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Tesla solar roof tiles: there’s a shocking amount of technology in the connectors, says Elon Musk

Tesla introduced its solar roof tiles in more details and started taking orders yesterday. Some were surprised by the price and the warranty, which Tesla says is good for the tiles as long as the house stands and it guarantees 30 years for power generation.

It’s a bold statement. They developed a new glass to make the tiles stronger and they are using new solar cells developed with Panasonic, but what is less understood is the technology to interconnect all those tiles, which would presumably be more expensive than regular tiles and more difficult to install.

During a conference call with journalists to discuss the announcement yesterday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the electric architecture of the solar roof system was proprietary to Tesla and they didn’t want to go into details about it, but they did briefly discuss the development of the system.

Musk said that making the connectors robust involved “a shocking amount of technology”:

“This is a connector that has to last for more than 30 years. It has to be weatherproof, heavy rain, snow, slush, salt, water leaking – it’s like connector hell.”

Tesla CTO JB Straubel then added that the automaker managed to leverage its experience manufacturing connectors for electric vehicles:

“A lot of the challenges here leveraged some great learning from the Tesla team on validating automotive connectors and volume production processes. Tesla is building all these tiles ourselves – we are not outsourcing it. We have been able to solve those more complexed design problems and hit those price points that you see.”

If the pictures released by Tesla are representative of the final products, it’s really impressive because the solar cells and connections are truly invisible:

As for the installation, it’s the roofing part that will be labor intensive. Tesla says that it should take roughly the same time to install as a tile roof installation, which is typically 5-7 days.

Peter Rive, former SolarCity co-founder/CTO and now head of solar tech at Tesla, said that the actual solar portion of the installation of the solar roof is actually easier than a solar panel installation:

“We designed the solar portion of the solar roof to be easier to install than regular solar. We have learned a lot about installing solar from over 300,000 installations so we took all that and included that into the development.”

Overall, the robust but lightweight design results in some interesting benefits that are not obvious. While Tesla’s solar roof products are not aimed at the asphalt roof market, which is significantly cheaper, it does offer an alternative for homeowners with an asphalt roof who want and could afford a tile roof, but they are generally too heavy for their house’s structure.

Tesla’s solar tiles being about a third of the weight of a regular tile could enable them to upgrade to a tile roof, or rather a solar tile roof, without making any structural change to the house.

We will likely have to wait until the first installations to get a better idea of the interconnection between the tiles, but it sounds like it could be the secret sauce behind this new Tesla product.

Tesla solar roof products are perfect for homeowners who want solar and need a new roof relatively soon, but a regular solar panel installation is still a good solution for people who don’t need a new roof. Solar and energy storage prices are highly dependent on your market (electricity cost, gov incentives, etc.) and your property. We suggest to get quotes from more than one installer to make sure you get the best energy solution for your place. UnderstandSolar is a great free service to link you to top-rated solar installers in your region for personalized solar estimates for free.

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