Complete review of Tesla solar panels: are they worth it?
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:
|System size||Cost before incentives|
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.
By offering four standard system sizes and having the whole process online, they’ve cut out the need for salespeople to go over specifications and detailed information with homeowners.
Their brand name recognition helps, too. 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 online ordering process, practically eliminates 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.
Tesla’s solar financing options
Tesla solar installations may be cheap in comparison to its competitors, but not everyone has thousands of dollars laying around to pay in cash. So, Tesla offers homeowners two different financing options: solar loans and solar subscriptions.
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:
|System size||Monthly payment||Monthly payment with pre-payment||Minimum pre-payment amount required for lower rate|
Tesla’s zero-down solar loan has a 20-year term and 4.99% APR. And - you can even bring down your monthly payment by making a voluntary payment before Month 18.
Tesla solar subscription
Tesla also has a unique solar subscription program available to customers in six states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Minnesota.
The solar subscription operates similarly to a solar lease agreement, however, you aren’t locked into a long-term contract. When you choose the solar subscription option, you get to avoid the upfront costs of installing solar, but you also get lower long-term solar savings.
You’re better off going with a solar loan, unless your credit score is too low or if you’re planning on moving in the near future, as the panels can be easily removed. You can find more details about Tesla’s solar subscription program here.
When you choose to subscribe to Tesla solar, you are essentially renting the solar panels. Tesla owns them, but you get to use the energy they produce in exchange for a monthly payment. Because Tesla is the owner of the panels, they get the solar tax credit and other rebates - not you.
The following table outlines the monthly rent payments for the different system sizes that can be installed on your roof:
|State||4.08 kW monthly rental rate||8.16 kW monthly rental rate||12.24 kW monthly rental rate||16.32 kW monthly rental rate|
If at any time you aren’t satisfied with the solar panels, Tesla will remove them for $2,500.
Features of Tesla solar panel systems
By just reading through Tesla’s website, you might think that they are offering some sort of exclusive-to-Tesla product. In reality, however, Tesla doesn’t manufacture their own solar panels.
Tesla solar installations use Hanwha Q CELLS’ Peak Duo Black solar panels, more specifically the Q.Peak Duo Blk-G6+ modules, which are not exclusive to Tesla. In fact, multiple solar installers throughout the U.S. offer these solar panels.
Don’t get us wrong - Hanwha makes great solar panels. But Tesla tries to make it seem like they’re providing a Tesla-only product, and that’s just not the case.
Let's take a look at what these panels offer in terms of performance:
|Spec||Q.PEAK DUO BLK-G6+|
|Power tolerance||+5 W / - 0 W|
|Dimensions (with framing)||68.5" X 40.6" X 1.57"|
|Warranty||25-year performance warranty, 10-year comprehensive warranty|
Don’t get us wrong - Q CELLS are great Tier 1 solar panels. They’re a reliable brand with a high quality product. They have a high efficiency rating, but not the highest on the market. The power tolerance and temperature coefficients are in line with other Tier 1 solar panels that suggest they will operate well under real-world conditions.
The only thing we’re unsure of is the performance warranty. According to the QCELLS’ website, the panels will operate at at least 85% of their original capacity after 25 years. This is great, but Tesla’s website gives different information.
According to Tesla, the panels will only operate at at least 80% of their original capacity by Year 25. This isn’t a huge difference, and it’s still in line with industry standards, but having conflicting information doesn’t really look great for Tesla.
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 back to the grid, unless you install a solar battery. At night, when your home’s energy usage is higher than what your panels are producing, you will take electricity from the grid.
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?
No, you do not have to install a Tesla Powerwall with Tesla solar panels. In most places, pairing your solar panels with a home battery is not necessary because of net metering, where the utility company acts as your battery.
However, you can only get a Powerwall if you install Tesla solar panels. So, you can’t pair a Powerwall with your solar panels later on - they have to be ordered at the same time.
There are some cases where installing a Tesla Powerwall could be beneficial. If you live somewhere with frequent grid blackouts, the Powerwall will serve as a backup battery and keep your lights on while the rest of your neighborhood is out of power. Without a battery, your solar panels will just shut off during a power outage as a safety measure to protect utility line workers that are restoring power.
Installing a Powerwall can also be a worthwhile investment if you live somewhere with a solar battery incentive. A great example is California, where the state’s SGIP battery incentive can cover over $2,000 of the total cost of a Powerwall.
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.
- Tesla solar panels cost $2.01 per watt before the federal solar tax credit is applied.
- Tesla does not manufacture their own solar panels, instead they use Hanwha QCELLS Q.Peak DUO panels.
- You do not have to install a Tesla Powerwall with Tesla solar panels, however - in order to install a Tesla Powerwall, you will need to install their solar panels, as well.
- 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: 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.