tesla solar roof vs solar panels

Tesla solar roof cost vs. solar panels

In the spring of 2017, Tesla announced pricing for their Solar Roof: a building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) product that takes the functionality of solar panels and integrates it into roof shingles. Four years later, Tesla is still facing problems with installation and production, but Solar Roof installations are starting to become more widespread across the country. In November 2021, electrek announced that the Solar Roof tiles will also now be more efficient and have higher capacity – and, you may now be able to install them over your current roof. Due to its unmatched aesthetic design, the Solar Roof offers an attractive solar solution for some homeowners, so we wanted to explore the question: does installing the Tesla Solar Roof make financial sense for you?

Key takeaways

  • Tesla’s solar tiles are likely about 20 to 30 percent less efficient than normal solar panels
  • The price of Tesla’s Solar Roof varies by about $10,000 to $20,000 based on your roof’s complexity and size
  • A Tesla Solar Roof is still more expensive than traditional solar panels for most homeowners
  • Tesla’s Solar Roof can make sense if you have a simple and small roof and are looking for solar plus a roof upgrade, solar-plus-storage, or if you’re set on its aesthetics
  • Explore your home solar options on the EnergySage Marketplace

What’s in this article?

How much does a Tesla solar roof cost compared to other options?

 Production (W per shingle/cell)EfficiencyAverage Cost (Before Incentives)
Traditional solar system170-350 W19-23%
Tesla Solar Roof71.67 W~17-20%$6.40/W
SunTegra Solar Shingles
105-114 W15.9-17.2%$4.90/W
Certainteed Apollo Tile II73 W17.8%<$6.40/W (approximately)
GAF solar shingles45 WNo published efficiency~$4.80W
Hantiles~105 WNo published efficiencyNo published price
LUMA80 W22.1%No published price

Efficiency of the Tesla Solar Roof

One factor to consider when making a cost comparison between installing new solar panels and installing a new Tesla Solar Roof is efficiency. Tesla has not released data on the efficiency of its solar 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. It’s important to keep this in mind when deciding if the Tesla Solar Roof is worth it for you because your overall return on investment (ROI) will likely be lower than if you install new solar panels. 

Tesla Solar Roof price breakdown

An important consideration to make  is the cost of each piece of equipment that goes into installing a Tesla Solar Roof. The type of equipment may vary but will include at least the following 4 items:

  1. Active Solar Shingles
  2. Inactive Solar Shingles
  3. Tesla Solar Inverter
  4. Tesla Powerwall

Active solar shingles

Active solar shingles cost $1.80/watt to install. These shingles are what Tesla uses to generate electricity for the Solar Roof. Visually, they are indistinguishable from inactive panels.

Inactive solar shingles

Inactive solar shingles will cost $15.30 and $21.27 per square foot to install. The Tesla Solar Roof systems use a mix of active and inactive shingles – this means the total cost of installation varies widely depending on the size and complexity of your roof. For example, a 1,500 square foot roof will cost at least $22,950 for inactive shingles alone but could be more if you have a multiple-storied roof or crowded mounting planes.

Tesla Solar Inverter

The cost of a solar inverter is included in the installation of the entire system or the Powerwall as part of the bundle. Tesla will install this device which includes safety features such as integrated rapid shutdown, arc fault protection, ground fault protection and no neutral wires.

Tesla Powerwall cost

A Tesla Powerwall will add between $12,000 and $16,500 to your total cost. While not specifically required, a Tesla Powerwall is bundled with all solar systems including a Solar Roof. As of 2021, a Powerwall costs around $8500 for the equipment alone with $4000 for installation.

Tesla Solar Roof cost varies by roof complexity

The cost of installing a Tesla roof varies significantly depending on your home’s design. In April 2021, Tesla confused and frustrated many of their customers when they sent emails with increased prices to customers that had already signed contracts based on their initial quotes. While the company blamed these price hikes on underestimated roof complexity, Tesla has yet to provide a full explanation as to where their calculations faltered (though in September 2021, they announced that they’ll be honoring the prices for the signed contracts). In 2022, Tesla announced they would not be scheduling any more installations in new markets. The company did add a roof complexity disclaimer to their Solar Roof calculator, which Tesla notes will be determined after you place an order for a Solar Roof. On their 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

You can start to estimate the cost of the Tesla Solar Roof for your property by using Tesla’s Solar Roof calculator.

Tesla Solar Roof cost: is it worth the premium?

To best explain Tesla’s Solar Roof cost and price premium, we’ll provide an example of a household shopping for a traditional solar panel system. We’ll use this example to show how the cost of the Tesla roof compares to traditional solar panel systems based on the roof’s complexity and size. We’ll explore four different scenarios based on what this household is seeking – read on to see which describes you best! 

