Recently the highly marketed Solar Roof by Tesla made its appearance, overshadowing existing photovoltaic products for building integration. A slogan on the product’s webpage says, “Power your Home with Beautiful Solar”, but “beautiful” seems to mean “not ugly” or “fairly normal” in this case.
Like other photovoltaic systems for architectural integration, such as Tractile’s solar roof that I described in a previous article, Tesla’s product supplies homes with electricity generated from sunlight. Perhaps its main advantage is its association with the Powerwall battery, which hints at the possibility of making homes energy self-sufficient for at least some of the time. Fully solar-powered homes would be wonderful, if only we needed so little energy in our lives to be able to rely on solar power exclusively, and if solar energy didn’t fluctuate. Perhaps combining solar roofs with other renewable energy sources could make a bigger difference towards buildings’ self-sufficiency.
Among the benefits of the Solar Roof, Tesla indicates exceptional durability, strength and seamless architectural integration of solar cells thanks to the active and non-active modules’ resemblance to conventional tiles of different types. In its novelty, Tesla’s Solar Roof is a highly conservative product. It doesn’t try to appeal to architects very much, offering highly customisable solutions for creative designs. On the contrary, with its very familiar appearance it seems to target home buyers, or those who have dreamt of building their own detached house in a green suburb, being able to afford it. To buy a solar roof you first need to buy a property. But even if you could, would you buy that kind of property?
The United Nations reported that by 2030 the 60% of the world population is expected to live in urban areas, and that one in every three people is predicted to live in cities with a population of at least half a million inhabitants. Living in cities has several advantages, including reduced reliance on car transport. What can relatively small solar roofs do in densely populated cities where people live and work in tall buildings? The active area of a solar roof cannot generate enough energy to power the lives of several families inhabiting a tower, where the surface of a well-designed solar façade could contribute to power generation more effectively instead.
Tesla’s Solar Roof is still innovative because at present there are not so many solutions for the seamless integration of photovoltaics into architecture. However, it is also a conservative product because it targets a segment of the world’s population that can afford to buy or build a house somewhere outside the chaos of crowded cities, probably owning cars to commute daily to and from work. Tesla’s Solar Roof is conservative also because despite the technology it involves, it retains a somewhat vernacular look. However, it is certainly a good start and it will hopefully develop into a larger variety of solutions for multiple types of architectural applications.