Tesla’s solar roof is generating power for people right now. The tiles are part of CEO Elon Musk’s “house of the future” vision first outlined in October 2016 alongside a Model 3 electric car in the garage and Powerwall battery storing juice for darker days. Musk shared images last week of one of the first installations in San Jose, California, and its owner couldn’t be happier.
“When Tesla announced this product, we thought it was a great fit for us because we knew we needed to replace the roof if we wanted to go solar,” Amanda Tobler tells Inverse. “I’m thrilled to be an early adopter, and hope Tesla can find a way to streamline the process and price to make it available to the masses.”
Tobler struggled to find a company willing to install solar panels because her house, built in 1965, had a metal roof. Joining the sunshine revolution would mean replacing the roof, so Tobler placed an order for Tesla’s offering in May 2017 just after preorders went live. Tobler opted for textured tiles, offered alongside smooth, as one of the two initial styles, with Tuscan and slate due for launch later. All four offer tempered glass three times stronger than slate or asphalt, plus anti-ice wires for defrosting in a similar fashion to car windshields.
The order was something of a risk. Replacing a roof is a huge investment, and even though Tesla offers an “infinity” warranty on the tiles with 30 years coverage for its power-generating capabilities and weatherization, Tobler’s order was a sign of faith in a company known to most for its electric cars.
The following month, a Tesla energy specialist got in touch with Tobler to start the project, which led to a site survey in July. After that, she didn’t hear anything until January 2018, when the team finalized the design and the official paperwork was delivered. Installation started in the last week of February, with the team — who Tober says “was great to work with” — battling with bouts of rain over a three-week period to finish the job.
The big question around the tiles is pricing. Tesla recommends a mix of identical-looking solar ($42 per square foot) and non-solar tiles ($11 per square foot) depending on energy needs. Its suggested figure of $21.85 per square foot is based on 35 percent solar tiles, but Tesla suggests even that figure is high, as energy cost savings will also offset the price.
With Tobler’s roof of around 2,000 square feet, around 40 percent of the installed tiles are solar. Factoring in the federal solar Investment Tax Credit from next year’s return, Tobler estimates the project will have cost around $50,000 — around half the cost of another installation spotted last week in San Francisco. The 30-percent credit won’t cover the whole project, only the solar and Powerwall aspects.
The installation produces around 9.85 kilowatts of power. Tobler received the go-ahead from Pacific Gas and Electric Company to flip the switch on Friday. She awoke the following day to find the installation producing around four kilowatts of energy on a cloudy morning, with 0.4 kilowatts flowing straight to the house and the rest charging the Powerwall.
The installation bears the branding for SolarCity, the company founded in 2006 that merged into Tesla in November 2017 to become a wholly owned subsidiary.
When the Powerwall is fully charged, excess power is pushed back out to the grid, which Tobler can monitor through this smartphone app:
“It’s so cool to watch the energy flow through the Tesla app,” Tobler says. “I am eager for the sky to clear so we can see how much energy we can really produce. We have two plug-in cars, and we’re super excited to be able to use solar to cover charging those, as well as the regular house power needs.”
Tesla plans to ramp up production over the coming year. While attention is focused on the company’s plans for a Semi electric truck, Roadster supercar, and autonomous driving, the solar roof could quietly form a key pillar of Musk’s renewable energy ambitions. The CEO, along with chief technology officer Jeffrey B. Straubel, revealed in August 2017 they were among the first to start using the tiles on their own homes.
“My overall impression of the process and product are positive,” Tobler says. “I think there is a good chance that this will be a win for Tesla, though I know price is a big sticking point for many.”