This week Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and Space X, announced a new product developed in conjunction with SolarCity - a new type of solar shingles designed to visually replicate the appearance of traditional roofing materials.
At first blush it might seem odd to bring this up here, on this site dedicated to living in and (very slowly) restoring a family home built in 1861. Indeed, I went back and forth between whether to put this here, or on my more science and technology oriented site. But this seemed the right place.
While our goal is to maintain and restore this old family home, it has never been with the intention of living a 19th-century lifestyle. We've been working our way through the replacement of the original windows, and with the help of the fine folks at Triple Service, have installed air conditioning and, more recently, a modern iron filtering system for the water supply. And, given that the house was originally built without either electricity or indoor plumbing, I hold that these modifications are consistent with the approach prior generations have taken to the Homestead.
All of which makes this new product very interesting to me. The prospect of using alternative energy sources - either solar or wind - has been something I've wanted to incorporate in the long-term picture for our home from the beginning. This is true both from the standpoint of being a person who is interested in these technological solutions for their own sake, and for the benefit they stand to offer to the environment. It's also true from the perspective of a person who owns a large, 155-year old home who must contend with the utility bills that home generates.
In addition, owing to our rural location, we are low on the list for restoration during power outages. In the seven years that we've been living at the homestead we've encountered at least one outage each year, and several of those have been for multiple days at a time. Because we have forced air heat and get our water from a well with an electric pump, a power outage also means a heat and water outage. This is a reality of where we live, of course - on the open prairie, in an area with high enough winds to justify a wind farm - but that makes it a reality it's which one must contend. Being in the position of generating some or all of one's own power becomes a very attractive option under these circumstances. If one can do that in a fashion that also complements the appearance of our vintage home, as opposed to looking like a modern-era tack-on, so much the better.
Another, very relevant detail is the quality and durability of the roofing material itself. Because of our location in the wind farm the traditional asphalt shingles that are used here struggle to maintain their protective position in the face of the gust. The descriptions of this material suggests that it is considerably more durable than traditional roofing.
This is all early days, of course. The product is not yet available, and there's been no announcement of pricing, though the stated goal is to make the cost competitive to the cost of traditional roofing plus utilities. Still, I think our Homestead would look quite nice with the Slate Tile panels on it. If the folks at Tesla and SolarCity are looking for a location which would provide a real-world, four-season, high-wind test site for their product I'm certain arrangements could be made...