Yep, I’m going to cover the Tesla SolarCity panels.  I left this one to last because unlike the “roof plus array”, Tesla offers shingles that turn the entire roof into a collector.  Aesthetically, they look like metal or stone coasted shingles.  Price wise, they are much more expensive.  The interesting part is that with design, not only does the entire roof become an array, but all costs are subject to ITC, not just the array portion of “roof plus array”.  They use HIT technology (from Part 2) and have plants in Fremont, CA and Buffalo, NY.  Both cities utilized tax policy to land the plants which generated a couple of thousand jobs.  Someday I’ll write something on the symbiotic relationship between government and technology in the sustainability area.

This series has covered a lot of ground including a roof primer, engineering background and governmental perspectives.  This installment will finally get around to addressing my original reason for posting; the Tesla SolarCity pricing announcement.  I wanted to explore the economic viability of the roofing system.  Would this be a practical alternative today, or something to wait for?

SolarCity tiles are more attractive than solar panels.  There are four styles planned, two of which are already being produced:

  • Tuscan
  • Slate
  • Smooth (planned)
  • Textured (planned)

Production is currently being handled by a facility in Fremont, CA, but a new facility in Buffalo, NY should come online soon.  I grew up in Buffalo and returned for a visit last month.  I saw the SolarCity plant and it is indeed impressive.  In my opinion, it is a good example of government and industry working together because it is not based on tax incentives alone.  The state owns the facility and equipment.  Tesla will use the facility and hire the workers. Jobs and innovation; a developing relationship.

Since this series began a couple of weeks ago, Tesla has installed its first SolarCity roofing system. Bloomberg reports that the cost of SolarCity tiles are $420 per square and they compared this cost to standard roofing with a separate solar array, the common configuration.  They also identified three target markets:

  • Terra Cotta (or Tile)
  • Slate
  • Glass

They used the same comparison approach we used in this series; roof and array versus SolarCity.

There is no methodology information provided in the Bloomberg article, but they came up with the same conclusion.  Using the cost figures from our first post and adding in the effect of the 30% ITC program, it is clear that one of the economic advantages of SolarCity is the entire roof is subject to ITC.  ITC has a big effect on the economics as shown by the red line on the following chart.

Our analysis shows the competitive market for SolarCity to be:

  • Copper or Zinc
  • Tile (Terra Cotta)
  • Metal Seam
  • Slate

It is difficult to predict the effect that high volume production and sponsored incentives will have on the consumer costs. On the performance side, we will know very shortly how these tiles perform.  The move to Panasonic HIT technology may have delayed production in Buffalo, but is clearly a shift that will benefit consumers.

Before I end, please checkout the excellent work being done by Google’s Sunroof project.  You should lookup your address to ensure that the property you are considering for solar can be positioned in a way to take advantage of sunlight.  It can even help you locate the sunniest places on your roof! And stay tuned for more solar news, as the field is innovating all the time.