1/ He’s doing it again, in China! First crowd pictures I’ve seen, gives you an idea of how much was invested in the groundbreaking. Pattern: use Tesla’s image to descend on unsophisticated polity, offer local pols trade of PR for PR.
2/ Gigafactory 1: Reno, NV, USA. Gather subsidies and tax concessions, mostly successful because partner Panasonic lets $tsla pretend it’s all Tesla’s achievement. Over $1 billion in subsidies and tax abatements predicted by 2030.
3/ Gigafactory 2: Buffalo, NY, USA. Mostly failed, so only local news covers it – Tesla hype partners silent. Employment goals quietly reduced so they could be met, solar panels produced now sold to non-Tesla/Solar City companies, solar roof tiles in limited production…
4/ ..for Potemkin solar roof tile installations. No volume installs because can’t be done profitably. Even if it were possible, it would take years and $billions to get there, so it’s all being sent to the memory hole where other Elon failed promises go.
5/ Scandal followed, pols convicted in bribery schemes related to the Cuomo’s NY agency: “Alain E. Kaloyeros.. was convicted on Thursday in a bid-rigging scheme that steered $100s of millions… to favored companies in Buffalo” bloomberg.com/news/features/…
6/ Musk has NEVER visited the plant. The $billions spent on it served their purpose: several hype cycles and the Solar City bailout that let him soak Tesla investors to save himself and cousins huge losses when Solar City was near failure.
7/ Gigafactory 3: Shanghai! Shrouded in secrecy on details, groundbreaking timed to assist current pump needs. Local pols may indeed be pushing banks to loan money for building (easily repurposed or de facto expropriated). The capital required to tool up is much larger.
8/ By starting construction of *something* the timeline for reckoning is advanced a year. By the time a shell is up and running, Tesla may have found the capital to equip it, in some unlikely scenario where there’s huge demand in China…
9/ China’s market as we speak is slowing. Expensive products are failing to sell. Small, affordable EVs with 100-km range are what China needs in volume, and Chinese companies will supply them. Foreign status brands are out of style.
10/ $tsla has never shown the ability to mass-produce cars *in lower price tiers* in volume. Musk tried and failed with the Mod3 in the US. His bet on all-automated lines was disastrous and wasted $100s of millions.
11/ The extend-and-pretend, hype-and-raise cycles worked before. Can he do it again and make it through another year? Maybe. The damage done grows each cycle. The runway is ending ahead, as lawsuits and investigations quietly churn away. /end
1/ Boring Co Demo: from a desire to have his own tunnel to avoid the 405 to half-baked concept to lame-ass execution, but as usual he has to keep up the hype. As with $tsla, he bamboozles local pols to give him permission and they get PR while he uses them to draw investment.
2/ If he wanted elevated Hyperloop lines crisscrossing LA, it might make more sense than the overly-costly subway system LA is building. But the cost of subways is not in tunnel drilling, but in cities like LA and NYC, the cost of *lawyers*.
3/ The 10x world cost of big infrastructure in coastal US cities is not due to construction expense. See:
The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth
How excessive staffing, little competition, generous contracts and archaic rules dramatically inflate capital costs for transit in New York.
for a view of one project. The lawyers, the studies, the delays, the contracting rules are what lead to much less new infrastructure than needed.
4/ Because Musk is operating in fantasy mode, he pens agreements with pols for supposed projects without ever getting to the point where environmental studies and lawsuits would be attracted. Fantasy projects have fantasy costs: mostly renderings and tweets. The product is PR.
5/ And PR lets him sell dreams and burn investment money. Until the bottom falls out, he lives a billionaire’s life wasting other people’s money. Like other bubbles he’s inflated, the Boring Co’s product doesn’t solve any problems or save the planet.
6/ One reason lower-density cities should halt investment in mass transit now is the very likely prospect of *non*-autonomous, cooperative networked vehicles: every vehicle knows where every other vehicle is, and can travel in close packs at high speed on highways safely.
7/ Vehicles under swarm software control coordinate passage through intersections at speed, with no need for stoplights. Highway and road capacities double and no new highways are needed for decades. The fleets of robot cars for hire reduce the need for private cars and parking.
