Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Well, the man who has made billions with a “b” by sponging off of your taxpayer dollars, the man you can always find face-down at the government trough, is at it again.
Elon Musk now says that his whiz-bang glass solar roofing shingles will be, get this, cheaper than a “normal” roof, viz:
Musk told the crowd that he had just returned from a meeting with his new solar engineering team. Tesla’s new solar roof product, he proclaimed, will actually cost less to manufacture and install than a traditional roof—even before savings from the power bill. “Electricity,” Musk said, “is just a bonus.”
If Musk’s claims prove true, this could be a real turning point in the evolution of solar power. The rooftop shingles he unveiled just a few weeks ago are something to behold: They’re made of textured glass and are virtually indistinguishable from high-end roofing products. They also transform light into power for your home and your electric car.
“So the basic proposition will be: Would you like a roof that looks better than a normal roof, lasts twice as long, costs less and—by the way—generates electricity?” Musk said. “Why would you get anything else?”
Make no mistake: The new shingles will still be a premium product, at least when they first roll out. The terra cotta and slate roofs Tesla mimicked are among the most expensive roofing materials on the market—costing as much as 20 times more than cheap asphalt shingles.
Much of the cost savings Musk is anticipating comes from shipping the materials. Traditional roofing materials are brittle, heavy, and bulky. Shipping costs are high, as is the quantity lost to breakage. The new tempered-glass roof tiles, engineered in Tesla’s new automotive and solar glass division, weigh as little as a fifth of current products and are considerably easier to ship, Musk said.
First off, glass is heavy. I’m not buying for one minute that they would be cheaper to ship than asphalt shingles, for example. And I can guarantee you that the “quantity lost to breakage” will be greater than with asphalt shingles. If our cell phones have taught us anything, it is that even the toughest “Gorilla Glass” is still … well … glass. So the first conclusion is that for Elon, a “normal” roof is either slate or terra-cotta tile … hey, he’s one of the elite, cut him some slack, he likely hasn’t lived in a house with an asphalt shingle roof or an aluminum roof in a while …
Will Elon’s roof be lighter than terracotta? Perhaps … but at this point we only have his word. But in any case, I greatly doubt that the largest cost of a slate roof is shipping … digging the slate out of the ground is a major cost.
Next, he’s conveniently omitted the cost of the batteries you’d need to make the system work, as well as the inverter. His 14KWhr “BerlinWall” batteries, or whatever they’re called, are far from cheap at $5,500 a pop … even if you can get by with only one battery, it is still more expensive by itself than a 40-year asphalt shingle roof. And if he is worried about breakage when shipping terra-cotta, shipping those babies won’t be either cheap or easy.
Also, he’s blowing smoke about lifetime. An asphalt shingle roof replacement will last forty years and cost something like $3.80 per square foot. A slate roof replacement will cost about five times that. Musk is claiming his solar panels will last longer than slate??? … how on earth would he even know if that were true? And what lasts longer than slate, it’s freakin’ stone, for heaven’s sake.
Next, firemen hate rooftop solar for a good reason. Think about having to punch a hole into a roof to get inside when the rest of the house is on fire … you do NOT want to be punching through glass solar panels hooked up to an inverter and a giant battery. In fact, if such a house is on fire, the battery is both a toxic hazard and an explosive hazard, while the roof is a no-go zone …
And because that is the case, your insurance costs will go up, something you’d never even consider with a normal roof.
Next, these solar shingles will be much more difficult to install, and thus much costlier, than a regular roof, involving electricians, special installers, and other high-priced folks.
Finally, the cost of solar panels has fallen to where it is now about a buck a watt, which works out to about $15 per square foot just for the panel itself. This raw material cost is more than the INSTALLED cost for slate roofing. And while Musk might reduce that, I’d be shocked if he cut it much. In fact, if Musk could reduce the square-foot cost of solar panels, why is he not making panels themselves with his new glass technology? I leave the answer to the reader.
Net result? It’s the usual story. When Musk’s lips are moving he either counting how much money he has screwed out of the American public, or he’s lying about his upcoming products … the only good news is that with the new Administration, we can only hope that his long gravy-train ride is over.
However, he is a very, very smart man, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find him cozening the public out of yet more money before he runs out of suckers. Nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American greenoisie, and Musk has made a science out of playing to their worst fears.
Finally, do electric cars have an economically viable role to play in our transportation system? My answer, which may surprise some, is yes, quite possibly … but we should not make some guy insanely wealthy by subsidizing sparky cars which are NOT economically viable. If Musk is so damn smart, then let him prove it in the marketplace like anyone else. The government should not be in the business of supporting one solution over the other, no matter how wonderful the government’s intentions are, no matter if they are liberal or conservative, no matter what good outcome they blithely predict.
The solution is simple, and might even start soon. It is to
STOP SUBSIDIZING INEFFICIENT TECHNOLOGIES THAT ARE NOT READY FOR MARKET!!
Regards to all,
My Usual Request: Misunderstandings start easily and can last forever. I politely request that commenters QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS YOU DISAGREE WITH, so we can all understand your objection.
My Second Request: Please do not stop after merely claiming I’m using the wrong dataset or the wrong method. I may well be wrong, but such observations are not meaningful until you add a link to the proper dataset or an explanation of the right method.
The Math: At present, Musk has received $4.9 billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies. In return he has delivered cars that are so expensive that the wealthy buyers of such cars get their own personal subsidy in the form of a tax deductions.
At this point, are we supposed to say “Thanks, Elon”?
Meanwhile, in the developing world, WWFA says a village-sized water well costs about $8,000 to put in … so the money we’ve wasted on Musk and his sparky cars would buy clean water wells for more than half a million developing communities.
I doubt that folks in those communities would say “Thanks, Elon” if they knew about that Faustian bargain …