Tesla: Solving the Energy Conundrum

Tesla: Solving the Energy Conundrum

Last Friday, Tesla announced the next step in its plan for achieving an integrated energy future with the unveiling of its latest innovative technology: solar roof tiles.
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Sara is the Co-Founder and CEO of Green Builder Media.

Monday, November 7, 2016 - 11:00am

CAMPAIGN: Energy Solutions


The national news media has been awash with reports of Tesla’s breaking announcement last Friday, unveiling the next step in the company’s goal of achieving an integrated energy future.  

At a private event hosted at Universal Studios on the stage set previously used for Desperate Housewives, Tesla debuted the latest in a series of breakthrough enabling technologies: textured glass roof tiles.  These tiles, which look like conventional tiles, allow light to pass through and penetrate flat solar panels embedded within tiles.  Tesla had retrofitted the homes on the set, turning them into mini-microgrids replete with the prototype solar roof tiles, electric vehicles, and Powerwall battery packs. 

According to Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of Tesla, the tempered glass is more resilient and durable than other roofing products, ensuring that the solar tiles can withstand extensive abuse from the elements.  “It’s never going to wear out,” Musk said, referring to the tiles.  “It’s made of quartz. It has a quasi-infinite lifetime.” 

Historically, solar roof shingles have struggled with widespread acceptance and adoption because they have been more expensive and less efficient than other solar solutions (namely PV panels).  However, the Tesla prototypes are apparently only 2% less efficient than standard panels, and Musk anticipates that the technology used in the tiles—microscopic louvers that make the material opaque—will ultimately be enhanced so that efficiency levels surpass those of standard PV panels and other solar solutions.

In addition to the roof tiles, Musk revealed the Powerwall 2, the sleek, next-generation version of Tesla’s home battery storage solution, which can store up to 14kW with 7kW of power output (twice as much as the Powerwall 1), priced at $5,500.  When combined with solar, Musk says that the Powerwall 2 can provide enough energy for a 4-bedroom house indefinitely. 

Battery storage is simultaneously enabling homeowners to optimize their “time of use” (generating and storing power when the sun is shining during the day, and then using that stored energy when energy is most expensive in the evenings) and solving peak use problems for utilities. 

Musk elaborated on the importance of battery packs.  “They are necessary because the sun doesn’t shine at night.  During the day, you fill up the battery, and you use the battery at night.  It’s really not that complicated.”  It’s expected that with Tesla’s push of the technology, battery storage prices will continue to fall, stimulating further demand and widespread adoption.

To Musk, the equation is simple—if Tesla, SolarCity, and their technology partners like Panasonic and 3M can make electric vehicles, batteries, and solar roof tiles beautiful, affordable, and seamlessly integrated, “why would you go any other direction?”

While Musk makes a compelling case, critics assert that Tesla is long on vision but short on details, with questions about timing and pricing deftly side-stepped by the company.

And Tesla is experiencing more than just criticism—last month, San Jose-based solar panel maker SunPower Corp. sued SolarCity for allegedly ripping off their shingle design. In the complaint, SunPower said it had shared confidential blueprints with a module maker SolarCity had acquired. 

Moreover, it feels like the entire world is eagerly awaiting a decision about the proposed acquisition of SolarCity by Tesla, to be determined by shareholders next month, which will undoubtedly have a substantial impact on both companies’ business models.

Despite the obstacles, Musk and his colleagues are on a mission.  “We’re reaching record CO2 levels,” he says.  “Global warming is a serious crisis, and we need to do something about that.”  And given the positive disruption he has already caused in the transportation, space exploration, and solar industries, I’d be hard pressed to bet against him when it comes to his vision for an integrated energy future.

View the webcast from last Friday’s event at Universal Studios here.

What do you think about Tesla’s vision of an integrated energy future? Write to me at sara.gutterman@greenbuildermedia.com.

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