tesla solar roof shingles

Tesla Solar Roof: the complete review

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In October 2019, Tesla Motors announced the launch of Tesla Solar Roof V3, the company’s third version of its integrated solar glass shingle. Among several updates, version three included larger tiles, lower production costs, increased power density, and an easier installation process. Additionally, the total number of parts in the product was decreased. Tesla predicted that these changes would significantly reduce the cost of the product; recently, however, the company has increased prices on previously quoted systems, without a lot of explanation.

The Tesla Solar Roof: EnergySage’s take

  • The Tesla Solar Roof has experienced significant setbacks that have delayed its design, production, and deployment
  • Tesla continues to be opaque in its approach when discussing its solar roof; it has yet to announce the efficiency of its solar shingles, even after four years
  • The cost of the Tesla Solar Roof varies substantially depending on the size and complexity of your roof
  • You may be a good candidate for the Tesla Solar Roof if you are building a new home, are replacing an old roof, or are set on the look and have the capital

While Tesla is most famous for its electric vehicles (EVs), the company’s future lies in total clean energy integration – a one-step carbon reduction process that involves pairing solar panels with your Tesla EV. For home owners who want the benefits of solar without the “look” of solar, the Tesla Solar Roof provides an enticing alternative: but is this luxury roof the right option for you? 

There’s a lot in here, and we’ll try to speak to every aspect of the solar roof. Skip ahead to any of the sections below:

The Tesla Solar Roof: what you need to know

The Tesla Solar Roof is a building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) product that takes the functionality of solar panels and integrates it into roof shingles. A home with Tesla roof shingles installed would have a protective and complete roof with the capacity to generate solar energy. By installing the solar roof, you don’t have to install solar panels to generate electricity, which some property owners find visually unappealing. 

Some solar industry stakeholders believe that solar needs to be rebranded as an aesthetic and technical improvement that can be a part of a home renovation rather than a hefty module affixed to your rooftop. That sentiment was emphasized in Elon Musk’s October 2016 launch of Tesla’s first roofing product. With the solar roof, the company aims to bring solar further into the mainstream by removing any sort of aesthetic concerns that homeowners may have. 

“I think there’s quite a radical difference between having solar panels on your roof that actually make your house look better versus ones that do not, I think it’s going to be a night-and-day difference,” said Musk in a statement before the official launch of Tesla’s first solar roof. Two months later, he unveiled the solar roof using a crowded, suburban event in California to demonstrate that his panel design was so seamlessly integrated that the entire audience of press needed to be altered to its presence on the house in front of them. 

What’s the latest news on the Tesla Solar Roof tiles?

Tesla has now installed solar roofs across the country, though the exact number of installations is unclear. The product has been gaining popularity among some consumers, leading to long installation wait times for customers who sign contracts. In April 2021, many of these customers were shocked when they received emails from Tesla quoting higher costs than their contract prices. The lack of explanation and transparency caused confusion and frustration among consumers, especially if they could no longer afford the hefty price tag. 

During Tesla’s quarterly earnings call in April 2021, Elon Musk affirmed that demand “remains strong” for the Tesla Solar Roof, despite the price increases. He did concede that Tesla “basically made some significant mistakes in assessing the difficulty of certain roofs.” To its solar roof calculator, the company added a roof complexity estimate, which adjusts the system’s price based on roof complexity. On its website, Tesla divides the complexity into three categories–simple, intermediate, and complex–based on the following criteria:

  • Simple: single-level roof, uncrowded mounting planes, few obstructions (pipes, chimneys, skylights), low pitch
  • Intermediate: multi-level roof (roof sections built on multiple stories of your house), more crowded mounting plane, more obstructions (pipes, chimneys, skylights), higher pitch
  • Complex: multi-level roof (roof sections built on multiple stories of your house), heavily crowded mounting plane, many obstructions (pipes, chimneys, skylights), steep pitch

Based on Tesla’s calculator, the price of a Tesla Solar Roof varies substantially depending on what you put for your roof’s complexity

Timeline of key Tesla Solar Roof news and announcements

Tesla seems to have a pattern of overpromising and under delivering in regard to its solar roof. Tesla began taking orders for its Tesla solar tiles as of May 2017. In January 2018, the company announced it was ramping up production of the roof product at its Buffalo Gigafactory. Tesla then started initial installations with customers at the top of its waitlist in the California area in mid-March, roughly eight months after its initial estimate.

