Update: Tesla Solar Roof Tile Cost vs Regular Solar Panels

by Jun 6, 2017Energy, Green Building0 comments

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The highly anticipated answer regarding Tesla solar roof tile costs.

Ever since Tesla unveiled their solar tiles in late 2016, we’ve all been waiting and wondering: when will we find out how much a Tesla’s solar roof costs?

Well, they’ve finally answered. The company published a blog post on the topic in early May 2017 and added a calculator to their website that estimates homeowners’ total cost to install solar tiles on their home as well as the savings they’ll earn over the life of the solar panels.

We at Understand Solar analyzed the cost data and took the solar calculator for a ride to see what we could find out.

Total Cost to Install

In a May 2017 blog post, Tesla estimated that their solar tiles will cost around $21.85 per square foot of roof space, with 35% of the roof tiles being solar tiles and the remaining being matching, non-solar tiles.

FYI, solar tiles can’t be installed on all areas of the roof, so Tesla is manufacturing matching tiles both with and without solar panels. The cheaper non-solar tiles are installed in shaded or north-facing areas of a roof where putting solar just doesn’t make sense. This allows you to only install solar where it’s beneficial, lowering your total cost and leading to more savings.

Strangely enough, the Tesla blog post linked to above actually pulls all its cost data from a November 2016 Consumer Reports article that estimated the cost of Tesla’s solar roof. Why Tesla is citing a 6-month-old cost estimate from another company is beyond us. Tesla must have found the estimates so on point they decided to use them.

All the same, instead of relying on this blog post, perhaps a better cost estimate comes from Tesla’s own newly released cost calculator for their solar tiles.

With this calculator, you type in your address (presumably so Tesla can know the number of sunlight hours in your area as well as your utility rates), home square footage, and the number of stories in your home and it will calculate out general costs and savings.

Below is a quick rundown of installation costs for single story homes with varying square footages. To stay as close as possible to the cost estimate above, we chose to cover just 40% of roofs with solar tiles (there is no 35% option), though Tesla recommends 70% for max production. For the costs below, we’ve already included the 30% federal tax credit as well.

Here you go:

  • 1,000 square foot home: $21,210 ($21.21 per square foot)
  • 2,000 square foot home: $40,250 ($20.12 per square foot)
  • 5,000 square foot home: $95,970 ($19.19 per square foot)

Obviously, your home’s square footage doesn’t necessarily correlate to your roof’s square footage, but it gives a pretty good estimation if your home is a single story home. You can expect to pay around $20 per square foot – actually pretty close to the estimate above from 6 months ago (well done, Consumer Reports).

How does this cost compare to traditional roofing? Below we’ve highlighted the cost per square foot of a handful of common roofing materials. As you can see they are much cheaper than Tesla’s solar tiles, especially the ubiquitous asphalt shingle:

  • Asphalt shingle: $3.40 per square foot (estimate from Homewyse)
  • Metal Tile: $10.26 per square foot (estimate)
  • Clay Tile: $14.85 per square foot (estimate)
  • Slate Tile: $15.06 per square foot (estimate

Even slate tile – the most expensive traditional roofing material of the bunch – costs about 25% less than Tesla’s solar roof tiles. $40k for roofing? What gives? If Tesla’s solar tiles are so expensive, why are they such a big deal? Who can even afford them?

The not-so-secret secret, as you well know, is the fact that Tesla’s solar tiles are roofing as well as solar panels. After the installation, you’ll be producing your own electricity, allowing you to save money while the tiles just sit up on your roof.

This leads us to our next method of calculating Tesla’s solar tiles cost: looking at total savings.

Total Savings After 30 Years

This is where it gets good. As mentioned, the total installation cost is just one piece of the puzzle. Yes, Tesla’s solar tiles are expensive. However, over their lifetime they’ll be producing electricity that you can use directly in your home. Tesla’s Solar Roof is a financial investment. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but spending $10 today to get $15 tomorrow makes sense, right?

Let’s look back at our cost examples above for the different sized homes. Installation costs for Tesla’s solar tiles drop slightly as your roof gets bigger but generally fall around $20/square foot. Let’s see how much electricity each of these homes can generate. Tesla has yet to publish data on the efficiency or wattage of their solar tiles, so we’ll have to use their solar calculator again.

Obviously, the more sunlight hits a solar panel, the more electricity it will produce. This means that solar panels in different cities will produce different amounts of electricity. In their solar calculator, Tesla accounts for these differences as well as fluctuations between local utility prices.

