Elon Musk’s solar company plans to refit 5m rooftops in the US with traditional roofing materials integrated with solar cell technology.
SolarCity’s plans, announced last month, to develop traditional roofs made entirely from solar panels are part of a goal to make sustainable homes more aesthetically appealing, convenient, and ultimately affordable to the average homeowner.
In an August conference call with investors, company chairman, Elon Musk said people are forced to postpone solar adoption when they know a roof replacement is imminent and that “there is a huge market segment that is currently inaccessible to SolarCity.” He added that the company’s solar cell roofing “looks way better” and “lasts far longer than a normal roof”.
By integrating a SolarCity roof with Tesla battery packs, it believes those homes could operate on solar power 24-hours a day.
The lingering question, however, is whether mainstream homeowners will be able to afford that initial investment. And even if it succeeds in creating an affordable product, can SolarCity match the success of other eco-home innovations?
Smart home devices such as Google’s Nest thermostat are more affordable, and going down in cost each year. Thermostats and energy monitoring systems have taken off in recent years in part because they allow homeowners to cut energy use without changing their behaviour.
Brian Abramson, co-founder of sustainable homebuilder Method Homes in Seattle, Washington, says smart home technology is becoming more mainstream, lower cost, and accessible.
Success in the residential solar market, by contrast, is heavily dependent on friendly government policies, a model that has proved challenging when tax incentives threaten to expire, or when monopoly utility companies are allowed to change the way they reimburse solar panel owners for energy put into the grid.
By entering the home roofing market, SolarCity is also tacitly acknowledging that aesthetic concerns also hinder solar panel adoption.