8/ This happens around 2040-60, and the transition period is the hardest. $tsla is nowhere near the leaders in thinking about this. Boring Co tunnels are quickly outdated and even more obviously a folly. Others have pointed out how minimal their capacity would be vs. cost.
9/ The battery swap fraud, the solar roof tiles fraud, the vapor ware vehicles, neural net chips, Autopilot: Potemkin products for a ZIRP era when money-losing concept companies can keep growing on hype and lax securities regulators. Boring Co is just the most ridiculous.
10/ He’s dug his holes so deep he can’t stop. Digging is his life. Just one more funding round, just one more press release, just one more rendering the gullible will accept: the narcissist near the end will do anything to avoid facing failure. /end
The original goal of this blog was to explore all aspects of making a larger house “green” or sustainable. I have spent more time lately debunking the mountain of lies promoted by Elon Musk in both solar and EV aspects of Tesla’s operations. Rather than convert those researches into posts, I’ll just copy those threads here for future readers.
1/ The cult of Elon is a subdivision of the ecowarrior movement that is pushing to eliminate all fossil fuels (and nukes) by 2030. That would mean keeping poor people poor while the connected grow fat on subsidies for their $tsla EVs and Powerwalls.
2/ Where the Progressive-Greens are influential (California, Germany) the cost of energy has doubled (or more) from what a free market mix would have provided, reliable paid-for nuclear is being shut down, and the costliest forms [of “renewable” energy] installed earlier are decaying.
3/ Wind turbines are especially costly, mechanical collectors of a low-density source which can never compete on cost with other forms. Already windmill farms installed early in the movement are largely abandoned. Photovoltaic is already maxed out in California at 10%.
4/ Patrick Moore (@ecosensenow) as founder of Greenpeace has come around to regret the cultural Leviathan he helped create. Political energy planning, like industrial policies everywhere they’re tried, is captured by special interests and corruptly siphons off wealth.
International Energy Agency reluctantly admits wind and solar are a complete flop. They have been hijacked by extreme “greens”. Next they will fudge numbers like NASA-GISS. Unreliables will “rust in place”.https://t.co/WU4bnWbt1F
5/ After Solyndra and the litany of multibillion $ losses on grants, loans, and subsidies to political supporters of government, it’s clear this is a losing strategy. But pols want to double down, because hoodwinking the voters keeps the gravy train going.
6/ I’m all for a sustainable future. What’s not sustainable is borrowing $trillions to make bad investments that have small or negative return to society. And expensive EVs as status objects for the wealthy should no longer be subsidized.
7/ People who believe oil companies and ICE cars are highly subsidized are responding to decades of propaganda by true believers as well as proponents of political control of *every decision in life.* This is the “Bootleggers and Baptists” coalition.
8/ Direct political control of investment automatically creates corruption. For every example of a bankrupt private company that made a mistake and had to be liquidated, there is a government agency that lives on forever despite its failure.
9/ Without an honest accounting of good produced vs social and financial cost of regulation and control, voters can never see the but-for world where a better policy was followed. In this case, the cost of additional CO2 to future humanity is only vaguely known.
10/ Relentless global warming (now “climate change”) propaganda was justified as necessary to alarm voters enough to create support for costly actions. We now know the rate of change is something like a third of the crude alarmist model predictions.
11/ Slower change can’t justify keeping millions in poverty to save the planet – it points toward cheaper mitigation of effects. Economists correctly argued for small but increasing carbon taxes as the least costly means of repressing CO2 production.
12/ But (a la @instapundit) an efficient, neutral tax returned to the people offered insufficient opportunity for graft. Instead we have two generations of children out of public schools who have been indoctrinated in quasi-religious claptrap about recycling and alt-energy.
13/ An offshoot of the “populist” rejection of globalist control of governments in the EU and Anglosphere should be a rejection of controlled energy markets. Middle-class voters see who has the shiny solar panels and EVs, and who pays through the nose in rates for basic needs.
14/ Solar will often make sense as costs drop. New battery tech will change the economics of solar and allow it to take a larger share without distorting grid economics. But $tsla is a parasite which would not exist without $billions in subsidies and set-asides.
