There’s no denying that Tesla has one of the most loyal brand followings out there.
Tesla as a car company doesn’t always run smoothly, as historic delivery delays have shown: the Model X SUV arrived three years late.
But then you have to take into account the 373,000 reservations for the Model 3 mass-market vehicle — 115,000 of which were put down before anyone saw the actual car in March.
Whether CEO Elon Musk can generate that kind of passion and demand for his vision of Tesla Energy — a new business unit that Tesla added last year — is yet to be seen.
An event on Friday will play a huge role in determining that.
Tesla will unveil a solar roof at Universal Studios in Los Angeles at 5:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. ET, alongside the new version of Tesla’s at-home battery, the Powerwall 2.0. We’ll be following along, so check back for all the exciting news.
A ‘difficult engineering challenge’
Musk has said the roof will be “a fundamental part of achieving differentiated product strategy.”
According to him, the roof will be beautiful. “It’s not a thing on the roof,” he said, alluding to the familiar arrange of roof-mounted solar panels. “It is the roof, which is a quite difficult engineering challenge and not something that is available anywhere else.”
SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive said during the company’s second-quarter earnings call that there are about five million new roofs installed every year just in the US, and that the new product will be focused on the roof market.
But there are a lot of questions that need to be addressed during tonight’s event about the solar roof.
For one, it’s hard to imagine how a one-size-fits-all roof would work. Naturally, houses come in different shapes and sizes, and it’s difficult to conceptualize building a solar roof you could simply drop onto any house.
Musk admitted it was a “difficult engineering challenge,” so design will be an important factor here.
But there are other lingering questions about the solar roof. What will happen if there’s a problem with the roof, like a leak? How will Tesla ensure proper longevity, and will anyone be able to fix it if something goes wrong?
Of course, it will be interesting to hear what Musk has to say about price, and how it compares to solar installation today.
Some of the details have already been dealt with. Musk said Tesla and Panasonic will produce solar cells at a plant in Buffalo, New York if the SolarCity merger passes. The Buffalo News reported that initial solar production will center around the solar roof product.
Tesla’s current Powerwall is a 200-pound lithium-ion battery that can be mounted on the wall of your home.
The Powerwall can store energy generated by solar panels and draw electricity from the utility grid when rates are low and store it for later use. The $3,500 battery banks 6.4 kWh of energy — to help put that into perspective, the average person in the US uses about 30 kWh of power a day.
Tesla Powerwalls are modular, so they can be combined to increase energy storage.
Tesla received 38,000 pre-orders for the Powerwall, selling out through the first half of 2016. Tesla and its partners have invested about $5 billion to get its giant battery plant, the Gigafactory, to achieve full production by 2017. The Nevada-based factory is expected to build 500,000 batteries a year by the end of the decade once it is fully operational.
Electrek obtained leaked photos of Powerwall 2.0 Friday night that show it’s flatter and more rectangular than before. There’s no word yet on price or capacity.
‘As compelling as electric vehicles’
Musk has a lot riding on this event as Tesla’s proposed merger with SolarCity has taken a lot of heat.
Musk is the largest shareholder in both companies and is also the cousin of SolarCity’s Rive.
Tesla also has a lot to contend with in 2017 as it ramps up production for the Model 3, and would be adding SolarCity’s almost $3 billion in debt to its balance sheet.
SolarCity hasn’t had a great year, either. The company is burning through cash, and its shares have plummeted by 45% since the beginning of the year. SolarCity has also cut its marketing costs and laid off members of its sales and marketing team.
But Musk will look to generate the same kind of excitement for Tesla Energy that already exists for Tesla carmaking operations.
The event will help “create a clear picture of how a combined Tesla and SolarCity will make solar and storage as compelling as electric vehicles — an achievement that would advance our mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” Musk wrote in a recent blog post.