Solar panels vs. Tesla solar roofs: Which one’s right for you?

When you think of solar energy systems, you probably think of the classic solar panel: some black panels that point towards the sky and absorb the energy of the sunlight and convert it into usable electricity. But if you look closely at the roofs of some houses, you might see a surprise.

In 2016, Tesla — yes, that Tesla — introduced something new. Instead of solar panels that sit in your front yard or stand out on the roof, Tesla decided to turn every shingle into a solar panel. The Tesla solar roof replaces an existing roof and captures sunlight to power your home in a clean and streamlined way.

The Tesla solar roof system hasn’t had the smoothest rollout, but the company recently announced plans to double down on the concept and try to make what is currently a pricey project a reality for consumers. (Tesla doesn’t have a public relations department to submit requests for comment.) For homeowners, that creates a conundrum: Should you opt for the standard solar panel or try the less intrusive (but less proven) Tesla sunroof?

Solar panels

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Solar panels should be relatively well known by now as they have been gaining popularity and becoming more affordable in recent years. An array can be placed on your roof or placed in your yard, whichever works best for you. While there are different brands and types of panels, all offer a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. These panels can be expensive and some are more difficult to install than others. But for the most part, you can expect a lower energy bill, a smaller carbon footprint and a higher real estate value.

Tesla sunroof

Tesla

The Tesla sunroof holds all the great promises you would expect from the innovative company founded by Elon Musk. Instead of using panels, the concept turns your entire roof into your solar panel. The Tesla sunroof uses tempered glass panels that replace your standard shingles, providing the same protection you would expect from a traditional roof, while also capturing solar energy. The Tesla sunroof is new, but less proven and more difficult to transfer to another house if you move because they are custom made for each roof.

Solar panels or a Tesla sunroof?

Prices

Price is a tricky business when it comes to solar systems as much of it will depend on what your home and property can support. There’s the cost of solar panels, the infrastructure needed to support them, the cost of installation – and you have to consider the actual capacity of the system. In either case, you can get tax credits and other incentives for installing these systems, so that will lower the price somewhat. Research suggests solar panels cost between $15,000 and $25,000 to buy and install.

For simplicity, conventional solar panels are cheaper in total cost than the Tesla solar roof. Tesla has also faced some challenges in keeping the price for its solar roof system low, which has been a concern for some consumers. Several media reports have suggested that prizes can: scale from $30,000 to $75,000, with some consumers reporting installation cost as high as $100,000. The price has also shifted dramatically without warning, leading some to feel caught off guard by the cost.

However, in terms of the price per watt, the sunroof will provide a better value. It may still not be enough to justify the significantly higher initial cost, which in some cases can nearly double the price of conventional solar panels – plus, you’ll have to buy the Tesla Powerwall battery for energy storage, adding to the cost even more.


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Installation

The installation process for solar energy systems can be complicated. In general, traditional solar panels are easier because they can be installed in different places depending on the layout of your property – on your roof or on the ground. The Tesla sunroof can of course only be installed on your roof and is a bit more of a to-do as it has to replace your entire roof. Fewer contractors are familiar with the Tesla solar roof system than with conventional panels, so finding a capable installer can be a challenge.

Solar energy options

In terms of the actual ability to generate solar energy, the Tesla solar roof is more effective than traditional solar panels. It has a lower cost per watt than conventional solar panels and Tesla’s Powerwall is a better storage system for generated energy. Over time, the Tesla solar roof may justify the higher upfront cost through this power generation and storage capabilities, but you have to think long-term to make that math work.

Mobility and longevity

One of the downsides of the Tesla sunroof is the fact that it really can’t move with you. Because it is custom made for the roof of your house, you cannot pack it up and install it on another house. Conventional solar panels offer a little more flexibility here, as you may be able to take your solar system with you – although you may want to leave it behind to take advantage of the increase in real estate value they offer.

The Tesla sunroof does have an advantage when it comes to longevity, as the system comes with a lifetime warranty. If something goes wrong, you can have your shingles replaced. If you plan to stay in the same house for an extended period of time, this provides additional peace of mind. Solar panels, on the other hand, usually only have guarantees up to 20 years.

Winner for the most: Solar panels

For now, conventional solar panels are the safer bet if you’re looking to make the switch to solar. They are a proven product. They are also usually cheaper and offer a bit more flexibility in terms of how you install them.

Tesla’s sunroof promises a lot, but the custom tiles can be prohibitive and early issues with the product make it hard to recommend at this stage. Future versions of the Tesla sunroof could improve and deliver on the promising concept. For now, stick with what works so you can save on your energy bill and reduce your carbon footprint.

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