When Tesla released their Solar Roof it really piqued consumer interest in solar tiles. And it caught a lot of people by surprise when Tesla recently increased the Solar Roof’s cost by a pretty big margin. But they’re not playing this game alone. Let’s explore how Tesla solar products stack up against the competition and what’s a better value: solar panels or solar tiles?

When Tesla releases a new product, it instantly goes viral, and the Solar Roof was no exception. Since then this technology has spurred a lot of interest around the world. But Tesla wasn’t the first company entering this market, although it was the biggest. A few companies had already introduced solar tiles to the market, while others have been spurred on by Tesla to develop similar products.

In a previous video, I covered a lot of the details of Tesla’s Solar Roof and interviewed an installer with experience with the product. I’ll include a link in the description if you’re interested. And just recently Tesla changed Solar Roof’s pricing … somewhat dramatically. 1 Before we unpack that price, let’s jump into the technology and check out the differences, advantages, and downsides compared to solar panels.

Solar tiles have the same operational principle of panels, which have been widely used for years, mainly in residential and commercial applications. The major difference between them is that solar panels are installed on an existing roof, while solar tiles are part of the roof’s construction, taking the place of conventional shingles used in new construction or replacement roofing. 2

Both tiles and panels operate under the photovoltaic effect principle. When photovoltaic cells receive sunlight, they produce an electric field capable of delivering DC electricity into the building. Similar to panels, solar tiles are connected to each other so that the system can produce more power. On top of that, an inverter is used to convert the tile’s DC power into AC, which is used by all of our homes and grid. They also help optimize solar energy generation. 3

Solar tiles major advantage is a more aesthetically pleasing look than a panel, while keeping the environment-friendly advantages. They’re intentionally designed to not only look like traditional roofing, but are a part of the roof itself. Varying shades of blue and black are the most common colors of solar tiles because they’re leaning into the natural color of the solar cells, which you’re probably very familiar with. 4 But Tesla has been rolling out techniques to create textured PV roof tiles to look more like typical roofing. In a patent from February of this year named “System and Method for Improving Color Appearance of Solar Roofs,” Tesla stated:

“The surface of a polycrystalline-Si-based solar cell can be textured using a reactive ion etching (RIE) technique. In further embodiments, the feature size of the RIE-textured surface can be less than 1 micron …”
“… Compared to the textured surface of a monocrystalline-Si-based solar cell, the RIE-textured surface of the polycrystalline-Si solar cells can have improved surface uniformity. As a result, the PV roof tiles can have reduced color flop and glow.” 5

As made up as “color flop” sounds, it’s a real thing. In the case of metallic paints, flop affects how the hue appears depending on the angle of light reflecting off of the metal flakes in the paint. You can see this effect in action when walking around a solar panel. The hue shifts depending on your angle. Tesla’s patent addresses this issue.

When looking beyond aesthetics, one area that panels have an edge over tiles is positioning. Solar tiles can’t be turned and tilted to catch maximum sunlight, so their installation angle can’t be optimized.

Another area of advantage for panels is price. The solar panels market is widespread over the world, which has caused a continuous decrease on solar panel prices. Let’s take a closer look at some specs and prices of the major sellers.

Solar Panels

Jinko Eagle 72HM G2 JKM410M-72HL-V203.78$558.35$2.74
Tesla 330W197.10$546.95$2.78
Q CELLS Q.PEAK DUO L-G5.2 400198.51$588.59$2.97
Canadian Solar Inc. HIDM CS1U-400MS194.05$582.14$3.00
Trina Solar -TSM400196.84$595.44$3.03
LG NeON 2 LG415N2W-V5200.23$633.74$3.17
SunPower SPR-A410-G-AC219.91$718.02$3.27

Just to be clear, you shouldn’t take the exact dollar values I’m presenting as what you’ll see when shopping for solar. These are averages taken with installation costs included, so it’s going to vary based on where you live and the complexity of your home. And these companies may tweak the product over time. Many of these numbers are taken from places like Energysage, which is a great resource for researching solar products and even finding an installer … but I’ll talk more about that in a bit. Take these numbers as a comparison only … a ratio … to understand how these different panels and tiles compare. Not necessarily the final cost you’ll see.

So first up is SunPower, which designs all-in-one residential and commercial panels. Looking at the company’s latest solar panel technology, the monocrystalline A-Series SPR-A410-G-AC … a name that rolls right off the tongue … delivers 410 watts and can reach efficiencies up to 22%. SunPower provides an output warranty term of 25 years and ensures a 92% output at the end of the warranty term. It’s an incredible panel. This model is one of the most expensive among similar models, but with that performance and warranty you can see why. According to EnergySage, the average cost per square meter is around $718.02 with a per watt cost of about $3.27. 6 I’m giving the cost per square meter for an easier comparison when I get to solar tiles.

On the other side of the globe, the company Jinko has been producing panels of the same power at an average cost per watt of $2.74, almost 20% lower than SunPower’s solar panel. The cost per square meter is an average of $558.35. But, it’s important to mention that the Jinko Eagle model (72HM G2 JKM410M-72HL-V) reaches efficiencies up to 20.38%, and the manufacturer provides a 25-year warranty term with an 83.1% output at the end of the term. 7 A little cheaper, but the risk of a bigger efficiency drop over time.

