Is the Tesla solar roof worth the additional cost compared to solar panels?

In early 2018, Tesla finally began manufacturing solar tiles for the public at their New York-based Gigafactory 2. That’s great news, but are Tesla’s premium solar products worth the extra cost in 2019? And how do they compare to the cost of traditional solar panels? Let’s take a look.

First things first, let’s get our nomenclature in order. Tesla actually manufactures two different solar products. Their famous solar tiles, in which solar cells are embedded into glass roofing tiles, as well as traditional solar panels, which must be bolted to the existing roof like any other solar panel.

Both Tesla’s solar tiles and panels incorporate Panasonic’s legendary HIT series of ultra-efficient solar cells. These are some of the most efficient solar cells available on the market. Most standard-quality solar panels see efficiency rates around 16% to 18%. That is, they are able to convert 16% to 18% of all the sunlight that hits the panel into usable electricity.

Panasonic’s HIT panels, on the other hand, enjoy 19% to 21% efficiency. You’re probably thinking that’s not a huge difference, but you’d be wrong. Do the math and you’ll find that a solar panel that is 21% efficient can actually produce 30% more electricity than a solar panel that is 16% efficient!

Tesla partnership with Panasonic goes all the way back to 2016, when Tesla chose Panasonic to get their solar panel production in their then-new Gigafactory 2 facility off the ground. Panasonic foot the bill for the factory and Tesla agreed to purchase all the solar products manufactured at the site.

Panasonic initially shipped in solar cells it produced in Japan and then manufactured the solar panels in the New York factory. By August 2017, production had progressed and Tesla began producing both the solar panels and the solar tiles at the Gigafactory 2, each using Panasonic’s solar cells.

After numerous delays and a trial run, in 2018 the factory took over the entire manufacturing process, from solar cells all the way up to the finished panel and tile.

Tesla Solar Roof Cost vs Solar Panels Cost

Tesla’s solar panels are premium products, in line with other top-tier manufacturers like LG and Sunpower. Their panels command higher prices than standard-quality offerings, but they are also more efficient and have much better warranties.

If you’re in the market for a premium solar panel, the Tesla solar panel is a great option. It’s backed up with Panasonic’s incredible technology and likely has a good, long-term warranty.

The panels themselves will likely be 1.5x to 2x more expensive than standard-quality panels, but the rest of the installation costs like installation and other equipment should remain fairly similar to any other traditional solar installation.

And installing Tesla’s traditional solar panels is certainly cheaper than their solar tiles, which are hard to justify in any situation. If you’re needing a new roof anyway or are building a new home, Tesla’s solar shingles make much more sense, but it’ll still be cheaper to simply install normal asphalt shingles and a traditional solar installation.

Beyond the aesthetics, the next selling point for Tesla’s solar shingles is the simplicity of the system. You don’t need to buy a new roof and solar panels, they’re integrated into each other. As such, if we want to compare costs, we can’t just compare the cost of Tesla’s solar shingles to installing solar only, but the cost of installing a new roof as well.

Tesla’s solar roof costs about $21.85 per square foot, with 35% of the tiles being solar tiles, and the rest non-solar tiles. Covering a 2,500 square foot roof in Tesla shingles then would cost a total of $54,600.

How does that compare to a new roof with traditional solar panels? First, asphalt shingles cost around $4/square foot, so covering a 2,500 square foot roof would cost $10,000.

As far as the solar installation goes, we’d need more info than just the roof size to really size the installation appropriately, but let’s say the installation is 6.2 kilowatts – the average installation size in the US as of 2018. At the average installation cost of about $3/watt, that totals $18,600. Combing the roof and solar installation, you’re looking at a grand total of $28,600 – about half the price of the Tesla shingles.

Of course, the solar installation and the Tesla shingles are eligible for the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit. Tacking those on, our total costs drop to:

  • Tesla Solar Roof Cost: $38,220
  • Solar Panels + Asphalt Shingles Cost: $23,020

The difference is much less, but you’re still spending quite a bit more on the Tesla solar shingles than traditional solar panels on a separate asphalt roof.

That being said, there are a few long-term benefits of Tesla’s shingles over the traditional system:

  • Tesla’s shingles are guaranteed for life. While the solar cells might stop functioning, you basically have a permanent roof that is covered under warranty forever. Compare that to asphalt shingles’ estimated lifespan of 10 to 20 years.
  • Tesla’s solar cells are very efficient and should produce more electricity per cell than traditional solar panels. Unfortunately though, Tesla’s yet to publish any specs or data on their solar shingle’s production, so we can’t make a definitive statement around production yet.
  • When it comes time to sell your home, you’ll probably see a higher increase in home value with the Tesla solar shingles than with traditional solar panels. Again, this isn’t 100% sure, but we’re guessing Tesla’s panels should hold their value pretty well, and translate that to an increase in your home’s value.

