Solar shingles: should you go with Tesla or an alternative?
Individual panel prices
Prices of DIY kits
Installed system prices
Solar shingles have been around for a number of years. However, in 2018 Elon Musk and the first installations of the Tesla solar shingles turned the way we think about solar shingles on their head.
The sleek glass tiles generate electricity and replace your existing roof. They’ve drawn new attention to the previously-unloved segment of the solar industry known as building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV).
However, Tesla’s solar shingles aren’t the only ones out there. In this article, we’ll go over what exactly solar shingles are, take a look at some of Tesla’s biggest competitors, and explore whether or not solar shingles are worth it.
Solar shingles are roofing shingles that contain solar cells. They are designed to look and offer the same protection as traditional asphalt shingles while generating solar electricity at the same time.
Many homeowners are hesitant to install solar power systems on their roof, despite the positive economics, because they don’t like the look of traditional solar panels. Solar roof shingles are the answer to this dilemma - they allow homeowners to still get all of the benefits of solar without having to sacrifice the aesthetic of their home.
Tesla is one of the first solar shingle manufacturers to make a truly cohesive solar shingle product. When you install a Tesla solar roof, you get two kinds of shingles from Tesla: active shingles (that generate electricity) and inactive shingles (that don’t generate electricity).
Because you get all of the roofing material from Tesla, it makes your roof look entirely uniform - you can’t really tell the difference between the solar portion and the non-solar portion. Most other solar shingle brands only sell the active shingle portion, so they aren’t designed to look identical to the remaining shingles on your roof.
On the downside, this means that you do have to get an entire roof replacement when you install Tesla solar shingles, while other shingle brands only require you to replace a portion of your roof. The upside, however, is you wind up with a great looking roof that generates solar energy.
The cost to install solar shingles varies, depending on the brand you choose and how you choose to compare the costs.
If you’re looking strictly at the cost of solar, Tesla is the cheapest at $1.80 per watt before incentives. Other solar shingle brands will cost between $3.80 to $7.00 per watt.
However, it’s important to note that Tesla requires you to invest in a total roof replacement when you install their solar shingles. This means that the overall cost of a Tesla solar shingle installation could be much higher than that of other brands, like CertainTeed, that can be installed with your existing roof - especially because Tesla’s roofing materials can get expensive.
The cost of a solar roof is going to seem a bit high compared to a traditional roof replacement or a conventional solar installation, but it's important to keep in mind that a solar roof installation includes the value of both a roofing material and a solar panel system.
When you install a Tesla solar roof, you install both active and inactive shingles. The active shingles convert sunlight into energy for your home, while the inactive shingles just act as regular shingles.
Based on Tesla’s estimates, the solar shingles come to $1.80 per watt. This is lower than the average cost of traditional solar panels, which is around $3.00 per watt.
The cost of the inactive shingles depends on the complexity of your roof, so it will cost between $20 per square foot of total roof space. This is higher than the average for traditional asphalt shingles, which is somewhere between $3.50 to $5.50.
Based on these quotes, a traditional roof replacement would cost around $9,350 for a 1,700 square foot roof and a conventional 10 kW solar system would be $30,000, before incentives. That brings you a grand total of $39,350. The entire Tesla solar roof for the same home, assuming it has a simple roof complexity, would come out to around $52,000 not including roof tear off costs.
That’s not too much higher than a conventional roof replacement and solar panel system, but that’s assuming the lowest price Tesla will give you for roofing materials.
While it does seem like Tesla is the only solar shingle manufacturing company out there, they actually aren’t. Believe it or not, there are quite a few other companies that manufacture solar shingles, including Luma Solar, CertainTeed, and Suntegra.
GAF Energy’s Timberline Solar Energy Shingles created quite a buzz when they were released, due to their rumored low prices and easy installation. Image source: GAF Energy
One of the newest solar shingle products available is GAF’s Timberline Solar Energy Shingles. If GAF sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because they’re one of the most well-known names in roofing. In fact, there’s a good chance GAF is already on your roof.
GAF Energy’s solar shingles are designed with roofers in mind - the top portion of shingles are made of asphalt, so they can be nailed into the roof just like regular shingles.
There are no official specifications posted on GAF’s website, but some product data sheets online state that each shingle has a power rating of 45 watts. There is also no indication on the official pricing of GAF’s shingles, aside from some installation totals quoted by their president that suggests a total roof replacement and the solar shingles would cost about $30,000, including incentives.
Luma Solar is one of the original solar shingle innovators. Image source: Luma Solar
Luma Solar developed the first fully-integrated solar roof system in the U.S., referring to their solar shingles as a ‘luxury product’ that can be upgraded in the future in order to meet future needs.
