Tesla has claimed that the energy side of their business will soon overtake the automotive sector. They have pinned their hopes for the growth of their residential solar business on their solar roof product. To be successful, they should ally themselves with real estate development partners, cede some control, and let the developers push these products in the most efficient package possible.
Currently, Tesla sells solar roofs and Powerwalls the way they sell cars. They offer “one-off” customized systems for anyone who books a reservation at their stores or website, with no clue whether solar even makes sense for the situation until months or years after the reservation. This approach is fatally flawed. Tesla can barely handle the minimum level of customization of its cars, and certainly is not set up to work with communication-intensive small projects or customer-driven construction schedules. Tesla’s Energy forum posts clearly show that while Tesla's end product is great, the design and installation procedure is torturous. Surprise surprise, communication is non-existent, schedules are not met, and early customers (who should be evangelists) are bitter. Tesla needs a new approach.
The best approach would be to design entire communities for Tesla solar + energy storage + car charging solutions from the ground up. That way, professional fees and tooling for 5 or 6 roof geometries can be amortized over tens of thousands of homes. One negotiation with one building department, fire department, and utility for thousands of homes - now it starts to make sense. In addition to the economies of scale, there would be significant design advantages. “Net-zero” or off-grid communities could be designed from first principles to maximize sun angles and energy efficiency, with batteries efficiently located in one place, and excess solar capacity installed incrementally as the community grows. These communities would be strategically located where solar is favorable and solar regulation is predictable.
Realistically, a real estate developer would need to take the lead, and partner with Tesla Energy. “Powered by Tesla” branded communities could be rolled out nationwide, marketed to people who want to lead ecologically responsible lives in comfort and style. That demographic would want sustainable construction practices, clean air and water, access to locally grown food, and to know that their crap doesn’t end up in a river. Some developers are already set up for this and should be eager to leverage the Tesla name. It would need to be an unequal, developer-led partnership, but one that would absolutely be in Tesla’s best interests. The ultimate advantage is that the end user only interfaces with Tesla's awesome products, not Tesla's (ahem) service.
Eventually they could work towards creating a Tomorrowland planned around Elon's greatest hits: right-of-ways for hyperloop transport; tunnels to whisk freight on electric skates to solar covered stores; streets designed for self-driving EVs; and shared mobility allowing parking lots to be minimized. There would be no telephone or power lines, no traffic lights, no traffic noise, no gas stations, no semis clogging the roads... in short, all the ugly stuff gone. (I don’t see a US developer stepping up to all of this - maybe a South Korean chaebol could pull it off - but the idea of Tesla-powered housing developments is immediately actionable.)
Hopefully Tesla is already thinking along these lines, I just think it's strange I haven’t seen it discussed anywhere.