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One Step Off The Grid

One week after posting a wider than expected first-quarter loss, US electric vehicle, battery storage and solar company, Tesla, has announced that its much hyped solar roofing tiles are now open for order, including in Australia, where customers can register their interest with a $1,310 down-payment.

Tesla’s “solar roof” was launched last October at a fantasical L.A. event alongside the company’s second generation Powerwall 2.0 home battery storage system, a new Tesla EV charger and the grid- and commercial-scale storage units, Powerpack 2.0.

Market rollout of the solar roof – in a choice of four different styles including a conventional smooth black roof shingle; a conventional slate-style shingle; curved terracotta-style roofing tiles; and textured glass – was set for April this year, at a cost Musk had declared would be cheaper than a “normal” roof, even before taking the value of electricity into account.

In its customary blog update on Thursday, Tesla said the tiles were now open for order, with installations of the smooth and textured glass tiles to start in the US mid-year, while roll-out of the terracotta and slate styles would be delayed until early 2018. In overseas markets, including Australia, installations will not begin until sometime in 2018, the blog says.

On price, Tesla says the “typical homeowner” should expect to pay $US21.85 per square foot for the tiles, which it says makes them competitive with conventional roofing materials. Bloomberg, however, puts the price at $US42 per sqaure foot, including materials and labour.

The price has surprised some, including Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which said – in this provocatively headlined piece – that it had come in “significantly below” BNEF’s prior estimate of $US68 per square foot. Inactive tiles will cost $US11 per square foot.

“The pricing is better than I expected, better than everyone expected,” said BNEF solar analyst Hugh Bromley, who is said to have been skeptical about the potential market impact of the new product.

According to Bromley’s estimates, a traditional rooftop solar setup might be 30 per cent cheaper than a Tesla solar roof, but Tesla’s would “look better and come with a lifetime warranty,” possibly making a 30 per cent premium acceptable.

Using Tesla’s solar roof calculator – you have to put down a deposit to do so – Reuters found that a 1700-square-foot roof in Southern California, with half the roof covered in “active” solar tiles, would cost about $34,300 after a federal tax credit (US). Tesla estimates such a roof could generate $76,700 of electricity over 30 years.

Whatever the cost, the tiles complete Musk’s three-pronged clean energy future vision, where homes and cars are powered by electricity, sourced from the sun.

“These are really the three legs of the stool for a sustainable energy future,” Musk said. “Solar power going to a stationary battery pack so you have power at night, and then charging an electric vehicle … you can scale that to all the world’s demand.”

But of course, the idea of PV integrated roofing – or, indeed, other building materials – did not originate at Tesla.

In mid-2014, a corrugated steel roof on a house in Glebe, Sydney, was completely replaced with Australia’s first integrated photovoltaic (PV) system, made by Bluescope steel.

And in February last year, Sydney-based company Trac Group prepared to launch an IPO to fund the expansion of its solar tile business in Australia, to roll out its products internationally and to maintain its intellectual property portfolio.

And finally, Musk also has  competition from former solar industry royalty, Dr Zhengrong Shi, the founder of Suntech and the former UNSW PhD graduate known as the “Sun King”, who – as we reported in March – is returning to the solar market with a newly developed lightweight, ultra-thin and flexible panel that he is hailing as the biggest change to the solar industry in decades.

The new PV panel uses a composite material – similar to that used in aircraft windows – that makes it nearly 80 per cent lighter than conventional panels, and thin, and flexible, thus making it ideal to incorporate into building structures such as rooftops and facades, and to put on large rooftop structures such as factories and carports that often cannot take the weight of conventional solar PV products.

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy’s sister site, One Step Off The Grid, which focuses on customer experience with distributed generation. To sign up to One Step’s free weekly newsletter, please click here.

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