Ever since we heard the news that Tesla and SolarCity were planning on offering their own attractive take on the solar shingle, a molded glass roofing material fitted with solar cells, we’ve been dying to hear more. A solar option that looks just like slate, terra cotta, or textured glass and generates usable energy? We were on board, to say the least.
There was just one lingering issue: the cost. Despite CEO Elon Musk’s claims that the system would be priced on par with conventional roofs—at least after accounting for electricity savings—energy experts predicted numbers that were all over the place. But most of them ranged on the higher side: Spice Solar CEO Barry Cinnamon put it at about $33,000 to $37,500, while Consumer Reports had the price tag as high as $73,500! And given that Tesla is not known as an economy brand, those initial numbers seemed absolutely believable.
Recently, Tesla announced that it will begin taking orders for the solar roof beginning April, 2017—although the website has yet to be updated with anything other than an option to be notified when new details become available. But interestingly, in November, Musk made the bold assertion that Tesla’s product would cost less than a new roof does, upfront. Of course, that still leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Average roof prices top out at around $7,000 to $8,000, but on the high end of the spectrum, an architectural slate roof can cost up to $120,000 or so, depending on the size of the roof and the type of materials used. So that leaves a lot of wiggle room, to say the least. Today, let’s take a look at what we know about Tesla’s solar roof—and how much this new product will cost.
The Logic Behind Tesla’s Claim: How a Solar Roof Can Cost Less Than Conventional Materials
Considering that the average solar panel installation costs anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000, depending on how generous the incentives are in your area, boasting that a solar-powered roof will be cheap seems like a pretty bold claim. And Musk says that’s not even factoring for the government rebates you’d be eligible for when you install. So what is Tesla thinking?
Musk’s argument is that traditional roofs are a lot more expensive than they need to be. First, he claimed that supply chain inefficiencies drive up the cost of roofing unnecessarily. Controversial, yes, but not exactly news. Back in 2009, building industry sites were arguing about payment structures in the home repair industry. They said that when products are lumped together—rather than broken down by individual item—they add up to over-inflated, inefficient supply systems. Whether or not that is true depends on your perspective, but it does indicate that at least part of the building industry agrees with Musk, meaning that there could be room for improvement.
Likewise, Musk and Tesla CTO JB Straubel argue that conventional roof materials are expensive because they’re heavy and prone to breaking. Transporting and supporting these heavy supplies—as well as replacing materials that are broken throughout the shipping process—drives up the final price of roofing projects, since those costs are passed on to the customer in materials pricing. Shoring up these kinds of inefficiencies, Musk thinks, will allow them to price the solar roof at less than conventional replacements, even before factoring in energy savings.
Will Tesla Keep Their Word on Pricing?
If that price sounds like it’s too good to be true, you have reason to be suspicious. This month, Tesla unveiled a new set of solar panels to go alongside the solar roof, with business experts noting that the release was unusually quiet. Tesla typically goes in for the hype—the solar roof release occurred on the set of the ABC show Desperate Housewives, for instance. Reporters predict that Musk is concerned about offering a more affordable alternative to the solar roof, which is what these panels will offer.
But the average panel installation still runs at about $12,000 after incentives. This means you can expect to spend more if you want to go for an entire roof of solar glass. A price tag starting at about $20,000 or higher is a lot more likely, especially since there’s a cheaper product on the market.
If a solar roof sounds appealing to you—but the price tag doesn’t—take heart. There’s plenty of evidence that the cost will continue to fall. As solar becomes more ubiquitous, manufacturers and installers will be able to offer more competitive pricing to keep panels attractive to homeowners. Meanwhile, building-integrated products like solar roofs should be more widely available, as well, so Tesla may not be your only choice in the future. (If you can’t wait, however, Dow Chemical does offer a solar shingle that has a somewhat similar effect—it fits on top of your existing asphalt shingles so there’s no need to reroof).
All in all, the real price of Tesla’s product remains up in the air—at least for now.