Tesla solar reviews show excellent prices, but inconsistent customer service
If you’re looking for a great deal on rooftop solar, Tesla Solar offers the lowest prices of any major installer. However, the company is plagued by poor customer reviews in some areas. Complaints tend to be around customer service issues after the installations are complete.
As always, we recommend getting multiple quotes from a few, reputable solar companies in your area to compare, prices, service and warranties. You can do this by entering your zip code below.
Let’s take a look at the famous vehicle manufacturer’s solar offerings, installation costs, customer service, and long-term outlook.
Tesla Solar Installation Costs
Tesla offers some of the lowest prices on rooftop solar in the whole country. The company made headlines in early 2019 when it dropped its solar installation prices to around $2.60/watt (give or take ten cents, depending on your area), which is far below the average solar cost in the US.
Tesla took two major steps to drop this installation cost. First, they no longer offer custom designs. Instead, they sell systems in increments of about 4 kilowatts. That cuts down on design and inspection work, lowering prices. Second, they now ask homeowners to perform small but necessary preliminary steps, like taking pictures of your electrical box. This means they no longer have to send out a technician to your home, again lowering costs.
This price cut means that, after applying the federal tax credit, homeowners can pay under $2/watt for their solar installations – the first time any major solar installer has dropped under that $2/watt floor.
While prices vary slightly state to state, expect to pay between $2.50 and $2.80 per watt for a conventional solar installation. In Colorado, for example, Tesla charges $2.49/watt, so here’s how much a Tesla installation would cost, compared with the US average costs of $2.98/watt:
System Size Tesla Cost ($2.49/watt) US Average Cost ($2.98/watt) Difference Small (3.8 kW) $9,450 $11,325` -$1,875 Average (7.6 kW) $18,900 $22,650 -$3,750 Large (11.4 kW) $28,350 $33,970 -$5,620
You can see just how low Tesla’s installation costs really are. For a large system, you’ll spend about $5,600 less with Tesla than with the ‘average’ company.
Its prices also compare well against other large installers like Sunrun and Vivint Solar. Sunrun, the largest residential installer in the US, charges $3.39 per watt – over 20% higher than Tesla. Vivint Solar, the second largest residential installer, charges $3.56/watt – 25% higher than Tesla.
So if you’re looking for a low-cost solar solution, Tesla could be a good bet.
Tesla Customer Service
While Tesla offers incredibly low installation costs, it’s unfortunately balanced out by some pretty dismal customer service. Of the three big residential installers in the US – Tesla, Sunrun, and Vivint Solar – Tesla by far suffers from the worst customer reviews.
The most common customer complaints revolve around service after the installation is complete. If a solar panel or inverter stops working, customers report that tesla can take weeks or months to fix the problem, if you can find someone in the business that understands what’s going on and is willing to work on your behalf to get the issue fixed.
Here’s Tesla/SolarCity’s review scores on review platforms Best Company and Solar Reviews, as of October 2019, along with rivals Sunrun and Vivint Solar. Notice that Tesla/SolarCity’s scores are typically a full point below the others:
- Tesla/SolarCity: 2.6/5 (669 reviews)
- Sunrun: 3.6/5 (1,382 reviews)
- Vivint Solar: 3/5 (862 reviews)
- Tesla/SolarCity: 1.7/5 (331 reviews)
- Sunrun: 1.9/5 (109 reviews)
- Vivint Solar: 3/5 (480 reviews)
Of course, it’s important to put these scores in perspective. Tesla/SolarCity has installed hundreds of thousands of residential solar. Most of these installations work perfectly and (presumably) help save the homeowner some cash on their energy bills each month.
However, when things go wrong or equipment stops working, customers seem to suffer through poor communication practices, poor service, and little follow-through.
The bottom line is that Tesla offers incredibly low installation prices, so you can get a pretty good deal on a rooftop system. But, you always get what you pay for. If something goes wrong with your installation down the line, prepare yourself to have a long, uphill trudge when you try to get it fixed.
Tesla installs conventional solar panels, its Solar Roof, and the Powerwall storage system.
Tesla’s Solar Roof has had everyone talking over the last couple years, but the company also installs conventional solar panels. Both the solar shingles and solar panels are based on Panasonic’s high-efficiency solar cells and are manufactured at Tesla’s Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York.
