Musk Says Solar Roof On Electric Cars Just Don’t Make Sense, Model 3 Won’t Get One

7 months ago by Eric Loveday 74

Tesla Model 3

Remember that wacky idea of fitting a solar roof or even a retractable solar array to the Tesla Model 3? Well, you can nix that from the Model 3 equation now.

It was Tesla CEO Elon Musk who first tossed around the idea of offering a solar array on or with the Model 3 and it’s Musk who’s now killing that possibility.

Here’s the initial Twitter convo from November 4, 2016:

Just recently, at the National Governors Association where Musk was in attendance, Tesla CEO’s admitted that the automaker researched a solar array roof and basically concluded what we’ve all known for some time now…it’s pointless.

You simply can’t fit enough on the roof of a car to generate sufficient power. It’s more costly than you think and the return (in terms of ability to recharge your car) is very minimal (a few miles of sun-powered range added per day).

A deployable solar shield is likely out too. Could you imagine what that would cost? Or where in the heck it would be stored in the car? Or how often it would be vandalized by passerbys?

Every so often Musk dreams beyond reality. This is one such time.

Solar roof and solar shield are out…for now.

Source: Electrek

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74 responses to "Musk Says Solar Roof On Electric Cars Just Don’t Make Sense, Model 3 Won’t Get One"

  1. unlucky says:

    Yep. Never did. It’s not bad to talk about possibilities. But you have to be careful about how seriously you take his offhand comments.

    1. FISHEV says:

      Like Toyota that puts a solar panel on the Prius Prime.

      “With large solar panels mounted on the vehicle roof (solar roof), you can supply power to the driving battery and 12V battery system. When parking charges the drive battery, consumption of the drive battery is reduced, and it will contribute to the improvement of the EV mileage and fuel consumption in motion (when the sun is out).

      In case of a power outage at a charging station, if there is no parking or an outage, (the solar roof) enables charging of the drive battery if there is sunlight. “

      Tesla will catchup someday.

      Musk estimate of 2-4% of the cars power via a solar glass roof on the Tealas is about right. Reducing the power needs from EV’s from 2-4% is huge in the aggregate. Same reasons we are switching to EV’s are the same reasons for putting solar glass on the car roofs.

  2. SparkEV says:

    Fortunately, Musk has more sense than to turn Tesla 3 into Inspector gadget platform. Deployable solar… *smh*

    1. mevp says:

      Right. He had the X for that.

  3. Koenigsegg says:

    The infamous “Why don’t electric cars have solar panels on their roofs to charge the car, it’s stupid no car company does it”

    Said by people that don’t think fundamentally, or just think at all, in general. Lol

    1. Mister G says:

      Exactly, I’ve had friends say that and I thought they were joking but they weren’t joking LOL

      1. Dan says:

        Lol. My usual response to those kinds of comments is:

        “What you really need to do is to lift the panel off the car and aim it properly to face the sun. Can you imagine it? Car solar panels mounted on a roof!!! Think about it 🙂 “

    2. James says:

      Those people think a a solar panel can add miles to range. That isn’t viable, but Don’t toss out the solar panel with the proverbial bathwater, if you catch my drift.

      Prius had a thin film solar panel on it’s roof as an option to it’s tech package a few years back. People who sprung for it absolutely raved about it. They lived in hot areas and the panel topped off the 12V lead acid battery and ran a little vent fan inside the car. Auto operated by thermostat, when the car got hot inside, it sucked out the hot air and vented it outside, pulling in cooler air from underneath.

      What a nice thing to have! How many of you just today put one of those silly windshield blockers on your car to try to prevent SSS (Sticky Seat Syndrome)? And that awful waste of energy blasting A/C to cool down a hot car sitting in a parking log for hours? That’s range out the window right there!

      Thin film panels are going down in price all the time. If standard equipment and not an option, it would be a real luxury to have. While a gadget, it’s purpose is a very , very handy and desireable one. I’d rather have that function than a glass roof any day. The glass roof is nice, but makes the car a greenhouse on sunny days.
      A cool car is a real benefit, a luxury indeed.

