(New throughout, adds details from Tesla conference call)
By Nichola Groom
May 10 (Reuters) - Tesla Inc on Wednesday began taking orders for its solar roof tiles, a cornerstone of Elon Musk's strategy to sell a fossil-fuel-free lifestyle under the brand name of its luxury electric vehicles.
Tesla said the product, which generates solar energy without the need for traditional rooftop panels, will be pricier than a conventional roof but will look better and ultimately pay for itself through reduced electricity costs.
The solar roof tiles were unveiled in October as Musk sought to convince shareholders of the benefits of combining his electric vehicle maker with SolarCity, the solar installer run by his cousins.
Tesla acquired SolarCity in November, and has been working to remake a money-losing company that was selling traditional solar systems into a premium energy brand. To date, other companies have had little market success with attempts to incorporate solar technology directly into roof tiles. It remains unclear whether the products will appeal to consumers as much as Tesla's electric vehicles do.
To get in line for a solar roof, homeowners must put down a $1,000 deposit via Tesla's website. There, they can also calculate the estimated upfront cost of a solar roof.
A 1700-square-foot roof in Southern California, with half the roof covered in "active" solar tiles, would cost about $34,300 after a federal tax credit, according to the calculator. Tesla estimates such a roof could generate $76,700 of electricity over 30 years.
The company said its solar roofs would cost between 10 and 15 percent less than an ordinary new roof plus traditional solar panels.
But Jim Petersen, chief executive of PetersenDean Inc, which installs about 30,000 new roofs plus solar a year, estimated that a 1700-square-foot roof with new solar panels, including the tax credit, would cost about $22,000, well below the Tesla website's estimate. Costs vary depending on roof type.
Glass tiles will be available in the United States later this year, beginning with gray smooth glass and black textured glass versions, Tesla said. Slate and Tuscan styles will be introduced in 2018. Overseas markets will receive the products next year.
Tesla said it expects the product to be popular in locations beyond where its SolarCity subsidiary currently operates, and plans to expand installation crews accordingly.
Tesla will manufacture the tiles at its solar factory in Buffalo, New York. Production will start "very slowly," Musk told reporters on a conference call, adding he expects robust demand. (Editing by James Dalgleish and David Gregorio)