Our comparison example 

Let’s say you live in California and spend about $200 per month on electricity. Based on this information, we would estimate that you require a 8.3 kW solar system to cover your electricity needs. We made this estimate based on the following information:

  • According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2020 the average retail price for electricity in California was 18.00 cents per kWh. Based on this price, you use about 13,300 kWh each year.
  • The production ratio in California typically ranges from about 1.4 to 1.8. We assume a production ratio of 1.6. This number indicates how much electricity your system will generate in relation to its size.
  • You can estimate your necessary system size based on the following equation:

System size = annual electricity usage / production ratio / 1,000

Plugging in our numbers, we get:

System size = 13,300 kWh / 1.6 / 1,000

…which equals about 8.3 kW! As of November 2021, the average solar panel cost in California is $2.82/W. Thus, we estimate that a new solar installation would cost you about $23,400. We’ll be using Tesla’s Solar Roof calculator to see what system size it recommends and how much it estimates the Solar Roof will cost. We’ll vary your roof’s square footage and provide Tesla’s roof complexity disclaimer to show how these factors affect your cost of the Tesla Solar Roof. It’s important to note that these numbers will vary based on where you live, but the trends are generally consistent. The estimates provided are all before incentives and rebates.

Four scenarios: Tesla Solar Roof vs. solar panel

Scenario 1: You’re interested in going solar, but don’t need to replace your roof

This is the most common scenario for the vast majority of homeowners in the U.S. today. You’ve been interested in installing solar panels for a while, and realize that costs have come down enough for it to be an achievable home upgrade. You’ve also heard a lot of media buzz around the Tesla Solar Roof lately, but aren’t sure if it’s worth the cost. Most importantly, you don’t need to replace your roof in the next three to five years.

If this description sounds like you, we typically would recommend that Tesla’s Solar Roof won’t make financial sense for your home. Here’s why: it is both a new roof and a solar installation. If you don’t need a new roof, you risk getting upsold on a product that you weren’t even shopping for in the first place. And the price tag of this upsell is considerable. However, in November 2021, electrek reported that Tesla’s new tile datasheet mentions that the solar tiles can now be installed over existing roofs, which might be a game changer for the cost-effectiveness of this system. Because these details have not yet been released, for our example, we’ll assume you’re replacing your full roof. 

In our example, we estimate that your household in California would typically install an 8.3 kW solar panel system and Tesla’s Solar Roof calculator quotes you an 8.18 kW system. While these systems are fairly comparable in size, it’s important to remember that solar tiles are generally 20 to 30 percent less efficient than solar panels – so the Solar Roof will likely deliver substantially less electricity than the solar panels. We estimate that you will pay about $23,400 for your new solar panels before rebates; according to Tesla’s Solar Roof calculator, for a 2,000 square foot home in California with a $200 monthly electric bill, the Solar Roof would cost $45,300: an over $21,900 increase. However, this price varies depending on your roof complexity and size:

Roof complexity

For a traditional solar panel installation, labor is the biggest cost that will be impacted by roof complexity. Our network of installers report that, on average, labor accounts for about 13 percent of their entire installation cost. Thus, roof complexity will impact the overall cost of your system. However, because the solar tiles in the Solar Roof are building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), the labor costs are substantially higher. Tesla estimates that, in our example, you could spend up to $16,095 (before incentives) more on your Solar Roof, depending on your roof’s complexity – and Tesla won’t determine how complex your roof is until after you’ve placed an order for their Solar Roof. So, in this case, you could end up paying $37,995 more for a Tesla Solar Roof than for new solar panels.

Roof size

While the cost of your new solar panels will roughly stay the same at $23,400 regardless of your roof size, the cost of a Tesla Solar Roof will vary significantly. The table below shows estimated quotes for you based on your roof size (assuming your roof is Tesla’s baseline complexity):

Roof size (square feet)New solar panelsNew Tesla Solar RoofPrice premium

Thus, even though your energy output is lower with the Tesla Solar Roof than it is with new solar panels, you are still paying more in every scenario. You’re paying more for less, and that just doesn’t make good financial sense. 

Scenario 2: You’re interested in going solar, and also need to replace your roof

[Note: in this section, we are assuming that your roof is Tesla’s baseline complexity.]

While this is a less common scenario, it may fit you if your current roof is coming up on the end of its useful life. This scenario may also fit you if you’re in the process of building a new home from scratch, and haven’t picked out your roofing material yet. In this scenario, unlike the first one, you are on the market and actively shopping for both a new roof and a solar panel installation.

If this description fits you better, Tesla’s Solar Roof may make more financial sense. In this case, you have the option of either replacing your roof first and then installing traditional solar panels, or combining both actions with the installation of a Tesla Solar Roof. 

