Complete review of Tesla solar panels: are they worth it?

Updated

complete review of tesla solar panels
Tesla offers some of the lowest prices in solar. Long story short, you get what you pay for. Image source: Tesla

If you’ve been considering installing solar panels, chances are you’ve come across Tesla. And while their website makes it seem like going solar with Tesla is the best way to have a high-tech home of the future while simultaneously lowering your electric bill, that actually might not be the case. 

So, what’s making the switch to solar with Elon Musk really like? Is Tesla’s low pricing too good to be true? 

In this article, we break down everything you need to know about buying Tesla’s solar panels, from Tesla’s approved financing options to whether or not buying them is the best choice for your roof. 

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    How much do Tesla solar panels cost?

    Tesla solar panels cost $2.01 per watt before the federal solar tax credit, which is cheaper than the national average cost of solar. After the solar tax credit, the cost per watt falls to about $1.48 per watt. 

    Tesla has made buying solar panels as easy as buying a new shirt by offering standardized solar system sizes: small, medium, large, and extra large. 

    The following table lists the system sizes and their costs: 

    Tesla solar system sizes and costs before incentives
    System size Cost before incentives
    4.25 kW $8,452
    8.50 kW $17,083
    12.75 kW $25,625
    17.00 kW $34,167

    To order Tesla solar panels, all you have to do is go to their website, enter your address, and Tesla recommends what system size is best for you based on your energy usage. You can also pick one of their other sizing options if you don’t think their recommendation works for you.

    How are Tesla’s solar panels so cheap?

    Tesla’s easy ordering process is one of the reasons they have such low prices. 

    Their brand name recognition also helps a lot. Tesla doesn’t have to do a whole lot of work to get people to their website. People know Tesla - so they go right to it. This, plus the fact that their order process is entirely online and they only offer four standard system sizes eliminates a ton of overhead costs that many other solar companies face. 

    Not to mention, Tesla is a large company - they can afford to undercharge for their panels and take a slight loss at the front end of the deal.

    Find out how much a solar system would cost for your specific home

    Tesla’s solar financing

    Tesla solar installations may be cheap in comparison to its competitors, but not everyone has thousands of dollars laying around to pay in cash. Tesla offers homeowners the ability to take out a loan directly with Tesla. 

    Tesla solar loan 

    Tesla’s solar loan works like any other regular solar loan. You take out a loan with Tesla and make monthly loan payments back to them over a specified term. With Tesla’s loan, you are the owner of the system, so you get the benefits of the solar tax credit and other solar incentives, like SRECs

    The following table outlines the estimated monthly payments for Tesla’s different solar system sizes: 

    Estimated monthly payments by system size
    System size Financed amount Down payment Monthly payment
    4.25 kW $7,688 $854 $74/month
    8.50 kW $15,375 $1,708 $148/month
    12.75 kW $23,063 $2,562 $223/month
    17.00 kW $30,751 $3,416 $297/month

    Tesla’s solar loan has a 10-year term and 2.99% APR.

    Features of Tesla solar panel systems

    Historically, Tesla used Hanwha Q CELLS’ Peak Duo Black solar panels, more specifically the Q.Peak Duo Blk-G6+ modules for their solar panel installations. In 2021, however, Tesla announced that they were switching over to their own solar panels.

    Let's take a look at what these panels offer in terms of performance: 

    Tesla solar panel performance
    Spec Tesla T425S
    Type Monocrystalline
    Wattage 425 W
    Efficiency 19.6%
    Power tolerance -0 / +5 W
    Temperature coefficient -0.33%
    Dimensions (with framing) 82.4" X 40.9" X 1.57"
    Warranty 25-year performance warranty, 10-year comprehensive warranty

    Performance

    Tesla (and their die-hard fans) really love to point out that Tesla’s panels are “more powerful” than other residential panels on the market. The fact of the matter is, Tesla’s solar panel output isn’t that impressive because each panel is the size of commercial solar panels. Actually, they’re bigger than most commercial solar panels. 

    Tesla’s panels have more area, meaning more solar cells can fit in the frame and the power rating increases. It’s not because Tesla has used some sort of revolutionary technology. If you were to use those same solar cells in a standard residential size, it’d have the same output as other solar panels on the market. 

    Don’t get us wrong - the Tesla panels do still have great technical specifications. The power tolerance rating and temperature coefficient are in line with popular Tier 1 solar brands, so they should operate well under real world conditions. 

    Warranty

    The main thing we’re worried about is Tesla’s solar panel performance warranty. As solar panels age, they can’t produce as much electricity as they did initially. Performance warranties outline how much solar panels degrade as they age. 

    Most solar panels on the market today have a degradation rate of between 1.5% and 2% for the first year of operation, meaning the panel will operate at about 98% of its original power output wattage after Year 1. From Years 2 to 25, most solar panels today offer an annual degradation rate of 0.5%.

    Tesla’s warranty is very vague and there’s some conflicting information out there about what it actually is. According to Tesla’s website, there is no annual degradation rate. All it says is that the panels will operate at least at 80% of their original nameplate capacity for at least 25 years. 

