We think so.
Tesla’s solar roofing tiles are set to change the roofing industry for both consumers and roofers by changing how consumers look at their roofs. Solar roofs are supposed to be eco-friendly, cost-effective, and cut down on the electric bill. And those are just the residential benefits. For contractors and electricians, solar roofs have the potential of profoundly influencing how often, and why, roofs are replaced.
If you’re a roofer or an electrician, you need to know how and why Tesla will change your job forever.
What are Solar Roofs?
A solar roof isn’t just a roof with solar panels on it (we’ve had those since the 70s). Instead, solar roofs integrate solar cells into the roof tiles themselves.
This is achieved by protecting the solar panels with a thick glass that’s superficially similar to automotive safety glass, which is rated to a higher impact-resistance than traditional roofing materials. This, combined with the savings benefits created by recent manufacturing breakthroughs, creates a roofing solution that’s financially and functionally attractive independent of the solar capabilities themselves.
We’ve understood the basics of solar panels since 1839, but we’ve only been able to manufacture useful ones since 1974. The primary cost of solar lies in the manufacturing process, not the theory behind it. But even with the recent breakthroughs in solar panel manufacturing, the residential usage of current solar panels in the United States is limited.
Because current solar panels, for the average consumer, are still too expensive, too fragile, and too impractical for widespread adoption. Worse yet, in some places utility companies bill consumers extra, just for having solar panels in the first place.
That’s the situation that Tesla’s looking to solve with their solar roofs. By creating solar installations that are large enough and durable enough to last up to 30 years, Tesla hopes to make solar power a practical choice for consumers. Solar roofs remove the majority of the hassle associated with solar panel while improving on the core design.
And for contractors, they present the opportunity to scale their operations and attract a new market of tech-savvy and environmentally conscious customers who want NEW roofing solutions. Solar roofs present an opportunity for crossover between roofing and electrical wiring, and encourage the general adoption of smart home technologies. They represent an upgrade for the entire contracting and remodeling market as a whole.
With all of this excitement, however, it’s important to remember the difference between marketing and implementation. Solar roofs sound great. The actual installation of them, however, is less than simple.
First up, it’s important to remember that Tesla is planning to use their recently-acquired subsidiary, SolarCity, for manufacturing and installation. You won’t be able to go to a local contractor supply store and buy a Tesla roofing kit; you’ll have to work with their distributors and licensed installers.
This means that, while the technology is going to hit the market soon, the rollout will be slow and limited. Tesla likes to control their entire distribution chain (as seen with their cars), and they’ll be reluctant to bring in 3rd party help before their operation is ready to scale. Contractors looking to jump in on the process will have to either sub-contract with SolarCity or wait until the solar roof market opens up before enjoying their slice of the pie.
But, no matter how good solar energy sounds, there is a surprising number of cities that have banned solar panels outright. Some states, like Florida and Virginia have punitive legislation in place, too. The result? There’s a fair chance that California will be shingled from end to end before the pan handle sees more than a handful of roofs. If you’re a contractor in an area that isn’t solar-friendly, you won’t be seeing the benefits of solar roofs any time soon and it could be time to start lobbying to your state government.
The shape of the roof and the age of the building are also important things to keep in mind. There is no singular roofing solution that’s appropriate for all houses as it is, and pretending that Tesla has created the ultimate roof for every building is a bad idea. Without a doubt, there will be a significant minority of buildings for which the current solar roof designs will not be appropriate.
Lastly, price is always a concern, even when a product offers lifetime value. Tesla hasn’t released exact numbers (it’s hard to give a universal quote for a roof, solar or traditional), but most of the price estimates put it at costing more than asphalt roofs. Consumer Report in their analysis of Tesla’s project estimated the average solar roof to cost as much as $73,500, with most of the savings being spread out across the building’s lifetime instead of being enjoyed in the immediate 5-10 years.
No matter what your budget is, $73,500 is $73,500, and that means the audience for solar roofs is significantly smaller than the marketing would suggest. They’re in the price range for commercial projects, and they’re definitely affordable for a small portion of the residential population, but you won’t be seeing a solar roof on every house without either a significant drop in price or a large publicly-funded effort.
The Long-Term Impact of Solar Roofs on The Roofing Industry
So, solar roofs aren’t here now, and they won’t be nearly as life-changing as the marketing would suggest. But they do present potential shift in how the roofing industry will operate. With an uptick in consumer interest in and the large marketing push that’s underway, roofers, electricians, and general contractors all stand to benefit from the increased attention.
As contractors who are familiar with traditional solar know, the electrical work required to create a reliable solar system is nothing to laugh at. The increased demand for solar-savvy contractors will be a boon in all states, even for the installation of traditional solar panel systems. As solar roofs are integrated into new construction plans and competition appears on the market, even a low adoption rate will spell more work for contractors who position themselves as solar experts.
Roofs last a while. Roofers almost always have business, but anything that puts extra weight on the idea of upgrading and improving is good for business. And, as we know, when one element of the contracting and renovation market heats up, it tends to spark off market improvements elsewhere as well. This combined with the current gradual climb in the remodeling market, is a good thing for everyone.
There are a lot of unknowns surrounding Tesla’s solar roofing project. But with initial roofs slated for installation in mid 2017 and more news to come, the potential impact is huge. With new materials, new construction standards, increased wiring requirements, and a general drive for remodeling and restoration, the roofing industry stands to remember this particular innovation for years to come.