Published on October 25th, 2019 | by Kyle Field0
Everything You Need To Know About Version 3 Of Tesla’s New Solarglass Roof Tiles
October 25th, 2019 by Kyle Field
Tesla launched the new version 3 of its Solarglass Roof on a public conference call today. Version 3 of the newly renamed Solarglass Roof integrates a number of meaningful improvements to the now larger tiles that promise to improve the cost of the roof while delivering a much faster installation time.
Tesla has increased the energy density of its roofing product, cut the cost, and increased the manufacturability, but also tried to sneak a reduction in the warranty for its Solarglass Roof in under the radar. We caught it along with a ton of other details, so hop on in and we will give you the guided tour to Tesla’s new solar product that Elon thinks has the potential to “grow like kelp on steroids.” Side note: I have a previous version of the Tesla Solar Roof on my house, installed in late 2019.
A Better, More Beautiful Product
Tesla’s objective in developing version 3 of its Solarglass Roof was to improve all of the flaws it identified with the earlier versions. Vice president of technology at Tesla Drew Baglino noted that Tesla was aiming to improve the product essentially across the board, improving its cost and beauty as well as manufacturability of the tiles across the board. Version 3 nailed it, delivering significant improvements by:
- Increasing the size of the tile
- Increasing the power density of the tile
- Dramatically reducing the number of parts and sub-assemblies by more than half (made possible by the larger tiles)
- Reducing the number of steps in manufacturing (made possible by the larger tiles)
- Reducing cost (enabled by the larger tiles)
- Changing some of the materials used
- Changing the technology that hides the solar cells to something that’s more scalable
A New, Large Solar Tile = Better In Every Way
These changes came about first and foremost thanks to the larger footprint of the new tiles themselves. Tesla previously used roof tiles that were approximately 14″ long by 9″ wide. These were shipped from the factory in bricks of three pre-wired tiles called PV Modules. Each PV Module required hardware to link the three individual tiles together, wiring to connect them and waterproofing to ensure a good seal.
The new tiles are significantly larger, at 45″ long by 15″ wide. That not only effectively replaces a single pre-wired PV Module from version 2 of the Solar Roof, it increases the width of the panels significantly. The increase in size not only reduces the number of roof tile units that must be installed, it eliminates a large percentage of the internal components in each of the PV Modules in version 2. That translates to less potential points of failure and a much simpler installation.
That’s not all folks. Eliminating the need to create 3-packs of PV tiles into PV Modules gets rid of the seams between each of the individual tiles. That means a more sealed roof and more PV generation from each of the new v3 tiles. Version 2 tiles produced 25 watts each. We’ll have to wait and see what each of the new v3 tiles produces, but it’s clear the output is much higher. Granted, they are larger, but they are also just a more efficient design on a number of levels.
Finally, getting rid of the seams between the panels makes it easier for Tesla to produce the panels at its Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo. No more wiring up MC connector ends to each of the three tiles. No more connecting the three panels with internal wiring or physical connectors. Just build one of the new tiles and you get more solar generation, less points of failure, and easier, faster, and cheaper manufacturing.
A New Installer Network
Tesla is also planning to open up the installation of the Solarglass Roof to traditional roofing companies to increase its installation capacity and avoid the sticky situation that maintaining a sales monopoly could create. That is a significant change of direction for Tesla’s former SolarCity installation crews and gives Tesla the ability to scale up much more rapidly, but at the risk of quality issues.
Elon noted on the call that outsourcing the installation of roofing products was already normal across the roofing business, including the warranty carryovers. The Solarglass Roof is admittedly more complex than either a traditional roof or a traditional solar system installation, but it’s not so abstract as to make the concept unable to scale.
Tesla has revamped its Solar Roof landing page at Tesla.com with the new products and has a simplified design landing page that lets a homeowner enter their actual address. From there, they can compare the cost of a Solarglass Roof to a traditional roof with a traditional solar system to get an idea of comparable pricing.
Tesla is already ramping up installations as fast as possible with plans to continue that ramp over the next few weeks. Production is similarly ramping up but Elon Musk showed his newly attained mastery of the financial dance as he avoided committing to a firm production target and date. All he would say was that they were targeting to reach 1,000 installations per week as fast as possible.
