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Redesigned solar roof is finally ready for consumers, Musk says

Three years after first unveiling its solar roof, Tesla Inc.’s CEO Elon Musk said the long-awaited product is ready for consumers – a move that will spur more activity and hiring at the company’s Buffalo factory.

“We’ll definitely make New York proud about that factory,” Musk said during a conference call Friday. “It’s going to be great.”

Tesla expects to be producing about 1,000 solar roofs per week in Buffalo within a few months, Musk said.

The solar roof – now in its third iteration – is designed to look like a conventional roof, but with solar modules inside. Tesla has refined the design to make it easier to install, with about half as many parts than previous versions.

“It’s been quite hard to get to this point,” he said. “This is the first version that we think should be ramped up to scale.”

The solar roof – called Solarglass – will cost several times more than a conventional roof. Tesla estimated that a 2,000-square-foot roof made with black tempered glass would cost $33,950 – a price that includes an $8,550 federal tax credit.

But Musk said about 80% of homeowners would find that a solar roof is less expensive than installing a regular roof with conventional solar panels on it.

Tesla's solar panel factory in South Buffalo is affected by a big drop in deployments. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

The solar roof is important to the Buffalo Niagara region because it is expected to be the main product produced at Tesla’s factory in South Buffalo – which also produces traditional solar panels, as well as components for Tesla batteries and battery chargers.

“There’s a real center for excellence for power electronics there,” Musk said.

The solar roof is important for Tesla’s struggling energy business because it is a product that would make it stand apart from its competitors in the solar energy industry at a time when the company’s market share has shrunk from more than 33% to around 6%, as it focused its resources on launching its Model 3 electric vehicle.

“There’s no product like this,” Musk said. “It’s just a thing that should be and we’re going to make it.”

Despite its high initial price, Musk said he expects plenty of demand for the solar roof.

“We will grow this exponentially,” he said. “It might be doubling this every month.”

The roof opens a big new market to Tesla’s solar energy business. While conventional rooftop solar is aimed at consumers with roofs that are in good condition, the Solarglass roof is targeted at consumers who are building a new house or have an existing home that needs a new roof.

Tesla and its partner, Panasonic, employ around 800 people in Buffalo, but that work force needs to nearly double to 1,460 by mid-April or Tesla could be hit with a $41.3 million penalty by the state, which spent $750 million in taxpayer funds to build, and partially equip, the factory.

Tesla’s solar roof is targeted toward consumers who are building a new home or who expect to replace their existing roof within five years or so. Homeowners who want to add rooftop solar but have a roof that doesn’t need replacing soon would be better off going with a conventional rooftop solar array, Musk said.

For Tesla, the solar roof will not be without challenges.

Beyond convincing consumers to pay a higher upfront price, Tesla must build a cadre of its own installers who are trained to install a roofing product that is much more complex than a conventional roof.

Tesla plans to install the roofs using its own crews initially, but eventually plans to work with third-party roofers, Musk said.

For now, Tesla said it takes about as long to install a solar roof as it does to put a conventional roof and a rooftop solar system on a home. The company eventually hopes to be able to reduce installation times so that it is similar to a conventional roof.

While the roof carries a 25-year warranty and Tesla has done accelerated durability testing on it, the company still must convince homeowners that the new product is both durable and dependable.

The roof only comes in a tempered glass finish. But Musk said the company plans to add other designs – clay tile, earth tone and French slate – at six- to nine-month intervals.

Tesla said it now is accepting orders for the solar roof and has started installations on a small scale in California with consumers who placed orders before the Version 3 rollout.

“We’re ramping up as fast as we possibly can, starting in the next few weeks,” Musk said.

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