Tesla’s Elon Musk launches new solar roof tile concept at Universal Studios

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Instead of talking about rocket trips to Mars or self-driving cars, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk turned his attention Friday night to a more mundane topic.

He came to talk about roofs. But like all things Musk, there was nothing normal about the roofs he came to discuss.

On Wisteria Lane, the backlot set of what used to be the Desperate Housewives TV series at Universal Studios Hollywood, Musk showed off a new kind of solar roof that will be offered starting next year through SolarCity, the home solar installation company that he is seeking to merge into Tesla.

Instead of a massive, unattractive array of solar panels typically seen in suburbia, SolarCity had installed roof tiles that are solar collector themselves on several of the houses that are part of the film set. Whether meant to emulate clay tiles on a Spanish-style house or shingles on a colonial, Musk says they have 98% of the the ray-collecting power of a conventional solar panel, are durable and will last longer than the house itself.

Besides being CEO of both electric car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, Musk is chairman of SolarCity. It’s run by his cousin, Lyndon Rive, is CEO.

The splashy event, in which Musk held forth from a stage and talked about the roof installations on the houses around him, not only promoted roofs, but indirectly, Tesla’s proposal to acquire SolarCity. The proposal is scheduled to go before both companies’ shareholders, but was met with skepticism by some analysts.

Talking to reporters after the event, Musk said Tesla-SolarCity vision of the future is “very unwieldy if we’re not a combined company.”

SolarCity sees the tiles and solar roofs as a huge growth driver that also would help separate it fromm other solar installers. The company believes it might be able to capture as much as 5% of the nation’s roofing business in a few years.

Solar roofs are a key component of what Musk sees as a home power triad — rooftop solar that collects the sun’s rays during the day and stores energy in Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system. The power is discharged in the evenings, not only to power the home but to recharge an electric car in the garage like Tesla’s Models S, X or the coming Model 3.

“Solar and batteries go together like peanut butter and jelly,” Musk said.

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