Easier, Cheaper, & Faster To Install
A large part of the problem Tesla aimed to fix with version 3 of the Solarglass Roof was the installation time. Installing individually connected panels required individual mounting blocks to be attached to the roof at very specific intervals for each and every single roof tile. Those were required whether or not the tile was a part of a 3-pack PV Module or being installed as an individual glass roof tile.
Upgrading to larger tiles significantly reduces the installation complexity, and depending on the new methods Tesla uses to attach them to the roof structure, would improve the time required to install the tiles.
“The total number of material and part reductions from v2 to v3 has massively reduced the number of touches our installers have to do on site and that reduces the time they have to take to install,” Kunal Girotra, Senior Director Energy Operations at Tesla, said on the launch call. “There are tons of tiny improvements we’ve made across the product to make the installs really fast. That’s the advantage of Tesla having a vertically integrated chain.”
The goal at Tesla is to overcome a few key hurdles in installation time. The near-term target is to install a new Solarglass Roof in less time than a new concrete tile roof and a new traditional solar system could be installed. That is a fair baseline, as that is effectively the fastest time a homeowner could get what Tesla is offering in its Solarglass Roof: a solar system and a new roof.
As with anything Tesla does, that is just the start. Tesla is already aiming at installing a new Solarglass Roof in less time than a traditional roof can be installed, with the ultimate goal being a faster installation than a comp shingle roof. That’s less than 8 hours. It’s like being able to go to work in the morning with your aging roof up top and coming home just 8 or 9 hours later to a new Tesla Solarglass Roof. It sounds impressive, almost impossible, but if we have learned anything over the last 15 years of Tesla’s existence, it’s to not bet against Elon. I’m hopeful, but it is clearly a stretch target for the time being.
To accomplish this revolution in solar and roof installation, Tesla is planning to launch a series of install-a-thons that would pit the best roof installers in the world against each other to identify opportunities for improvement in Solarglass Roof installation.
The concept is a reapplication of the classic computer security model of the hack-a-thon that pits hackers against a specific piece of technology or against a specific deliverable in a fixed amount of time. Fueled by pizza and energy drinks, hackers regularly pull together to accomplish the impossible in just a handful of hours or days at these events all over the world. It is yet another example of Tesla’s Silicon Valley roots popping up where you’d least expect it in a push to deliver world-class results.
Tesla also made significant improvements around the edges of its system. The new Solarglass Roofs will no longer require glass tiles that comprise the edges of the system to be cut on site. This was previously a significant effort at the site and, as an inexact science, weakens the glass tiles around the edges of the installation.
Version 3 does away with this, though Tesla did not clarify what system it would use instead of cutting tiles. It’s not hard to imagine Tesla using the detailed drawings it already builds for permitting and installation to create a picture-perfect bill of materials for each job, angled glass cuts included. From there, it would be able to prefabricate the entire system, with enough spares to cover the usual onsite breakage, into a single ready-to-install Solarglass Roof kit.
Tesla is also improving the metal edging for its roof system. For version 2, Tesla produced all of the metal work in house. That let them earn all of the learnings and make improvements much more rapidly than if they would have outsourced it, but also came at a cost. The process has been streamlined as well, but we did not get much additional detail beyond that. Tesla said that they have already had their installers out installing v3 in the wild and they have provided great feedback already.
All of the new Solarglass Roof tiles will be produced at Tesla’s Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York, where production has already been ramped up for the launch fo the new tiles. Elon said that he expects that, “Demand will be far in excess of supply.” That’s not surprising, as Tesla has been racking up a list of interested customers for the last 3 years.
Tesla Trims the Warranty
With version 3 of its Solarglass Roof, Tesla slipped in a shorter warranty on the tiles themselves, the power output, and the weatherization warranty. The tile warranty for Tesla’s Solar Roof tiles was previously the famous “infinity or the life of the home.” With version 3, Tesla put a finite cap on the tiles themselves with a new 25-year warranty.
This is a sharp diversion from Tesla’s admittedly over-enthusiastic infinity warranty on version 1 and version 2 of the Solar Roof product. Ironically, with the first two versions of the roof requiring the glass tiles framing up the edges of the roof to be cut on site, micro-fractures after the installation date are more likely in the current Solar Roof installations, like mine. Moving forward, Tesla will not need to cut the tiles on site due to undisclosed improvements in the product.
Power output and weatherization were previously covered for 30 years and have now been reduced to 25-year warranties. These last two are not earth-shattering warranty changes, but reduce Tesla’s exposure to product issues on the tail end of their life expectancies.
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