Elon Musk’s SolarCity to begin selling roof made of solar panels

In the same month that Apple has been granted permission to sell energy generated by its solar farm in California, renowned cleantech innovator Elon Musk has revealed that his solar power company SolarCity plans to begin selling a fully-integrated "solar roof" that is entirely composed of PV panels.

During a quarterly earnings conference call for SolarCity on Tuesday (9 August), Tesla chief executive and SolarCity chairman Musk said announced that the solar firm plans to design and sell a roof with built-in solar capabilities, emulating the traditional approach of of mounting PV panels onto rooftops.

“It’s a solar roof as opposed to a module on a roof,” Musk explained during a SolarCity earnings call. “It’s not a thing on the roof, it is the roof.

“If your roof is nearing end-of-life, well, you’ve got to get a new roof anyway. And so, why not have a solar roof that’s better in many others ways as well?”

These bold plans come in the same month that Musk confirmed a merger between Tesla Motors and SolarCity in an all-stock transaction worth £2.6bn, which the entrepreneur hopes will enable Tesla to position its Powerwall energy storage technology alongside SolarCity’s solar energy generation capabilities.

Apple’s green light

Not to be outdone in the race between major tech firms to exploit the financial opportunities of the evergrowing solar market, electronics giant Apple last week announced it had been granted permission to sell solar energy at its 130MW solar farm in California into wholesale markets.

Last Thursday (4 August), energy officials in Washington DC gave Apple the green light to sell its power at market-based rates, with the tech giant predicting that renewable energy generated at the site could supply enough electricity to power all its stores, offices, headquarters and a data centre.

Commenting on that agreement , Imperial College London’s energy and environmental technology lecturer Niall Mac Dowell said: “This is not the first time that Apple has invested in substantial quantities of renewable power and solar in particular, but it is a particularly large investment.

“While other forms of renewable power, such as wind, are in general cheaper than solar, the fact that the cost of solar power is decreasing rapidly is also well-known and investments such as this one may help to accelerate this trend, which is also positive.”

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Apple’s Monterey County facility joins a 20MW facility in Nevada, in addition to a 50MW facility in Arizona in generating renewable energy.

Apple’s renewable energy revolution has led to the formation of its own energy subsidiary, which could see the company sell excess electricity to end-users across the US. With 93% of Apple’s global facilities running on renewables, the company will soon begin to sell electricity generated from solar panels and farms, hydrogen fuel cells and biogas facilities located across the company’s biggest facilities including the Cupertino headquarters.

Tech transformation

A host of other major tech firms have also recently stepped up their renewable energy ambitions in the push towards low-carbon business.

Last December, Google upped its ambitious green energy procurement programme, adding 842MW of renewable energy capacity and joining the RE100 initiative with a new target to triple its purchase of renewable energy by 2025. The projects – a Swedish wind farm and a Chilean solar plant – led the company to claim that it is now the largest non-utility purchaser of renewable energy in the world.

Earlier this year, meanwhile, Facebook announced plans for a new data centre to be built in Ireland which will run on 100% renewable energy using the country’s ‘robust’ wind resources.

And Microsoft recently revealed it wants to combat the growth and electricity consumption of its data centres by adding more clean sources to its energy mix in an attempt to reach a 60% renewables target “early in the next decade”.

George Ogleby

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