On Friday, CEO Elon Musk announced on Twitter that Tesla will start taking orders for its solar roof shingle product in April.

Late last year, we cautioned Tesla about entering the integrated solar roof market, gave a list of current and former PV-roof players, and more recently looked at the potential costs of an integrated solar roof

It's a tough space.

Would you buy a solar roof at a car showroom?

Tesla's recent SEC filing included this: "We plan to reduce customer acquisition costs by cutting advertising spend and increasingly selling solar products in Tesla stores. In the fourth quarter of 2016, we revealed the solar roof product, of which we expect to begin production and installation later in 2017."

And this: "In the first quarter of 2017, we also began offering our solar products and services in select Tesla stores."

Company reps say the new solar product is in R&D and on track for release. 

GTM stopped by a few Tesla stores. Salespeople in the Stanford Mall and El Camino Real Palo Alto locations offered to take our contact info and have a solar specialist get back to us. No solar was on display. There was no solar on display in the Prudential Center store in Boston nor in the Santa Monica Promenade location. The Santana Row Tesla showroom in San Jose had a wallpapered image of a conventional solar installation -- displayed in what could charitably be called an alcove.

One would imagine that, in time, select stores will have a solar salesperson available or that the car salespeople will be cross-trained to sell solar. As a consumer, the retail combination of the two product lines feels less than seamless at the current juncture. But the relatively wealthy first adopters are Elon's people, so maybe that doesn't matter.

I asked a Tesla sales and product specialist about the integrated roof, and his first question was, "How old is your roof?" The next was, "Are you thinking about having your roof replaced?" Those absolutely seem like the right questions to be asking. How many folks will wander into a Tesla showroom to answer those questions?

As we've reported, Tesla has a growing number job of openings (36 currently listed here) for roofers. This gives some indication that Tesla will be keeping the roofing work in-house.

Would you buy commercial BIPV from Dr. Shi?

If you've been in or following the solar industry for more than a few years, you'll remember Suntech's founder and CEO, Dr. Zhengrong Shi. He was hailed in China for his solar manufacturing leadership and entrepreneurship at the helm of the world's largest solar manufacturer. At one point, Shi's net worth was over $2 billion. After Suntech's 2013 bankruptcy and Shi's dismissal by Suntech’s board, his estimated net worth was “around $31 million.”

Shi's new firm, Sunman, has returned with a "lightweight, ultra-thin and flexible [composite material] panel that he is hailing as the biggest change to the solar industry in decades," according to reporting in RenewEconomy.

Regarding Tesla's "heavy" and "rigid" roof tiles, Shi told RenewEconomy, “The Tesla solar tile is the wrong way of doing it. That type [of] engineering is very expensive.”

The article contends: "Many commercial and industrial customers have not installed solar because their roof structures have not [been] able to support it. Around 100 [kilowatts] of rooftop solar normally weighs around 8 tonnes. A 100[-kilowatt] array with the new panels will weigh little more than 2 tonnes. Ditto for solar carports. Adding solar PV normally requires significant amount of concrete and steel, but this will reduce the cost and offer architectural features such as curves."

Anil Vijayendran, VP of product sales and marketing at thin-film flexible module maker MiaSolé, told GTM's Julia Pyper: “What we're going for is the applications that cannot use traditional PV, because of weight, because of wind, and because of other considerations.”

MJ Shiao, GTM's head of research for the Americas, cautioned: "The usual caveats for all the firms chasing 'low-weight rooftops' remain. Low-weight rooftops are not the primary bottleneck for the growth of commercial markets -- economics, origination and transaction costs are."

Sunman installation

BIPV bloodbath

Since we're on the topic, it's helpful to revisit our list of building-integrated and solar roofing companies that have passed away, or that are still waiting for their breakout moment.

Over the last decade, we've documented the struggles of -- and sometimes eulogized -- a number of these companies. We include solar roofing, solar windows and flexible roll-on solar panels in the category of building-integrated photovoltaics.

Here are some of the casualties.

There are still a number of companies fighting the integrated-solar fight, but no runaway commercial volume successes have yet emerged.

  • Solarmass roof tiles, a product "designed to be installed by a roofer" but without flashing or frames 
  • Solaria's BIPV windows
  • Atlantis Energy's solar tiles
  • MiaSolé (flexible CIGS) acquired by China's Hanergy
  • Redwood Renewables (PV roof tiles)
  • SunTegra's roof integrated panel includes ventilation. The firm works with roofers, remodelers and homebuilders, and claims to have installed over 4,000 panels to date on 30 to 40 buildings nationwide. The firm's CEO said, "We’re within the window of the premium people are willing to pay for the aesthetics of integrated options. A lot of people don't love the way panels look," according to reporting from GTM's Julian Spector.
  • Lumeta's peel-and-stick solar panels
  • AltEnergy is a BIPV project developer
  • ArteZanos' integrated solar tiles
  • Heliatek's OSC technology focused on windows and facades
  • CertainTeed Solar is working on two types of roof-integrated products, including shingles