Its panels are some of the most efficient panels on the market, but Tesla offers other standard-quality panels as well based on market availability, so you’ll have to ask what’s available in your area when you reach out.
Tesla offers a 10-year warranty on roof penetrations, guaranteeing they’re leak free, and a 20-year warranty for all other workmanship. Equipment warranties vary by manufacturer, though Tesla notes that inverter warranties last 10 years and solar panel product warranties last 12 years, both of which are average for the solar industry.
Tesla made headlines a couple years ago with its Solar Roof, which combines a small solar cell integrated within a durable glass shingle. However, due to production difficulties and engineering constraints, the company has only installed a handful in the real world.
Tesla’s solar shingles offer a few major benefits over conventional solar panels. First, since the panel and shingle are integrated into one unit, your roof looks like a traditional roof. Second, the solar cells are based on Panasonic’s own solar technology, which is some of the most efficient in the industry. Third, Tesla offers a lifetime warranty on the shingles (though not the solar cell), so you have an ultra-durable roof for life – even after the solar cells have stopped working.
While the solar shingles certainly seem like the wave of the future, their high cost will likely put them far above most homeowners’ reach – at least until they come down in price.
If you’re looking to add batteries to your solar installation, Tesla’s Powerwall is a high-quality, well-priced option. Batteries allow you to store the excess solar electricity that you produce and use it at times when you’d otherwise have to purchase energy from the utility (like at night). This allows you to see a faster return on your solar investment, though of course your total investment is much higher after tacking on the cost of the batteries.
The Powerwall costs $7,600 with all the necessary equipment, and Tesla says you can expect to pay an additional $2,500 to $4,500 for installation costs.
A single Powerwall stores 13.5 kWh of electricity, which is about half of what the average home uses in a day. As such, a single Powerwall could keep your basic necessities powered up for a few days if the grid goes down and can help you avoid peak utility prices if you’re on a time-of-use rate.
If your energy use is on the high side, Tesla will likely recommend installing two to three Powerwalls. Whether this makes financial sense for you depends on your utility’s prices and your own energy needs.
Tesla’s main business is their vehicles and the company has done a good job of creating an integrated system that combines your vehicle, solar, and energy storage – what they call the ‘Tesla Ecosystem’.
If you go full Tesla, here’s how the system works: Your solar panels power anything inside your home, including your Powerwall and vehicle (when it’s plugged in). When your solar panels aren’t producing electricity, your Powerwall flips on and provides that solar electricity, providing electricity for both your home and vehicle.
With the Tesla App, homeowners can manage vehicle charging, solar production, and energy storage usage remotely. You’ll know when your solar panels are powering your home, when your solar is charging up your Powerwall, and when you’re using electricity from the grid.
Tesla Service Area
Tesla installs residential solar in all 50 states, as well as Washington DC. However, the financing options they offer (cash payment, loan, or subscription) varies from state to state.
Here are the financing financing options Tesla supports in each state:
- Alabama: Cash
- Alaska: Cash
- Arizona: Cash, Subscription
- Arkansas: Cash
- California: Cash, Subscription
- Colorado: Cash, Loan
- Connecticut: Cash, Subscription
- Delaware: Cash, Loan
- Florida: Cash, Loan
- Georgia: Cash
- Hawaii: Cash, Loan
- Idaho: Cash
- Illinois: Cash
- Indiana: Cash
- Iowa: Cash
- Kansas: Cash
- Kentucky: Cash
- Louisiana: Cash
- Maine: Cash
- Maryland: Cash, Loan
- Massachusetts: Cash, Subscription
- Michigan: Cash
- Minnesota: Cash
- Mississippi: Cash
- Missouri: Cash
- Montana: Cash
- Nebraska: Cash
- Nevada: Cash, Loan
- New Hampshire: Cash, Loan
- New Jersey: Cash, Subscription
- New Mexico: Cash, Subscription
- New York: Cash, Loan
- North Carolina: Cash
- North Dakota: Cash
- Ohio: Cash
- Oklahoma: Cash
- Oregon: Cash
- Pennsylvania: Cash, Loan
- Rhode Island: Cash, Loan
- South Carolina: Cash
- South Dakota: Cash
- Tennessee: Cash
- Texas: Cash, Loan
- Utah: Cash, Loan
- Vermont: Cash, Loan
- Virginia: Cash
- Washington: Cash
- Washington DC: Cash, Loan
- West Virginia: Cash
- Wisconsin: Cash
- Wyoming: Cash
SolarCity built its empire on the hugely popular solar lease, but which required the company to shell out loads of cash to pay for these rooftop systems upfront. When Tesla purchased the company in 2016, it moved away from leasing towards cash financing in an effort to focus on profit instead of outright growth.
