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Tesla's Invisible Solar Panels Are a Big Deal to Suburbanite Homeowners

We’ll only save the world if we can look good doing it.
Elon Musk showing off the French Slate Solar tile. Image: Every Elon Musk Video/YouTube

Last night, Elon Musk announced he would save the world in style. At a 20 minute press conference the Tesla CEO announced both the Powerwall 2.0 solar battery and a new way to charge it—solar-powered roof tiles.

Tesla's new roofing tiles look like normal tiles but hide powerful solar panels inside. Each is crafted from quartz glass and designed to replicate the look of a normal roof. No more ugly, bulky solar panels announcing to the neighborhood that you're a tree-hugging hippie.


On top of charging the Powerwall--Tesla's home battery for storing solar energy-- the new tiles are tougher than typical roofing tiles and, according to Musk, will last two to three times the lifespan of a typical roof. Musk also claimed that they'll be cheaper than a normal roof it long term because of the life span and reduced utility bills.

More importantly, the solar tiles look like normal tiles. There's four different styles—Tuscan, French Slate, Textured, and Smooth Glass. A roof tiled in the Tuscan or French Slate style will be indistinguishable from all the other homes on the street. That's important because, in some suburbs, a pleasing aesthetic is more important than saving the world or saving money.

The suburban outskirts of Dallas, TX have long fought a ridiculous battle against solar energy. In Plano (think of it as the Beverly Hills of the South) solar companies moved in years ago to put panels on homes. It makes sense as a market for solar. Plano is hot and sunny year round and has thousands of high income homeowners.

One problem though—solar panels are considered ugly by many. Paranoid home builders and draconian homeowners associations fought the ghastly panels for years. The groups claimed they were so ugly they'd drive down property values. It got so bad that Texas lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 to prevent developers and HOAs from stopping homeowners from installing solar panels.


But there was a catch. The Texas Homebuilders Association lobbied the Texas legislature to add a provision to the bill. "During the development period, the declarant may prohibit or restrict a property owner from installing a solar energy device," the law explained.

In Plano, if a developer is building homes close enough to a solar hungry household, they can prevent the homeowners from installing solar panels on the grounds that they don't look good, and therefore will bring down property values. HOAs and developers have exploited the loophole ever since.

In 2014, three years after Texas passed the bill, new homeowners in the Trails of Glenwood neighborhood learned they wouldn't be able to get cheap energy from the sun. "The concern is, by allowing the installation of unsightly solar panels and equipment there would be a negative impact on the aesthetic quality of the entire community," the developers explained to the unlucky home buyers in a letter.

"So while solar panels would be a positive with regard to energy savings of the individual homeowner, it could negatively impact the rest of the property owners in Trails of Glenwood via diminished property values."

Plano isn't the only suburb that thinks solar panels are "unsightly." A couple in the UK ran into a similar problem after they'd installed solar panels on their home. Musk just solved that problem, his solar tiles are so beautiful that no evil HOA or shady developer can stop them from going up on the grounds that they lowered property values.