      LEAF has a solar panel on It’s rear spoiler as an option. Not for miles but to top up the 12V accessory battery. I do this on my Prius and our Volt. Little 9-18 watt solar panels can be bought online for a few bucks. They come with alligator clips that just clip onto terminals in back, and I put that panel inside the hatch glass. The second one is on the dash with non skid rubber underneath. That one takes up the accessory plug, also included. On sunny afternoons that trickles a little 12 watts or so constantly into the accessory 12V. Geeky and fun, but I get asked about it a lot. And those 12V glass matt batteries are a weak spot, especially on our Prius. Works like magic- unlike that nerdy gadget aftermarket solar vent fan as seen on TV that doesn’t work…

      So I disagree with you and Musk. If the thin film is price reduced due to scale, put it on the roof! Just Don’t be like those dorky people that believe you’re going to get any significant driving range from such a deal!

      Little known fact: VW New Beetles used to come from the factory with a little 9 watt solar panel you’d plug in to the cigarette lighter and set on the dash. Nobody wanted to mess with them and dealers just tossed them aside. I read online back then that you could call any local dealer and tbey’d just give tbem to you for free.
      I did so and they gave me four! I had fun playing around with them and powered some stuff around the house. Free geek fun!

      *Plus it’s a gadgety selling point. Clever and with a positive purpose.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        It would be nice to have that as an option, for the reasons you so eloquently explain.

        But trying to embed solar cells into window/windshield glass is just stupid. It would drive up the cost of the windows/windshield to an unreasonable level; both as original equipment and for replacements. We all know that the windshield is one part of the car most likely to need replacing over the lifetime of the car.

        And the entire concept runs against the grain of the Model 3 being as simply made as possible. Sure, you can say “Well it would be nice to have an option for putting solar cells on the roof of the car.” But you can say that about a great many things, and every one of them would drive up the price of the car. Even if it’s not standard equipment, the auto maker still has to pay for developing the option and tooling up to install it.

        And come to think of it, one option for the M3 is an all-glass roof. So even if Tesla were to offer solar cells separate from window glass as an option, there’s no place to put them on an all-glass roof. They’d have to put them on the hood of the car. Not impossible of course, but not the best place for sun exposure, nor the place least likely to expose fragile solar cells to being damaged by things hitting them.

        1. ElectricGuy says:

          “So even if Tesla were to offer solar cells separate from window glass as an option, there’s no place to put them on an all-glass roof.” BP when it made solar panels used to make glass canopies for their gas stations with solar etching. The canopy was clear but still produced electricity. There is also a greenhouse in Amsterdam with a megawatt-sized roof made with a similar product. Window glass for high-rises will soon be available with PV output.

  4. Murrysville EV says:

    I once calculated that the puny solar panel on my former 12 Leaf SL could produce enough energy to propel it about 200 feet (IIRC) after sitting outside all day at the office.

    What a waste. But it impressed people.

    1. says:

      14 miles/year…yes, that is insignificant.

    2. Tom says:

      People buy useless options all the time. Even if it’s only purpose is to make the owner feel better, and there’s a market for it, then it would make economic sense even if the owner never got payout or it made sense from an energy perspective. Billions get spent on useless options that owners never see return on every year.

      Now if nobody is willing to pay the $5000 (or whatever they cost) extra then yes they don’t make sense. I believe the new Leaf is said to be getting the option. I think the Karma Revero still maintains it…completely superfluous I realize…but so is the Karma. Doesn’t mean it won’t sell.

    3. SJC says:

      Big rig trailers could create enough energy to help with refrigeration.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        One of the economic advantages of semi trailers is that they are cheap and interchangeable. Putting solar cells on the roof would be counterproductive, raising the price for little benefit.

        1. SJC says:

          Then put the electric hybrid unit that was developed on the trailer, use the panels as a range extender. If it helps the bottom line Walmart could do it along with major freight companies.

    4. James says:

      It’s purpose was to trickle – top off charge to your 12V accessory battery. I’m not surprised nobody at your Nissan dealer told you so. They probably didn’t even know that.

      A cool gadget that has nothing to do with your drive battery. And we all geek out a bit on solar stuff, so a great conversation starter when sharing about electric cars!

