They are bigger! More powerful! Easier to install! And there is a huge market for this right now.
As electricity gets turned off for millions in California, no doubt many people are thinking about solar power and battery systems, given that this is now probably going to be a regular happening. Totally coincidentally, Elon Musk announced version 3 of the solar roof in an earnings call on Oct. 23:
Some have said that Elon Musk has a habit of this, that he rolled out Version 1 before it was ready to get in front of the news. The version 1 has been a real problem over the last few years; earlier this year I thought that the company was circling the drain. I was actually nervous about them when they were introduced, writing:
“One last item is that tomorrow afternoon, we will be releasing Version 3 of the Tesla Solar Roof. That’s the integrated with – the solar panels integrated with the roof. So that’s – I think this is a great product. Version 1 and 2 we were still sort of figuring things out. Version 3 I think is finally ready for the big time. And so, we’re scaling our production of the Version 3 solar tower roof at our Buffalo Gigafactory. And I think this product is going to be incredible.”
There are a few things that trouble me about the solar shingle. As Richard Feynman so graphically demonstrated after the Challenger disaster and as is drilled into architecture students everywhere, it is connections that most often cause problems, and you want to minimize them. The solar shingles are 14” wide by roughly 8” inches high (I do not know what the exposure will be) so there will be a lot more connections than with conventional solar panels, and there is no explanation yet about whether the connections will be accessible and the shingles removable.
Version 3 addresses many of these issues. Kyle Field of Clean Technica, probably the best resource on the subject, notes that "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."
They are a much bigger tile, now 45 inches by 15". That means far fewer connections and faster installation. Tesla is also opening up installation to outside contractors. Kyle says, "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."
Tesla says that installation time for the solar roof is now comparable to installing a conventional tile or concrete roof, and that they want to get it down to the time it takes to do a comparable shingle roof. Kyle (a big fan and investor in Tesla) says, "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." I am skeptical, but then conventional shingle roofs are popular because they go on instantly and cost very little. It's not a standard to be measured against, in cost or speed.
Alas, the warranty is no longer infinity; it is down to 25 years. But as one critic noted, infinity isn't a time, and he should have promised eternity. And 25 years is pretty good for a warranty.
This is probably the new reality of building a house in the forested areas; there are going to be fires. Putting all the wires underground will take years and cost billions, servicing unsustainable exurbs and paid for by people in the cities, who may not be happy about this. But something has to change.
Concentrate growth in California along the coast and in defensible, dense towns. Sprawling into the hills is creating inevitable and predictable disasters down the line, disasters that will only get worse and worse as climate change accelerates.— Michael T 🎃 Spooky 🎃 (@mtsw) October 28, 2019
Designing for extremely low energy consumption out of noncombustible materials with off-grid capacity may well be the future of construction in these areas of California. That means Elon Musk might be selling a lot of Powerwalls and Solar Roofs.