Environment

Rein in excitement over Tesla's solar roof

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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Electric automaker and renewable energy company Tesla Inc launched its solar roof with combined Powerwall battery system last week, and everyone got very excited. It is an innovative technology that will revolutionise the solar industry, especially as more companies start to produce their own solar roofs. But how excited should we be in Jamaica?At Solar Buzz we get a lot of calls regarding new technology, and the solar roof has been on people's minds since the initial announcement seven months ago. My response to prospective solar clients would be to not get too excited about owning a solar roof in Jamaica anytime soon. Here is why:

• It's not available outside the USA initially

If you go to the Tesla Solar Roof page there is a calculator. It will predict the cost of the roof but this calculator only works for US addresses. As with the Tesla Powerwall battery system, which launched over two years ago, demand will be high and availability will be limited to the US until all the kinks are worked out. I have yet to come across a Tesla Powerwall battery system in Jamaica, so I would not expect to see a solar roof in Jamaica for some time.

• New technology is expensive

The solar roof is very new, therefore the price is going to be very high. On the Tesla calculator I typed in a Florida address and put the house size at 2,000 sqft. The results are below:

“Your Solar Roof can generate US$85,600 of energy over 30 years,” it said.

$85,600 (Value of energy)

- $80,300 (Cost of roof)

- $7,600 (Cost of Powerwall battery)

+23,800 (Tax credit)

____________________________

$22,100 (Net earned over 30 years)

• A roof that size (2,000 sqft) would cost J$10,500,000 before shipping and is estimated to offset 70 per cent — 100 per cent of your electricity bill, depending on usage. Florida has a solar tax credit but Jamaica has much higher energy costs, so let's say these even out for simplicity. A rough payback of this roof in Jamaica would be about 20 years, which puts us back to the early days of solar when regular panels were expensive — at US$2/watt compared to US$0.50/watt now. Solar did not sell in those early days because the payback period was too long. Even with the relatively cheap rates these days, the solar market in Jamaica is still struggling! This is mostly due to the lack of financing and a tedious financing process, but that's a whole different thesis.

The Tesla calculator assumes the home would only need one Powerwall battery bank, which produces 14kWh. For a home with a family of four, the solar system would mostly likely need at least two Powerwall battery banks to achieve 100 per cent offset, so add another US$7,000 to the cost.

This assessment is not to discourage anyone towards the solar roof as, eventually, all roofs will be made of solar tiles. However, until then, conventional solar systems are at their most inexpensive levels of all time. A homeowner could buy a new roof and install a traditional solar system to offset 100 per cent of electricity costs and payback for both in half the time of a Tesla Solar Roof right now. Eventually, this will change, but at this moment in time do not bank on a Solar Roof being available in Jamaica or at least feasible for many years to come. The time you spend waiting on the Tesla Solar Roof in Jamaica you could have bought a traditional solar system, a new roof, and paid off both through your energy savings.

Jason Robinson is a LEED Green Associate and chief executive officer of Solar Buzz Jamaica and an executive board member of the Jamaica Solar Association. Contact him at jason@solarbuzzjamaica.com

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