      1. Murrysville EV says:

        @James: Yes, I was aware that the solar panel actually trickled into the 12V battery, but don’t forget that the 12V battery was ultimately fed by the EV battery. So it’s reasonable to consider the mileage contribution of the trickle charge.

        As for the dealer, they were useless. They didn’t know much about the car, even after I had it 3 years.

    5. Devin Serpa says:

      A common cell phone has the energy equivalent to 140 feet.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        I have no idea what that means. Energy is not measured in units of distance.

        1. SJC says:

          He is referring to the watt hours translated to EV range.

  5. says:

    Unless the panel tech improves dramatically this will not be practical. Today a good system that would cover the entire top of the car would maybe get to produce 1kWh in a day in ideal conditions giving you about 1500 extra miles each year and saving you maybe $50/year in cost. The system better be cheap otherwise only a dedicated few will go for it.

    1. Priusmaniac says:

      The interest is to neutralise vampire consumption not for extra miles.

      1. says:

        Whatever the goal is the cost of the system will be the same…way too high to make it worth it. If anyone can bring this option under $1K it may sell even if it will take 20 years to recover the cost. On the other hand, this will be the only option on a car that even has the possibility to recover the initial cost.

        1. Priusmaniac says:

          A square meter of solar panel cost way less than 1000$, more like 300$, but even so it is a tiny amount for an asset that can prevent being stranded when taking back the car after being away for a month, so it would be worth it, even more if it still does provide some free miles each day.

    2. Sharkvolt says:

      Yeah, if you wanna become a millionaire overnight, figure out how to make a solar panel that is 80% efficient instead of 20%, and still reasonably cheap to make.

      1. says:

        50% efficient and a cost of under $1k will make this an must have option. We will get there.

        1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          Greater efficiency in solar cells won’t convert this into a must-have standard for EVs. It’s a luxury to have a trickle charge from a small solar panel on the car’s roof to run a small vent fan to keep the interior of a car from overheating on a sunny day and/or to keep the 12v battery from being drained from long-term parking.

          Greater efficiency in a small solar panel merely means it can be smaller and achieve the same purpose. Unless you’ve covered the entire roof, this doesn’t really help much. Far more important would be the cost of the system, and higher efficiency in solar cells generally comes only at higher cost.

          It will never be a must-have.

          1. says:

            One of my solar panels generates 2kWh/day in ideal conditions. It has a 19.5% efficiency. A car top will fit about half panel so say1kWh/day….again, this is an ideal conditions scenario. At 2.5x efficiency increase that should give at least 2kWh/day. This translates to about 3000 miles per year on a 4miles/kWh car. That is 25% of what most people drive in a year so it will be SIGNIFICANT! Key here will be the cost but it will get cheap overtime as all panel tech does. It doesn’t matter that the panels on your house are more whatever, this is about getting extra miles without doing anything while parked. You may not see it now but in a few years you will.

  6. Tom says:

    One other thought. Perhaps it’s feasible on the semi. Not on the semi so much perhaps as the trailers. The boxes of these things are hardly more than sheet metal anyway. Can the sides and top be sheeted in solar panels? A truck is exposed outside all day every day. I know in terms of total proportion of miles it wouldn’t be high, but it might be economically viable. You could even mount an auxiliary battery onto the trailer and it could charge even when not hooked up to a semi while sitting in a parking lot. Or plugged into the facility via extension cord or something. I don’t know. Probably unrealistic. Certainly you have more surface area to work with.

    1. TimE says:

      You could do solar on refrigerated trailers for the purpose of refrigeration, but you DO NOT do solar or batteries on dry vans with the intention of powering an electric tractor.

      As I’ve stated before, most trucking companies have 3 or more trailers per tractor, and those trailers spend a significant percentage of their time sitting in drop yards. A trailer runs about $20 – $25k each. Tractors are the power units, and run about $130k each, and spend a very significant percentage of their time moving. Spending money on batteries or solar for trailers would be nothing more than a waste of money and resources.

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      “I know in terms of total proportion of miles it wouldn’t be high, but it might be economically viable.”

