At the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in July, Elon Musk claimed that the U.S. can run solely on solar energy.
“If you wanted to power the entire U.S. with solar panels,” he said, “it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States.” In October 2016, Musk unveiled Tesla’s latest products: a solar roof and an updated Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2. Tesla, Musk’s electric car company, acquired photovoltaics company SolarCity in 2016 for $2.6 billion. The deal merged the two companies, allowing the tech millionaire to sell and advertise Tesla products and solar roofs for a fully integrated solar home.
Energy gathered from the solar roof will be stored into a Tesla Powerwall, a 14 kWh battery for residential homes (it is scalable up to nine Powerwalls in one unit). During the day, the solar shingles will generate electricity and recharge the batteries, which will then provide power at night in place of a traditional utility grid. Each unit has enough capacity for a day’s worth of power. The Powerpack 2 is meant for commercial use and is limitlessly scalable.
Rendering of a house using a textured tile roof (Courtesy Tesla Motors)
The solar roof system integrates the photovoltaic (PV) cells, which are covered with color louver film and glass tiles, inside the structure of the roof. There are four tile options hydrographically printed to resemble classic roofing materials. Tesla also offers a solar panel designed to be aesthetically innocuous to attract those who would otherwise be put off by typical solar shingles.
In July, Tesla began accepting orders and released price points for a roof with a mix of active solar tiles and inactive glass tiles. As the ratio of active to inactive tiles varies, so does the cost. A 34 percent mix is only $21.85 per square foot, well under the $24.50 threshold that Consumer Reports sets in order for the roof to be price competitive with standard residential roofs.
Tesla’s Solar Roofs were rolled out this August and the company claims that each roof will pay for itself in electricity savings over the course of the 30-year warranty. If the solar roof is truly this affordable, then it could become very attractive to the mass consumer.
The acquisition of SolarCity is Musk’s answer to the fossil fuel industry, which he has said needs to be replaced by solar energy. In 15 years, Musk proclaimed at a TED 2017 conference in April, it will be unusual for a house to not have solar roofs.
His visionary zeal—he also claims that it’s possible to colonize Mars in the next decade—is spreading. YarraBend, an upcoming mini-suburb in Australia, will have Tesla Powerwalls and solar panels in all of its houses. Nicknamed “Tesla Town,” it could be a model for planning around the combination of solar energy, home battery packs, and electric vehicles.