15/ $tsla occupied the US ZEV niche created by gov’t, but is unlikely to survive Musk’s mistakes of the past (which left it with heavy debt and legal liabilities.) Better managers can take it forward but only after restructuring.
Exemplar boondoggle: California’s high speed rail project. Floated on lies and maintained by the one-party state.
There have been a few solar roof tile installs and changes in the story from Tesla since the Aug 2018 post, so it’s time for an update.
Nothing changes the original post’s conclusion that the flashy Oct 2016 PR announcement of the tiles on the set of Desperate Housewives was a sham, announcing a nonexistent product designed to induce Tesla shareholders to vote to allow Tesla to take over Solar City, a publicly traded solar company nearing bankruptcy that Elon Musk and his family part-owned. This was fraud on the other shareholders of Tesla, and enabled Musk and his family to avoid $billions in losses and a blow to his image that might well have made it harder for Tesla and SpaceX to raise investor money.
The Desperate Housewives demo was years before any profitable installations could possibly have occurred (if ever.) The fine line between overoptimistic hype and fraud was definitely crossed, saving Musk and family billions in losses.
Tesla statements in quarterly letters to shareholders show the usual Tesla backing away from aggressive (fraudulent if done with foreknowledge) introduction promises. Keep in mind that Tesla took $1,000 deposits from thousands of homeowners for these tiles in 2016 and 2017 before quietly instructing sales reps to downplay the tiles.
This slickly-produced official Tesla video purports to show solar roof tile mass production in the Buffalo Gigafactory 2.
I don’t doubt that Tesla could continue to burn cash by installing hundreds of solar roofs to keep the hype alive for another year, but the “look inside the Buffalo Gigafactory” video shows they are being hand-produced at great cost.
This Twitter thread discusses the first two customer installs, and this thread covers the third — all three major Tesla fans and promoters, all in California. So unless you consider the possibility all three are fake, the tiles have been made to work on roofs. Longevity of the tiles as a roof is probably excellent, similar to ceramic tile, but the long-term functioning of the solar power system might be more of a problem, with complex interconnects and electronics permanently installed under hot roof tiles. Offering a warranty similar to the best conventional solar panels (25 years) might add to the losses to be expected from the product in mass use.
The installs are said to take two weeks or more, using a crew of four or more — which adds up to at least 300 hours at something like $20/hr, or $6,000 for roofing labor alone, while a normal tile roof might take half that. Tesla uses its own work crews and has said nothing about allowing any other roofing or solar company to buy and install the product.
Tesla *could* spend hundreds of millions getting up to speed and driving costs down, but a continuous flow of new investors are required to fund it. The company has cut back on capex as it tries to make it through a cash flow crisis, and the solar tile project is another promise Elon Musk made but is hoping we all forget.
Solar roof tiles are inherently more complicated than panels, the interconnects will be expensive and failure-prone, and the house designs are constrained to particular roof angles and orientations to efficiently capture the sun. The tiles are inherently less efficient than single-purpose panels and their cost can only be justified for aesthetics on traditionally-styled buildings.
But once the solar roof tile hype had served its purpose of getting approval to bail out Solar City, it took on a life of its own and had to be maintained as part of the Visionary Elon plan. Comic-book Tesla hype raised stock price and ability to spend more investor money.
The solar roof tiles are still featured on Tesla’s web site, and after a laughably simplistic savings calculation there is still an option to send Tesla a $1,000 deposit. I had assumed they weren’t still taking deposits, but Twitter user Justin (@Trumpery45) corrected me.
Tesla claimed Gigafactory 2 near Buffalo, NY, would be mass-producing the tiles and was involved in NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s scandal-plagued development agency (the “Buffalo Billion” case) to bring more jobs and grow the economy of upstate NY. $750 million of subsidies from NY helped build and equip Gigafactory 2, but Tesla has lagged years on its commitments to employment levels and could be penalized $40 million a year if it fails to meet the goals. Current employment is about a quarter of the commitment and the effort is widely viewed as an embarrassing white elephant:
Although Tesla’s main patron, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, easily won reelection, his opponents have pointed to the Gigafactory 2 deal as a sign of his coziness with moneyed interests. Raymond Walter, a Republican in the New York State Assembly who lost his own reelection bid, says he’s concerned the state has too many “eggs in the Tesla basket, which doesn’t seem like a very strong basket at this point.” When Walter toured the factory in March, he recalls, “it was mostly empty. I would say 10 percent to 15 percent of the floor was being utilized for production. It was not an impressive use of $750 million in taxpayer funds.”