      The problem with such proposals was pointed out by a post to InsideEVs from someone who actually works in the trucking industry. He said that trucking fleets generally keep something like 6 or 7 (can’t recall the exact number he quoted) trailers around for each tractor. That means 5 or 6 trailers are just sitting around unused for every trailer in use, at any time. That means 80-83% of those solar cells are aging without being used for every one that is being used.

      I think most trucking fleet operators would agree that is a money-losing proposition. If it doesn’t pay to put the solar cells on the tractor, then it doesn’t pay, period.

      1. mm says:

        Prices of new technology change, I have no idea if solar assist for cars will ever be practical.
        We have a major dairy distributor in the valley where we live in the city and there are always 15 refrigerator trailers belching exhaust into the neighborhood. We can’t get them to plug in, I guess they are only built to be diesel powered. The pollution and noise is terrible, they have created a “dead zone” around them in the neighborhood. We have solar on our home and see how perfect the production matches our mini-split heat pumps cooling demand. It would be great to see these trailers power their refrigeration this way some day.

  7. Lawrence says:

    The Return On Investment on a home solar system which is optimized to generate as much electricity as possible by situating it where it gets as much sunlight per day is about 10 years.

    A car with a solar panel has a ROI of …. 20 years, or longer than the expected life of the car?

    1. says:

      You are calculating ROI without knowing the system cost?

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      It’s rather pointless to try to figure ROI (Return On Investment) for a luxury item such as this. What do you base the “Return” on? The cost of the equivalent kWh if it was purchased from the grid?

      In his post above, James explained quite eloquently the benefit of such a system. That benefit is a convenience. Convenience is worth paying for. You personally may think that convenience either is or isn’t worth as much as it costs, but in neither case can its worth be calculated by the equivalent in buying electricity from the grid.

      Figuring ROI for the electricity generated by such a system would be like claiming the cost of a bottle of water bought at the convenience store should cost the same as water poured into your own drinking cup from a sink inside the store.

  8. bibou64 says:

    We all love Tesla, but… Tesla cars are too heavy in order to be fed by a solar roof.

    Have a look to these guys,

    they beleive a car can be redesigned and light, making M3 a monster of iron (too heavy, too many kW/h by mile).

    They have won twice the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge® championship

    So, maybe a new technology gap in a few years, with light cars and small Batteries.

    1. John in AA says:

      “Starting from €119.000 excluding taxes” … “A refundable payment of €19.000,- completes your reservation.”

      I wonder how many people will be rolling the dice for €19k. Hard to guess whether it’s a scam or well-intentioned dreamers.

  9. F150 Brian says:

    Car no. Van/SUV maybe as the roof area is a lot bigger. Especially a delivery van that operates long hours but travels short distances at relatively low speeds.

    There are solar boats and planes. No doubt there will be applications on-road too.

    1. Tom says:

      Postal service, UPS, etc. Something with large flat surfaces that is outside all day in stop/go traffic. In fact in that environment it could be used in non-plugin versions of hybrids. Since the charge amount is low what the effect would be is adding a little bit of distance every time the engine shuts off.

    2. Paul says:

      I have to agree here also. Personal cars, no. But certain fleet applications could be practical in 5-10 years, as PP said for convenience sake mostly.

  10. David Murray says:

    It’s short sighted not to consider offering it. Yes, it’s silly. But so are a lot of other features that people pay good money for to add to their car. Adding the solar panel should be no different than fancy wheels, a spoiler, or a big tailpipe (such as I often see on modified Hondas or whatever). None of them serve any real purpose, but if people will pay for it, then offer it!

    1. unlucky says:

      They have finite engineering resources. Spending time on this when there are bigger fish to fry is a bad idea.

      Useful Model 3 features and anything Model Y is more important than messing with this.

      Just as they shouldn’t have wasted their time on a Roadster pack upgrade.

    2. James says:

      Funny how many people here don’t know about thin film solar or inexpensive non silicone solar. Just look to that fold out backpack solar charger used to juice up your iPad on that hike. Some don’t know that these cheap, less efficient types of solar actually are MORE EFFICIENT than heavy, expensive panels on cloudy days or in filtered or low light. People in Seattle know this.