Luma Solar is probably the closest you can get to Tesla’s solar roof in terms of aesthetics, because they too have inactive shingles that help the solar panels blend in.
Luma’s shingles have a power rating of 80 watts each, and come with a 25-year production warranty and a 5-year limited product warranty. Their shingles are also rated to withstand 200+ mile per hour winds, and have received the Category 5 Miami-Dade Hurricane Rating Classification, so you can trust they’ll stay on even in the windiest conditions.
There is no official pricing listed on Luma’s website, but pricing started at $4.50 per watt for an older iteration of their shingles that had a slightly lower power rating than the current version. So, it’s likely the current shingles could cost a little bit more. The price can also vary based on roof complexity and the system design.
CertainTeed’s Apollo II solar shingles don’t require you to replace your whole roof, but they are a little more noticeable on your roof than some other solar shingles on the market. Image source: CertainTeed
CertainTeed, a leading brand of traditional roofing shingles, began offering solar products in the late 2000s. Currently, they have two solar shingle products to choose from: the Apollo II shingles and the Apollo II tiles.
Both are 70 watts with monocrystalline solar cells. The Apollo tiles have a slightly higher efficiency, a lower profile, and we can assume are slightly more expensive than the Apollo shingles, but CertainTeed does not list pricing on their website.
CertainTeed solar shingles don’t require you to replace your entire roof, and they can even be installed on top of existing asphalt shingles. This likely makes a CertainTeed solar shingle installation cheaper overall than other types of solar shingle installations, because you don’t have to pay for a total roof replacement.
Unfortunately, this does make CertainTeed solar shingles stand out a little more from the rest of the shingles on your roof.
Suntegra’s solar roof tiles can be installed with concrete roofing tiles and are more discreet than conventional solar panels. Image source: Suntegra
Suntegra is another popular brand manufacturing solar shingles. Like Certainteed, Suntegra offers a solar shingle and solar roof tile so you can choose which integrates better with your roofing material. The solar tiles are designed to integrate with concrete roofing materials.
The low-profile monocrystalline solar shingles are attached directly to the roofing to blend in with traditional asphalt shingles. Suntegra shingles come in three different wattages: 105 watts, 110 watts, and 114 watts. The cost varies from $3.80 to $4.25 per watt, depending on which wattage shingle you choose.
Suntegra’s solar tiles have slightly lower power ratings, ranging from 64 to 70 watts, and a higher price. Suntegra’s solar tiles will cost between $6.16 per watt and $6.57 per watt.
The appeal of solar shingles is simply that they look better than conventional solar panels. Some are installed as their own roofing material, while others can be installed on top of your existing shingles, but have an extremely low profile which allows them to blend in more with your existing roof.
Most solar shingles have a higher cost per watt than the average cost of solar, so if you have a tight budget, solar shingles might not be right for you.
In terms of performance, the solar shingles on the market today tend to have pretty decent specifications. Their power output seems low when compared to traditional solar panels side by side, but that’s because they are substantially smaller than solar panels.
|Reduce carbon footprint||High cost|
|Electric bill savings||Limited styles|
|Tax credits and rebates||Dependent on roof orientation|
|Aesthetically pleasing||Requires entire roof replacement|
Solar roof tiles are great for the environment, your home, and your utility bills:
Solar shingles do have a few drawbacks:
Solar shingles are usually installed by certified solar companies that partner with the solar shingle manufacturers.
So, if you get a Tesla solar roof, Tesla won’t be the one installing them. One of their solar roof installer partners, either a solar installer or roofing company, will be the ones putting the solar roof on your home.
Our advice depends on your circumstances:
If you’re building a new house, solar photovoltaic shingles are worth considering. They are a functional roof, a way to reduce electric bills, and can be a beautifully sleek architectural feature. They can also be a good investment if you’re in need of a roof replacement.
In terms of which brand to choose, it depends on what you’re looking for. When it comes to aesthetics, Tesla and Luma are clear winners with their sleek designs. If you’re more concerned about the price, then Tesla and GAF Energy might be the way to go. Keep in mind, it’s best to get quotes from a few different companies and see what kind of services they offer before you make your final decision.
Aside from new construction and being in need of a full roof replacement, solar shingles probably don’t make that much sense. Conventional solar panels will be substantially cheaper than most of the BIPV options. Not to mention, solar panels can produce more electricity than shingles, so you stand to have better savings.
Whether you choose to install solar shingles or get solar panels, the sooner you go solar, the better. It’s always best to make a financial investment as early as you can.
Plus, net metering, the law that allows you to export excess solar energy back to the grid, is at risk in many states where it’s currently offered - further indicating that securing your solar panel system now is more important than ever.