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Tesla to start taking orders for its solar roof in April, Musk says

Tesla Inc. plans to start taking orders in April for the solar roof shingles that it will begin making at its South Buffalo solar panel factory later this year, Elon Musk said Friday.

Tesla unveiled four different designs for solar shingles at an event in Hollywood last October, but the electric vehicle maker still has not disclosed pricing details. The roof product is designed to look like a conventional roof even though it has solar modules embedded inside.

The solar roof is expected to be a key product for the sprawling gigafactory that the state is building for Tesla on South Park Avenue on the site of the former Republic Steel complex.

Musk disclosed the timetable for accepting orders on Friday in a Twitter exchange.

With Tesla pledging to create 500 manufacturing jobs at the factory, along with nearly 1,000 other positions in various support, sales and administrative roles in Buffalo, success of the solar roof product would have a big impact on the Buffalo Niagara economy. The RiverBend factory is slated to begin production in June and will ramp up its operations into 2019.

Tesla, in return for $750 million in state subsidies through the state's Buffalo Billion economic development initiative to build the factory and buy much of the equipment that will go inside it, also has pledged to help bring 1,440 other jobs to the Buffalo Niagara region through suppliers, vendors and service providers for the factory.

Musk views Tesla's solar roof as a revolutionary product that is designed to replace the clunky solar panel arrays that now are mounted on a homeowner's roof. Tesla's solar roof, using glass tiles that have solar cells inside, is intended to serve both as the home's roof and as a source of renewable energy.

While Tesla has not revealed how much the solar roof will cost, Musk has said he expects it to cost less than a conventional roof, even before factoring in the savings that a homeowner will reap by generating some of the electricity used in the home.

The solar roof is an important part of Musk's broader vision to turn Tesla into a renewable energy powerhouse that sells electric vehicles, solar energy systems and the sophisticated batteries that power the cars and store the electricity produced by its solar panels. That vision was at the center of Tesla's $2 billion acquisition last fall of SolarCity, the rooftop solar installer that will operate the South Buffalo factory.

[PHOTO GALLERY: SolarCity unveils new solar roof styles]

Musk said in November that he believes Tesla can drive down the price of its solar roof to the point where it is competitive with conventional roofs, partly because he views the traditional roofing market as being inefficient. Conventional roofing materials go through several different suppliers and service providers – each adding their own mark-up to the price – before reaching consumers, he said.

Tesla thinks it can do better by making and installing the roof itself. Musk also thinks Tesla's roof will cost less because it's made from glass, rather than some of the heavier materials that are commonly used in roofs in other parts of the country, such as slate, terra cotta and clay tiles.

Musk also said during the November conference call that he expects Tesla's high-strength glass tiles, even with solar modules inside them, to weigh anywhere from 67 percent to 80 percent less than those conventional materials. He expects them to be thinner and less prone to breaking.

SolarCity and Tesla engineers have designed four types of solar roof that look like conventional asphalt, clay-tile, terra cotta and slate shingles. Unlike conventional rooftop solar, where the solar panels are attached to the roof, the solar roof has the solar module built into the shingles, which are encased in durable glass. The solar modules aren't visible when you look at the roof from an angle, only when viewed from directly above.

Musk is hoping the solar roof will become a big seller for Tesla, since it looks like a conventional roof and opens up the potential for selling rooftop solar to homeowners with aging roofs. Until now, rooftop solar has been limited to homeowners with relatively new roofs that aren't likely to need repairs or replacing during the estimated 20-year life of the solar panels.

Tesla expects to begin production at the Buffalo factory in June. Tesla will oversee operations at the Buffalo factory, with Panasonic making solar cells at the facility, including the cells that will go into solar roof. Those solar cells are expected to be a hybrid product that combines technology from Panasonic with technology from Silevo, a high-efficiency solar panel company that SolarCity acquired in 2014. Tesla will manufacture the solar roof tiles that contain those solar cells.

Musk has said the solar roofs are expected to go on sale first in California and then in other states with high electricity costs.

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