      Forget range enhancement. The killer app for thin film solar on cars is keeping the 12V accessory battery topped off. This is the purpose for the LEAF’s optional panel on the spoiler, and 2014 Prius optional solar roof on the tech package. On the Prius, it was attached to a thermostat inside the cabin. When hot inside, a small vent fan sucked cooler air from underneath the car and vented hot air outside. People who had the option raved about coming out to a cool interior even when in direct sunlight! COOL! Literally. No butt sticking to hot leather seats!

      Expensive, but with a very useful purpose. To cut costs, put the solar roof on all models. Scale reduces cost. I’d rather have a Model 3 with this than the glass roof which acts like a greenhouse. Model X owners with that huuuge windshield would welcome that option, especially in states like yours + Arizona, etc…A panic fix to frying X owners was a hastily-designed cloth sunshade they could order. From what I’ve seen, a rather unclassy solution for people that bought a $150,000 car.

      Lots of silly comments here who only see a solar roof as a device to add driving range.

      As I wrote above, I use 2 of those little solar panels you can buy on Amazon for a few bucks to top off my 12V
      battery on both my Volt and Prius. One on inside of hatch, one on dash. 🙂

      1. says:

        Are you talking about the 12V battery that will be gone from future evs?

        1. unlucky says:

          Already gone from the IONIQ I heard.

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Well said, James!

        Your posts are the only ones in this discussion which address the real issue in a comprehensive manner.

      3. unlucky says:

        There is currently no viable non-silicon solar, BTW. Even thin film is silicon. The only major non-silicon solar are those very high efficiency panels used on satellites/spaceships (Gallium Arsenide). And perskovite cells which don’t work right just yet (don’t last).

        1. unlucky says:

          Huh. Apparently there are CIGS and Cadmium thin-film too. But CIGS isn’t taking off and Cadmium is frankly rather toxic. I’d rather avoid it if possible.

      4. Murrysville EV says:

        @James: I forgot about the cooling fan feature of the Leaf solar panel. But ultimately, the panel’s power feed to the 12V augments its replenishment by the EV battery, so it’s still worthwhile to consider how much it helps driving range.

        The 12V battery’s recharge doesn’t come from thin air; it comes from the EV battery.

  11. Brandon says:

    Covering the every possible part of the body of a car actually can generate more electricity and miles than I previously thought was possible until I learned about the Sono Motors Sion solar car. They are actually revealing their production prototype this Thursday evening. It’ll be interesting to see how it looks and what new info they have on it. I’m planning to write a short piece on its unveiling to be published here on Inside EVs Thursday evening.

  12. Big Solar says:

    a solar glass roof to fight vampire drain seems like it would be worth while.

  13. Roy LeMeur says:

    I say you should just put a generator on the wheel and make ‘lektricity as you drive 🙂

    1. James says:

      That there is called regen to the uninitiated. Name an electrified car THAT DOESN’T use it. Aha, you can’t.

      I think regenerative power sent back to the batteries from braking and coasting in certain modes is one of the most satisfying aspects of electric cars.

      1. Brandon says:

        I agree. It’s definitely at the top of the list for my favorites.

  14. zzzzzzzzzz says:

    Panasonic’s new solar roof on Prime is reported 180 Watt.

    It is obviously significant if you park in sun in South and get these 3-4 miles per day.
    4 kWh/day * 350 days * 10 years * $0.15 cnt/kWh = $2,100. Just about the cost of Toyota’s price for the option, that hopefully can be brought down in future.

    1. zzzzzzzzzz says:

      Oops, it should have been 4 miles not 4 kWh.. At 25 kWh/100mi it doesn’t look worth $2000.. maybe $500.

      1. James says:

        Thin film solar isn’t too expensive when built to scale. Instead of an option, make it standard. It also tops off the 12V accessory battery, a weak spot in Prius and most every EV.

        100,000s of solar roofs = much cheaper than a few hundred. A cooled and vented interior is so nice, all thermostatically controlled.

        My version would be controllable by phone app too.

        Range enhancement alone is not really viable enough alone to justify the feature at present cost.

  15. says:

    Model 3 should come with solar tiles on 50% of the roof as advertised.

