Tesla’s Elon Musk Enters the Solar-Roofing Market

Sheila Kim Sheila Kim

The alternative-energy and science industries are abuzz with some recent news regarding Tesla’s Elon Musk — but it has nothing to do with electric cars or space travel. Rather, the inventor-entrepreneur is getting into the solar-roofing business. It doesn’t seem so farfetched given that he’s already tapped solar energy in introducing Powerwall, Tesla’s home battery that is charged using solar-generated electricity.

SolarCity CTO Peter Rive, Elon Musk and SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive (the brothers are also Musk’s cousins).

Serving as board chairman of SolarCity, Musk stated in an investor call this week that the solar-power provider/installer is working to manufacture and unveil two products by the end of this year, one of which would be “a solar roof, as opposed to a module on a roof. It’s not a thing on a roof, it’s the roof” (via Fortune). This announcement also comes at a time when, following news earlier this month that Tesla Motors was buying SolarCity, shares for both companies dropped and, The New York Times reported, critics are in uproar that Musk is “using valuable Tesla shares to bail out a struggling SolarCity.”

SolarCity installation

SolarCity installation

What the new solar-integrated roof might look like remains a mystery, but consider the photovoltaic shingles that have come out in recent years. CertainTeed’s Apollo II module boasts a low-profile design and installs and functions just like a roof shingle while collecting energy. It comes in a black hue that helps it blend in with existing asphalt roof shingles.

CertainTeed’s Apollo II

CertainTeed’s Apollo II

Dow’s Powerhouse was a very similar concept and aesthetic. The PV-integrated shingle installed onto the structure as opposed to a mounting rack that panels require. However, the company announced just this June that it has stopped manufacturing Powerhouse as it couldn’t find a large-enough customer base. It was speculated that the math just didn’t add up: The shingles’ film cells weren’t generating nearly as much electricity as — yet cost more than — ordinary PV panels.

Dow’s Powerhouse

Dow’s Powerhouse

Other industry attempts to create building-integrated solar products have failed, as well, begging the two-part question for the construction industry: Can Musk and SolarCity develop a breakthrough solution that’s integrated, attractive, efficient and cost-effective; and, if they build it, will the people come?

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