Tesla Solar Roof: The Sleekest Solar Option Isn’t Your Best One – CNET

Like

  • Sleek and discreet
  • Strong warranties

Don’t like

  • Really expensive
  • Customer service concerns

If you’re looking to take advantage of the newly increased solar incentives, avoid rising energy costs or invest in renewable energy, you’re not alone. If solar prices keep decreasing (after a supply chain-induced hike during the last two years), analysts expect the number of installations to keep increasing. Rooftop solar panels could provide reliable and affordable power for years to come.

Tesla, best known for its electric cars, also sells solar panels and a unique solar system called the Solar Roof. Tesla has been one of the largest solar panel installers in the country for years, though its share of the market has shrunk. Its Solar Roof business has yet to achieve its stated goals. A recent Wood Mackenzie analysis showed that, while Tesla said in 2019 it hoped to reach 1,000 Solar Roof installations each week, it’s only installed about 3,000 in total.

While it doesn’t look exactly like a regular roof, Tesla’s Solar Roof is definitely more discreet than solar panels. You’re going to get quality equipment from Tesla and be protected by a strong warranty. If you’re bothered by the look of solar panels and are replacing your roof already, the Solar Roof is a solution, but it comes with a huge price tag. You can get the same solar power production for far less money, even when you factor in the cost of a new roof. Tesla’s Solar Roof is cool, but the cost is a deal-breaker.

A suburban house with a Tesla Solar Roof at sunrise.

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>Tesla&#8217;s Solar Roof generates electricity while looking mostly like a regular roof.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Tesla</span>

Tesla no longer runs a press office, so the information below is limited to what’s publicly available online. Tesla did not respond to requests for comment sent to its still-listed press email.

What do I get from the Tesla Solar Roof?

Tesla pitches the Solar Roof as a breakthrough of technology and design. And while it’s not the first time someone has incorporated solar power into a building’s design — the practice is called building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV — the Solar Roof is one of the highest-profile instances.

When you order a Tesla Solar Roof, you aren’t getting solar panels to cover your roof, you’re getting a new roof made up of regular and photovoltaic shingles. The result is a covering that powers your house and keeps you dry all while looking like a normal roof to the average passerby.

This means scrapping your current roof. While Tesla has recently said it will install Solar Roofs on top of newer, single-layer roofs of some designs, roofs made of metal, clay, wood or architectural shingles will have to be replaced. Flat roofs aren’t eligible for a Solar Roof, though regular solar panels could work.

Tesla’s solar shingle has a maximum output of 71.67 watts, according to Electrek, which received the shingle’s specs. Residential solar panels range in size, but are often about 400 watts. This means the Solar Roof can be more specifically tailored to your energy needs.

Tesla Solar Roof comes with a 25-year warranty against defects in the shingles and a 25-year warranty against your Solar Roof leaking. It’s also protected by a production warranty: Your Solar Roof will produce at 95% of its rated power after five years and 85% after 25 years. This compares favorably with many manufacturer warranties on solar panels.

A house with a Tesla Solar Roof and lots of shrubs.

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>Tesla Solar Roof offers an unobtrusive solar power system.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Tesla</span>

Tesla offers its own Powerwall battery, which is installed by other installers as well. A Powerwall can hold 13.5 kilowatt-hours of energy and can power most appliances, though more batteries might be needed for 240-volt appliances like air conditioners. How long 13.5 kilowatt-hours lasts depends on how much energy you use. (The Solar Roof will provide power during the day and possibly recharge your Powerwall.) 

You can install Powerwall batteries indoors or outdoors. They’re 6 inches deep, 2.5 feet wide and almost 4 feet tall.

Tesla’s solar inverter, which converts the direct current electricity your panels generate into alternating current that your house can use, operates at 97.5% efficiency, according to the company. That puts it near the top end of what’s typical. Tesla also makes the Powerwall Plus, which combines the inverter and battery into one unit and can push out more power.

Powerwall and Powerwall Plus have the same capacity, but a Powerwall can discharge energy at a continuous rate of 5.8 kilowatts or a peak of 10 kilowatts, while a Powerwall Plus can discharge 9.6 kilowatts continuously or a peak of 22 kilowatts when off-grid. If the sun isn’t shining, the numbers are lower (7 kilowatts continuous and a peak of 10), but still higher than a Powerwall.

From Tesla’s slick-looking app, you can monitor your energy production and usage. If you have a Powerwall, you can also customize how it operates. You can schedule when you draw energy from your Powerwall, set how much back up energy it stores and fill it up before a storm. It’s also where you’ll request and schedule service, should you need it. I did not test the app. It has a 4-star rating on Google Play and a 3.8 on Apple’s App Store. 

Is the Tesla Solar Roof a good deal?

Compared to other solar panel installations, a Solar Roof will be pricier. The price may be more or less justifiable depending on the condition of your current roof. If you’re due for a new roof, you’ll be writing a large check for that anyway.