  16. Don Zenga says:

    Yes the roofline of Model 3 is very curved and we don’t know whether the solar panels on such surface will be able to capture much energy. May be Tesla will start selling a Van or even Model Y with a long flat roof which will have solar panels. At least they should install some type of tinted glass that prevents the interior from heating up during hot summer days.

    Indian Railways has installed solar panels on the roof of railcars (compartments) to reduce the diesel fuel consumption of the locomotives. So this technology is feasible.

  17. FISHEV says:

    “a few miles of sun-powered range added per day.”

    Times 500,000 Teslas of 2018 production, 2,000,000 of totally sustainable non polluting powered miles.

    If there’s no point in doing that, there’s no point in building Teslas in the first place.

    And this from someone trying to sell solar PV glass roofs.

    Oh well…Musk is only human, makes mistakes.

    Toyota does it nicely on Prius in Japan.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      “If there’s no point in doing that, there’s no point in building Teslas in the first place.”

      Of course there’s a point to replacing petroleum-burning gasmobiles with zero-emission BEVs, you EV-bashing troll.

      The question isn’t whether or not it’s worth using solar cells; the question is whether it’s better to spend resources putting them on the roof of your car… or on the roof of your house and/or into a solar farm somewhere.

      1. says:

        Spend resources? What the hell are you talking about? Are we running out of silicon? Does China have problems finding workers? The Chinese are making panels for dirt cheap. If a 200w panel (possible with a 25% efficiency) was added on top of M3 for under $1k i bet everyone will take it. Adding 1500 miles of range per year is a big deal. Cost is key here.

  18. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    “Tesla CEO’s admitted that the automaker researched a solar array roof and basically concluded what we’ve all known for some time now…it’s pointless.”

    Good to see that Elon has made at least one practical choice for the Model 3. Solar cells embedded in automotive window glass may be possible, but that doesn’t make it either practical or affordable.

    Now, about that decision to not have any instrument cluster or HUD… Is it too much to hope Elon has reconsidered? Keeping fingers crossed!

    1. Mister G says:

      Hud or no hud, instrument panel or no instrument panel, I’m still buying a model 3 because I want to be gasoline free in 2018.

    2. Murrysville EV says:

      I’ve lost hope for the HUD.

      The gaugeless dash is a big turnoff for me, but I’ll keep my reservation and see what I think in person.

  19. Pete says:

    Why Toyota can do it for good price in Europe on the prime. Its gives 5-7 km prr day, the Sono Motors Sion could get 50 km a day from the roof.

    1. says:

      What good price? Lest time i checked this option was $3000…anything changed?

  20. K A Cheah says:


  21. Kuk says:

    And here comes the German solar car the Sion 😀
    27th July they will show it for the first time
    Add some solar curtains and u get even more.

  22. Lou Grinzo says:

    It is important to look at both hard, economic analysis of EV solar panels (e.g. over the lifetime it delivers additional range at X cents/mile, etc.), as well as more general, fuzzy aspects. As people have pointed out above, there’s the convenience factor, which people pay for all the time in almost every product category you can name, plus even less tangible benefits, like cool factor.

    On a purely economic basis, EV solar fails unless you can find a way to make it deliver energy at a much lower cents/kWh price than anything available today.\

    The convenience factor is largely mitigated by longer battery ranges. If you have a 250 or 300 mile range, do you really care about the few extra miles you get from parking your car in the sun all day?

    As for the cool factor and selling the option to people who ignore or don’t understand the economics, there is almost no limit to the crazy stuff people put on and do with their cars in America. [insert your own scathing social commentary here]

    My prediction is we’ll see this as an option on BEVs and PHEVs, and very few people will buy it, unless it’s bundled in with a trim level and other features a consumer wants.

    (I strongly suggest everyone on this site look into the microeconomics concept of a utility function, and not just at the usual “I read the first paragraph in the Wikipedia entry and consider myself an expert” level we all resort to so often. It has deep implications for all consumer behavior, especially when considered in the context of psychology.)

  23. Brave Lil' Toaster says:

    That’s right, they’re completely ridiculous.

    On the other hand, putting solar panels on top of parking garages, and car chargers in them, is a fantastic idea.