Tesla looks to shine with solar shingles
Photo courtesy of Tesla
Elon Musk has built a formidable personal brand on futuristic visions of driverless cars and space travel. But the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Tesla CEO could soon make an impact in a much-nearer future by helping the owners of single- and multi-family homes in the United States harness the power of sunlight.
This summer, Tesla aims to begin installing solar cell roof tiles that look and act like ordinary shingles, reports Scientific American.
Tesla says the tempered glass tiles let light reach the solar cells embedded within them but can take a hit from a hailstone traveling 100 miles per hour. The design costs more than the solar panel assemblies already perched atop many homes, but the company hopes the tiles’ slicker aesthetics will win over reluctant customers.
Technical details are scarce, but experts say the tiles appear to rely on the latest solar cell technology wrapped in a package that attempts to be more aesthetically appealing than standard-issue home arrays.
Home solar energy appeals to both environmental concerns and the desire to “get off the grid,” and metering laws also let U.S. homeowners sell excess solar power back to utility companies. But the allure of going green and saving money is not always enough for those who dislike the sometimes clunky look of traditional rooftop solar panels.
“What Tesla has done is to make the shingles blend in with the rooftop," says Barry Cinnamon, founder of Cinnamon Solar, a home solar installation company that is unaffiliated with Tesla. “Everybody would love to have that if the price is not high.”
Expense certainly does cloud the issue. Companies that previously tried offering rooftop solar tiles have stumbled over steep manufacturing costs and more operational glitches than traditional panels.
Tesla says the preliminary price for its solar roof comes to about $22 per square foot based on the expected mix of solar and ordinary tiles or about $42 if only solar tiles are used. There is a lifetime warranty for the glass tiles and 30 years for the cells embedded in them.
Still, experts expect to see costs come down if Tesla and other companies can ramp up sales and production in the next five to 10 years.
In 2016 solar power became the number-one source of new electric-generating capacity in the U.S. for the first time, accounting for 39 percent of new capacity. By the end of that year the number of U.S. homes with solar power had reached 1.3 million, despite a slowdown in growth compared with 2015.
The overall power generation capacity of home rooftops, however, still pales in comparison with large-scale solar plants built and run by utilities. But U.S. residential solar power has still been rising steadily, with 46 percent growth between 2010 and 2015.
“Solar rooftops are one of the big remaining opportunities to integrate large amounts of renewable energy into the United States without increasing the footprint because the houses and buildings are already there,” says Michael Webber, deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.
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