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Tesla Just Solved Solar
Energy’s Fugly Problem

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

By Mark Wilson, Fast Company

In California, solar energy is already huge. The state’s 15,000 megawatts of solar – the equivalent of several nuclear power plants – can provide power to over 3 million homes. But not every state has California's sky-high energy prices or its Green-energy subsidies to push homeowners to install solar panels. Solar energy needs a user-friendly makeover to really take off elsewhere in America. And thanks to Tesla, that’s happening right now.

The company has announced a new alternative to the solar panel: The Solar Roof. Developed in conjunction with 3M, Tesla’s tiny, semi-translucent tiles are nearly indistinguishable from traditional roofing.

“How do we have a solar roof that’s better than a normal roof?” Tesla CEO Elon Musk asked on stage. “That looks better, lasts longer, has a better insulating effect – and where the cost of roof plus electricity is less than that of a normal roof.”

A side by side visual comparison of roofing styles compared to Tesla's solar roof (far right).

Tesla's answer is a three-layer solar shingle. On the bottom is a typical solar panel. The next layer is a louver film – the same sort of coating that makes a laptop or smartphone privacy screen visible from a head-on angle only. In this case, that privacy screen is built for the sun, so you can’t see the solar panel layer from the street.

On top sits tempered glass that Musk, in drop tests, demonstrated was more shatter-resistant than traditional alternatives like clay. (Though, presumably, this tempered glass is not immune to the old shattered iPhone screen effect.) Musk is even promising that these shingles will be available in many styles, like thatch and terra cotta – essential, if the world’s roofs aren't going to look like they’ve all been topped with smartphones.

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