Elon Musk revealed on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon that Tesla plans to start taking orders for its solar roof product.
“More in about 10 hours . . .” tweeted Musk minutes before 1 a.m. Pacific time. He added that the company’s solar roof will be available "for almost any country,” with deployments in the U.S. this year and internationally next year.
Musk also said that Tesla’s “black glass smooth” and “textured” solar roof panels will come first, followed by the “Tuscan” and “French Slate” panels in “about six months.”
In true Musk style, his news comes a bit behind schedule. Previously, the Tesla CEO said the company would start taking orders for its solar roofs in April.
Also in typical Musk fashion, he gave very few other details about the solar roofs. He didn’t reveal pricing, though presumably once orders are opened up in the afternoon, customers will have to know the price of what they’re buying.
Last October, Tesla showed off its solar roof prototypes for the first time at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. At the event, houses around the venue were mocked up with Tesla solar roofs that looked like traditional roof shingles.
Unlike standard solar panels that are mounted on top of a roof, Tesla’s solar shingles are embedded in a roof. To install the Tesla product, the customer must replace her home's entire roof.
Other companies like Dow have tried selling “building-integrated” products before, and have struggled from poor performance and the high costs of integrating the systems.
To make a new type of solar roof, Tesla turned to conglomerate 3M, which designed a new solar film especially for Tesla. The film enables Tesla’s solar roof to capture sunlight -- and also to appear to be a different color from the vantage point of viewers at ground level, a feat it achieves by using tiny louvers akin to a mini venetian blind. It works sort of like a privacy screen on your computer.
Musk previously said Tesla's solar roof would cost the same as a regular roof, plus the cost of electricity. But as longtime solar industry vet Barry Cinnamon noted in this piece for GTM, the cost of Tesla’s solar shingles will likely be high and the installation process complex.
Cinnamon calculated that it could cost between $12,000 to $15,000 to re-roof a typical 2,000-square-foot home. Annual electricity could cost $2,250, or $22,500 over a decade. He predicts that a Tesla solar roof retrofit could cost in the range of $33,000 to $37,500.
He also predicted that a Tesla solar roof retrofit could have double the payback time of a traditional solar system. However, the Tesla solar roof could be compelling for new construction, and for homeowners willing to pay a premium for better solar aesthetics.
Aesthetics may not be a big driver, though. According to a recent report from solar and energy data startup EnergySage, only 2.6 percent of consumers said that an “attractive installation” was the highest priority when buying solar panels. In contrast, 45.1 percent of solar consumers said that the “best value” was their highest priority.
Tesla acquired sister company SolarCity last year. Musk has changed the company’s strategy from focusing on growth and selling commodity solar panels, to developing new premium solar products and moderating its expansion. SolarCity installed fewer solar panels last quarter compared to the previous year.
SolarCity has been cutting costs over the past few months, including headcount, and it’s now planning on manufacturing solar panels in conjunction with Japanese partner Panasonic. The company also recently stopped its door-to-door sales, and instead will opt to sell solar panels through Tesla’s stores.
Will Tesla’s solar roofs, which could have “infinity” warranties, emerge as the killer product that will help SolarCity through this difficult residential solar market? Not likely. But they’ll add a dose of Tesla branding and glamour in a market that’s rapidly becoming commoditized.