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Watch: Elon Musk reveals solar roof tiles

Elon Musk. Image: YouTube

Elon Musk. Image: YouTube

Elon Musk showcased his ambitions to make Tesla Motors a clean-energy behemoth on Friday, unveiling a new “solar roof” product at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, California.

As the sun set, Musk told hundreds of guests gathered in an outside courtyard on the Desperate Housewives set that Tesla and SolarCity, the company that he chairs and which he aims to acquire, will make solar roofs that look better than normal roofs.

He then showcased several houses with solar tiles gracefully embedded. Because the tiles are fully integrated into the roofs, many guests in attendance could not tell that they were solar.

“How do we have a solar roof that is better than a normal roof, looks better, last longer,” said Musk. “You want to pull your neighbors over and say ‘Check out this sweet roof.”’

Musk’s presentation was short on details about the proven efficiency of the solar cells, the roof’s warranty, cost or when it will be available to customers.

The solar roof will be offered in four styles: textured glass tile, slate glass tile, tuscan glass tile and smooth glass tile — due to a variety of architectural choices. SolarCity’s website says production will begin in mid-2017 and that the tempered glass is as “tough as steel”.

“The solar roof consists of uniquely designed glass tiles that complement the aesthetics of any home, embedded with the highest efficiency photovoltaic cells,” said Tesla in a statement. “Customers can choose which sections of their roof will contain the hidden solar technology while still having the entire roof look the same.”

Paula Mints, chief market research analyst at SPV Market Research, questions the economics of the new offering, which can be combined with a home battery.

“Tesla announced a solar tile — not new — with battery that is priced below cost,” said Mints in an e-mail. “Basically Tesla announced another way to lose money.”

The larger idea is that homeowners will generate electricity for their home with solar power, then store that electricity in a home battery known as a Powerwall. You can “fill up” your battery during the day, then discharge it at night when the sun sets. The latest product iteration, known as Powerwall 2, weighs 122kg and is designed to be floor- or wall-mounted inside or outside.

Musk and Tesla chief technology officer JB Straubel have long envisioned a clean-energy future of electric cars powered by an increasingly solar grid, with Tesla’s batteries optimising both. The company also offers much larger Powerpack systems to commercial and utility customers and has deployed almost 300MWh in 18 countries to date, according to a blog post on Thursday.

Battery-based energy storage has the potential to revolutionise electricity for the world’s poorest citizens in the way mobile technology disrupted the telecommunications industry. Coupled with solar panels or wind turbines, powerful lithium-ion batteries can store energy and provide electricity for the roughly 1,3bn people worldwide who don’t have access to electricity and face what’s called “energy poverty”.

Friday’s event is part of an effort to make the case for the SolarCity acquisition to investors. More details, including financial information, will be revealed on 1 November, when Tesla has said it plans to “create a clear picture of how a combined Tesla and SolarCity will make solar and storage as compelling as electric vehicles”.

The proposed merger has been controversial because Musk is the chairman and largest financier of SolarCity, and the boards of both companies are deeply intertwined. Shareholders are to vote on the proposed merger on 17 November.  — (c) 2016 Bloomberg LP

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