…The company had spent years trying to develop a high-efficiency solar panel, called “Project Whitney,” with the aim of churning out 10,000 units per day in Buffalo by mid-2016, but it struggled to manufacture dozens per day in trial tests. In a 2016 incident, previously unreported, a panel installed on a pilot roof malfunctioned and started burning; crew members had to stamp it out with their feet to keep the panel from catching fire, according to two sources familiar with what happened. SolarCity eventually scrapped Project Whitney, though Tesla says it had nothing to do with the incident.
For months in 2017, the factory was mostly idle while teams in Fremont figured out what they wanted to build. Part of the challenge was that the $274 million in equipment the state had purchased for SolarCity was designed for a completely different product—conventional solar panels—and needed to be retooled for Tesla’s Solar Roof. Layouts and production processes for Buffalo changed constantly. “We didn’t even know if any of these tools were going to be viable,” says a former factory engineer. Tesla says the factory is now using the majority of the equipment originally purchased in 2014.
…Which means they only wasted/scrapped half (c. $137 million!) of the $274 million the state paid for equipment. Certainly a wise use of NY State tax dollars.
Tesla once again is backing away from its timetable to ramp up production of its new solar roof in Buffalo.
The electric vehicle maker, which has promised to bring 1,460 jobs to its South Park Avenue solar plant, said Wednesday that it now expects to ramp up production of the solar roof – expected to be Tesla’s main product in Buffalo – during 2019.
Just three months ago, Tesla predicted that solar roof production would increase significantly during the first half of this year, after failing to meet its previous timetable to ramp up solar roof production by the end of 2018.
In its fourth-quarter earnings announcement Wednesday, Tesla gave little indication that the solar roof – designed to look like conventional roofing shingles but with solar cells inside – is close to being ready for rapid deployment.
The company said it is installing solar roofs “at a slow pace” so the company can learn from design changes it made in the product, as well as gaining a better understanding of how to install the roof in bad weather.
The latest news story quotes anonymous Tesla employees and makes it clear the video above was a Potemkin demonstration for a product that’s not going anywhere:
Both Witherell and Dennis Scott, another worker laid off in January, said the lack of discipline was unfamiliar to them based off of other workplaces.
For example, both said that employees would watch movies on their cell phones while on the clock.
“We’re paid for 12 hours to work, not watch movies,” Scott said.
Witherell added: “During my employment there, nothing improved during the entire employment as far as production.”
“Some weeks we produced enough solar modules for zero homes and probably the best I saw was maybe four homes in a week, so that is alarmingly scary to obviously be a part of a company who doesn’t have any sense of urgency to tackle these issues and get them working correctly,” Witherell said.
Scott said his experiences there have him questioning the massive state investment that Gov. Cuomo made on behalf of taxpayers.
“That $750 million could have been spread out a lot better to a lot of other companies to stay here in Buffalo than sinking it into one big company,” Scott said.
Tesla can’t produce and install these tiles at any marketable price for years, if ever, but collected millions of dollars of deposits for them. If Tesla files for Ch. 11 bankruptcy, as it probably should at this point, those consumers — like all the others who made good-faith deposits for fantasy products from Tesla — will be at the end of a long line of unsecured creditors and will likely never be repaid.
In very hot climates like Palm Springs, where I live, the air circulation under conventional solar panels is necessary to keep the panels cool enough to stay efficient on hot, sunny days. But in cooler climates with good sun — for example, inland areas of the Pacific Northwest — an integral panel that blends into the roof can work well. Roofing producer GAF has a new product that is worth looking into.
But for most buildings where rooftop solar makes sense, it is far cheaper and more practical to install conventional panels on racks on a low-cost new roof. Even at Tesla’s announced-but-not-really-available prices for its solar roof tiles, you get more power production and a more maintainable system for half the cost by sticking to conventional roofing and panels.
