Should I hold off installing solar and wait for Tesla’s new Solar Roof?
“You are not alone if this question has crossed your mind.”
In October 2016, Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors made a big splash announcement that his company will soon be taking orders for an exciting and new way of generating solar power using Tesla’s specially designed roof tiles. The new solar tiles are designed to look as good or better than any conventional roof tile and are designed to work as well or better than standard solar panels that are currently used, he claimed. This was an extremely lofty presentation which was widely noticed by audiences around the world which generated high levels of consumer interest and excitement as a result.
However, before you get too excited and put your long awaited plans for installing your home solar system on the back burner, please consider a few facts which will provide you with a more realistic picture the product. Cosmic Solar is here to provide you with all the information and are strong believers and advocates of anything solar. Bahram Shadzi, our President and founder, is a Tesla electric vehicle owner (EV) and has been powering his Tesla EV with solar energy since he purchased it. But we want the consumers and all prospective solar users to know the facts and be aware of some of the issues and challenges that may be facing the introduction of this very new technology.
The standard solar panel technologies are typically evaluated based on their cost, performance, durability, efficiencies and long term performance warranties. These solar panels have been extensively used all over the globe and there is already a tremendous amount of field experience and knowledge associated with them. With Tesla’s new tile technology, there is hardly any information or technical details available at the present time.
The following is a list of some of the questions and challenges that remain unanswered:
- Installation cost
- Components cost
- Cell efficiency
- Cell operating temperature issues — air circulation under tile
- Degradation rates
- Ease or complexity of installation
- Durability — tiles do break and get damaged
- Roof penetrations — methods for handling present or future roof leaks
- Tile maintenance — ease of replacement and repairs
- Training — types of licenses required to be an installer
- Fire codes and setback requirements
- And others
Tesla has claimed that the new roof tiles are “significantly stronger” than the traditional roof tiles and even shared some videos during the announcement to demonstrate this. However, Tesla has not provided any technical information such as durability or stress tests to back this important claim. This type of information is widely available for the standard solar panels.
Also, since the whole roof cannot be covered with Tesla shingles (shaded areas, three-foot fire setback requirements, north slopes), Tesla will need to incorporate “dummy” shingles that do not contain solar cells but will match up with the rest of the roof shingles. Roughly, twice as many dummy shingles will be required to fill the gaps around the solar shingles.
Experts anticipate that these solar tiles will be cost prohibitive making them hard to compete with conventional solar panels. Tesla’s own web site, however, states that the solar roof tiles will be “lower cost than the traditional roof tiles when combined with projects utility bill savings.” This sounds great but remains to be proven in practice.
Many industry experts and journalists have attempted to come up with an estimate on the price tag of this new system, and they have all come to the same conclusion: “The Tesla Solar Roof, like most other Tesla products, will be a high end purchase that comes with a premium price tag.”
Consumer Reports conducted a study and determined that a typical Tesla solar roof could cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $75,000 to $100,000 based on Tesla’s own pricing guidance. This is significantly more expensive than a standard asphalt shingled roof which could cost a homeowner somewhere between $8,000 to $16,000. Labor and installation costs could add an additional premium to the price of Tesla solar roof. The main problem here is the lack of information on technical design on the part of Tesla which makes estimating the ultimate price quite cumbersome.
“Not every home is a good candidate for Tesla’s solar roof.”
Of course price is an important consideration, but more importantly, not every home will be a good candidate for this new technology. In order for this to work on your existing roof, your entire roof will need to be replaced and all roof penetrations retrofitted or relocated to other areas. This will obviously add significant amount of expense to the project. So, it probably would make more sense on a new roof on a new house. So, much like the Tesla’s first electric vehicle, the Tesla roof shingles are not intended for the masses and Tesla’s goal is not to develop and mass produce this technology for every single home. But perhaps as an option for a high end consumer or one who does not care too much about the cost and wants something novel and interesting.
But perhaps the biggest concern may be the risks that are always associated with introduction of any new untested technology, and being the first consumers to embrace it.
Waiting to go solar has its many risks. The cost of conventional solar technology has dropped significantly during the past few years and the price of solar panels is now approaching a plateau. Existing solar panel technology is well proven and all issues with procurement and installation are well identified, documented and solutions are widely available. The panel efficiencies are at an all time high and lots of experience with design, installation and maintenance already exists. If you wait for years for the Tesla tiles to become practical, available and affordable, you will surely lose out on years of savings on your electric bills. The payback of a typical system these days is three to five years. You may also lose the 30% Federal Tax Incentive (also known as the ITC), which lowers the overall cost of your solar system significantly. The ITC is currently scheduled to be phased out in a couple of years.
All in all, when you do the math, you will be pleasantly surprised to see how much you will save on your electric bills by going solar today by installing current solar panel technology, which is quite advanced as it is. Our recommendation is to “go with the known” and avoid unproven technologies that may be costly — at least for the foreseeable future.