Tesla's New York Gigafactory Kicks Off Solar Roof Production

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  • Photovoltaic glass shingles produce electricity from the sun
  • Tesla built factory in Buffalo with help from New York State
It’s not a solar panel. It’s a solar roof.

Tesla Inc. has kicked off production of its long-awaited electricity-producing shingles that Elon Musk says will transform the rooftop solar industry.

Manufacturing of the photovoltaic glass tiles began last month at a factory in Buffalo built with backing from New York State, the company said in an email Tuesday. It comes more than a year after Tesla unveiled the shingles to a mix of fanfare and skepticism.

The appeal: a sleek, clean solar product, especially for homeowners seeking to replace aging roofs. The tiles -- from most angles -- look like ordinary shingles. They allow light to pass from above and onto a standard flat solar cell.

Tesla, the biggest U.S. installer of rooftop-solar systems, piloted the product on the homes of several employees. The company expects to begin installing roofs for customers within the next few months.

Solar shingles will cost more than a conventional roof along with photovoltaic panels -- but not “wickedly so,” said Hugh Bromley, a New York-based Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst. He estimates a Tesla roof would cost about $57,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house, compared to about $41,000 for terracotta tiles along with a 5-kilowatt solar-panel system. A plain-old asphalt roof with panels would run about $22,000, Bromley said.

“It may actually do well in overseas markets where solar-photovoltaic is cheap and homeowners are used to paying a premium for building materials and cars -- such as Australia,” Bromley said in an email.

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Tesla started production of solar cells and panels about four months ago at its Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo. New York committed $750 million to help build the 1.2 million-square-foot factory, which currently employs about 500 people. The plant will eventually create nearly 3,000 jobs in Western New York and nearly 5,000 statewide, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in 2015.

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