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Tesla and SolarCity Finally Unveil Their Solar Roofs and Upgraded Batteries

October 29, 2016, 1:38 AM UTC

Tesla and the solar company it’s in the process of acquiring, SolarCity, unveiled roofs integrated with solar panels, along with new versions of its batteries for buildings and the power grid, on Friday evening.

At a splashy event at Universal Studios, in Los Angeles, Calif.—which was livestreamed on Tesla’s website—the companies’ leader, billionaire Elon Musk, showed off a variety of different types of solar roofs that he’s been teasing for months, which the companies mocked up on buildings around the studio.

Musk displayed a tuscan-style roof, a smooth-tiled roof, and roofs with slate and textured tiles. He said the idea of the roofs is to make solar panels “as appealing as electric cars.”

“You’ll want to call your neighbors over, and say ‘Check out this sweet roof,'” remarked Musk.

Glaringly absent from the presentation was when (or even if) Tesla and SolarCity will sell and manufacture these solar roofs, or how much the roofs will cost.

We do know that Tesla (TSLA) and SolarCity (SCTY) designed the roof prototypes in joint collaboration, said SolarCity CEO, and Musk’s cousin, Lyndon Rive, during a very brief appearance before Musk took the stage.

Tesla's solar roof
Tesla’s solar roof


Earlier this month, Tesla and SolarCity announced that, if they merge, they plan to work closely with Japanese giant Panasonic to make solar cells and modules, which make up solar panels, in SolarCity’s factory in upstate New York.

The Panasonic deal indicates that SolarCity’s own solar cell manufacturing tech has hit limitations. SolarCity built a business off of installing other companies’ solar panels, but in recent years acquired a solar manufacturing startup in an effort to both make and sell solar panels. Its unclear if SolarCity would make these or work with Panasonic to make these solar roofs?

Musk offered more details about the better batteries for homes, buildings and the power grid. Tesla plans to offer what it calls Powerwall 2, which is a battery for homes that can store energy generated by solar panels and can provide enough power for a 4-bedroom house for a day.

The solar roof, plus home battery and Tesla’s electric car, makes up Musk’s vision for moving people off of fossil fuels and to fight climate change. It “needs to beautiful, affordable and seamlessly integrated,” Musk posited, opening his presentation in his typical style of pointing out rising carbon dioxide emissions.

Yesterday, Tesla released information about new batteries for buildings and the power grid, called the Powerpack 2. Tesla said the Powerpack provides twice the energy density of the previous Powerpack.

For more on the pros and cons of the Tesla/SolarCity deal, watch:

The new products are an example of how, if combined, Tesla and SolarCity could co-engineer energy products using the latest in battery tech, electronics, and solar know-how. The event on Friday was as much a bid to sell the merger—which will be voted on November 17—as a product launch.

The new products also show how Musk is having increasing influence over SolarCity, pushing the company to focus more on differentiated products instead of its commodity, cutthroat business of selling low cost solar panels.

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However, solar panels integrated into building materials, like a roof, walls and parking structures aren’t actually new. Many companies have tried to make such products popular in the past and many have struggled to manufacture them at a low cost and with a high efficiency.

For example, Dow Chemical stopped selling its solar shingle product this year, due to underwhelming sales. Traditional commodity solar panels are at their lowest cost in history right now, and anything that requires more design and integration will add onto those ultra-low prices.