If your goal is to generate solar for the least amount of money possible, a Solar Roof isn’t for you. Tesla’s online estimate for a house in Dallas offered 12.46 kilowatts of solar generation and a Powerwall battery for $168,400. Tesla estimates 12 kilowatts of regular solar panels and a Powerwall at the same location will cost $26,966.

Another factor that could alter the price of your system is the complexity of your roof. Steep pitches, multiple levels and a lot of obstructions could drive up the cost.

That Solar Roof estimate breaks down to $176,600 for the solar part of the roof and $29,600 for tearing off the old roof. (This house does have a large, 8,313-square-foot roof.) Optional Powerwalls are $10,500 each. The final price includes receiving $48,800 back from the federal government in tax credits. Without batteries, the system costs a whopping $12.87 per watt. This might be a function of roof size. Other estimates returned much lower costs. A Solar Roof without batteries in Illinois had an estimated cost of $5.72-$6.54 per watt depending on roof complexity. Another estimate from Texas ranged from $6.05-$6.77 per watt. All of these are higher than the average cost of residential solar in the US in 2021, as reported by consulting firm Wood Mackenzie: $2.99 per watt for an 8-kilowatt system.

Roof size does significantly affect the overall cost of a system. A small roof (1,594 square feet) in Illinois could cost around $54,000 to $58,148 after the federal tax credit, Tesla estimates. That’s $3.78-$4.05 per watt, much closer to the cost of solar panels, though still more expensive. (Tesla solar panels there would cost $2.54 per watt after the federal tax credit.)

Tesla recommends regular maintenance by a professional, though the details of that recommendation aren’t clear.

In December 2021, it was reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating a whistleblower complaint that alleged Tesla wasn’t honest in its efforts to replace solar panels at risk of catching fire. While it did replace them, it didn’t offer to shut off at-risk systems or provide upfront reasoning to shareholders or customers, the complaint said. In response to an April request for comment, the SEC declined to comment and Tesla, which does not operate a press office, did not respond.

Does Tesla operate in my state? How do I order?

The best way to find out if you’re in Tesla’s service area is to go to the company’s site to enter your address for an estimate. Tesla reportedly has expanded its service area for the Solar Roof to the entire US, though some addresses still say unavailable when you request an estimate. Tesla is definitely expanding though, through the use of third-party contractors. In some areas, Tesla will refer you to the website or contact information of a certified installer instead of giving you an estimate.

To order through Tesla, create an account online. Tesla then uses satellite imagery of your roof to design a system and price estimate, which will be finalized when an Tesla agent visits your home to confirm the roof complexity, size and a few other details.

A close-up of a Tesla Solar roof near and around a small, metal chimney

<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>Obstructions like this can raise the cost of a Solar Roof.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Tesla</span>

After you and Tesla agree on a design, it will pull permits and put you on the schedule to install. Tesla reportedly has some in-house teams, even while bringing on more third-party installers.

Is Tesla’s Solar Roof a good deal?

As with every major purchase, it’s important to shop around. This is especially true of solar systems, where a local provider might beat national companies, which often have higher overhead costs. Tesla has made its solar panel installations cheaper, though the Solar Roof doesn’t have any one-to-one comparisons.

If you really hate the look of solar panels or love the look of the Solar Roof, it might be the right choice for you. There really isn’t another solar product like it. You will have to pay a premium, though how much depends on the condition and layout of your roof. While the Solar Roof is an exciting product, it isn’t practical for most people. With a Solar Roof, you’ll get quality equipment backed by strong warranties, but another company may offer greater choice among panels, batteries and inverters (including some of those that Tesla offers) at a much lower price. And, there are online concerns about Tesla’s customer service (more on that below).

solar-shingles-2

Watch this: New Solar Shingles You May Not Even Notice

Other companies have rolled out their own solar shingle products, notably GAF Energy, earlier this year. While GAF prices aren’t public, in January a spokesperson said the cost would be about half of Tesla’s Solar Roof. More recently GAF said a new roof with solar shingles will cost about the same as a new roof and solar panels. Its solar shingles look less like a regular roof than Tesla’s, however.

Tesla’s solar panel side of its energy business has a reputation online for poor customer service. There aren’t any reliable, public sources of customer service for the solar industry at this point, however. Online testimonials show that Tesla’s solar panel customer service was bad enough to make some people regret their choice, though others were happy to save money on Tesla’s cheap panel installations and put up with the service. If customer service for Solar Roofs is similarly bad, it’s even harder to accept the cost. Because there are fewer Solar Roof customers, it’s hard to get any kind of read on how customer service might differ.

There is the chance that, as Tesla tries to increase installations of Solar Roofs while its share of the solar panel market shrinks, it values customer service more for Solar Roof customers (though this is all speculation).

Tesla also runs a referral program. If someone orders a Solar Roof through your referral link, you can get $500 when their system is operational.

It’s important to note that while I researched Tesla’s Solar Roof to the best of my ability, I did not test it in any hands-on or empirical way. Solar products are difficult to review in the traditional sense. Whenever possible, get multiple quotes from multiple installers, including those local to your area.

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