Elon Musk revealed in August 2017 that he and another Tesla executive already had the roof installed on their respective properties. In May 2018, Tesla had about 11,000 orders for the solar roof and it was struggling to meet the demand. As of August 2018, only 12 solar roofs had been installed in California, the leading state in the country for solar. 

September 2018 brought more news coverage: a report stating that solar roofs may not be widely installed for a long time. According to CNBC, Musk said they needed more time to work out all the details. “There’s only so much accelerated life testing that you do on a roof. So before we can deploy it to a large number of houses we need to make sure that it’s that all elements of the roof are going to last for at least three decades,” said Musk in a summer 2018 meeting. The statement lacked both commitment and a clear timeline.

The company began ramping up production, implementing 24/7 operating hours with about 80 employees per shift for solar roof shingle production alone, according to a November 2018 Bloomberg report. Tesla’s head of energy operations, Sanjay Shah, stated that Tesla was gearing up for the solar roof side of its business to see “tremendous growth in 2019.”  Musk himself tweeted that the first solar roof deployments would begin around summer 2019.

Despite continued delays and earnings losses, Musk tweeted in June 2019 that he hoped to manufacture about 1,000 solar roofs per week by the end of 2019. In October 2019, Tesla announced the Tesla Solar Roof V3, which featured updates to increase manufacturing and deployment, and reduce prices. 

In 2020, Tesla experienced some achievements for its solar roof, almost tripling its installations between quarter one and quarter two. In quarter four, Tesla announced that it had “made great progress growing [its] solar roof deployments,” but didn’t provide data to back up its claim. As previously explained, as of April 2021, Tesla Solar Roof customers have continued to experience delays and a lack of transparency from Tesla and in May 2021 some of these customers sued Tesla over the unexpected price hikes. In June 2021, Electrek confirmed that Tesla’s head of energy operations had left the company after months of rumors.

Solar Roof specifications: what are you getting?

Despite previous announcements about multiple design offerings–including tuscan glass tile, slate glass tile, textured glass tile, and smooth glass tile–the Tesla Solar Roof V3 is only currently available in one shingle design. Each shingle has a dimension of 15 inches by 45 inches and is made of tempered glass. The shingle is designed to resemble a traditional asphalt shingle. 

While all of the shingles look the same, only some actually produce energy. Tesla designs the system to meet your energy needs and will only install as many energy-producing shingles as needed. On its website, Tesla states that its shingles are three times stronger than typical roof tiles and are built to withstand all weather conditions. It also asserts that its solar roof will outlast standard roofs.  

Tesla provides 25-year tile, power, and weatherization warranties, comparable to leading solar panel brands. Its inverter has a 12.5-year warranty, which aligns with warranties for other string inverter brands; however, this warranty is lower than warranties for many microinverters, which are often 20 to 25 years. 

How much does the Tesla Solar Roof cost?

With the new complexity categories explained above, it’s a bit difficult to fully estimate the cost of a Tesla Solar Roof. The cost varies significantly depending on whether your roof is “simple” or “complex” and depending on the square footage of your roof. Tesla’s estimate calculator shows that if you’re installing a system on a simple, small roof, the price is fairly comparable to that of a new asphalt roof installation plus solar panels. However, as you increase the size and/or complexity of your roof, this number quickly skyrockets. 

For an 8.2 kilowatt (kW) system in northern California, Tesla estimates that the solar roof will cost $48,460 before incentives if you have an intermediately complex, 2,000 square foot roof. However, if you update your roof to be considered “complex,” the price increases to $54,940 and if your intermediately complex roof is 2,500 square feet instead of 2,000 square feet, the price jumps to $56,460. You can dig further into these calculations in our comparison of the cost of the solar roof vs. standard panels.

Another factor that impacts the return on investment of your Tesla Solar Roof depends on the solar shingles’ efficiency. Tesla has not released data on the efficiency of its shingles, but EnergySage estimates that typical solar shingle brands range from 14 to 18 percent efficiency, whereas most solar panels are 22 to 23 percent efficient. In an industry where a new record for solar panel efficiency is announced almost every month and the cost of solar is directly tied to how well a solar panel produces electricity, the real numbers on what this glass shingle can achieve is crucial to understanding the solar roof’s actual cost over time.

Should you wait for the Tesla Solar Roof? 

Standard solar panel technologies are typically evaluated based on their performance, durability, and warranties. However, Tesla’s lack of transparency makes it difficult to compare to traditional solar panels. Four years after the initial launch of Tesla’s solar roof, the company still hasn’t revealed the shingles’ efficiency and customers are still experiencing long wait times and surprise price increases. 

