Derek Hanson, who lives in Lavon, Texas, paid $1,000 to reserve Tesla’s solar roof tiles, known as the Solar Roof, in September 2017. He wasn’t given an installation timeline but was told his odds of receiving a Solar Roof would have been better if he lived in California.
He canceled his reservation after seven months.
“This is never going to happen,” he recalled thinking at the time.
Before canceling, Hanson found Tesla’s customer-service department difficult to reach, and when he did get in touch, he couldn’t tell whether the representatives he talked to were familiar with the details of his reservation or were giving him the same answer they gave everyone who asked when they would receive their Solar Roof: We don’t know. Hanson got the feeling that the Solar Roof wasn’t ready for production.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in 2016 that the electric-car maker and its green-energy subsidiary SolarCity were preparing to bring solar roof tiles to market that would set his companies apart from rivals.
Three years later, five current and former reservation-holders who signed up for the Solar Roof told Business Insider they’ve been kept in the dark about when the product will be delivered.
SaiMan Wong, who lives in Coral Springs, Florida, and made his Solar Roof deposit in August 2017, is close to canceling his reservation.
His roof is 42 years old and needs to be replaced soon. In the two years since he made his Solar Roof reservation, he’s emailed Tesla twice to ask about his installation timeline. Both times, the company said it didn’t know when his Solar Roof would be ready.
“I believe, especially if you’re on a waiting list and put $1,000 in, they owe it to people to tell them when it’s rolling out,” Wong said.
Wong recently hired a local contractor to replace his roof and install conventional solar panels, though he’s been told by the contractor that he’ll have to wait about five months because of a shortage of the Spanish tiles that Coral Springs requires. Unless Tesla reaches out to him soon, he’ll have to cancel his Solar Roof reservation.
“I like the company, and I wish I could have had a Tesla roof,” he said. “I think I would have been the ideal candidate, but the conditions aren’t working out right now.”
The Solar Roof installation process has been delayed
Tesla unveiled the Solar Roof, an integrated collection of tiles designed to hide solar cells inside, in October 2016, and customers have been able to reserve it since May 2017. But the Solar Roof’s rollout has reportedly been delayed by aesthetic issues and durability testing.
“This is actually quite a hard technology problem — to have an integrated solar panel, or solar cell, with a roof tile, and have it look good and last for 30 years,” Musk said in June.
A Tesla representative told Business Insider that the company regularly reveals products long before they become available and highlighted the Model 3 sedan, which was unveiled in March 2016, 16 months before it was delivered to customers.
Two months before the Solar Roof’s flashy introduction at Universal Studios just outside Los Angeles, Musk cited the product as a reason to support Tesla’s acquisition of the solar-panel manufacturer and installer SolarCity, a deal that has drawn criticism as Tesla’s solar-panel-installation business has plummeted.
“I think this is really a fundamental part of achieving differentiated product strategy,” Musk said in August 2016.
He added: “It’s not a thing on the roof. It is the roof, which is a quite difficult engineering challenge and not something that is available anywhere else.”
In February 2017, Tesla said in an earnings letter that Solar Roof installations would begin later that year. And in August 2017, Tesla said the Solar Roof “ultimately pays for itself by reducing or eliminating a home’s electricity bill.” (That month, Tesla also said it had completed the first Solar Roof installations on the homes of its employees.)
But Reuters reported in August 2018 that two months earlier, just 12 Solar Roofs were connected to the energy grid in California, the biggest market for Tesla’s vehicles.
And in May, Reuters reported that a “great majority” of the solar cells produced by Panasonic at Tesla’s factory in Buffalo, New York, were being sold overseas instead of used in the Solar Roof, despite Tesla’s prediction a year earlier that Solar Roof production would “accelerate significantly” during the second half of that year.
Tesla should have anticipated its Solar Roof issues
Tesla should have foreseen the issues it has had rolling out the Solar Roof, said Sam Jaffe, a managing director at Cairn Energy Research Advisors. Solar roof tiles are more difficult to produce than traditional solar panels since the tiles have more complicated designs and wiring architectures.
“If it was easy to do solar tiles, it would have been done long ago,” Jaffe said. Tesla, he said, “shot for the moon, and they so far haven’t made it to the surface yet.”
Musk suggested in June that Tesla was making slow progress when he said the company was installing the Solar Roof in eight states, but he did not specify the number of roofs that had been delivered.
Regarding the Solar Roof’s cost efficiency, he struck a more c