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Is Tesla Solar Roof a Good Solution for Homeowners?

Tesla Solar Roof Shingles

The excitement surrounding Elon Musk’s announcement of the Tesla Solar Roof is the envy of every company conducting a product launch. The buzz it is creating is sending shock waves through the renewable energy sector and beyond. What’s not to like about solar panels that don’t look like solar panels, but instead take on the appearance and function of an attractive roof with an ‘infinity’ warranty that the company claims costs less than a new roof with traditional solar panels? As with all new and shiny things, it is important that we take a step back and try to understand if this Gen 1 product is ready for primetime and in particular, is it ready to take on the rigors of our extreme climate here in the high desert? First, it’s important to know that ‘solar tiles’ and ‘solar shingles’ are nothing new. This technology has been around for over a decade manufactured by the likes of Sharp, Dow Chemical, Kyocera, SunPower, and Suntech. Yet all these have stopped manufacturing solar shingles for both cost and safety concerns (more on this in a moment). Solar roof tiles and products like them are known in the solar industry as BIPV or Building Integrated Photovoltaics. It is noteworthy that Tesla Energy has been very careful not to label their product BIPV. Why? We can only guess that it’s because this class of solar panel has been the subject of controversy and safety recalls for as long as they’ve been around. For starters, we need to look at why traditional solar panels are installed the way they are. The average solar panel sits 3-5 inches above the roof surface. The reason for this is that convective air flow under the solar panels keeps them cool. Cooler solar panels make more electricity. This is incredibly useful in places like Lancaster, Palmdale, and other hot summer climates where high summer temperatures can reduce solar panel output. Note that the closer the solar panels are to the roof, the hotter they get. Imagine how hot the panels get when they are the roof! Additionally, elevated solar panels are easier to troubleshoot and repair. Since they are mounted on rails, they can be easily removed, inspected, and replaced. Another little discussed benefit of rail mounted solar panels is that the shade they provide to the roof underneath them both increases the life of that roof and helps to keep your home cooler (like a large shade tree would). Within the mounting system for traditional solar panels, wiring is managed and aggregated in conduit for both grounding, safety, and maintenance. Lastly, the systems installed by SolarShoppers use panel level SolarEdge optimizers to guarantee that each individual panel is operating at maximum efficiency. Now let’s examine solar roof tiles and shingles. While the specifics of the Tesla Solar Roof are still emerging, we might assume that the product will be installed in a manner similar to all of the BIPV products that preceded it. A standard residential solar panel contains 60 cells. Each Tesla solar roof tile contains two. Thus, 30 Telsa roof tiles would need to be strung together to make the equivalent of one traditional solar panel. All of this wiring would be run in the very tight, very hot space sandwiched between tempered glass and roofing tar paper. Such an installation would require significantly more wiring than a standard solar system and therefore have more potential bad splices and installation errors. As electric wires heat up, they become less efficient at moving electrons. That resistance causes additional heat to be generated and kicks off a vicious cycle of more heat and less electricity. Since the tempered glass tiles will become very hot in the bright Antelope Valley summer sun, additional heat from hot wires could turn the solar installation from inefficient to potentially dangerous. As if all this isn’t reason enough to stick with regular solar panels, consider long term care and maintenance. Since the Tesla solar roof tiles aren’t individually optimized, how will you know when a tile has failed? Are they wired together in series? If so, a failure in a single solar tile could potentially take out dozens of other tiles, and you’d have no way of knowing this happened until you received a huge SCE bill. What if a technician needs to troubleshoot and repair a Tesla roof? Imagine a scenario where your entire roof is being torn up to find one ‘bad’ tile. This is far from an optimal scenario and will likely lead to more problems down the road. In conclusion, while the story of Tesla solar tiles is attractive, there are many questions and safety issues that need to be addressed before the product is ready for prime time. Maybe Tesla will fix these in the Gen 2 or Gen 3 product. If you’re considering solar for your home here in the high desert, let the experts at SolarShoppers, a division of ReVolt Electric, help guide you toward a custom tailored solar panel system that is attractive and efficient. Contact our experts today for a complimentary solar analysis and see if your home qualifies.

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