If you’re in dire need of a roof upgrade or if you won’t need a roof upgrade for a while, the Tesla Solar Roof may not be worth your long wait. Solar panels are extremely dependable (and we think they look great, too!). However, if you need to upgrade your roof soon (but not immediately) and your roof isn’t too complex, you may be a good candidate for the Tesla Solar Roof. Additionally, if you’re set on the look and have the capital to cover the cost, the system may be the best choice for you, though it may be worth your while to compare the Tesla Solar Roof to other solar roof products. 

Tesla’s solar shingles are best suited for new construction

Most existing solar shingle technologies are also known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) because they are integrated with your existing roof and are a similar size and shape to standard roof tiles. Tesla has created something different. In August 2016, Musk first explained the difference between solar shingles and Tesla’s solar roof: “It’s not a thing on the roof. It is the roof.”

Unlike other solar shingles, Tesla’s roof tiles are designed to completely replace your existing roof. As a result, the most cost-effective way to install them is when your home is being built, which means that they are best suited for homebuyers who have a say in the design and materials of their newly constructed home. While this doesn’t mean that they can’t be used on existing homes, retrofitting your roof with Tesla solar tiles means removing your existing roof (which Tesla will do for you). As a result, retrofitting your roof with Tesla solar tiles is only practical when your roof is already due to be replaced.

Who are Tesla’s solar roof competitors?

Though the buzz around Tesla’s illustrious roof product has made it appear like it’s a new concept, it is merely the continued repackaging brilliance that some call the “Musk effect.” Development of solar roof tiles and solar shingles has been evolving for many years, and a number of companies have taken a stab at designing a versatile, subtle rooftop solar medium that could be considered a genuine roofing material rather than a module add-on. Here are some of Tesla’s solar roof competitors that offer similar BIPV products:

  • Luma – these solar shingles can be integrated with all roofing material and install similarly to traditional metal roofing. Luma markets its product as the only upgradable solar shingle system and boasts an efficiency of 22.1 percent. 
  • Suntegra – this Northeast solar manufacturer is at the forefront of the solar roof product line. The company hails from New York and began offering its two solar roof products just a few months before the announcement of Tesla’s shingles. Suntegra’s solar shingles are designed to be integrated with low-profile roof materials and are about 15.9 to 17.2 percent efficient. Its solar tiles are slightly less efficient at 13.9 to 15.1 percent and are designed to be integrated with standard flat concrete tile roofs. 
  • CertainTeed – originally a roofing company, this contractor now offers two solar roof products, with similar integration strategies to Suntegra. Its Apollo II system includes solar shingles to match low-profile roofs, which are about 15.4 percent efficient. CertainTeed’s Apollo Tile II system integrates solar tiles with flat concrete tiles roofs and its tiles are about 16 percent efficient. 

It’s important to note that the solar shingles and tiles offered by these companies do still stand out against other roofing material. None can compete with Tesla in terms of aesthetics or subtlety, but they do offer low-profile BIPV solutions that may alleviate aesthetic concerns for some solar shoppers. 

Learn how much solar can save you today before you make your decision

Just as Tesla doesn’t make electric vehicles for the masses, Tesla’s solar roof isn’t feasible for every home. In many ways, the company’s solar roof product is similar to its first electric car. If you are an early adopter of newer technologies, don’t care about price, and are prepared to wait for a product with an uncertain manufacturing timeline, then waiting for Tesla’s solar roof could be the right decision for you.

However, there are always risks associated with installing newer technology, especially when Tesla’s solar roof lacks so much transparency. Unlike Tesla’s solar shingles, many of the premium solar panels currently available on the market today are sold by well-known consumer electronics manufacturers (such as Panasonic and LG) that have been producing solar panels for a decade or more.

Additionally, waiting to go solar has its risks, even if you’re interested in the solar roof. The cost of going solar is falling every year, and there are premium solar panels already available today that come with high-efficiency ratings and a sleek black design. If you wait years for the Tesla Solar Roof, you will lose out on years of savings on your electricity bill. You also run the risk of missing out on financial incentives for solar: many state tax credits have already expired and as of now, the federal investment tax credit for solar will be lowered to 22 percent in 2023.

Before you make the decision to wait for the Tesla Solar Roof, use our solar calculator to learn how much you can save today by going solar. If you’re ready to explore the solar options for your home, join the EnergySage Marketplace and get custom quotes from solar installers in your area. You might be surprised by just how much you can save now by installing traditional solar panels on your roof.

