Speaking to analysts and investors during the Q2 earnings call for SolarCity on August 9, Elon Musk went into detail about his plans for what he calls the “Solar Roof.” It is not a system of solar panels mounted over an existing roof but the actual roof itself. “We’re going to be making a pretty interesting product and I’m excited to kind of reveal to you all at some point. But it is not just your typical module. It is both very efficient and it looks really, really good,” said Peter Rive, SolarCity’s chief technical officer and cousin of Elon Musk.
Elon explained, “It’s a solar roof as opposed to a module on a roof. I think, this is really a fundamental part of achieving a differentiated product strategy – it’s not a beautiful roof that it is a solar roof, it’s not a thing on a roof, it is the roof. That’s … quite a difficult engineering challenge, and not something that is available really anywhere else that is at all good. I think this will be something that’s quite a standout. So one of the things I’m really very excited about the future.”
There are solar shingles out there, and other types of building-integrated solar PV, but as Elon hints, they have not been competitive except in niche markets up till now. Elon & Peter seem convinced the coming SolarCity product is.
Musk told the audience, “The interesting thing about this is that it actually doesn’t cannibalize the existing product of putting solar on roof. Essentially if your roof is nearing end-of-life, you definitely don’t want to put solar panels on it because you’re going to have to replace the roof. So, there is a huge market segment that is currently inaccessible to SolarCity, because people know they’re going to have to replace their roof. You don’t want to put solar panels on top of a roof you’re going to replace.
“However, if you are close — if your roof is nearing end-of-life — you’ve got to get a new roof anyway. There are 5 million new roofs a year just in the U.S. And so, why not have a solar roof that’s better in many others ways as well. We don’t want to show all of our cards right now, but I think people are going to be really excited about what they see.”
The solar roof will be manufactured at the new SolarCity Gigafactory in Buffalo, NY. Elon stated, “it’s really important to manufacturing in-house because its panels control the aesthetics and ideally really design. It’s kind of like making a custom car, like when somebody orders a car from Tesla. They will pick a wide array of options. That car will be custom made to their preferences. You really want the roof custom made to the individual customer as a kit and then sent to…the delivery team to get installed.”
This expands on the the idea put forth in Elon Musk’s Master Plan Part Deux that the goal was to “create a smoothly integrated and beautiful solar-roof-with-battery product that just works, empowering the individual as their own utility, and then scale that throughout the world. One ordering experience, one installation, one service contact, one phone app.”
Looks like Musk’s plan is moving forward. As usual, progress is faster than most people anticipated.