tesla solar roof vs solar panels

Tesla solar roof cost vs. solar panels: worth the premium?

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In the spring of 2017, Tesla announced pricing for their Solar Roof product: a roof replacement for your home. 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?

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 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). 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.

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
1,500$23,400$37,70061%
2,000$23,400$45,30094%
2,500$23,400$53,000126%

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
1,500$30,900$37,70022%
2,000$33,400$45,30036%
2,500$35,900$53,00048%

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
1,500$36,400$48,20032%$49,400$54,70011%
2,000$36,400$55,80053%$49,400$62,30026%
2,500$36,400$63,50074%$49,400$70,00042%

Again, you are paying more in every scenario by going with Tesla. However, you’re getting more backup energy as 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.

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 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.

115 thoughts on “Tesla solar roof cost vs. solar panels: worth the premium?

  1. Don

    I didn’t see where you accounted for the fact that a solar roof has more solar producing area than does the panels option, because you can’t physically cover a typical roof completely with panels. You penalize tiles for being less efficient but you have much more area covered by them. My home has a 2,000 sq ft roof but Tesla only put on 360 sq ft of panels because of its shape. A solar roof would give my over 5 times the area, and even if it were half as productive i would get 2.5 times the energy production. And I would still not be overproducing.

    Reply
  2. Peter R

    I live in Massachusetts and did a traditional solar roof 6 years ago. I have a perfect roof for solar, 45 degree pitch and south facing. I have 53 panels on my roof (LG panels). The entire cost of the installation was about $54K before 30% tax credit, net $36K. I was able to get into a state plan that pays me 4x a year for power generated, usually $6 to 8k/yr. My panels generate ~ 22kwh of power annually. With a net meter I usually have a $2k credit at year end. If going the traditional route make sure you do micro inverters so you never lose a array if something is on a panel. I would also get a warranty on the invertors since they will fail in 6 to 8 years. a 25 yr warranty is a few hundred bucks. In 6 years I have never paid a penny for electric, if you go this way plan on 100% coverage not 80% as everyone says. Also buy the system and not lease.

    Reply
  3. Edward Dijeau

    I needed a new roof and some repair work and priced an asphalt roof with added 8 kW solar panels on top and the estimate was $42,000.00. I then placed a $100.00 deposit on a Tesla Solar Glass Roof and get a quote of $32,594.00 for the whole roofing job with 7.84 kW of active solar tiles on a 2,000 sq ft roof. When they show up to do the work, here come all the extras. A new topper roof needs to be installed on the existing roofing planks. $5,750.00 bringing the total to $38,344.00 that is still less than the traditional roof plus solar panels. Roofing repairs, that would be needed on any roof at $75.00 per hour plus materials and then because the old roof had two layers or lifts of asphalt shingles, they give another add on of $2,254.00 bringing the total to $40,598.00 plus repairs. Still under the $42,000.00 estimate plus needed repairs. This is an actual job in Union City, California in the greater San Francisco Bay Area where everything is so much higher than much of the rest of the Country. I believe I am getting a superior roofing system plus solar with better trims, parts and materials than tradition asphalt jobs would give and an added value to a 49 year old house.

    Reply
  4. David

    I’m with you. The article author decided a 3,000 sq ft home has to be two stories. No, 3,000 sq ft means 3,000 sq ft! And for $77,00 they should be knocking down my door!

    I did go ahead and pay the $100 (I have $100 riding on the Cybertruck, too) on 8/3/2020. Now we’ll see what happens. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Paul

    This is the first time I have ever commented on an article.
    First, in this article it states that the California home has a 3,000 Sq Ft. Roof, but with the second estimate, they only calculate for 1,600 Sq Ft of roof shingle. That would make the 2nd estimate incorrect and more favorable for traditional solar.
    Secondly, I fit into Scenario 2 and love the look of the Tesla roof so I contacted then to see about a replacement and installation of their power walls. They will not send anyone out to give me an accurate estimate. You must first commit to the estimate on the website and then pay $100 for someone to then come out. I already know that my roof will need some sheathing replaced and that is NOT included in the original estimate. For a 3,200 Sq. Ft. roof using Tesla solar and their recommendation of 3 power walls, the estimate already tops $77k. I think that anyone making such a huge investment should be granted an in-person visit with a proper evaluation. That said, I am currently leaning towards traditional solar.

    Reply
    1. Josh

      You are slightly mistaken, however the point of traditional solar being the more cost effect still remains. In scenario 1 they say the home is 3,000 sq ft not the roof. That said it would be more square footage for the roof than what the house has. The roof covers the square footage of the house while angling up. So the roof would have a grater square footage than the house. How much so depends on the pitch. That means none of the scenarios are correct.

      Reply
    2. Jacob John

      Great that you commented. I was leaning towards the tesla tiles as well. But if this is situation, I would also go for normal tiles and traditional solar.

      Reply
      1. Clarence

        For the solar panel scenario with 25-40 year life, consider the solar panels are installed over 15-20 year life asphalt shingles. This scenario needs to include one entire asphalt shingle replacement cost event plus the extra specialized labor to remove and reinstall the solar panels to accomplish the shingle replacement. Also, solar panels require holes in the roof that could leak over time causing additional repairs.

      2. Dayna

        We had Tesla panels put(as we share a roof with a neighbor couldn’t do the tiles which we are bummed about) You order online and can backup at anytime. Someone does come to your home to measure the roof and check it out before you commit to the whole thing. After they check a design team works on it and only after everything is clear l. They come to install it. And after everything is Installed you start paying for it. The $100 is just to show your commitment. I even think you can get that money back if you decide to not come to check your roof but I am not sure about that.

    3. The Greek

      glad to hear from you all…

      currently in central Nj burbs on NYC
      planning and preparing to have a total home remodel on a mother-daughter home (bi-level)
      Main theme is changing roof design (inside and out)
      adding 5ft each side/bump out front/ adding detached garage (with solor roof)
      had a home model design done (looks great)
      I just threw $100 to see if they ll come out and tell me what/how/best way to have my New roof ready for them to install their total solar roof etc ..
      Have a meeting w/local planning zoning board for approval next week.
      my architect is on stand by as well as GC.

      happy holidays all and lets make it threw the winter

      Reply
  6. Eric Parks

    Don’t use Tesla for solar. I’ve had nothing but abysmal experiences with them. Not one thing has gone well.

    Issues:
    – They lied about the value – I basically pay about the same or more than without solar
    – They our a hole in my roof and did nothing about it
    -Most homes in Massachusetts with Tesla solar are down due to an electrical issue and they have a four month repair window (so no solar generation all summer)

    Choose anyone else.

    Reply
    1. ~

      As a representative of “Anyone else” I appreciate this comment. They seem like such a giant company that it’s hard to compete with them, but hopefully just doing a better job will be enough to keep us in business 🙂

      Reply

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