However, with Tesla Solar’s stagnation over the last few years, the company has again reintroduced a leasing-like program, the Subscription Service, to hopefully jumpstart its growth again.As of 2019, the company supports three different financing options for residential solar: cash, loan, and subscription.
Every solar installer accepts cash payment for a solar installation, and Tesla is no different. Unlike their loan or subscriptions, which are only available in select states, Tesla installs cash systems in all 50 states.
With cash, Tesla installs the system, shows you how to monitor energy production, and leaves you to it. Of course, your installation and equipment are covered under either Tesla’s or the manufacturers’ warranties, but like owning your own car, you’ll need to periodically check in your system’s performance to ensure everything is working properly.
Cash financing typically allows you to see the highest return. Beyond simply paying less for your investment (no interest!), you’re also eligible for the federal tax credit and any local tax credits to help drop your investment.
Solar loans allow you to enjoy the financial savings and incentives that cash financing provies, but without the burden of that large upfront payment. You’ll be paying interest on the loan, which can add upwards of $7,000 to your total investment, but you can still save more than with a solar lease.
Tesla offers loans in 13 states (see the list above for specifics), but doesn’t actually finance the loans themselves. Instead, they work with financiers Mosaic and Sunlight Financial, both of which specialize in residential solar.
Of course, you don’t have to finance your solar installation with one of Tesla’s partners. Local credit unions typically allow homeowners to use a HELOC or Home Equity Loan to finance solar, and some even offer special low-interest loans specifically for rooftop solar. If you find a low-interest loan from a local institution, you can simply pay Tesla for your installation in cash.
No matter what, always shop around for the best interest rate you can find. Tesla’s partners, credit unions, and other solar loan specialists like Dividend Solar are all worthwhile options.
Tesla’s newest offering, it’s subscription service is – in essence – solar leasing with a flashy new name. Under this financing, you pay Tesla a monthly fee to ‘rent’ the panels, then you get to use all the electricity they produce.
Tesla currently offers three installation sizes for its subscription service (small, medium, and large) in six states – Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Mexico. The small installation costs $50/month ($65 in California) and they estimate homeowners can save between $20 and $650 per year.
You’ll likely see higher financial savings over the life of your installation by financing via loan or cash. However, the subscription service could be a good option if you’re looking for a low-key, hands-off investment. Just don’t forget it will cost $1,500 when you want to remove the panels.
Tesla Long-Term Outlook
When Tesla purchased solar installer SolarCity in 2016, the company positioned it as a strategic move into a sister industry: electric vehicles pair perfectly with renewable energy.
Since then however, the solar business seems to have taken a backseat to Tesla’s vehicles and energy storage businesses. When SolarCity was still a separate company, it was by far the biggest residential installer in the country. In the 4th quarter of 2015, they installed 221 MW of rooftop solar, while both Vivint and Sunrun installed under 70 MW each. In other words – SolarCity was huge.
However, the company had yet to see a profit, so when Tesla purchased the company, it shifted focus from outright, explosive growth to profitability. Unfortunately, installation numbers faltered as well. All the while, Sunrun’s own numbers slowly crept up, eventually overtaking Tesla. Then, Vivint Solar also overtook Tesla in the residential market.
Today, Tesla is struggling to relight the fire under its solar business. It’s Solar Roof appears stalled out as production difficulties continue to plague the product. As mentioned above, the company cut costs and introduced the new subscription offering, but both have done little to boost sales so far.
Tesla’s vehicle and energy storage businesses are growing nicely, but Musk himself has admitted that they simply don’t have the resources to focus on all their on-going projects – vehicles, storage, and solar. The solar business has sat idle, slowing degrading away as a result. It’s possible the company could reorient both funds and talent towards its solar products, but with so many already-promised-yet-unreleased vehicles still to come (the pickup truck, the Roadster, and the Semi), it’ll probably stay busy with its vehicle business for the foreseeable future.
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Image Source: Courtesy Tesla Media Kit