Tesla & SolarCity Prepare For World Domination (CleanTechnica Exclusive)

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Image courtesy: Tesla

Last night, on a back lot at Universal Studios, Tesla unveiled the most promising facet of its impending merger with SolarCity — solar roof tiles as chic and efficient as their cars. These were paired with new Powerwall home batteries that have double the energy density of Tesla’s first Powerwall product. (You can watch the full video of the presentation further down in this article if you didn’t already watch it in Steve’s article, on Tesla.com, or elsewhere.)

The event was primarily for Tesla owners, so it took me longer to get up the hill from the studio gate than it did to ride my Zero from Vernon at rush hour. But I did get to hitch a ride in a swanky Model X, which was a lovely way to start the Tesla world experience.

Riding there, I passed a Tesla Roadster and was overcome with awe at how far the company has come since the Roadster. Most mere mortals would’ve given up many times along the way. But not Elon Musk. He’s kept going, and won’t stop till he reaches his retirement community on Mars.

The Tesla solar roof was the biggest news, but the Powerwall 2 & Powerpack 2 are game-changers as well. Elon Musk stated that, combined with a $5,500 Powerwall 2, the solar shingles will actually be cheaper than buying conventional shingles and electricity from the grid. The shingles will be available by summer 2017. Here’s a nifty cost analysis of various batteries and grid power. It’s from 2015, so the numbers have most likely changed a bit, but it’s still useful for some perspective on cost and especially cost per kWh of storage.

Tesla terra cotta solar roof tiles. Image courtesy: Tesla

Californians with traditional Spanish-style roofs are usually out of luck when it comes to living off the grid. The delicate terra cotta tiles don’t take well to having holes drilled in them, and conventional solar panels actually look exceptionally horrible in such stark contrast to the terra cotta tiles. So it was very impressive to see the curved tiles included in the presentation.

Note to engineers: Tesla is hard at work to solve the efficiency problem the curves present, but it’s true the curves are still a technical drawback. As shown on the sample roof, the Tuscan-style tiles would seem to have the least efficiency of the styles, as only the darker tiles are collecting solar energy and they are only doing so on the flat parts (not the curves). So they’re not quite capturing the authentic aged Tuscan look or full efficiency. Still, they’re a sweet option compared to no solar at all.

Image courtesy: Tesla

On the other hand, the French slate shingles are works of art. Tesla managed to create tiles just as beautiful as the real thing, only drastically more durable. Elon Musk told the audience that French slate is the hardest to replicate. Through the use of a hydrographic printing technique, each tile is unique, just like natural slate.

All the Tesla shingles utilize micro louvers to make the solar cells invisible from street view. Musk explained that this is the same technology used in privacy screens for laptops. So that roof really is as gorgeous in real life as it is in these photos. A video (below) showed how much stronger the Tesla quartz glass shingles are than traditional roofing materials as well — an impressive accomplishment. As for efficiency, they’re currently measuring a 2% loss over conventional panels, which is amazing for solar shingles. They’re also working to increase efficiency beyond 100% through light reflection within the shingles.

They’ve Got The Power

Image courtesy: Tesla

Tesla also showcased its new batteries — Powerwall 2 for homes and Powerpack 2 for industrial & utility customers. The new batteries are twice as energy dense as the old ones, thanks to their new 21–70 cells, which we wrote about a bit here.

While the world’s largest banks were somehow fleeced into investing into a pipeline that will only cause more problems than it could ever solve, Tesla has Powerpacks available for any utility company interested in kicking the (natural) gas habit. Southern California Edison has already ordered a 20 MW/80 MWh Powerpack substation to help ease its dependence on its crumbling gas storage reservoirs. In the press conference last night, I asked Tesla how long until all of Southern California can rely on Powerpacks instead of gas buried underground. Musk stated that once the system is up and running in Mira Loma, they will probably want to buy more Powerpacks.

Image courtesy: Tesla

After the Porter Ranch disaster, I contacted LADWP to find out what it was doing to kick the gas habit. Since 22% of its portfolio is natural gas, and 40% is coal, it pains me deeply to know that my EV is powered by one of the biggest environmental disasters in American history. Here is LADWP’s official response to my inquiry, from January of this year:

LADWP purchases natural gas from suppliers from out of state. Natural gas is conveyed into Southern California through SoCalGas’ system and to LADWP’s in-basin generating stations. LADWP does not have its own gas storage, and the management of SoCalGas’ system to get the gas to us in entirely their responsibility. 

LADWP has been using natural gas more efficiently than ever since repowering older generating units at Haynes and most recently Scattergood generating stations.

LA’s goal is to be coal-free by 2025, and LADWP continues to aggressively increase the amount of renewable energy (solar, wind and geothermal power) provided to LA residents and businesses. We are on track to provide 33% renewable energy to customers by 2020, and 50% by 2035. However, the most abundant renewable resources, solar and wind, are both variable. They do not produce energy if the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining.  Until more storage technology or baseload geothermal power can be developed, natural gas provides an essential “bridge fuel” to ensure continuous, reliable power to our customers 24/7.

Hopefully now that LADWP has completed a 62-mile renewable transmission corridor, it’ll consider purchasing some Powerpacks to store that clean energy as well. Tesla is ready to take LADWP’s order, and help America’s second largest city live a little better.

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