Tesla's most eye-catching product may be its hardest to spot.
On Thursday, CEO Elon Musk shared a photo with his 31.7 million Twitter followers of a Tesla Solar Roof, the company's electricity-generating roof tiles. The company unveiled a new version of the tiles five months ago, which it now claims are cheaper than buying a roof and retroactively fitting panels. The image shows an aerial view of a house, giving a clear view of the roof.
"Raising art to new heights," Musk wrote.
But perhaps the most striking aspect of the photo is how, without any context, you could be forgiven for thinking that it looks just like any standard house. Even though Tesla's tiles are secretly working away, delivering renewable energy for the house below, the tiles effortlessly blend in with the rest of the building. Unlike retrofit, where the solar panels sit on top of the tiles, the tiles are the panels.
It's an impressive demonstration of perhaps the Tesla Solar Roof's biggest selling point. Solar cells are optically isotropic, which means they look purple from one angle and green from another. That means hiding them requires high engineering skills.
The tiles were first unveiled in October 2016, at a special event on the set of Desperate Housewives. The house of the future outlined had a Tesla Model 3 electric car charging in the garage, a Powerwall battery providing the home with renewable energy, and tiles topping up the battery. What was most notable was how normal it all looked: the design looked like pretty much any other home, but Tesla had successfully created a setup that both offered zero-emissions electricity and came in an impressive design.
The design was perhaps one of the toughest elements to get right. Tesla unveiled the roof in four designs: smooth, textured, slate and Tuscan. The smooth tiles started shipping in the spring of 2018 for a limited selection of houses, but the rollout was slow.
The design may have been to blame. Panasonic, which previously produced the tiles at the Giga New York factory in Buffalo, announced last week that it was parting ways with Tesla on the solar production front. Nikkei reported that Panasonic struggled to match Tesla's demands for design, while also maintaining efficiency and cost targets.
Tesla's third-generation tiles, announced in October 2019, could help alleviate these issues. Paired up with a new supplier, the company has outlined a faster rollout time and a new tile design. The new tiles measure 15 inches by 45 inches, compared to the old ones that were 8.65 inches by 14 inches. They use a new internal design with greater power density. The team also hinted that the new tiles may be harder to spot.
Tesla is expected to continue development on the solar tiles. Since the October 2019 launch, the company has shipped smooth tiles that weather and grow less shiny over time. At the launch, Musk also hinted at new designs like a clay tile launching every six to nine months. Last month, Musk reiterated that new designs would hopefully launch later this year.
It seems Tesla plans to "raise art" to even higher heights.