to believe that the solar roof is the industry game-changer he makes it out to be. Most importantly, we see no reason for homeowners to wait when there are innovative solar technologies out there today (including, but not limited to, our own Home Energy Solution) that surpass Tesla’s in intelligence, effectiveness, and affordability.

Ready to go solar? Check out our Enphase Installer Network to get started today.

Further reading on Tesla’s solar roof:

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