One October evening five years ago, Elon Musk used an old set for “Desperate Housewives” to show off Tesla’s latest innovation: roof shingles that can generate electricity from the sun without unsightly solar panels.
After delays, Tesla started rolling out the shingles in a big way this year, but it’s already having a major problem. The company is hitting some customers with pre-install price increases that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than previous quotes, angering early adopters and raising big questions about how Tesla, which is best known for its electric cars, operates its once dominant solar roof. business.
Dr Peter Quint was eager to install Tesla’s solar shingles on his 4,000-square-foot home in Portland, Ore. Until the company raised the price to $ 112,000, from $ 75,000, in an email. laconic. When he called Tesla for an explanation, he was put on hold for over three hours.
“I said, ‘It’s not real, is it? Said Dr. Quint, whose specialty is pediatric intensive care. “The price started to go up. We could take care of it. Then this. At this price, in our opinion, it’s a highway theft.
The price increases are the latest misstep for Tesla’s solar unit, which also sells conventional panels. The company has grown from being the largest rooftop solar installer in the United States to a distant second in recent years. An effort to regain market share by reducing the price of panels in 2019 has done little to stem the slide.
At the “Housewives” event at Universal Studios in 2016, Mr. Musk, the chief executive of the company, promised that Tesla’s new shingles will boost facilities by attracting homeowners who find the solar panels ugly. But shingles remain such a small segment of the solar market that few industry groups and analysts bother to track installations.
Tesla isn’t the only company pursuing the idea of integrating solar cells, which turn sunlight into electricity, in shingles. Dow Chemical, CertainTeed, Suntegra, and Luma, among others, have offered similar products with limited success.
But given Mr. Musk’s success with Tesla’s electric cars and SpaceX rockets, Tesla’s glass shingles have drawn inordinate attention. He promised that they would be way better than anything anyone else had imagined and that they come in a variety of styles so they could look like asphalt, slate and tile. of Spanish barrel to suit the aesthetics of each home.
Many of these promises are just that. Tesla only sells one version, which looks like the common asphalt shingle.
In a quarterly earnings call on Monday, Musk insisted that demand for Tesla’s solar roofs “remains strong” even though the company had significantly increased prices. He described the last minute increases as a start-up problem.
“We found that we basically made some big mistakes in assessing the difficulty of some roofs,” he said. “You just can’t have a unique situation.”
Tesla’s solar ambitions date back to 2015 when it announced it would sell home panels and batteries alongside its electric cars. A year later, the company acquired SolarCity, a company run by Mr. Musk’s cousin, Lyndon Rive. SolarCity was the leading rooftop solar installer in the United States, but over the past five years Tesla has fallen behind Sunrun, which grew even bigger last year after purchasing another installer, Vivint.
Tesla lost market share even as the demand for rooftop solar panels rose sharply as the panels became more affordable. In terms of power generation capacity, annual installations are about 13 times larger than they were ten years ago, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Solar shingles have historically been 20 to 30 percent less efficient at converting the sun to electricity than panels, said Vikram Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO of EnergySage, a solar price comparison service. It is not known whether Tesla improved the performance of the shingles, he said, although they are attractive to many owners because the roofs look like everyone else.
But the company’s recent price increases suggest solar shingles will remain a niche product for now, Mr. Aggarwal said. “Looks like they’re targeting superpremium canals, people who are looking to put up expensive roofs,” he said.
Still, some energy experts and early adopters, including Dan Reicher, assistant secretary for energy in the Clinton administration, said Tesla’s higher prices would not prevent the switch to solar shingles.
At conferences and meetings in the late 1990s, as a door-to-door salesperson, Mr. Reicher would pull a solar shingle out of his briefcase to illustrate his vision for the future of home electricity.
“This is where we’re headed – it’s a solar shingle,” he would say to anyone who would listen. “It protects you from the elements and electricity from the sun.”
The shingle it was carrying was manufactured by United Solar Ovonic, a subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices, which filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations in 2012.
Mr Reicher had Tesla shingles installed this month on an addition to his home in Vermont. (He had conventional solar panels installed on a house when he lived in Washington).
Under partly cloudy skies for two chilly days, a handful of workers climbed onto Mr Reicher’s home in Warren, Vermont, a town between the green mountain ranges. Once the federal tax credits are taken into account, he will have paid approximately $ 16,000. The price was so low because he wasn’t installing the shingles all over his house and replacing a roof.
“He’s been waiting for this for 25 years, like people have been waiting for the iPhone,” said Tom Berry, vice president of SunCommon, the contractor who installed the shingles.
Mr. Reicher ordered his shingles through SunCommon rather than directly from Tesla. SunCommon, who like Mr Reicher has been eagerly awaiting these shingles, said Tesla’s price increases for direct customers have not affected at least some wholesalers like SunCommon.
The New York Times spoke to three owners across the country who were told by Tesla their systems would cost significantly more. Two canceled the work, and the third was determining his next steps because he had already spent nearly $ 5,000 to prepare his house for the Tesla system.
Mr. Musk and Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.
Dr Quint in Portland decided to go with Tesla shingles because he needed to replace the original roof on the house his family had built over 30 years ago. He signed a contract on September 11 and made a down payment of $ 100. His system was much more expensive than Mr. Reicher’s because it was more than double the size of a typical solar home system.
“Tesla’s roofs are really beautiful,” said Dr. Quint. “People would be like, ‘Whoa’.”
The first estimate for the installation was over $ 60,000, but just a few thousand dollars more than what conventional panels and a new roof would have cost, he said. During the months that Tesla was designing the system and getting building permits, he added, the company raised the price slightly, which was fine with him. But the final estimate in March, $ 112,000, was much higher.
Not wanting to pay that much, Dr. Quint looked for another installer and decided to use conventional shingles and solar panels, which saved him nearly $ 70,000 from Tesla’s final price.
Ana Bianchi of Walnut Creek, Calif., A suburb of San Francisco, was also hit by a sharp rise in prices. Tesla first told Ms. Bianchi that her shingle and battery system would cost $ 63,000. But two weeks before the installers’ expected arrival, an email from the company raised the price to $ 85,000.
She wanted the system to protect her family from losing power when her utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, cuts power to prevent her equipment from starting wildfires. She also hoped to reduce her electricity bills, which have fallen from around $ 200 a month to $ 400 in the four years since her family moved from New York to California.
She sought out Tesla’s shingles because contractors told her they couldn’t attach conventional solar panels to her composite roof.
Tesla never offered an adequate explanation for the price change, Ms. Bianchi said, so she called off the job: “It’s just outrageous.