The previous post got thousands of views and Twitter comments, inspiring me to write a thread on the related topic of solar-Powerwall-Tesla car as an ideal of independence for green consumers. It’s compressed and minus the usual citations, but it explains why the dream Elon Musk is selling isn’t anywhere close to realization. The thread:
1) Experts also know $TSLA fantasy setup of solar/Powerwall/Tesla car doesn’t work without grid connection to net metering utility. The battery capacity is too low, it can’t supply surge startup for AC units and the like, and grid power down means no power for anything.
2) Special circuits supplying only a subset of the house’s critical appliances have to be installed to allow use while grid is down. Big AC units can’t be included. Cost for the gridless setup in the extra $10,000s as a retrofit.
3) Year-long net metering, required to make solar ROI reasonable in most locales, is a huge subsidy to wealthy rooftop solar owners and is rapidly disappearing as it impacts rates for poor people.
4) Electric utility rates are set by law to guarantee profit to the utility, so a subsidy to solar users raises the rates for everyone else. CA already generates so much solar electricity around noon in spring that the state has to pay other states to take some of it.
5) Rooftop solar can only be a small portion of generation without distorting management of the other forms of generation, turning them into peak-nighttime plants only and raising costs further.
6) Big battery storage installations can help a lot in special cases (islands, “over-solared” states like Germany) but cost far too much to compete with conventional or existing nuclear plants for base power needs.
7) Tesla’s fantasy world is at least decades away. Utility-scale solar farms are cheaper and more easily maintained. The public sentiment supporting home rooftop solar will melt away when people understand they are paying twice as much so others can escape paying for the grid.
8) Tesla’s only real success was the Model S, which caught the imagination of wealthy Silicon Valley types who wanted to show their virtue and have the shiny thing few people had. But that market is small and fickle.
9) As governments around the world discover they have subsidized and required alternative energy too much (every pol seemed to love raising the percentage required), those subsidies are being rolled back or removed. Deadly for Tesla car and solar sales. /end
Tesla and its impresario Elon Musk are in the news this week. One aspect of his hype machine, the ballyhooed solar roof tiles, looked suspect to most of us who follow solar developments when it was introduced. Like many of his supposedly visionary ideas, there was nothing new about it and others who have worked on it gave up because it was not yet practical or cost-effective. But when Elon is selling blue sky dreams to attract more investors, his PR machine can flood the media universe with hundreds of articles uncritically rewriting Tesla’s press releases before even one skeptic is interviewed.
The solar roof tile scam is one of many schemes Musk has employed to keep his hype machine going. The increasing frequency of new business ventures he’s promoted over the past few years are a sign of desperation; his narrative must keep expanding to bring in more cash to keep the Tesla dream alive. Everything from new models (long-haul semi trucks, a pickup truck…) to solar roof tiles and batteries to stabilize the grid. Each one of these ideas has merit, but the shotgun promotions came as the company lost $billions and is years behind schedule in getting Model 3’s out to customers who placed $1000 deposits on the promise of a $35K base model. There is no longer any prospect of a $35K base model, and no money to fund new GigaFactories hyped for China and Europe.
Today we’ll focus on the solar roof tiles and the NY GigaFactory to produce them.
The context of the fraud is Tesla’s takeover of his cousins’ failing business, Solar City, which was nearing bankruptcy when Elon swooped in to offer Tesla stock for it. The motivation was to avoid a failure in his family of businesses which might have damaged his reputation and hurt his much bigger bubble company, Tesla. Musk owns about 20% of Tesla shares and has borrowed against about half of that, so declines in TSLA stock price directly threaten his net worth; it is likely he used the proceeds of these loans to fund his other companies, notably SpaceX, the Boring Company (small-bore tunneling), and the Hyperloop efforts. A margin call that might result if his stock value declines enough to no longer cover the loan amounts would trigger large forced sales and a complete collapse of the stock price and his empire.
In order to induce the stockholders of Tesla to approve the purchase of Solar City, Musk emphasized its importance to Tesla’s long-term strategic plans of promoting solar as part of a mix including utility-scale batteries for load balancing and solar to replace fossil fuels and nuclear. This vision is premature since even in most favored areas for solar, solar plus battery for daily load balancing is impractically costly compared to gas-fired plants and a mixed strategy, and even that doesn’t address the yearly load balancing required.
