Tesla Solar Roof rendering

Tesla Solar Roof: To Wait or Not to Wait?

March 8, 2018

The Tesla Solar Roof sounds like everything that our favorite 80’s era sci-fi novels and movies promised the future would bring. At Southern Energy Management, we’re just as excited about the Tesla Solar Roof as everyone else. And as one of North Carolina’s only Certified Tesla Installers, you can bet that as soon as they’re available, we’ll be installing them on roofs everywhere. 

One of the big questions, though, is “when will Tesla’s Solar Roof be available?” The short answer is that no one knows for sure. Because there is currently no roll-out timeline, we don’t expect them to be available in North Carolina for at least 3-4 years. Since we don’t know when they’ll be available and because the pricing and energy savings for the roof are unclear, our stance is that if you’re interested in going solar in the next 5 years, your best option is going to be the tried-and-true panel technology that has been tested and continually improved since the 1970s. In the rest of this post, we’ll dive deeper into our reasons for that opinion so you can decide for yourself. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what the solar roof is.

What is the Tesla Solar Roof?

Tesla’s Solar Roof is made up of photovoltaic cells integrated into shingles. Tesla’s not the first company to launch a solar shingle–we installed some of Dow’s now discontinued solar shingles in 2014–but they’re definitely the sexiest attempt to date. Solar shingles function in the same way as traditional solar panels: photovoltaic cells convert photons from the sun’s rays into electricity. The Solar Roof will consist of both active and passive shingles. The active shingles will do the actual work of producing energy for your home. The passive shingles will be used on areas of your roof that aren’t suitable for the active cells–either because of building regulations or lack of solar potential–to maintain a uniform appearance. The shingles will come in four different styles: Textured, Smooth, Tuscan, and Slate.

Tesla solar roof tiles style options

When will it arrive in North Carolina?

At the end of the day, no one actually knows when the Solar Roof will be available. Tesla is currently taking $1,000 refundable deposits to hold your place in line. That being said, the solar roof is still in the testing phase on Elon Musk’s house and a few other sites. From there, Elon Musk has said that the Solar Roof will be released regionally on a first come, first serve basis, likely starting on the West Coast. They will begin close to their headquarters and work their way eastward. Production supposedly began in December in their Buffalo factory, but without a timeline (and considering the limited supply of the Tesla Powerwall units reaching NC) our best guess is that the solar roof won’t be readily available in North Carolina for at least a few years.

Solar Roof vs Solar Panels

Tesla’s Solar Roof website has a slick calculator that takes your address and uses Google’s Project Sunroof to automatically generate a Solar Roof solution for your home. While the tool is fun to play with, the prices and energy savings it estimates don’t impress us when compared to traditional solar panels.

Pricing: Solar Roof vs Solar Panels

Our average home solar system size in 2018 is 8 kilowatts (kW) and cost around $25,000 before incentives. That 8 kW system will generate approximately 10,400 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year, saving its owner around $1,040 annually or $86 per month. Tesla’s solar roof calculator doesn’t show the solar roof’s size in kilowatts so it’s hard to compare with our traditional system directly. The calculator does show monthly savings, though. When we built a solar roof that saves $86 per month in the calculator, Tesla listed the price as $50,100 before incentives. That’s means the Tesla Solar Roof costs twice as much for the same amount of energy savings.

Tesla Solar Roof North Carolina Price Comparison Graph
For an equivalent 8 kW traditional solar panels system, Tesla's Solar Roof is twice as expensive

Pricing: Solar Roof vs Traditional Roof

The solar roof is a complete roof replacement. So if you happen to need a new roof at the same time you go solar, you can subtract the cost of a traditional roof from the price of your Solar Roof to calculate your net cost. Tesla suggested a traditional roof cost of $14,600 for the system we built. That drops the price of a Solar Roof to $35,500–still a 40% price premium over traditional panels.

tesla solar roof nc price comparison with traditional roof compare
If you subtract the cost of a traditional roof replacement, Tesla's solar roof is 40% more expensive than a traditional solar panel system

Energy Savings: Solar Roof vs Solar Panels

Our average 8 kW traditional solar system will cover around 470 sq ft of roof space and produce 10,400 kWh per year–21.9 kWh per sq. ft. per year. By comparison, the Tesla Solar Roof we built covers 580 sq. ft. of the roof in active shingles for the same amount of solar production–17.9 kWh per sq ft per year. Based on that comparison, traditional solar panels are 20-25% more efficient per sq. ft. If you have a large roof (and are okay with the price premium), this won’t be an issue. You can simply add more active Tesla shingles to your roof to produce more energy. However, if you have a smaller roof it might be difficult to hit your energy savings goals with Tesla’s shingles.

tesla solar roof nc energy savings comparison
Traditional Solar Panels are 20-25% more efficient than Tesla's Solar Roof.

Should You Pre-Order the Tesla Solar Roof?

Our current answer? Probably not. 

We’re confident that when the Tesla Solar Roof arrives it will be a blow us away–just like everything else Tesla and Elon Musk have done. But because there is no roll-out timeline, the price is currently 40-100% higher than a traditional solar panel system, and the energy savings are 20-25% less per square foot, we don’t believe the Solar Roof is your best option for going solar now or in the next few years. Our advice is that if you want to go solar in the near future you should stick with traditional solar panels and take advantage of the current North Carolina solar incentives while they last. Traditional home solar panel prices are at an all time low (despite the recent solar tariff) and thanks to the Federal Tax Credit and Duke Energy’s new solar rebate, solar in North Carolina has never been a better deal. 

For updates on Tesla’s Solar Roof and to stay on top of solar news in North Carolina, subscribe to our newsletter below. If you’re interested in seeing how solar could work for you today, request a free solar evaluation–we can always save your roof measurements if you opt to wait for the Tesla Solar Roof.

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