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Tesla takes next step in solar energy revolution, unveils new solar panels

Already plans production of solar roof

April 10, 2017

Tesla, which got into the solar energy business last year with the acquisition of SolarCity, is taking the next step in its plan to revolutionize the acquisition, storage, and use of solar energy with the introduction of its own version of solar panels.

Over the weekend, Tesla unveiled its solar panel design. The unveiling came without fanfare, but was noticed by Electrek, a tech website.

In a post on Electrek, Fred Lambert lays out the details of Tesla’s solar panels, which appear on the company’s website under the “Energy” section alongside Tesla’s home battery, the Powerwall, and the company’s solar roof, which is a roof made entirely of solar roof tiles.

Here’s Lambert on the details of Tesla’s solar panels:

The new panels are part of Tesla’s deal with Panasonic at the ‘Gigafactory 2’ in Buffalo. They will be manufactured by Panasonic at Tesla’s factory for Tesla’s exclusive use. They don’t plan to make them available to third-party installers or individuals.

As of now and since before the acquisition by Tesla, SolarCity, like most solar installers, used solar panels from several different suppliers for its residential and commercial projects, but that’s about to change.

Tesla told Electrek that once the new Panasonic module will go into production at Gigafactory 2 this summer, they will be used for all new residential projects going forward.

The idea here is pretty clear: Tesla is trying to upend and reshape the entire solar energy business.

Until now, solar panels came with a hefty price tag, which is often rolled into a lien on the home. In some states, solar panel liens are given super priority status over first mortgage loans – a practice that the mortgage business is not a fan of.

In fact, as HousingWire reported last week, there is currently an effort in Congress to change the rules surrounding loans created by the Property Assessed Clean Energy program.

The loans, also called PACE loans, allow homeowners to obtain financing to make improvements to their homes to increase the home’s energy efficiency. PACE loans are often used to add solar panels to a home.

But Tesla’s solar panels appear to be different than your father’s solar panels.

According to Tesla’s website, the solar panels have a “sleek, low-profile design” and “blend into your roof with integrated front skirts and no visible mounting hardware.”

The result, according to Tesla, is a “clean, streamlined look.”

The panels also boast “seamless integration” into Tesla’s home battery, the Powerwall.

From Tesla’s website:

Powerwall charges with energy produced by solar panels, making that energy available when needed, day or night. Powerwall also enables your solar panels to produce energy during grid outages.

Combine that with Tesla’s solar roof, which is literally a roof made of solar panels, although the panels are much smaller than traditional solar panels and resemble traditional roof tiles, and one can see Tesla’s goal – full energy independence for the homeowner.

Install your Tesla-branded solar roof or solar panels, store the energy in your Tesla home battery, and power your entire home. No more electric bills. Living off the grid, so to speak.

One catch though, and it’s a big one. There are no details on the cost of Tesla’s solar panels, at least as of yet, but the company claims its solar roof, which is scheduled to go into production later this year, will be on par with traditional roofing materials (once you factor in the utility savings).

A few years ago, Nautilus Solar CEO Jim Rice told HousingWire that the demand for solar panels is increasing and soon homeowners may be able to own solar systems.

That seems to be Tesla’s goal here, from a business perspective. Build a solar system that eventually becomes affordable enough for broad adoption.

Surely, the mortgage business would appreciate it if energy improvements could be funded out of pocket rather than through a loan.

Whether or not that’s actually going to happen is an entirely different question. Stay tuned.

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