The solar roof tile product was promoted to make buying Solar City seem a reasonable use of Tesla’s cash and equity. The fraudulent nature of the unveiling, presented as a product ready for customer deposits and installs, has been reported on but ignored amid the raft of glowing stories from credulous media. For example, this Fast Company story from 6-19-2017, “Inside “Steel Pulse,” The Project That Became Elon Musk’s Solar Roof”:
Tesla’s sleek new product helped clinch the company’s merger with SolarCity. We investigate its mysterious origin.
In late August 2016, Elon Musk went to check out the first iteration of his new “solar roof” product on a customer’s home. Musk has famously high product standards, but he needed this one in particular to be a stunner. The Tesla CEO was in the middle of pushing through a controversial, multi-billion-dollar acquisition of SolarCity, the company his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive cofounded. This new offering would be key to selling Tesla and SolarCity shareholders on the merger. In fact, just weeks earlier, on an August 9 SolarCity earnings call, Musk hinted that a “beautiful” roof product would soon be unveiled, telling analysts that it would create a “huge market” for the combined companies. “What if we can offer you a roof that looks way better than a normal roof? That lasts far longer than a normal roof?” he teased. “Different ballgame.”
Yet internally at SolarCity, the solar roof product was far from what he would consider market-ready, let alone beautiful, according to nearly a dozen sources familiar with the project. In recent months, SolarCity had focused on developing a standing-seam metal roof with solar integration, code-named “Steel Pulse.” Whereas traditional solar panels are usually mounted on top of existing shingles, the basic goal of Steel Pulse was to make the roof itself solar powered, so it looked like a normal roof, yet generated electricity through embedded solar cells. Some employees felt Steel Pulse was unattractive, but the project’s leaders, including then-CTO Peter Rive, seemed keen on its aesthetics, and pushed ahead. The company found customers who were open to having the latest prototype installed on their Bay Area home, and when it was ready, Peter invited his cousin to see the metal solar roof in the wild.
Musk hated the implementation. According to two sources, after he arrived, he told Peter and other team members that they were wasting his time with this “piece of shit.” He demanded more “stunning” concepts and soon directed the team to pivot their focus toward a different style of solar roof—and fast. After all, Tesla and SolarCity shareholders would be voting soon on whether or not to approve the merger. Musk needed this new product to live up to the expectations he had set on the earnings call weeks ago.
…considering the timeline of Steel Pulse’s development with the SolarCity acquisition, some insiders have wondered if Musk sold shareholders on a product that didn’t exist. “It’s all about the narrative for Elon,” says a source close to Musk. “Solar Roof was as ‘real’ as anything he’s ever shown [off to the public]. Was it a finished product? By no means.”
The demo Musk introduced last October at a splashy presentation was a glass-tile solar roof, much different from the metal prototype he’d seen before. How did he pull off this transformation in just weeks? More to the point, who executed the idea and when? Leaders at Tesla and SolarCity, including Lyndon and Peter Rive, gave a variety of different answers on the timeline of its origin and development. At first, the companies said Solar Roof was a Tesla product, and then, later, a SolarCity product. Public statements are similarly contradictory. Some involved with the product’s development suggest that the mixed messages are a result of the combined companies’ wish not to appear as if they rushed out the glass-tile prototype in order to be able announce a high-profile product before the shareholder vote on the acquisition, which some critics viewed as Tesla bailing out SolarCity.
[Musk rejects a standing-seam metal solar roof developed by Solar City and demands a replacement that looks like conventional roofing tiles]
…Somehow, over the next few months, teams at SolarCity, Tesla, and 3M (which makes solar films that can be used for solar glass tiles) managed to put together a glass-tile solar roof demo, which Musk unveiled on October 28 at an event at Universal Studios’ back lot in Los Angeles, on an old residential set used in Desperate Housewives. Shortly before sunset, Musk appeared onstage in front of a crowd of several hundred to make his big reveal. “The houses you see around you are all solar houses. Did you notice?” he said, gesturing toward the homes with a grin. They appeared to have regular shingled rooftops, but Musk said they’d actually been retrofitted with a new product called the Solar Roof, a potentially transformative system that’s nearly indistinguishable from a traditional rooftop—and one, he promised, that lasts longer and costs less, all while generating electricity. “Why would you buy anything else?” he said. The crowd cheered.
