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Tesla Solar Roof: how to buy and install Elon Musk's energy tiles

The solar-harnessing tiles could be coming to a roof near you.

Tesla's third-generation Solar Roof, sometimes known as the Solarglass Roof, has arrived. Elon Musk's latest solar energy tiles, unveiled in October 2019, offer a striking design that promises to look like a regular roof to the untrained eye.

The tiles have a lot to offer. They're designed to blend into a roof, while providing renewable power round-the-clock when paired with a Powerwall battery. They have a warranty of 25 years. Tesla has produced a video of them surviving the highest-rating hail, a two-inch hailstone moving at 100 mph. Traditional roof tiles fare less well.

Looking at the figures, the roof also seems to undercut the cost of buying a roof and panels separately. Tesla claims a 10-kilowatt roof in California will cost around $33,950, equating to $5.60 per square foot or $2.11 per watt. That, Tesla claims, is cheaper than spending $54,647 on a premium roof ($34,091 at $11.92 per square foot) and retrofit solar panels ($20,556 at $2.05 per watt).

The tiles were first announced in October 2016, but except for a small number of installations in the spring of 2018 they never seemed to materialize in too many places. Reports around the time suggested installations measured in the 10s of houses. Tesla partnered with a Chinese supplier for the third-generation tiles, and the previous supplier Panasonic ended its agreement to produce the tiles this week.

As Tesla starts to raise the roof, here's how to get the roof installed.

Tesla Solar Roof close up.Tesla

Tesla Solar Roof: who can buy?

At the moment, the roof is being installed in various locations across the United States.

At the October 2019 unveiling, Tesla's senior director of energy operations Kunal Girota explained that Tesla is installing retrofit solar panels in 25 states, and it will be offering the roof in all of those states. The goal, however, is to expand across the country with both the company's internal teams and third parties.

At the time of writing, Tesla's website accepts orders for its retrofit solar panels in 24 locations: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusets, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

The Tesla Solar Roof section of the website accepts orders for all 50 states bar Minnesota. Inverse has reached out to Tesla for more information.

As for international buyers, there may be some good news on that front. Musk stated on his Twitter account in February 2020 that he was "looking forward to international expansion later this year."

Tesla Solar Roof: how to order

Arranging an order for the Tesla Solar Roof is simple. Visit the Tesla Solar Roof designer website and enter the information. It can also be accessed at the following address: https://www.tesla.com/solarroof/design

The first four fields will calculate the roof's price: location, home square footage, number of stories and average electricity bill. Tesla needs to determine how big the roof will be, how much sun it's likely to receive and how much energy the house uses. The solar roof uses a combination of fake and solar tiles, meaning the roof isn't entirely made of solar panels. These figures will determine the appropriate mix of fake and solar tiles.

Tesla's solar management app.Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The website will inform you that a non-refundable order fee is due today. Curiously, an information box also informs you that "if you feel strongly about this, we'll give it back to you." The pricing breakdown will demonstrate how much the roof will cost after incentives and assuming 25 years worth of savings. It also offers a comparison with other options like retrofit solar panels.

Once your satisfied, enter your home address (so Tesla knows where to put the roof) and contact information. Then enter your payment information.

Once you press "Place Order" to continue, you are agreeing to the "Payment Terms for Services," the "Energy Products Order Agreement" and the "Customer Privacy Policy." The order agreement varies depending on the state, but here are some important details from the California agreement:

  • Half of the cost of the order is due when installation begins, and the other half is due within five days of the inspection.
  • The installation will start somewhere between two weeks and six months from signing the contract.
  • The installation will be finished seven to 21 days from when it started.

It's perhaps interesting to note, on that last point, that Tesla is aiming to bring install times down to just eight hours.

Tesla Solar Roof: how the install process works

Alex Guichet, a games developer based in Cupertino, gave perhaps the most detailed rundown of the installation process for a third-generation Solar Roof. On October 23, 2019, two days before the new product was announced, Guichet signed a contract with Tesla to install the new tiles before they were announced.

Nearly three weeks later on November 11, Tesla confirmed that the installation permit had been secured. Two days later a subcontractor removed their original roof over the space of two hours. Tesla delivered the materials on November 15, and the company's roofing crew completed work on November 22. This included delays from rain and the weekend.

On December 2, the team started wiring up the electricals, a process completed two days later and fully tested a further three days later. It passed local government inspections on the 11th, and the following month Guichet received permission to start operating from the power company.

A solar roof on a house.Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tesla Solar Roof: is it worth it?

That depends on the situation! While Tesla claims its third-generation tiles are competitive with the cost of a roof plus solar, it's still a big ask to replace the roof. If you don't need to spend the money it might be worth looking at alternatives like retrofit. There's also a number of competitors on the market like Luma Solar, which may be worth exploring before taking the plunge.

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