Updated September 11, 2020
In October 2019, version 3 of the Tesla Solar Roof was introduced, with a goal of smoothing over all the bumps discovered in the earlier versions of the product. Version 3 of the Tesla Solar 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. Fundamentally, the Tesla Solar Roof serves to protect the home from the elements while also generating electricity from the sun, thanks to a network of embedded photovoltaic solar cells.
With this new third iteration of the Solar Roof, Tesla has increased the energy density, cut the cost, increased the manufacturability, decreased the installation time, and reduced the warranty for its Solar Roof. Hop on in and we will give you a guided tour of Tesla’s new Solar Roof 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. Feel free to use my referral code (https://ts.la/kyle623) to save $100 on a Tesla Solar Roof or Tesla Solar system for your home.
A Better, More Beautiful Product
Tesla’s objective in developing version 3 of its Solar Roof was to improve on the flaws identified in the earlier versions of the product. Vice president of technology at Tesla Drew Baglino said Tesla was aiming to improve the product essentially across the board, improving its cost, beauty and manufacturability of the tiles across the board.
By all accounts, version 3 of the Solar Roof delivers on that promise, delivering significant improvements including:
- Increase in tile size for faster installation, better protection, and increased solar generation
- Increase in tile power density for increased solar generation
- Dramatically reduced the number of parts and sub-assemblies required to install a Solar Roof by more than half, made possible by the larger tiles.
- Reduced the number of steps in manufacturing, made possible by the larger tiles
- Reduced cost, enabled by the larger tiles
- Changed some of the materials used
- Changed the coating that hides the solar cells to a more scalable technology
Larger Tiles = A Better Tesla Solar Roof
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 non value add components in each of the PV Modules in version 2 of the Solar Roof. That translates to less potential points of failure and a much simpler, faster, cheaper installation.
But that’s not all folks. Eliminating the need to create the bricks of 3 manually connected photovoltaic tiles 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 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, fewer points of failure, and easier, faster, and cheaper manufacturing.
A New Installer Network
Tesla is also opening up the installation of the Solar Roof to traditional roofing companies to increase its installation capacity. This increases Tesla’s ability to ramp up Solar Roof installations while avoiding the sticky situation that maintaining an installation monopoly could create. That is a significant change of direction compared to Tesla’s dedicated installation crews and gives Tesla the ability to scale up much more rapidly, but with a very clear risk of potential 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 Tesla Solar Roof is admittedly more complex than either a traditional roof or a traditional solar system installation, but it is not so abstract as to make the concept incapable of scaling.
Tesla 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 Solar Roof to a traditional roof with a traditional solar system to get an idea of comparable pricing.
Since the launch of version 3 of the Solar Roof in October 2019, Tesla has continued to ramp up production of the Solar Roof. Tesla CEO Elon Musk showed his newly attained mastery of the financial dance as he has avoided committing to a firm production target and date for Solar Roof. He generically shared Tesla was 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 Solar 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 the base Solar Roof tile to a larger size reduces the installation complexity. Because the larger tiles cover more roof area, the larger tiles also reduces the amount of time required to install the tiles. That translates to fewer days to install the Solar Roof, less interruption to the lives of homeowners, and a better overall experience.
“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 for the current version of the Solar Roof. “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 Solar 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 Solar 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 Solar 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 Solar 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 Solar 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 Solar 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.
Tesla produces all of its Solar Roof tiles at the Tesla Solar Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York. 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 and is only now starting to ramp up production and installations across the country including kicking o.
Tesla Trims the Warranty
With version 3 of its Solar 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 warranties11. 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.
To run the numbers on a Tesla Solar system for yourself in about two minutes, feel free to use my referral code (https://ts.la/kyle623) to save $100 on a Tesla Solar Roof or Tesla Solar system for your home.. Tesla is just one of many solar providers out there, so don’t go with Tesla just because I did. Remember, I compared offerings from Sunrun, Sun Power, sonnen, and Tesla before making what I felt was the best decision for my family and recommend you do the same.