Some people aware of Steel Pulse’s development at SolarCity were shocked by what Musk revealed. “Where the hell did that come from?” says one source, describing a common sentiment among certain teams at the time. Considering how different it looked from the standing-seam metal roof prototype, many sources concluded the demo was simply not real–it was merely vaporware. (As one jokes, “There’s a reason that they announced the idea on a fake block in a fake neighborhood with fake houses!”) A well-connected source explains, “Basically, from August to October, it was more about getting the thing to look right, and then from October until now, it’s really about getting the thing to work. This is just how Tesla does things. Their first car demo [for the Model S] was held together by magnets.”
…the company does acknowledge that the demos Musk unveiled at Universal Studios were not functional. …No matter how the Solar Roof came to be, it seems to have worked: Three weeks after Musk’s presentation, 85% of shareholders approved the Tesla-SolarCity merger.
The slick promotional material featured “photos” of a modern house with glossy solar roof tiles and a Tesla car in the garage — in a vision of a completely solar-powered yet stylish way of life for those wealthy and virtuous enough to choose it.
The photo above has now been traced back to its source, a slightly-modified model of a modern house licensed and augmented with the Tesla features. There was no such house, and it seems unlikely any will be built anytime soon. The rendering is based on a Mascord software model modified and re-rendered; I assume Tesla licensed the model from Mascord, but I recognized the photo from its common use in Portland to market new homes. In other words, it was slapped together on short notice to market what didn’t exist.
[The Mascord “Norcutt” house plan is pretty — see the source here.]
User “Justin” on Twitter found an ad for replan/rerender on some service like Fiverr, and commented: “Wow they bought the CAD file flipped, added some height to the entrance, and re-rendered it.”
So we now know Tesla’s solar roof tiles aren’t going to be going out to people who placed deposits on them this year, if ever, with a total of 12 installs (apparently 11 to Tesla execs.) The one install in public view took a large crew two weeks and the customer was charged about twice the cost of a standard solar setup. Tesla lost much more than that. The NY Gigafactory for producing them is mostly idle, and owes the state $100s of millions in penalties if it doesn’t employ 1500 people by deadline. The 8-7-2018 Reuters story, “Inside Tesla’s troubled New York solar factory”:
…Repeated hold-ups since the Buffalo, New York plant opened last year have forced Tesla’s partner in the joint venture, Panasonic, to seek other buyers for the components it had built to sell to Tesla, according to a Panasonic employee, a former Panasonic employee and a former Tesla employee. The issues have also rattled the faith of state officials in Tesla’s ability to deliver on investment and employment promises it made in exchange for $750 million in state subsidies.
The production challenges add to doubts over Tesla’s cash-strapped solar operations as it focuses on boosting production of its better-known electric vehicles, which have also seen repeated production delays. Tesla acquired the solar business in 2016 in a controversial $2.6 billion purchase of SolarCity – a sales and installation company founded by two of Musk’s cousins – but the business has been shrinking ever since.
…In a call with Tesla investors last week, Musk said “hundreds” of homes already had solar roofs, but the company clarified the estimate in its statement to Reuters, saying it included systems that had been partially installed or were “being scheduled for install.”
In California, the nation’s leading solar market, there were twelve Tesla roof systems connected to the grid as of May 31, all in Northern California, according to records from the state’s three investor-owned utilities. The cost per watt for those systems was listed at nearly $6, according to the records. That’s about double the national average for solar systems. [Ed. note: and the cost to Tesla of that install, which required a large crew working for two weeks, is likely many times what the customer was officially charged — see below.]
Tesla began accepting $1,000 deposits from customers for the Solar Roofs in May 2017, seven months after it unveiled a prototype.
Tesla confirmed in a statement to Reuters that it has been seeking to improve on its production process for the solar roof at the New York plant. “We are steadily ramping up Solar Roof production in Buffalo and are also continuing to iterate on the product design and production process,” the company said in the statement. “We plan to ramp production more toward the end of 2018.”
