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Tesla nails solar roofs October 29, 2016

Posted by Maury Markowitz in solar.

Yes, those are solar shingles.

On 28 October, Tesla held a press event announcing their long-rumored solar roofing product.

I have to say, I’m floored. This is leaps and bounds ahead of anything I’ve seen before. They’re not just acceptable looking, they’re downright beautiful.

Solar roofing products are nothing new. There’s been a variety of them over the years, and in spite of various technologies they all shared a couple of things in common – they looked like ass and they were as expensive as hell. On top of that, some of them added craptastic performance. And they all failed.

I looked into these seriously in 2010 and decided to go with conventional panels for my first array, when ended up as a dozen SolarWorld 230s. And in the last six years, little has changed in this regard. Products come and go, and they were all ugly and expensive. I have a garage roof to do, and was looking at going conventional again.


Dow PowerHouse.jpeg

Why not just use panels?

The last major attempt at a serious solar roofing product was Dow’s PowerHouse, which is a textbook example of how not to sell a product.

First of all it was really shiny, and a weird blue or green depending on the angle you looked at it. Although it wasn’t downright ugly, no one would ever mistake it for a shingle.

On top of that it was a non-standard size, so installing it required you to fill up the non-standard holes left around it with other shingles. And Dow couldn’t be bothered to make one that at least looked like a PowerHouse, so you ended up with something that looked pretty much like any other solar panel on a roof, just flatter. Most of the time you just installed on top of the shingles anyway, so it was just a panel.

Now if that was not enough, it also had poor performance, very high costs, and required you to drill holes all through your roof to run the wiring.


But they didn’t stop there, oh no. They decided the solution to marketing this product was to sell it only to large roofing companies. Now I don’t know about your area, but here in Toronto the market is dominated by many small players. So basically, you couldn’t get them. Even the large players have better things to do than sell Dow’s product for them, so they didn’t.

Meanwhile the PV companies were clamouring for access, and they were ignored. It wasn’t until it had been on the market for about three  years with perhaps zero sales that they opened it up to the PV side, but by that time the 75% decrease in PV costs had wiped out any chance of it being remotely competitive. In July 2016 they threw in the towel.

And now this


The house is nice too.

And that’s why Tesla’s product looks like a complete game changer. I mean, just look at it, it’s beautiful. It’s far better looking than my roof. And, perhaps most importantly, it has that non-uniform coloring that is all the rage in building these days.

The other problem that solar shingles have had is that different locations have different standards for shingles. Here in Toronto we use the standard 3-by-1 asphalt shingle that is guaranteed not to last as long as its guarantee. But in Germany, for instance, shingles are almost square and have clipped corners. In the UK I mostly see ones the same size and shape as the slate they replaced. Anywhere south of the Mason/Dixon tends to use tile.


The “slate” version is my fav.

And that’s the other thing about Tesla’s offering. They’re not only doing conventional US-sized shingles, but tiles too, and one assumes different styles for Europe. And it looks like they either come in various sizes for filling up gaps, or they offer dummy shingles to do the same – notice that the shingling goes all the way to the side, unlike the PowerHouse which was just plopped on top.

Now here’s the problem: they will only be available through Tesla. That’s not as bad as Dow, who relied on 3rd parties, because one assumes Tesla will aggressively sell these products. But for someone like me, who wants to do all of this himself, well, tough crap I guess. But that said, I’m aware I’m in the tiny minority; people who “just want solar” will likely find this a godsend.


Yes, those are solar shingles too.

There’s also the cost. Putting one or two cells in a shingle is a great way to make the price terrible. But in a residential install, equipment costs are a small part of the total install – significantly less than 1/3rd actually. So it remains to be see what sort of overall system costs we’ll see. Tesla isn’t saying, and it won’t be until next summer that we’ll get the nitty-gritty.

Lead image from ArsTechnica, it’s the best I could find with a closeup.


1. Wookey - December 12, 2016

What about solar century’s solar tiles? They were expensive, but they are a sensible size and don’t look too bad. http://www.solarcentury.com/uk/c21e-tiles-and-slates/

I have no idea how well they’ve actually sold. I’ve seen 2 installs in Cambridge (because planners made then do it), and I know my mate who looked at it found that normal tiles + panels on top was half the price.

Maury Markowitz - December 12, 2016

Well these have all the problems of the Dow product, with the exception of the color. They’re still thin plates you put on top of the shingles. And at that point, why pay more?

2. Tom Latulipe - May 12, 2017

Finally some pricing


Still have not seen any performance specifications.

We don’t even get the tax credits up here in Canada. 😦 unfortunately green energy is being portrayed as the bad guy responsible for the expensive Ontario electricity.

Good blog you have here.


Maury Markowitz - May 12, 2017

Thanks Tom! I’m going to do a little price analysis when I get some time.

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