Tesla says its solar business is rebounding, but doesn’t mention its solar roof

Tesla’s solar energy business had its second-best quarter in more than five years during the fall.

But the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report didn’t say a word about Tesla’s solar roof product, which is made at its factory in Buffalo that was built with $950 million in taxpayer funds.

That continued a recent trend by Tesla and Musk to essentially ignore the Buffalo operations – and the solar roof that Musk touted when it was rolled out more than five years ago – during its shareholder calls and reports.

The single paragraph in Tesla’s report to shareholders that dealt with the solar energy business noted its growth during 2022, which saw its most solar generating capacity deployed since 2017.

“Our solar installation team continues to improve installation efficiency, enabling higher volumes and stronger economics,” the report said.

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The vast majority of those deployments were for conventional solar installations. Tesla said it deployed 100 megawatts of solar generating capacity during the fourth quarter, up from 85 megawatts during the same quarter in 2021.

For the year, Tesla deployed 348 megawatts of solar generating capacity, its highest level since 2017.

Tesla has never disclosed how many solar roofs it has installed, only noting the rate of increase on occasion. Analysts have said they believe the level of solar roof deployments is fairly modest.

To fill the South Park Avenue factory and meet its requirement to have 1,460 jobs there, the company has been shifting other types of work to the Buffalo plant to avoid a $41.2 million penalty from the state.

Tesla said a year ago that it had 1,619 full-time and 17 part-time employees at the Buffalo factory at the end of 2021.

The company now makes electronic components for its electric vehicle Superchargers and inverters for some of its battery products in Buffalo. It also has hired hundreds of people to work on its autonomous driving programs for electric vehicles, although many of those positions are for data annotation work that only requires a high school diploma.

Tesla has struggled to produce and install its solar roof – essentially shingles with solar cells inside – because of the complex nature of the product and challenges installing it on roofs with irregular shapes. The high cost also has muted demand.

There is also growing competition in the solar roofing market. GAF Energy has launched a line of solar shingles that provide homeowners with a built-in solar power array. That is similar to Tesla’s solar roof, but in a simpler format that can be installed by roofers, rather than the specially trained teams used by Tesla.

GAF Energy says its roof costs about the same as a traditional roof with rooftop solar panels installed on it. GAF plans to build a $100 million factory in Texas that will increase its production capacity for its Timberline Solar shingles six-fold to 300 megawatts.

Tesla said its earnings and revenues topped analyst forecasts during the fourth quarter, which was marked by price cuts the automaker put into effect in December to spur demand.

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