Over the past year, Tesla has been busy deploying its new Tesla solar roof product line across homes in California. While these solar shingles are still being offered on a limited basis, early reports from consumers are looking good for Tesla—and for the solar cell market overall.

But is Tesla's latest upgrade actually worth the cost when stacked up against conventional solar products? Let's review and compare.

Compare Telsa roof tile to standard solar panel

How do conventional solar panels work?

Solar panels are a type of photovoltaic technology that uses light particles to dissociate electrons from atoms—a process which generates electricity. Conventional solar technology is made with photovoltaic cells formed into panels that facilitate this process and convert sunlight to usable power.

This electricity is then funneled into a power grid connected to the home's electrical system, allowing devices to receive power. And while solar panel output is limited by local weather conditions and periods of brief sun exposure, it is becoming more common for solar installations these days to have backup battery systems that can store excess solar power for use when sunlight isn't available.

Of course, this is only the most basic of solar power systems. As we'll discuss, new solar technologies are developing that minimize the downsides of solar installations and maximize their value. Chief among these new technologies is the new Tesla solar roof.

What is the Tesla solar roof?

At its core, the Tesla solar roof is a hybrid of conventional roofing and solar technology—a type of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). Rather than mounting solar panels on rooftop racks or on the ground, Tesla has integrated the photovoltaic cells directly into the roofing shingles themselves. This means that homeowners don't apply solar panels to their homes in the conventional sense; they'll remove shingles from their existing roof and replace them with wired solar shingles that provide a continuous supply of energy.

The real selling point for the solar roof is not its performance but its curb appeal. It looks just like a normal roof, in fact, a pretty good looking normal roof, but it also generates power.

Of course, Tesla's signature commitment to green living means that Tesla BIPV's come with some neat bonus features that consumer can use to monitor their energy consumption. Let's discuss these additional features and how Tesla's solar roof differs from conventional solar installations.

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What makes the Tesla solar roof different?

The biggest difference between Tesla's solar roof and rack-mounted solar panels is the visual appeal. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, realized long ago that the aesthetics of conventional solar installations was a barrier for many consumers. Some are limited by Homeowners' Association restrictions, while others simply don't like how rack-mounted solar cells look. The Tesla roof sought to address these design considerations (and a whole lot more) through its BIPV solution.

“The goal is to make solar roofs that look better than a normal roof, generate electricity, last longer, have better insulation, and actually have an installed cost that is less than a normal roof plus the cost of electricity,” Musk noted during the product announcement in 2016.

And clearly, the Tesla solar roof is this vision brought to life. The roof features several unique features that set it apart from conventional, residential solar options:

  • Aesthetic appeal, including choice of four different styles of tile design: Glass, Textured, Slate, and Tuscan.
  • Segmented shingles that fit together during installation, creating a simpler system of tiling that's quicker to install and easier to troubleshoot.
  • Firm underlayment mounted underneath each panel to guarantee stability.
  • Smartphone app integration that lets homeowners track solar energy production, power consumption, and energy flow from each consumption unit.
  • Weatherproof tiles that are shatter resistant and can even be heated to melt snow in cold climates.

Telsa roof tile

How much does the Tesla roof cost?

Consumer Reports estimates the cost of the Tesla roof to run around $24.50 per square foot, though Tesla's own reports claim no more than $21.85 per square foot. Either way, this is noticeable markup from standard solar technologies, and the price tag may be off-putting to some. However, given the track record of reliability of Tesla's products, each panel's guaranteed lifetime warranties, and the energy efficiency of the solution itself, the investment isn't out of the question.

How much do solar panels cost in my city? Check out Solar Reviews' state-by-state guide.

How does it work with other Tesla products?

The Tesla roof may be of particular interest to consumers who already invest in the Tesla family of products. While the Tesla roof is primarily designed to add a much-needed makeover to traditional BIPV and regular solar panels aesthetics, the product represents another step in Tesla's long-term goal of creating entirely-solar home energy systems. Stored solar energy can be routed to charge any of Tesla's electric vehicles; in Tesla's words, supporting solar energy from sun to car.

And in terms of the products that create this solar-powered unity, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the Tesla Powerwall.

What's the Tesla Powerwall?

The Tesla Powerwall is a rechargeable, lithium-ion battery storage system that guarantees continuous power availability to homes, even when there's no direct sunlight. This means that solar users don't have to worry about losing power overnight or during extended periods of overcast skies (Tesla claims the Powerwall offers a week's worth of continuous power in the event of an outage).

The battery system is a necessary part of the solar energy system, and comes in different sizes based on the consumer's desired kWh capacity. According to Tesla, consumers can expect to pay around $6,600 for a basic Powerwall battery, not counting installation fees. For more information about the cost of the Tesla Powerwall including installation costs.

Telsa powerwall

Is Tesla Better Than Conventional Residential Solar Panels?

While Tesla's BIPV solution uses the latest technology to provide the most reliable and efficient solar cells on the market, the quality comes with a price. Consumers who want to begin their journey into solar may receive many of the same benefits through a conventional installation, all at a lower cost. But for those interested in taking charge of their energy systems and gaining a complete network of off-grid electricity, the Tesla solar roof is definitely worth a look.