Let’s compare a few very different cities to get an idea of how much electricity Tesla’s solar tiles can produce over 30 years (the claimed lifespan of the tiles), as well as the total net savings:

Los Angeles, CA

  • 1,000 square foot home: produce $49,900 worth of electricity (net savings of $28,690)
  • 2,000 square foot home: produce $94,800 worth of electricity (net savings of $54,550)
  • 5,000 square foot home: produce $180,600 worth of electricity (net savings of $84,630) 

Denver, CO

  • 1,000 square foot home: produce $42,800 worth of electricity (net savings of $21,590)
  • 2,000 square foot home: produce $63,900 worth of electricity (net savings of $23,650)
  • 5,000 square foot home: produce $127,600 worth of electricity (net savings of $31,630) 

Raleigh, NC

  • 1,000 square foot home: produce $24,600 worth of electricity (net savings of $3,390)
  • 2,000 square foot home: produce $46,800 worth of electricity (net savings of $6,550)
  • 5,000 square foot home: produce $111,700 worth of electricity (net savings of $15,730) 

You could probably have assumed this, but savings are highest in southern California, where solar irradiance (the strength of the sunlight) and utility rates are both sky-high. Even in North Carolina, though, Tesla estimates your total savings from solar will not only pay for your roof but also saves you thousands of dollars over the 30-year life of your solar roof.

Suddenly, Tesla’s solar tiles don’t look too expensive, do they?

Before you get too excited, a few caveats are in order:

  1. We are assuming the 30% federal tax credit can be applied to the entire roof installation. However, since the installation includes non-solar roof tiles as well, this might not necessarily be the case. If the non-solar tiles aren’t eligible for the tax credit, this could raise the total installation price, which will affect total savings.
  2. Tesla hasn’t released technical data (wattage, efficiency, etc) on their solar tiles, so we aren’t really able to verify these energy production claims.
  3. Obviously, a 5,000 square foot home is huge and probably wouldn’t be a single story home, so our savings estimate for that one is likely skewed. However, we kept all our examples as a single story home so we could compare apples-to-apples costs.
  4. Keep in mind that the calculator above doesn’t know your personal electricity use, so these savings amounts might be higher than what you can actually achieve. Without knowing more about the workings of the calculator, we’re left in the dark.

That being said, the calculator still performs one basic function well: it shows that a Tesla Solar Roof seems to be a good financial investment.

Tesla Solar Roof Tiles vs Solar Panels

How do Tesla’s costs compare to traditional solar installations? First off, Tesla’s tiles are more expensive than normal old solar panels. That makes sense as it’s really two products in one: roofing and solar.

Greentech Media looked into this issue of cost back in November 2016 and estimated that adding Tesla’s solar tiles to your roof would have a simple payback of 11 years, while a traditional solar installation has a payback of just 6.5 years. They also estimated that installing solar tiles on a new construction will be easier – and therefore cheaper – than retrofitting an existing roof, and therefore have a shorter payback period, around 8.2 years.

So if you install Tesla’s solar tiles on your roof, it’d take almost twice as long to see a return on your investment when compared to traditional solar systems. However – as we continue to mention – unlike traditional solar installations, you have to remember that Tesla’s solar tiles are a replacement for your roof shingles, not in addition to your roof shingles, so you’re killing two (expensive) birds with one stone when you install them.

Until Tesla publishes the technical stats for their tiles, it’s difficult to compare them to traditional solar installations, as we don’t know how many watts of electricity a single tile puts out, how large the tiles are, and how efficient the whole system will be. Once we’re able to say “6 kW of Tesla solar tiles is $XX”, we’ll be able to compare the installation costs of each system and really see the difference in prices.

If we’re able to take Tesla at their word on the installation costs, even with the longer payback compared to traditional panels, Tesla’s solar tiles will be a great deal. Tesla’s already done it with their Powerwall 2, which packs quite a punch at a surprisingly low price.

Considering that you’re getting both solar panels and a very durable roof when you purchase Tesla’s solar tiles, it seems like they’re on course to be a game changer in the roofing industry and solar industry.


Who’s the Market for Tesla’s Solar Tiles?

Anyone can see the numbers and understand how Tesla’s solar roof makes financial sense. You get a solar installation and a new roof for a much cheaper price than if you purchased a new conventional roof and continued to purchase utility electricity over the next 30 years.

However, look at those initial installation costs! $40k for a 2,000 square foot home? That’s quite an investment! Couple that with the fairly long return, and you’ve got yourself a niche product – at least until that initial price lowers a little bit.

Now obviously many in the population buy cars that cost $30k to $40k, typically by taking out a loan. We’re sure the same thing will happen with these solar shingles as well. However, with the majority of the population having less than $1,000 in their bank account, a $40k investment in roof shingles is probably a longshot for most of the population.

Instead, just like Tesla’s incredible automobiles, the well-to-do are the likely adopters of Tesla’s shingles. This isn’t such a bad thing though. The same thing happened with traditional solar panels as well: they were expensive at first and only a handful of wealthier homeowners could afford to install them. However, as more people jumped on the trend, panel production increased, prices dropped, and more and more people could go solar.

In fact, this was Elon Musk’s exact plan with their own electric vehicles: make a high-end product while the technology is expensive, then produce cars for the masses once the technology drops in price. This is a plan he adopted at the very outset of Tesla and made public back in 2006. Talk about vision!

So while at the beginning Tesla’s solar tiles might just be for the rich – even with the high savings over the life of the tiles – as time progresses and costs lower, they might just be the technology that shifts solar from a ‘green’ technology to standard technology – one you see (or more accurately, don’t see – that’s the point right?) everywhere.

Images Courtesy of Tesla

Read full story: Understand Solar

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