…Some New York state lawmakers worry Tesla may fail to hold up its end of the bargain. The state provided $350 million to build the factory, along with $274.7 million for equipment and $125.3 million “for additional specified scope costs,” according to a Tesla filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The subsidy package requires Tesla to employ 1,460 people in Buffalo, including 500 at the plant, within two years of the facility’s completion, and to spend $5 billion in the state over a decade.
Empire State Development, the state’s economic development arm, is overseeing the agreement. The agency believes Tesla is currently meeting its obligations, said spokeswoman Pamm Lent, adding that the company would face penalties of $41.2 million a year if it falters.
Republican New York state Assemblyman Ray Walter, who represents a district near the factory, said it concerned him that only a small portion of the plant appeared functional when he toured it in March. “After investing $750 million of taxpayer money, we want it to work out,” he said. “It just does not look like it’s heading down that path.”
Tesla said in its statement that the facility now employs about 600 people and is on track to meet all of its commitments. None of the Tesla sources could provide a production figure for the solar roof, saying only that output was low and frequently interrupted. They said only the textured black version of the solar roof had been produced so far, one of four varieties Tesla is marketing.
EQUIPMENT IN BOXES
Panasonic recently produced about 1,900 conventional 325-watt solar panels per day at the plant, meant to be sold under the Tesla brand, and about 2,000 5.5-watt photovoltaic cells per day that were intended for the solar roof, according to two Panasonic sources, one who recently left the company.
That would put annualized production at about a quarter of Tesla’s target for the plant, which is 1 gigawatt per year by 2019. And Tesla isn’t buying most of the cells being produced, according to the Panasonic employee. … For now, wooden crates filled with unused equipment are sitting around the factory, according to the Panasonic employee and three other employees with knowledge of the plant operations. Some of that equipment has become obsolete over the past couple of years as technology has changed, two of the workers said.
One of the few customers that has taken delivery of the Solar Roof is Tri Huynh, 39, who works in business development in Silicon Valley. Huynh said he paid about $100,000 for the system, which included three Tesla Powerwall home batteries to store the power produced. It took two weeks and a dozen workers to install, compared to a day for most traditional panel systems. “It’s fantastic. I love it,” he said, adding he was saving hundreds of dollars a month in power costs. “I’m a tech guy, so I kind of wanted the latest technology.”
Warren Jason, a retired technology entrepreneur who is building an 11,000-square-foot house in the Hollywood Hills, is not so pleased. He put down $1,000 to reserve a roof in early 2017 but it has not yet arrived, and he has been unable to get details to give to his architect and engineers. “We’ve been begging Tesla for information,” he said. “It’s been extremely frustrating.”
The solar roof tiles were a fraud, part of a scheme to defraud the market and Tesla shareholders by inducing them to commit resources to a dying company run by Elon’s family and friends. Musk is in big trouble now as the SEC examines his more recent Twitter claim of an offer to take the company private at $420 a share, but that has also focused attention on the smaller-scale frauds he has used to keep a narrative of constant innovation and disruptive products growing. As people who know the market areas for each of his supposed innovations compare notes, they are just starting to realize they all knew he was a fraud in the area they understood, but so long as he was apparently successful at promoting the dream no one had a reason to look more deeply at all the claimed new products. But now they do.
In coming days and weeks, the truth of his claims will come out. And it may signal the top of the most recent tech bubble which has tech giants’ stock prices inflated beyond reason. Most of these are real growth businesses that can actually make a profit without needing massive new cash infusions, but their stocks have been inflated by the prevailing atmosphere of easy credit and a steadily rising market. Being reminded to check sources and listen to contrary voices by a high-profile failure like Tesla’s can change sentiment for the whole market.
Addendum: 3-1-2019: Musk thumbed his nose at the SEC, which has requested the court find him in contempt and re-open the settlement. Days later he did a conference call with selected friendly media to announce availability of a 35K stripped-down Model 3. The unpublicized conference call to release meaningful information was a serious violation of Reg FD, which requires such calls to be open to any interested person and publicized widely in advance. The closing of most/all showrooms (where the Tesla solar roof was supposedly going to be sold) signals a company in terminal decline.