    This is a huge red flag for two reasons. For one thing, because they don’t outline how much the panels will degrade each year, the panel could start operating at 80% capacity after they’ve only been on your roof for one year and still be within the warranty terms. Is this likely to happen? No. But the fact that nothing about an annual degradation rate is stated is kind of suspicious. 

    The second issue with this is that 80% after 25 years is well below what other panels offer in their warranties. Most solar panels are warrantied to operate somewhere between 86% and 88% of their original capacity after 25 years. Tesla’s 80% warranty is, quite frankly, weak.  

    Now this is all based off of the warranty information on Tesla’s website and there’s different warranty information listed on the specification sheet for the panels. However, that sheet is nowhere to be found on Tesla’s website; we had to find it online. So is it even legit? Who knows! 

    But the warranty on that sheet says the capacity will degrade by no more than 2% in the first year, and no more than 0.54% annually for the remaining 25 years. That is a little bit higher than the rate we see for most panels, but not by much, so the final output of Tesla’s panels would still come out to around 86% after 25 years. 

    Is it worth installing Tesla solar panels in your area?

    How do Tesla solar panels work?

    Tesla solar energy systems are made of three basic components: 

    • Solar panels
    • Tesla’s new solar inverter
    • Tesla’s Gateway monitoring system

    The solar panels take sunlight and convert it into electricity. The electricity then travels from the solar panels to the Tesla solar inverter, where it is converted into AC electricity that your home appliances can use. 

    When you use the electricity your solar panels make, you use less energy from the grid, thereby lowering your power bill. 

    The solar panels will produce the most electricity in the middle of the day, when the sun is highest in the sky. Any energy that your solar panels produce that your home doesn’t use will be sent to the utility grid, or your Tesla Powerwall battery if you choose to have one installed. 

    At night, when your home’s energy usage is higher than what your panels are producing, you will take electricity from the grid or your battery, depending on your system setup. 

    The Gateway monitoring system keeps track of this process and how your solar power system is performing, which you can keep an eye on with the Tesla app. 

    Do you need to install a Tesla Powerwall with Tesla solar panels?

    Over the past year, Tesla has flip flopped back and forth between whether or not they require a Tesla Powerwall with their solar panel installations. As of October 2021, Tesla does not require a Powerwall with Tesla solar panels. 

    However, the company does require a Powerwall with their solar roof tile installations.

    What is the difference between Tesla’s solar roof and Tesla solar panels?

    Tesla solar panels look like the solar panels you’re used to seeing on roofs. They are installed on top of your existing roof and generate electricity for your home to use. 

    Tesla’s solar shingles are designed to look like traditional roofing materials, so you can’t tell that there is solar installed on the roof. 

    Tesla solar shingles require a full new roof replacement, so the solar roof tiles don't stand out from the rest of your shingles. Unlike their traditional rooftop solar panels, Tesla manufactures their solar shingles themselves at their Buffalo, New York gigafactory. 

    You can read more about how Tesla’s solar roof compares to conventional solar panels here

    Tesla’s customer service comes up short

    It’s true that you’ll probably get the lowest price for going solar when you go with Tesla. But the price of solar also includes the cost of the long-term relationship that you get with your solar installer, and that seems to be where Tesla cuts costs. 

    Unfortunately, Tesla has historically been known for having pretty shoddy long-term customer service - which you can read about in customer reviews here on SolarReviews. Because they are such a large company, they don't have the ability to give you the type of one-on-one service that you need when going solar. 

    Tesla’s customers have reported that it’s hard to get ahold of them if there’s a problem with their system, and it can take even longer to get someone out to check on the issues. This can actually cause you to lose a substantial amount of money

    If your solar panels aren’t producing energy properly, you have less electricity to power your home, and thus a higher electric bill. The longer it takes for someone to fix your system, the more money you lose.

    Are Tesla solar panels worth it?

    At first glance, a Tesla solar panel installation seems like a no-brainer. They have an easy ordering process and they offer good-quality solar panels at an insanely low price. All we can say is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

    When it comes to solar, the communication between you and your solar company is key. You’ll be dealing with them for 25 years, at least! Tesla’s track record shows that they might not be the ones you want to rely on if something goes wrong. Cutting costs won’t be worth the potential headache you could incur after the solar installation.

    We recommend getting quotes from a few local solar installers before you decide to go solar with Tesla. A local installer’s prices will most definitely be higher than Tesla’s, but the cost includes the value of a long-term customer relationship, and to us, that’s priceless. 

    Find out how much solar would cost for your home after the 26% income tax incentive

    Key takeaways

    • Tesla solar panels cost $2.01 per watt before the federal solar tax credit is applied.
    • Tesla installs their own 425-watt solar panels.
    • Tesla’s performance warranty listed on their website is incredibly vague and below industry standards.
    • While Tesla may offer a low price for solar, they don’t offer great customer service, which is pertinent for a 25-year investment like solar panels.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Catherine Lane

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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