In our example, let’s assume a $5 per square foot cost for an asphalt shingle roof replacement for your home in California. Based on these criteria, let’s see how your new solar panel and roof replacement will compare to a new Tesla Solar Roof, based on varying roof size:

Roof size (square feet)New solar panelsNew Tesla Solar RoofPrice premium

So, in this case, the cost of new solar panels and the cost of a roof replacement and a new Tesla Solar Roof are most comparable if your roof is only 1,500 square feet. However, as explained above, it’s important to note that your ROI will likely still be lower because the efficiency of the Tesla Solar Roof is probably lower than that of solar panels and your system size is smaller – meaning your electricity bill won’t go down as much as it could.

Scenario 3: You’re interested in solar-plus-storage

[Note: in this section, we are assuming that your roof is Tesla’s baseline complexity and that it doesn’t require replacement.]

Storage is becoming increasingly popular to install with your solar panels depending on where you live. Especially if you live in an area that experiences frequent blackouts, you might want to pair storage with your solar installation to provide backup power. Or, if you don’t live in an area with net metering, you might want to store the excess energy that your solar system produces during the day to use at night. Whatever your reason, the Tesla Solar Roof could make financial sense for you, depending on how much storage you need. 

In our example, let’s say you experience frequent blackouts at your home in California and want a storage system to provide backup power. While you’d probably only need one battery to provide backup for all of your essential appliances, if you want to power more appliances or experience long blackouts, maybe you’re looking to purchase two. With your Tesla Solar Roof, you can only install a Tesla Powerwall, which provides 13.5 kWh of backup energy and varies in cost depending on how many you add. Thus, we’ll use this storage option in our Tesla Solar Roof estimate.

We’ll use LG Chem’s RESU battery in our solar panel comparison, which is a frequently quoted storage option on the EnergySage Marketplace and provides 9.3 kWh of backup energy. The RESU battery generally ranges in price from $9,500 to $13,000, so we’ll go with $13,000 to be conservative. Using these criteria, let’s explore how a new solar panel plus storage installation would compare to a new Tesla Solar Roof plus Powerwall, based on varying roof size and number of storage systems:

 One storage system  Two storage systems  
Roof size (square feet)Solar panels plus RESUTesla plus PowerwallPrice premiumSolar panels plus RESUTesla plus PowerwallPrice premium

Again, you are paying more in every scenario by going with Tesla. However, you’re getting more backup energy as well, so depending on how much storage you want or need, you could end up deciding that a Tesla Solar Roof makes sense for you here. In fact, if you’re replacing your roof and want to install two solar batteries, you could actually save money by installing a Tesla Solar Roof – assuming your roof size is 1,500 square feet and it’s not very complex.  

Scenario 4: You love the Solar Roof aesthetics, want solar, and have money to spend

There are certainly homeowners out there who simply love the aesthetics of the Tesla Solar Roof and want it installed, regardless of the price tag. For shoppers in this category who are considering solar or even a new roof, the Tesla Solar Roof could be a good fit! In fact, we believe that the majority of buyers for Tesla’s Solar Roof come from this fourth category. At EnergySage, we think that more solar on rooftops is always better than less, and are glad that this group has an option that best fits their needs.

There are other alternatives to the Solar Roof including the Timberline Solar Roofing System. This is a similar roofing system that can be paired with batteries including the Tesla Powerwall. In contrast to the Solar Roof, it can be nailed to a roof. There are also the Suntegra solar shingles. This system has the option of including tiles as well and offers efficiencies of 15.9% to 17.2%.

Common questions about the cost of a Tesla Solar Roof

How much does a Tesla Solar Roof installation cost?

For a 1500 square foot roof, installing a Tesla Solar Roof will cost at least $33,450.

How long does a Tesla Solar Roof installation take?

The installation process for a Tesla Solar Roof takes 5 to 7 business days to complete.

Are solar roofs worth it?

Solar shingles and roofs are worth it if you are a homeowner who needs a new roof and wants to keep some of the aesthetics and functionality of a traditional roof while going solar.

Can you walk on a solar roof?

You can walk on solar roofs in the same way as you would a normal roof, especially when it’s time to clean.

Which is better: a solar roof or a solar panel system?

A solar panel system will be less expensive and more efficient than a solar roof.

What’s the difference between a solar roof and solar shingles?

Solar shingles are a relatively new invention which are actual individual tiles that can generate solar.

The best way to save money while going solar? Compare quotes on EnergySage!

If you’re a homeowner trying to understand what all your solar options are, we always recommend you get as many different quotes as possible so you can compare the pros and cons of each offer. Try EnergySage’s free Solar Calculator to better understand the economics of putting solar panels for your roof. Once you’re ready for actual quotes, join the EnergySage Marketplace to receive competing solar installation offers from our network of 500+ pre-screened solar installers. Backed by the U.S. Department of Energy, our mission is to make going solar as easy as booking a flight online.

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About Emily Walker

Emily is a Senior Writer at EnergySage, where she's an expert in 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.