As for Tesla, their 330W solar panels have an average price per square meter of $546.95 ($437.56 – 656.35) and an average cost per watt of $2.78 ($2.22 –$3.33). As I mentioned earlier, this may be higher than you expected, but this is from real world data that Energysage has compiled on those panels. The specific numbers are going to vary based on where you live. These numbers are specifically for the Tesla SC330, which reaches an efficiency up 19.7%. Tesla provides a 25-year warranty with a guaranteed 80% or above output at the end of the term. 8

Solar Tiles

Luma Solar112.20$504.90$4.50
Tesla Solar Roof118.32$767.89$6.49
CertainTeed Apollo II178.09$1,163.85$6.54

Jumping over to solar tiles. Even though Tesla’s Solar Roof isn’t available everywhere yet, they’ve been pushing hard at the solar tiling technology to make it easier to install and look better. Version 3 of the Solar Roof is 114 cm long by 43 cm wide and it can produce about 58 watts at a cost of about $6.49 per watt or $767.89 per square meter.

When we were doing research for this video news broke that Tesla had just increased the Solar Roof’s cost, but I think it’s a little more nuanced that just raising prices. Based on my conversations with people who have had it installed, as well as Eric Weddle’s experience installing the Solar Roof, the complexity of the roof can affect the final cost dramatically. Now that Tesla has installed a lot more Solar Roofs, they’ve learned a lot about their price estimates. They’ve recognized the variability in the price quote system. The new quote system includes options for selecting if your roof is simple, moderate, or complex. It considers the installation’s difficulty level, which is determined by the number and severity of roof obstructions like the pitch, number of joints, chimneys and other features on the roof that make the installation tougher. So this is just raising prices to raise prices, but making the estimates more realistic and accurate.

Besides Tesla, there are some companies around the world jumping into solar tile technology. GB-SOL, a Britsh company also produces three types of low-power PV slates that ranges from 25 to 35 watts. The 60 x 30 cm model has a cost per square meter equaling $1,485.56 and $7.64 per watt. 9

Luma solar is another U.S. company in the market. At the time I’m making this video, they produce 60 watt shingles made of thin-film polycrystalline, which are 138.6 x 38.7 cm. They have a 25-year warranty and ensure 80% output by the end of term. According to what I’ve found, Luma’s tiles are costing $4.50 per watt and $504.90 per square meter. 10 However, I contacted the CEO and he pointed out the difficultly in generalizing prices because of varying labor rates, building conditions, and electrical work needed. It’s important to call that out. What he said about their product:

“A custom Luma Solar roof system including valleys, hips, ridges, and standard details, is approximately $9.50 per square foot. If you add solar, $2.50 per watt for the material. The balance of system cost (labor inverters, commissioning) can range from $1.50 to $3.50 per watt.”

What I found picking from some of the top sellers in the market (SunPower, Canadian, Jinko, LG, Trina, and Q Cells), solar panels rated around 400 watts cost from $2.74 for Jinko to $3.27 per watt for SunPower, and the average among all them is $2.99 per watt. In addition, they can produce from 194.05 to 219.91 watts per square meter, averaging 201.49 W/m². 7 6 11 12 13 14

Now, considering the solar tiling companies we used in this research (Ennogie, CErainTeed, SUNTEGRA, GB-SOL, Monier, Luma Solar, and Tesla), things fell in-between $4.19 per watt for Ennogie to $7.64 per watt for GB-SOL, with Tesla Solar Roof in the middle at $6.49 per watt. The average value among all the solar tile companies gives us $5.74 per watt. And they produce an average of 133.46 W/m² for a cost of $799.04 per m². 9 10 15 16 17 All of that compared to the solar panel averages of $2.99 per watt, 201.58 W/m² for a cost of $603.32 per m².

Although shingles can be aesthetically nicer than panels with different colors and shapes, when it comes to price and power production per square meter, panels stand out in general. They’re almost half the cost per watt, but solar tiles are bringing additional value to the solar and residential market. They’re the actual roof, so there isn’t a separate cost for another roofing material. They also offer a long lifespan and are resilient and potentially easier to repair. In my interview with Eric Weddle from Weddle & Sons Roofing he said this about repairs:

“So if you break one of these tiles, something happens and you break it, tree falls on it, gets shot with a bullet, who knows. All you have to do because they’re temporary, they just shatter into pretty safe sized pieces. Just take a shop vac, you vacuum it up, you slap a new tile. The clips that they hang on, there’s a slot to hold a clip, and there’s hangers, super easy to pop one out, pop a new one in.” (27:41)
“And so as a roofer, I really like that, because I see roofs that get replaced, asphalt roofs that get replaced all the time, because they’ve got X number of impacts. And it’s not practical to go replace 20 or 30 shingles. And so an insurance company will buy the whole roof.” (28:31)
“And so with solar roof, maybe you do have a massive hailstorm, maybe it knocks out 30 or 40 tiles, vastly cheaper to repair that, than replace it. I mean, all of the work is done underneath the tiles. Once the layouts done, the tiles just snap in. And so I envision that repairability is actually going to be a real advantage going forward.” (28:31)

With growing demand and mass production of Tesla’s Solar Roof, the cost of the tiles should start to decrease in time, which could significantly heat up the market even more. With more interest means more investment from other players in the market, which benefits all of us.

Both panels and tiles are effective systems producing comparable amounts of solar power during their lifecycle. A 9kW solar tile system is going to produce as much power as a 9kW panel system if that’s all you need. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. It depends on your goals and your needs. If you’re replacing your entire roof or building a new home, tiles are worth consideration. If you’re adding solar to an existing roof, panels are the way to go. It’s great to have options.

And if you live in the US, you can use my EnergySage portal to research different solar panels and options in your area. A lot of the information we compiled for this video came from Energysage. I used Energysage to find the solar installer that I used for my home. It’s completely free and a great way to get apples to apples comparisons and quotes for installers. I’ll include links to my portal and everything in the description.

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Matt Ferrell
Matt Ferrell lives in the Boston area and is a UI/UX designer by trade, but has always been obsessed by technology and how it works. In 2018 he started his YouTube channel, Undecided with Matt Ferrell, where he explores sustainable and smart technologies like EVs, solar panels, and smart homes.

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