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November 2016

"Why buy anything else?" asks inventor during unveiling of innovative solar roof tiles

Rendering of home with Tesla solar roof panelsSerial entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, insists the future of energy is in solar, particularly for buildings. With 4-5 million new roofs installed on U.S. residences every year (and 20 times that number worldwide), he hopes 90 percent of all homes will be equipped to capture solar power in a few decades - but the key, he believes, is to make solar desirable.

At an elaborately staged press briefing to unveil reimagined solar roof tiles for homes, Musk said the tiles being offered by Tesla Energy and SolarCity combine power, aesthetics, durability, and affordability.

"Why would you buy anything else?" he wondered aloud while the A-V screen behind him displayed a message reminding the audience that the sun ("a free, abundant energy source") provides more than enough energy in just one hour to supply our planet's energy needs for an entire year. (Only one percent of U.S. energy consumption comes from solar.)

Along with showcasing four distinct styles of roof tiles, Musk unveiled his company's Powerwall 2 battery unit, a lithium-ion battery that promises to deliver twice the energy density of the first generation Powerwall. News site Electrek called the $5,500 wall-mountable Powerwall 2 a "game changer in home energy storage."

Unlike bulky solar panels that are attached to roofs, Tesla's roof tiles are made of quartz glass embedded with solar cells and resemble conventional roofing materials. Musk said they were engineered with aesthetics as a priority and should last "way longer than an asphalt tile" and probably "longer than the house." The cells are invisible when viewed from the street, but fully exposed to the sun.

Initially, four styles are being offered: Textured Glass Tile, Slate Glass Tile, Tuscan Glass Tile and Smooth Glass Tile. Each tile is transparent to solar, but appears opaque when viewed from an angle.

Musk declined to provide specific pricing, other than to say Tesla's roof costs would be competitive and are expected to cost less than the full cost of a roof; and electricity will also be competitive or better than the cost of a traditional roof combined with the cost of electricity from the grid. Ultimately, the cost will depend on a number of factors, including installation specifics for each home.

Tesla is taking orders now for the solar roofs, but installations are not expected to start until summer 2017. Musk exuded confidence about the demand for his latest venture, saying, "It'll be incredibly odd to have a roof that doesn't generate energy in the future." 

Tesla Energy is a division of Tesla Motors Inc., which intends to buy SolarCity Corp as part of Musk's plan to combine his electric-car and solar-energy companies as part of the company's mission to "accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."  A shareholder vote is scheduled for Nov. 17. If approved, the deal would double Tesla's workforce to nearly 30,000 employees and create an integrated sustainable energy company combining solar, power storage and transportation.

Since its founding in 2006, SolarCity has become the largest distributed solar power installer in the U.S. It has completed 285,000 installations in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Different styles of Tesla solar roof panels