Forward Labs Is Now Taking Pre-orders for its Solar Roof

Can a startup compete with Tesla's new solar roof?

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Tesla’s solar roof shows a lot of promise. And if pricing estimates are true, it could compete well against tile and slate roofs. But, Tesla’s not the only company working on a solar roof.

A small startup based out of Palo Alto, California is looking to challenge Tesla — and the roofing industry in general — with its own solar roof. The three person company is completely self-funded and has already begun taking pre-orders for its product.

Forward Labs was founded by CEO Zach Taylor, who was raised in a construction family and has a background in construction, roofing, and engineering. Seeing the need to reduce carbon emissions, Taylor came up with his idea for an inexpensive solar roof.

What’s different about the Forward Labs roof?

Unlike Tesla’s solar tiles, Forward Labs uses a raised metal seam roof. It’s targeting homeowners looking to replace their roof, as well as those looking to design and build a new home. As a replacement, the new solar roof is meant to substitute a sloped, shingled roof that’s over 15 years old.

The roof consists of five layers that are completely built at the factory. The top layers are constructed over a galvanized metal form-factor that, according to Taylor, appears “nearly identical to the non-solar portions of the roof.”

Construction and specs

Taylor describes the construction as “a five-layer build — we’ve got glass, our optics, the cells, of course, and the encapsulant — and all of that goes into a metal frame that’s made at the factory. So it’s not something that’s built on site; it’s not an afterthought. It’s completely integrated.”

The system is passively cooled via an air gap below the panels. This is of note as we don’t yet know how the Tesla system will be cooled.

The modular element of the roof is slightly larger than a standard solar panel and incorporates silicon solar cells and module level electronics. Panel efficiency is expected to be line with high-efficiency mono-crystalline solar panels.

The panels are also meant to be easily replaced. Taylor claims it’s actually easier than replacing standard solar panels today. And by using standard solar equipment, finding a replacement should be simple as well.

What’s it going to cost?

Forward Labs is especially proud of the cost of their roof. Taylor said that the entire roof will cost $8.50 per square foot. The solar portions of the roof will cost an additional $3.25 per watt.

This is comparable both to a typical solar system and an asphalt shingle roof. It also significantly undercuts Tesla, which estimates a cost of $21.85 per square foot.

The entire roof also benefits from the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit. Despite the entire roof not producing power, it’s treated as part of the system, just as mounting is part of a standard solar array. This is how Tesla’s roof has been interpreted under the tax credit, which is why Forward Labs believes it can do the same.

When will it be offered?

Forward Labs has already installed its roof at beta sites in New York. And homeowners living in the San Francisco Bay Area can reserve their roof now for $1,000.

The roof is being offered in eight colors and installations are expected to begin in early 2018.

Forward Labs is starting off slowly to ensure high quality installations. The company plans to train its own solar roofing technicians for this reason. This is also why it’s only being offered in the Bay Area at the moment. As the company expands, its products may be offered to third-party installers who have completed a certified training program.