How Do Tesla’s Solar Tiles Stack Up to Traditional Solar Panels?

Tesla’s solar tiles are unique in the solar industry, because you’d never even know they’re up there. Traditional solar panels, as you’ve probably noticed, are pretty easy to spot. Let’s compare Tesla’s solar shingles to traditional solar panels in three categories:

  • Aesthetics: Tesla has all other solar manufacturers, even other solar tile manufacturers, beat here.
  • Cost: Tesla solar tiles are much more expensive than installing traditional solar panels.
  • Efficiency: Tesla’s partnership with Panasonic gives them access to some of the most efficient solar cells on the market today.

Let’s take a look at each of these categories a bit more in depth.

Aesthetics: Tesla Wins Hands-Down

This is the biggest selling point for Tesla’s solar shingles. They just look so good. Let’s admit it, renewable energy is beautiful, but those solar panels bolted on your neighbor’s roof aren’t. Sure, they complement certain home styles quite well, but most of us don’t live in the bold, ultra-modern homes that solar companies use in their advertisements.

Tesla’s solar shingles, on the other hand, are so well-designed you wouldn’t even know the roof you’re staring at is pumping out electricity. Of course, if you want your neighbors to now you’re so green-minded, then you might have a problem.

Compared to other solar tiles on the market, Tesla still comes out ahead. Unlike competitor’s products, Tesla’s solar tiles are designed to cover your entire roof. Tesla manufactures tiles both with and without solar cells inside. With matching solar and non-solar tiles, your roof looks uniform, but you don’t waste money installing solar tiles in shaded areas.

Other solar tile manufacturers only produce tiles with solar cells inside, so the solar tiles will only cover part of your roof. They’re still certainly an improvement over traditional solar installations, but instantly recognizable as something other than just a normal roof.

Overall, nothing comes close to Tesla’s solar tiles.

Efficiency: Tesla Uses Some of the Most Efficient Solar Technology Available

Solar tile production at Tesla’s Gigafactory 2

Thanks to their partnership with Panasonic, Tesla solar panels and solar tiles are built around some of the most efficient solar cells available today. Somewhat annoyingly, Tesla hasn’t yet released any official stats on either their solar panels or tiles yet, so we can still only offer conjecture on their wattage and efficiency.

We do know that Tesla solar panels are 325 watts, but that’s all the info Tesla has officially released. We can reasonably assume their solar panel is similar to Panasonic’s own 325-watt panel, which boasts an efficiency of 21.76%.

As we mentioned earlier, standard-quality solar panels are typically around 16% to 18% efficient, so that’s quite a jump in performance.

Tesla’s solar tiles, which measure 8.7” X 14”, each contain two solar cells that produce 6 watts of electricity, for a max of 12 watts per tile. At this wattage, 27 solar tiles is equal to a single Tesla solar panel.

Tesla has yet to release numbers on the efficiency of the tiles, but unless the textured glass severely hinders sunlight from making it to the solar cell, it’s hopefully close to the panel efficiency above, since both the tiles and panels use the same Panasonic solar cells inside.

Who’s the Winner?

Tesla solar panels and tiles are a premium solar option. As we’ve seen they’re more expensive than installing traditional solar panels, but you’re also getting a high-quality product with great efficiency and aesthetics.

The question remains though, are they worth the extra cost? For the vast majority of homeowners, we think not. For most of us, traditional, standard-quality solar panels will work just fine. They’re extremely cost-effective, time-tested, and easy to install. They might not look as sleek as Tesla’s solar shingles, but they’re excellent at producing clean energy and saving you money.

There are a few instances though where solar shingles might make sense. First, if you’re building a new home or need to reroof anyway, Tesla’s solar shingles make more financial sense, especially when considering their ‘forever’ warranty. Second, if you like being on the cutting-edge of technology and don’t mind the additional cost that early adopters inevitably pay, who are we to stop you?

Eventually, as Tesla continues to grow and other companies start offering similar products, solar shingles will make better financial sense. There’s already a handful of solar tile manufacturers out there, like Luma Solar, RGS, and CertainTeed either in testing or commercially available.

Eventually, we wouldn’t be surprised to see solar shingles on roofs across the US, but it’ll likely take a while. Early solar enthusiasts have already installed traditional solar panels on their roof, so the lowest fruit’s already been picked. Couple that with the high cost of Tesla’s solar shingles, and it might be a while before they catch on in a big way.

Tesla solar panels and tiles are incredible products, but you’ll see a better return on your solar investment with standard-quality solar panels since the Tesla solar roof cost is still very high in comparison – at least for now.

Image Credits: Courtesy Tesla Press Kit