There’s no denying that solar power is here to stay. What once seemed like a far-fetched idea for a sci-fi movie has now been embraced by the American public. In 2018, solar installations are expected to pass the 2 million mark, thanks to improved accessibility and increased awareness surrounding renewable energy and sustainability overall.
But it isn’t all good news. One longtime leader in the industry, Tesla, seems to be having trouble delivering on its solar-powered promises.
In an expose published by CNBC, it was revealed that even though it’s been nearly two years since Elon Musk revealed the company’s plans for the solar roof, Tesla has struggled to get the project off the ground — literally.
Back in 2016, Elon Musk unveiled the company’s prototype solar roofing tiles, which came in four different styles. While they looked like conventional roofing shingles — similar to the asphalt versions American homes have been sporting since 1901 — they were actually attractive miniature versions of solar panels that would cover the entire roof. There was a lot of buzz about the project and the company has been taking $1,000 deposits for the tiles since May 2017. Back in August, Musk stated on Tesla’s Q2 earnings call, “We now have several hundred homes with the Solar Roof on them, and that’s going well. It takes a while to just confirm that the Solar Roof is going to last for 30 years and all the details work out.”
But it turns out that those “several hundred homes” have either partially installed roofs or are merely scheduled for installation. As of May 2018, only 12 Tesla tiled roofs — all located in Northern California — were up and running. There are reports that assembly line problems at its factory have resulted in massive delays. Worse yet, the products that have left the production facility — which Tesla established in Buffalo, NY — supposedly fall short of the aesthetic standards Musk had promised.
For the few customers who did manage to get their roofs installed, the experience may not be completely positive. Tri Huynh, a Tesla Model 3 owner who lives in San Jose, had his roof installed over a two-week period. While he was excited to see his energy bills drop drastically (from around $400 to only $40 during the summer), the roof cost him $100,000; he doubts that it will ever actually pay for itself — a popular concept used by many solar installers as incentive.
Other customers aren’t such fans of Tesla’s solar business. On Yelp, 66 out of 87 reviews in the San Francisco Bay area were only one star, with many citing the extremely poor customer service experience as their reasoning. Tesla has also found itself in trouble for vastly over-inflating solar credits in Oregon. The state recently recovered $13 million after an investigation revealed that Tesla overstated the costs of state solar energy projects by 100% to secure higher tax credits. In the end, Tesla was entitled to only $6.7 million of the $16.7 million in tax credits it collected.
The controversy seems to be ongoing for the company, with Elon Musk being forced to step down as chairman back in September (though he remains the CEO) after a bout with the Securities and Exchange Commission over his intention to take the company private. There have also been leaks about coverups pertaining to high rates of employee injuries and reports of fires and fatalities — and Musk’s now-infamous Twitter rants haven’t done him or his company any favors.
Still, it’s entirely possible that Tesla will live to fight another day. Whether their roofing tiles will ever actually be installed, however, may be a different story.