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Tesla solar roofs are real, but are they spectacular?

Avatar for Ben Zientara
Published on 04/04/2018 in
Updated 10/01/2019
A home with a new Tesla solar roof installed

Photo credit: @toblerhaus

Tesla’s solar roof tiles were introduced in October of 2016, creating a frenzy of analysis and discussion in the solar industry and on solar-focused websites like this one. Perhaps more importantly, though, images of the sleek solar roofs captured the imagination and interest of homeowners all across the country, who’ve been focused on one question ever since: When will these thing become available to buy?

Now, a year and a half later, the first installations of the revolutionary solar shingles are starting to go up on houses in the Bay Area, and early indications are that these things are every bit as cool as you’d think.

You might notice that the image above isn’t a beautiful promo shot of panels on a model home, on the sunniest day of summer when the sun glints off the roof just so. That’s because this is the real world now, and it’s time to see whether these solar roof tiles can withstand the vicissitudes of a years-long residency atop a real home.

Let’s check out these solar roofs and estimate how soon you will get the chance to own one.

The backstory on the solar roof

Elon Musk at the Tesla solar roof launch presentation

Elon Musk introduces Tesla’s solar roof tiles

Tesla first introduced the solar roof tiles in an October, 2016 announcement, where CEO Elon Musk waxed enthusiastic about how the tiles were “beautiful, affordable, and seamlessly integrated,” but also so nice that “you’ll want to call your neighbors over, and say ‘Check out this sweet roof.'”

Impressive though it was, the solar roof was but a vision. The houses that stood behind Musk as he presented Tesla’s newest moon-shot project were part of a Universal Studios set for the show “Desperate Housewives,” and topped with dummy solar tiles only.

At the time, we ran a story about why the roof tiles were revolutionary and how much they might cost, and later, delved a little deeper into what conditions allow for a profitable solar roof installation. But we’ve had little hard evidence on the actual final product.

Since the announcement, Tesla has been hard at work in bringing the tiles into the real world. The company first opened per-orders for the product in May of 2017, and a couple months later, the homes of a few Tesla employees got the first trial installations.

A trial installation of Tesla solar roof tiles

One of the first solar roofs in the wild. Source: Tesla, 2017

But until March of 2018, no paying customer had a Tesla solar shingle installation. And then there were two.

The first Tesla solar roof installations

In mid-March, 2018 the owners of two homes in the San Francisco Bay Area become the first to pay actual money for Tesla roof installations on their homes.

Twitter user @Toblerhaus was the first, with a 9.9-kW installation on top of her San Jose home that was completed on March 19th and authorized to begin generation by Pacific Gas & Electric (PGE) 10 days later. Her installation is seen in the picture at the top of this article.

She estimated the final cost “after federal kickback is mid 50k,” but added that she had intended to replace an older metal roof already, so the cost of the Tesla tiles could be compared to the cost of re-roofing and installing a 9.9-kW solar system.

She has shared a bevy of information about the system, and well as photos of the process of installation and screenshots of the Tesla app that shows how her system has been generating power and how her home has been using it:

In a perfectly fitting first day of operation, the Tobler family’s solar roof saw rain and clouds. And still, the 9.9-kW system was kicking out 5 kilowatts “on a cloudy late morning.” This one looks like a winner, but time will tell how the solar roof pays back its cost.

Sheryl and Tri Huynh await PGE approval

A second solar roof has been completed on a San Jose home, but as of this writing, it is still awaiting final approval.

Sheryl and Tri Huynh have a new solar roof of unspecified size with 3 Tesla Powerwall batteries on the side of their home. They are also awaiting two Tesla Model 3 cars, the reservations for which they placed before the roof reservation.

Is the Tesla solar roof spectacular, and will you get yours soon?

Both the Huynh family and Ms. Tobler have been beset by questions from reporters, bloggers, and other Tesla reservation holders. In these early days, the excitement is palpable from all corners of the solar-interested world, but it might be too early to tell whether the tiles are a good deal.

Now, as for whether you’ll get your soon. Tri Huynh mentioned on Twitter that his installer told him these first few installations were going up on “easy roofs.” So if you have a house that’s good for solar and you live in California, keep an eye on your inbox for your Tesla invitation!

In fact, if you get that invitation, we’d love to hear from you, at [email protected]

Many questions remain about the long-term viability of the solar roof. Rest assured that we’ll continue to follow these and other solar roof owners as the installations continue.

Last modified: October 1, 2019

3 thoughts on “Tesla solar roofs are real, but are they spectacular?

  1. Avatar for Sunshine Sunshine says:

    I want one but still out of range for me financially

  2. Avatar for Billy Collins Billy Collins says:

    As a current solar city customer in NH, I would be very interested in being the first to have roof tiles and you could use my house for all any advertising.

  3. Avatar for Maurice McGee Maurice McGee says:

    I live in Wendell NC. My half an acre lot has full sun view and no shade. I am very interested in learning more about how the Tesla solar roof panels will work for my home.

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