Tesla solar roof: Updates and comparing costs to conventional solar

Updated

Tesla solar roof
Tesla’s solar roof allows homeowners to enjoy solar without having to change the aesthetic of their home. Image source: Tesla

Tesla and SolarCity announced the launch of the Tesla solar roof in 2016, but there is still some confusion about what exactly it is and how much it’ll cost you. 

In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know, from how much the Tesla solar roof costs to whether or not it's worth getting.

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    What is the Tesla solar roof?

    One of the biggest issues homeowners have with solar panels is how they look. As a response, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced Tesla Energy’s new product - the Tesla solar roof - in 2016. 

    The solar roof was designed to function as photovoltaic solar panels while seamlessly integrating into a roof. This way, homeowners could still enjoy the benefits of solar energy without having to worry about sacrificing their home’s aesthetic. 

    The solar roof shingles are made of tempered glass tiles which resemble the look of slate roofs. 

    A Tesla solar roof contains both active and inactive shingles. The active shingles contain solar cells to produce solar power for the home to use. The inactive shingles act as regular shingles to protect the home and provide a uniform look. 

    The active solar roof shingles are made of tempered glass tiles and the inactive tiles are made of painted steel. Both are designed to mimic the look of conventional slate roofing tiles.

    Each roof tile measures 15 x 45 inches and comes with a 25-year warranty. The durability of Tesla solar roof tiles is reflected by their high fire rating and ability to handle 1.75-inch diameter hail and wind speeds up to 166 miles per hour. 

    What’s new with the Tesla solar roof in 2021?

    At the end of October 2019, Tesla launched the Solar Roof V3, the most recent iteration of the solar roof tiles. Unlike its predecessors, the new Tesla solar roof product comes in one style and consists of fewer parts.

    Elon Musk was confident that the rollout of the new solar tiles would be the best tiles made yet. The company planned to ramp up production at their Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York, and partner with local installers to help deploy more solar roofs than they had in the past. 

    A little over a year later, Musk is eating his words, admitting that the company has made “significant mistakes” with their solar roof project in Tesla’s Q1 2021 call. 

    Things started to take a turn for the solar roof in March 2021, when Tesla updated its solar roof pricing - making it more expensive than before. They kept the cost per watt of solar the same, but the cost of the inactive tiles went up and varied based on the complexity of a homeowner’s roof. 

    Then, just a month later, Tesla changed solar roof prices yet again. Now, instead of paying $9.75 per square foot for a simple roof, the price jumped to $14 per square foot for a simple roof. For a complex roof, you can expect to shell out over $19 per square foot. 

    Not only did Tesla up their pricing for new solar roof installations, but people who have already signed contracts are now getting notified that their solar roof will now cost more. In some cases, the new prices were 30% higher than the prices in their original contract! 

    Most recently, Elon Musk took to Twitter to announce that all Tesla solar roofs will be paired with Powerwalls. So, if you order a solar roof, you have to install a Powerwall, as well.

    How much does a Tesla solar roof cost?

    Tesla’s active solar roofing tiles cost $2.01 per watt. The cost of the inactive shingles varies, based on the complexity of your roof, which is determined by the pitch, number of obstructions on your roof (chimneys, vents, etc.), and other features. 

    There are three roof complexity choices on Tesla’s website: 

    • Simple, which costs $14 per square foot
    • Moderate, which costs $16 per square foot
    • Complex, which costs $19.24 per square foot

    The more complex a roof is, the more materials and labor are needed to replace the materials, which is why Tesla has implemented this pricing structure. 

    The actual cost of a Tesla solar roof will depend on the size of your home and your monthly energy usage. It may also change again after the Tesla design team does a remote inspection of your roof complexity and figures out the logistics of your specific system. Some customers, for example, may be required to upgrade their electrical panel for almost $5,000.

    How much does a Tesla solar roof cost compared to solar panels?

    It’s easier to compare these costs with an example, so let’s dive in. 

    Let’s say you have a roof that is roughly 1,700 square feet and a $250 per-month electric bill. Tesla recommends you install a 10.23 kW solar roof system that would cost around $39,017.53 after the solar tax credit, assuming moderate roof complexity. 

    A conventional 10.23 kW system would cost an average of $18,849.80 after the federal tax credit. That’s about $20,000 cheaper than Tesla’s solar roof. But, Tesla’s solar roof isn’t just a solar panel installation - it also includes getting a new roof. 

    So, to really understand the cost of the solar roof compared to the cost of solar panels, we can’t look at the total installation price. Instead, we need to compare the cost per watt of the solar roof compared to the cost per watt of the solar panels

    As of April 2021, the average cost per watt of solar is about $2.85 per watt in the U.S. before the federal tax credit. The cost per watt for solar shingles before the tax credit is $2.01. So, Tesla’s solar shingles are cheaper than the average solar panel.

    But that doesn’t mean that the Tesla solar roof is the best way to power your home with clean energy.

    Is the Tesla solar roof worth it?

