Elon Musk is convinced that humanity won't need to make use of his SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets to flee this warming planet if we just do one thing: embrace solar energy. This weekend, from the Tesla headquarters, Musk made an announcement on what he thinks the future of solar looks like — much of it brought to us by the company his cousin heads, SolarCity. “We really need to make solar panels as appealing as electric cars have become,” Musk said, and at a “cost that is less than a normal roof plus the cost of electricity.”
Musk announced a new roof panel from SolarCity as well as a new battery system. Here are the key takeaways.
1. The killer hardware is, simply, a roof. To complicate that, it's a roof that is composed of a bunch of interlocking solar panels. The new system is not a series of panels to be attached to an existing roof, but are roofing tiles themselves. That means that you only need to worry about one product to protect your house, and to power it.
2. It looks good. Really good — certainly better than the tar and shingles covering your current home. Using hydrographic printing, SolarCity made each and every panel unique, meaning the roof doesn’t look fake. As Musk explains, the goal was for “the aesthetics [to] actually get better.” No two roofs will be the same, even if you’re ordering the same product.
3. It will save you money. That's the promise, at least. While not giving an exact price, Musk announced the roof solar panels are priced to compete with traditional roofing systems (though an official price is not yet available). Which means, if you are replacing your roof, you should think about this move, which will also save you on your energy bills. All this, of course, depends on how competitive it really is (remember, the first Tesla car, the Roadster, cost $109,000, not quite priced to compete).
4. You can't see the solar cells. The panels are made of glass that opaques from the sides, a nice trick of optics that make the cells only visible from above. That means from the lawn, or the next door neighbor’s window, your roof tiles look, for the most part, like a normal roof.
5. You're going to need a big battery — and Tesla is happy to sell it to you. Musk also debuted a new Tesla home battery, the Powerwall 2, which has 14 kWh of storage, 7 kWh of output — essentially double the capacity of the first iteration. Musk says a typical homeowner could indefinitely power a home with one battery, if they have solar panels. “During the day you fill up the battery,” says Musk, “dusk to dawn you use the battery... You can solve the whole energy equation that way.” Powerwall 2 costs about $5,500.