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Tesla/SolarCity’s ‘Solar Roof’ is not a solar shingle but ‘very similar’ to Forward’s solar roofing, source says


There’s been a lot of speculations since Elon Musk announced that Tesla and SolarCity will unveil a new ‘Solar Roof’ product. Some think that they will try to bring to market ‘solar shingles’, something several other companies have tried and failed to deliver successfully, while others think it will be a more innovative product.

Last month, we reported on a new product called “Solar Roofing” by Forward Labs. In his article about the concept, Seth suggested that it could give us an idea of what Tesla/SolarCity’s ‘Solar roof’ could be. It was only an educated guess, but as it turns out, a source with knowledge of the product program confirms that his intuition was right. 

A source with SolarCity’s engineering group said that the product unveiled by Forward Labs through a Kickstarter campaign last month is of interest to SolarCity and its Zep Solar division, which manufactures the mounting equipment for the company’s solar panels, because it is “very similar” to the solar roof product they are working on.

The source confirmed that the product is being developed in direct collaboration with Tesla.

CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla was aiming to unveil the product by the end of October, presumably once the merger of the two companies will be completed. But several lawsuits from Tesla investors could push the shareholders vote and ultimately delay the merger.

It’s also not clear if the product launch would also, in turn, be delayed with the merger or even if it is rejected by the shareholders.

Forward Labs’ product is a whole roofing system that is made to look almost exactly like current steel roofing options – complete with different colors and styles. Here’s the quick preview video they released with their Kickstarter campaign:

Interestingly, Forward Labs has since shut down its campaign after only a few weeks. The product also caught the eye of Sunpower, a solar panel manufacturer currently in a legal battle with SolarCity over alleged corporate espionage and stealing of secret information about upcoming solar cell products.

Last month, SolarCity contacted Sunpower to warn them that an employee they hired from them copied secret information about solar cell development on an external hard drive before joining the competitor. A week later, a Sunpower subsidiary filed suit against SolarCity over an alleged theft of trade secret.

Now add the new and potentially revolutionizing solar roof product into the mix.

There are about 5 million new roofs installed every year in the US and if your roof is about to need to be replaced, you don’t want to invest in solar panels to install on it since you are about to take it down, but if the solar panels are integrated into the roof and you need to redo it anyway, there’s no reason not to go with a power-generating roof.

There are several difficulties associated with a solar roof product, like creating colors without decreasing the light absorption significantly or streamlining a product for various roof geometries, but a solar company capable of delivering such a product would open the solar industry to whole new market.

We will be following the story as it develops.

If you want to install a solar array at your home, business (or your gas station), you can see if it makes sense for your property and if you can be saving money on your energy bill here.

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