    The Tesla solar roof is technically cheaper per watt than a conventional solar system. However, because the solar roof also includes a total roof replacement, the overall cost is much more expensive. 

    So, if you don’t need to replace your roof, installing a traditional solar system probably makes more sense for you. That way, you don’t have to spend extra money on new roofing that you don’t need. 

    On the other hand, if you do need a new roof and you’re looking to switch to solar, the Tesla solar roof system would actually cost about the same as a traditional roof replacement and solar installation.

    Let’s take a look at an example: 

    Tesla recommends a 10.23 kW solar roof for a California home with a monthly electric bill of $250 and a 1,708 square foot, moderate complexity roof. 

    The active solar tiles come to a total of $20,560.30. The cost of the inactive shingles for this example would be $27,328. That brings the total cost to install a Tesla roof to $47,888.30, before the tax credit. Tesla estimates that $34,118.34 of the total cost will be eligible for the federal tax credit. 

    When the tax credit is taken into account, the total solar roof cost falls to $39,017.53. 

    Now let’s look at an example where this same house got a traditional shingle roof replacement and installed a 10.23 kW solar panel system. 

    First, the whole roof would need to be replaced with new asphalt shingles. This would come out to about $8,540 based on the average cost roofers charge for installing asphalt shingles. 

    A traditional 10.23 kW system would cost an average of $29,155.50 before the tax credit. Once the tax credit is applied, the cost of the solar system would come down to about $21,575.07. That means the total cost for a new roof and a conventional solar panel system would be $30,115.07.

    So, the total cost to install a new roof and a conventional solar system would be cheaper than a Tesla solar roof overall, even though solar roof tiles have a lower cost per watt.

    graph showing tesla solar roof after itc vs. traditional roof replacement with solar panels

    The actual cost difference will depend on the roofing material you use to replace your roof, the solar panels you choose, and the contractor you choose.

    Does the Tesla solar roof require a Powerwall battery?

    Yes, you are required to install a Tesla Powerwall battery with the solar roof. The announcement was made on Elon Musk’s Twitter account in April 2021.

    This will increase the overall cost of installing a solar roof and lengthen your solar payback period. In many cases, this could even prevent the solar roof from ever paying itself back.

    elon musk announces powerwall will be installed with all tesla solar products via twitter

    Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that all Tesla solar panels  and solar roof projects will be bundled with Tesla Powerwalls. Image source: Twitter

    It’s unclear exactly how much more the solar roof installation will cost with required Powerwalls, as Tesla hasn’t updated their site yet. We do know that one Tesla Powerwall will cost around $8,500 before installation and $12,000 after, but we don’t know how the installation costs will work out now that everything must be installed together.

    In most cases, the extra expense of a solar battery isn't necessary, especially if you live in an area that offers net metering. So financially, the high prices of the solar roof, plus the added expense of the Powerwall doesn’t make much sense for many homeowners. 

    Should you get the Tesla solar roof?

    Despite being introduced in 2016, Tesla didn’t start installing solar roofs until 2018, and it’s still unknown how many have actually been installed. In mid-2020, Tesla even started canceling solar roof preorders after homeowners had paid their deposits - claiming the sites weren’t within their service territory. 

    While some people have received their solar roofs, like one homeowner in Kansas whose installation took just four days, others have been living through a nightmare. One Florida homeowner’s project took two months to finish with multiple issues. This stark variation in installation experiences shows that Tesla hasn’t quite worked out their installation process, so customers should keep this in mind.

    The scenario that took place in Florida isn’t that surprising. Despite being extremely popular for electric cars, Tesla is also known for their historically sub-par long-term customer service when it comes to their energy division, which is reflected on SolarReviews.

    So, while the Tesla roof sounds like a competitive option for those looking to switch to solar in theory, Tesla’s spotty reputation precedes them. And their most recent decision to drastically increase prices after contracts have already been signed doesn't help their reputation any.

    The bottom line is that while the new version of the solar roof is definitely an improvement from the past, Tesla’s unreliability when it comes to the solar roof and their lackluster after-sales customer service makes it hard to gauge if you’ll actually get a solar roof anytime soon, what price you’ll have to pay for it, or if it’s even worth the risk. 

    Before deciding on the solar roof, you should get quotes from multiple solar installers to make sure you’re getting the right rooftop solar system for you. 

    Calculate how quickly a solar installation would pay for itself after rebates

    Key takeaways

    • The Tesla solar roof integrates solar panels into regular roof shingles so homeowners can generate solar power on their roofs without having to worry about the look of their home.
    • Tesla estimates that a 10.23 kW solar roof will cost a total of $39,017, including the savings from incentives.
    • All Tesla solar roofs must be paired with a Tesla Powerwall.
    • The active Tesla solar roof shingles cost $2.01 per watt, which is cheaper than the national average cost of solar.
    • Installing the Tesla solar roof only makes sense if you are looking to go solar, need a roof replacement, and want to pay a premium for the aesthetic of the roof. Otherwise, you will be paying extra money for a roof replacement you don’t need.
     - 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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