Is The Tesla Solar Roof Tile as Good and Innovative As Elon Musk is Saying?

Jon Capistrano
Jon Capistrano
November 10, 2016

Elon Musk and his Tesla energy division have introduced a new solar roof that they have been working on, alongside a newer version of the Tesla Powerwall home battery storage. The product launch generated a lot of interest when it was first announced and has continued to do so since being formally introduced by Elon Musk himself in California.

Although each of the products are very cool, some people are sceptical about the roof tile specifically, which has been raising a number of questions.

Natural Solar’s Sydney-based Chris Williams told Gizmodo that when the solar roof is combined with the Powerwall 2, Australian homeowners will be closer than ever before to off-the-grid electricity independence. A large roof with multiple Powerwall 2s to store energy is already possible, but a solar roof that is a complete replacement to traditional solar rooftop PVs would allow solar panels to face the sun for every hour of daylight, the article claims.

The Opinions on the Other Side of the Fence

Eric Wesoff, the editor-in-chief of Greentech Media who has experience in creating building-integrated projects, has expressed his observation of Tesla’s solar roof. According to Wessof, he has seen a number of solar roofing and BIPV companies close down. This includes manufacturers of solar roofing, solar windows and flexible roll-on solar panels. He said that roofing and PV panels have different roles and he has observed that combining the two will compromise both at a very premium cost. He also wrote in his article that it’s one of those ideas like the solar roadways that attracts imagination and seems inspiring but has no practical benefit.

The Tesla solar roof is not the first of its kind in the world. One such example is the Australian roof tile manufacturer Monier. Solar roof tiles have been offered for years by the company, thus Musk is not an innovator, but a follower of the technology.

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty and be open-minded. The solar roof tile has not taken off in Australia and below are a few reasons why:

  1. A solar roof tile is more expensive than a normal tile or metal roof. Solar PVs installed on existing roofs are still more affordable than solar roofs. Investment returns will take longer as compared to rooftop solar PVs. Solar usually take 5-6 years payback while solar tiles will take about 12 years or more.
  2. Solar tiles do not have the same efficiency as the conventional high efficient solar panels. Therefore one gets less electricity per m2 than some of the high efficient panels available today. For example LG has currently got a 320W 60 cell NeON2 range and will release a new NeON R panel in January, which will produce a competition beating 360W 60 cell panel.
  3. Metal roofing sheets and roof tiles are made to last 50-60 years, while present-day solar power systems are already proven effective and still fast evolving. Solar technology keeps on changing and producing more electricity out of the same 1.62m2/panel area and will require more solar generation as batteries and electric car charging will double the electricity requirements in future years.
  4. Solar installers have pointed out 3 key reasons why solar systems fail – they are inverter failures, panel failures due to water damage and de-lamination and connection failures on connectors or isolators. A solar roof tile system has many thousand more connection points than a convential solar system.
  5. In terms of solar repair, one big advantage of micro converters is that they offer panel level monitoring. Anyone can easily check if a solar panel is not performing well or it has completely stopped working thus repair and replacement will be exact and fast. It is not clear if the solar roof will offer that technology.
  6. In Australia, roofers, electricians and system installers have special training and certifications/accreditation before they can do their job. One just cannot install without these accreditations. Now if a solar roof tile gets broken, who will you call? The roofer, the electrician or the solar installer?
  7. How durable are these solar roof tiles to walk on just in case the roof needs repairs, cleaning or maintenance? If micro cracks or solar cell damage happens, this will be a big issue.

A number of industry experts agree that in theory, solar roof tiles are an excellent idea. However, the technology has been on the market for years now and failed to take off due to the reasons mentioned. Practical application will take on many hurdles and the solar industry will wonder if Elon Musk will win this one.

Featured Image Credit: OnInnovation

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