Tesla releases a new version of Solar Roof tiles, aiming to revitalize its clean energy business

Key Points
  • Tesla started selling version 3 of its glass Solar Roof tiles on Friday.
  • Tesla's vice president of technology, Drew Baglino, said on a call with press and others, that the new Solar Roof uses different materials and fewer parts than prior versions, making it easier to install.
  • CEO Elon Musk said new variants of the roof tiles are in development, namely roof tiles that are earth-toned and others that look like French slate.
Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Motors.
Yuriko Nakao | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Three years after Tesla bought SolarCity, CEO Elon Musk is still fighting to justify the $2.6 billion deal, in part by revealing a new version of its glass Solar Roof tiles, part of a broader effort to revitalize Tesla's clean energy business.

The company held a webcast to discuss version 3 of its Solar Roof on Friday afternoon, with Musk and other executives taking questions.

CEO Elon Musk and other executives said that the new roof, which includes solar panel tiles that blend in alongside regular roof tiles, would be produced at its factory in Buffalo. The roof -- which resembles earlier versions -- can be installed on a customer's home by a local installer.

Tesla's vice president of technology, Drew Baglino, said on the call that the version 3 of the Solar Roof uses different materials and fewer parts than prior versions, and made it easier to install than earlier versions, and other shingles that are commonly used in roofing. The company plans to develop roof tiles in other styles, such as earth tones and French slate.

The solar glass roof is already available to order with some installations underway, Musk said, adding that Tesla has the goal of getting to 1,000 roofs installed per week as quickly as possible. But he said Tesla would not be producing at that rate for at least several months.

A promotional image of Tesla's Solar Roof.

Tesla's earlier attempts to deliver glass Solar Roof tiles sputtered. The roofs have not been mass-produced or distributed yet. Explaining the slow start for the product, Musk said:

"One of the things that's obviously delayed Tesla solar in general, for 18-24 months we had to focus the entire co. on the Model 3 ramp. We stripped resources from Solar for 1 and a half years thereabouts. We had to make model 3 work or Tesla wouldn't exist. Now that Model 3 is a relatively smooth operation, we have been able to redirect resources towards solar and stationary storage."

The webcast follows a blockbuster third-quarter earnings call for Tesla where Musk announced:

"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."

(On Thursday, the CEO took to Twitter to say the event had been delayed until Friday.)

The company does not break out Solar Roof financial results, but lumps them into "energy generation and storage," which made up only 6% of the company's total revenue in Q3 2019.

Critics view Tesla's acquisition of SolarCity as a bailout for Musk and his relatives -- who co-founded and funded SolarCity together -- as well as a distraction to Tesla's core business of making electric vehicles and batteries.

In a case filed in Delaware Chancery court, stockholders are suing Tesla over the SolarCity deal. They accused the company of improperly valuing SolarCity, and misleading investors about the solar installers financial health, and technology -- including its original solar roof tiles -- among other things.

Walmart is also currently suing Tesla after solar panels atop seven of the retailer's stores allegedly caught fire, according a court filing. The suit alleges breach of contract, gross negligence and failure to live up to industry standards. Walmart is asking Tesla to remove solar panels from more than 240 Walmart locations where they have been installed, and to pay damages related to all the fires Walmart says that Tesla caused.

Meanwhile, WIVB's Daniel Telvock reported, comptrollers in New York are conducting an audit of high-tech programs in the state including a deep look at Tesla's Buffalo factory, where it had planned to manufacture solar panels and related systems. The factory was built and funded by $750 million in taxpayer money, and required Tesla to generate 1,460 jobs there by April 2020. If Tesla misses that job target, they could have to pay a $41.2 million penalty.

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