Commentary

Musk Reveals An Aesthetically Sunny Future For Solar

Tesla-SolarCity CEO Elon Musk went Hollywood Friday night, showing off tiles on a Universal Studios backlot that looked like regular roofing but acted just like solar panels — which, indeed, they were.

“‘The key is to make solar look good,’ Musk said during the product introduction staged on the old set of ABC’s ‘Desperate Housewives’ series, where he had re-roofed four of the Wisteria Lane houses. ‘If this is done right, all roofs will have solar,’” he said, Ivan Penn and Russ Mitchell report for the Los Angeles Times.

The new tiles will be available next summer, starting in California. They will come in four styles: Textured Glass, Slate Glass, Tuscan Glass and Smooth Glass. But Musk did not delve into the mundane — things like pricing or efficiency — in selling his vision of an attractive alternative to the boxy panels on rooftops today.

advertisement

advertisement

“People spend a lot of time trying to create an attractive home,” Andy Ogden, chairman of the industrial design graduate program at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, tells Penn and Mitchell. “They don’t want funny glass boxes stuck on one side of their roof.”

And make no mistake; these tiles don’t call undue attention to themselves.

“It was a strange scene, with hundreds of people crowded into the middle of a subtly artificial suburban neighborhood,” recallsBloomberg’s Tom Randall. “It wasn’t until about a minute into the speech that Musk casually let the crowd in on Tesla’s big secret. ‘The interesting thing is that the houses you see around you are all solar houses,’ Musk said. ‘Did you notice?’

“The answer, in short, was no. Like everyone else, I knew we were there to see Musk’s new ‘solar roof,’ whatever that was supposed to mean. But try as I could as we walked in, I didn’t see anything that looked like it could carry an electric current.”

And there are other advantages to the tiles Musk pointed to on the set, looking a lot like Charlton Heston’s Moses in the photograph Alan Ohnsman took for his story in Forbes.

“The goal is … to make solar roofs that look better than a normal roof, generate electricity, last longer, have better insulation and an installed cost that is less than a normal roof plus the cost of electricity,” Musk told the assembled throng, Cassandra Sweet and Tim Higgins write for the Wall Street Journal.

“The audience greeted his words with cheers of encouragement, including an attendee who yelled, ‘Save us, Elon!’” they report.

“Musk says that because the proposed tiles are made of glass, they can last almost indefinitely,” writes Amy Thompson for Inverse. “The CEO estimates that they should come with at least a 50-year lifespan and will be at least 98% as efficient as their traditional, photovoltaic counterparts.”

Tesla also unveiled a more powerful version of its Powerwall stationary battery storage unit at the event, Forbes’ Ohnsman writes. “That product, priced at $5,500, consists of a 14 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and provide energy sufficient to temporarily power a four-bedroom home, its lights, electrical outlets and the refrigerator, Musk said.” 

Powerwall 2 will ship later this year. 

“I hope it’s pretty obvious. Solar and batteries go together like peanut butter and jelly,” Musk said. 

You can view his entire 19-minute speech on YouTube.

But Musk was selling more than just roofing materials Friday. He was also pitching consolidation.

“The splashy event … not only promoted roofs, but indirectly, Tesla's proposal to acquire SolarCity. The proposal is scheduled to go before both companies' shareholders, but was met with skepticism by some analysts,” points outs Chris Woodyard for USA Today.

 “Talking to reporters after the event, Musk said a Tesla-SolarCity vision of the future is ‘very unwieldy if we're not a combined company.’”

The WSJ’s Sweet and Higgins point out that, combined or not, the entity faces a slowing market and falling prices.

“U.S. residential solar panel installations are likely to grow 23% this year and 17% to 18% in 2017, according to forecasts by clean-energy research firm GTM Research. That compares to 66% growth in 2015 over the previous year. The growth rate is slowing as the market matures in California, where about half the nation’s home panels are installed, and installers are finding it more expensive to reach the next wave of homeowners,” they report.

But, like visionaries before him, Musk is doing a standout job of keeping our eyes focused on the Promised Land.

Next story loading loading..