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About Emily Walker

Emily is the Content Manager & Research Analyst at EnergySage, where she enjoys making energy fun and easy to learn about! She has a background in environmental consulting and has degrees in Environmental Science and Biology from Colby College. Outside of work, Emily is pursuing a Master of Science from Johns Hopkins University in Environmental Science and Policy. She also loves hiking, tending to her collection of houseplants, and trying out new restaurants and breweries whenever possible.

22 thoughts on “Tesla Solar Roof: the complete review

  1. Joseph Constantino

    I think Tesla is on the right track, but I have solar city panels on my roof now because I had a pool put in about 3 years ago and my electric bill was running about 2-3 hundred dollars a month because I had to run my pool filter 6-8hours a day, but I am currently leasing my solar from solar city for the next 20 years because I thought it was too much to purchase it out right($45,000). I just didn’t have that kind of extra cash. I just spent about $48,000 on my pool and landscaping and I ‘m still not done. My point is I would like to buy a Tesla, but I agree with the comment above in regards to your solar roof tile being accessible to the top 1-5% of the populous. People talk about global warming and reducing the carbon foot print, but it comes with a price. I work in the operating room and listened to a conversation between a surgeon and a physicians assistant talk about his tesla SUV and solar panels and how much he paid for his Tesla. I was shocked to hear him say that he paid a whopping $160,000 plus for his vehicle. I can’t afford that. Period. I drive a honda civic to and from work. Would I like the Tesla? Absolutely, but not for that price. I would love to try one out just for the sake of saying that for a time I drove a Tesla. I don’t know if I will ever be able to afford one, but I guess I will have to continue to contribute to the carbon foot print like everyone else who doesn’t own a Tesla.

  2. Joshua

    The author states that there is no pricing information, but will only be accessible to the top 1-5%.

    Elon’s vision isn’t to cater to the top 5%, it is to revolutionize solar with a product that replaces standard roofs with something better. He repeats that the cost will be that of a standard roof plus the cost of power for a year. But I’m afraid there are some hidden costs that do limit the demographic.

    A high quote for a standard roof on my house is about $10,000. +$2,000 elec/1yr brings us to $12k.

    The real issue is that PowerWalls are very expensive. Teslas calculator recommends 3 powerwalls to fully power my 5 bedroom home which is nearly 18k. I would do two and depend on grid backup for $12,000.

    That brings total cost before installation to $24,000 for solar vs $10,000 installed for conventional.

    The savings for me would be $2,000/yr in electric plus what? Save the world?

    He’s in the process of working economies of scale on the battery sector and I could honestly see the total system cost dropping significantly in the next five years.

    1. sebastien

      Bravo Tesla! This is a great perspective. Solar energy is one of the natural resource that we should take care more right now. It is sure that solar glass tiles will find customers around the world. I will be one of them and contribute to the collective effort to reduce fossil energy. One step at the time for a better legacy to humanity!

    2. Jeff

      I have always viewed the argument for solar as similar to “do I rent or buy a home”. The rule for a while has been a 10 year or so payoff time with solar panels. Even if you do not achieve a 100 percent replacement it still reduces consumption of energy use which is a step and progress in the right direction.

    3. Chris Bungart

      I’m hoping the same thing will happen to battery development that happened earlier to cpu speed evolution – doubling every 18 months. It is a nice thought anyway.

    4. AndrewK

      The “quasi-infinite” lifetime of the product also means it’s probably better compared to tile or metal roofing than asphalt shingles. Metal roofs tend to go for a little less than twice what you would pay for a conventional asphalt roof – so a $10k roof becomes closer to $20k, which would be in the range of the the installed cost for the entire system of $24k you have above.

    5. Jacob Cooper

      in 20 years it would be 40k, this is what you ned to think of with solar integration the long haul overtime price.

  3. Leslie Baker

    A design professional, by trade, this product is exciting. I just flew back from Denver where I assisted clients in their selection of a new roof required as the result of a massive hail storm. Will this glass product hold up to that beating? Not being able to walk on it also precludes any environment with trees. I see this as an upcoming trend for new construction. As for remodels, my guess is the Home Owners Associations won’t let homeowners install it. The look would be too much of a departure from the surrounding homes.

  4. CWP

    I am in the process of building a house. It is impossible to get reliable, specific basic information about solar installations online. All I see is the usual evangelism, without even any attempt at being specific about costs and production. If this is the way your “industry” makes its sales, you have long, long, long way to go.

  5. William

    The same type of panels used in solar roadways and parking lots could be used on solar roofs. They would withstand walking on them. Lower maintenance costs. Give this some thought.

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