Some of you may have seen Marques Brownlee’s video from a few months back about how he hasn’t paid for electricity in a year because of his Tesla Solar Roof. But…this got me wondering why I’m still not seeing a lot of Tesla Solar Roofs around. I first hit on this issue in a video two years ago, and since then I’ve only seen one Solar Roof in my old neighborhood in Massachusetts … compared to dozens and dozens of homes with solar panels. I’ve also been asked a lot as to why I didn’t get a Solar Roof on my brand new house.

Well, I thought it might be interesting to compare my house to another house from here in New England that does have a Solar Roof. A friend of the channel, Paul Braren, invited me into his house to check out his setup. Both his system and my system were installed last year, so I thought it’d be really interesting to compare the two, the reasons why we did what we did, the costs, and our initial thoughts. By the end, maybe we’ll be able to figure out an answer to my question…why aren’t we seeing more solar shingle roofs?

A tale of two systems

In this corner we have Matt “the solar fanatic” Ferrell with his brand new net zero energy home (at least he hopes it achieves net zero energy). In the other corner we have Paul “TinkerTry” Braren tinkering his way to solar dominance with a renovated net zero energy home (at least he hopes it achieves net zero energy).

Woah. Sorry, I’m not sure what that was that just happened. Anyway, I’d like to introduce you to Paul Braren from TinkerTry.com. He had his 27.6kW Tesla Solar Roof installed in June of 2023, along with 4 Tesla Powerwalls, 3 Tesla Inverters, 1 Tesla Backup Gateway, and 1 SPAN Panel. On my home, I have a 17.2 kW solar panel array made up of 43 REC400 solar panels, which are using Enphase microinverters, 2 Span Panels, and eventually, 4 Enphase IQ 5P batteries. I say “eventually” because they’re still not installed yet. I’m still caught up in permitting hell, but I’ll get to that later.

Why we did what we did

So one of the big questions for me is why we did what we did. Why did Paul go with the Tesla Solar Roof? And why did I … well, not go with it?

“Our house faces west, southwest. If I went with this roof, our roof, which has a lot of rectangular surfaces and a lot of triangular surfaces. It’s the way the pitch is, and kind of a complicated roof line. Putting a bunch of rectangles on there was only going to get us about 60 percent coverage when we looked at other quotes.” -Paul Braren

This is a big one. Paul’s roofline is a little tricky because of all the angles, which would make it harder to get the standard large rectangles to fit well in the areas he’d need to install them. He might end up with two or three panels in one triangular area, four in the next, and so on. With a Tesla Solar Roof, Paul was able to squirrel away 384 solar shingles in more areas of his roof. However, there is something important to call out about that. Tesla hasn’t revealed the exact solar efficiency of their tiles, but it’s estimated that it might be between 14-18% compared to a typical panel at around 22-23%. On that point, Paul wasn’t too concerned.

“I know they’re a little less efficient, right? So I’m aware that 60 percent coverage from a rectangle would be roughly equivalent to like 80%. Well, I think I was able to go to 83% of the roof coverage, but also cosmetically looking better, right? For me personally, not everyone cares about that stuff, but when your road, when your house is facing the way the sun is going to be much of the time of the summer, and it’s a large roof facing the road, yeah, the cosmetics go down a bit, whereas lots of houses in my neighborhood have solar just in the back … so it really depends on which way your house aims.” -Paul Braren

Another reason Paul went with Tesla over something like I got?

“So, you put all that together, large roof in a one story house, integration with EV charging. Those were all appealing. Where going with Tesla, specifically the solar roof. That tipped the balance towards that, because the house also needed a new roof, so it needed new roofing anyway.”
“This is more expensive than traditional solar panels, but we need a new roof anyway and we’d like to not think about it and have a full warranty on that roof for 25 years.” -Paul Braren

So why not go with a Tesla Solar Roof? Why didn’t I go that direction?

Well, I almost did. I love the concept of solar shingle products like the Tesla Solar Roof or the GAF Timberline Solar shingle, but for me it came down to cost and questions I had about the product lifespan…and not in the way you might think.

The Solar Roof is like a premium roofing product, comparable to a metal roof, slate, or clay. Something like a metal roof costs more than asphalt, but will last you a lifetime. Tesla Solar Roof shingles are in the same ballpark with these other premium options for looks and durability. That high premium price is doing double duty for Tesla: it’s a great-looking, high-end roof, and it’s solar.

However, my big concern was the product lifespan … and I’m not talking about the tiles themselves not lasting. I’m talking about how quickly Tesla will iterate this version of the product. How long will they keep manufacturing and supporting older versions of the solar shingle into the future for early customers who need replacement shingles down the road? These solar shingle products (including Tesla’s competitors in this space) are so new, I wasn’t willing to be an early adopter on this. I’m an early adopter in most technology, but not this time. I liked the idea of a lifelong metal roof, which is easily fixable at any point down the line from a variety of manufacturers. Pair that with standard solar panels, which again are just that … standard. If my specific panel is no longer made and I need to replace one, no big deal.

Metal roofs and solar panels are like peanut butter and chocolate. The way the solar panels are installed on the standing seam with clamps makes them easy to attach … and remove… all without drilling through the roof itself. Yes, it’s not as aesthetically pleasing as Paul’s roof (and his is beautiful), but my wife and I don’t mind the look of the solar panels at all. In fact, I kind of like the look of them.

The other issue I wasn’t willing to gamble with was timing and coordination issues. Tesla isn’t known for its stellar customer service experience. It can be very hit or miss. Add that to the fact that I was worried about getting the roof installed in a timely manner when the house was ready for it. I’ve heard countless stories about long delays in getting Solar Roofs installed. If you’re replacing an existing roof that’s still technically working, that’s frustrating, but not a deal breaker. But if you have a house with no roof … like I did … it’s a bit more urgent to get the roof on quickly.

I avoided that potential issue using a standard roofing product and adding solar on later. In Paul’s case, he put down an initial deposit for a Solar Roof in June of 2022, he closed on his new house in September of 2022, and then it was installed in June of 2023. Even if you take out the initial deposit date, you’re still talking about nine months between moving in and final installation.

The Process

Speaking of installation experience, what was Paul’s like? Overall, it sounded pretty good. It seems Tesla was pretty responsive during the process, but there were still some hiccups along the way.

“There were some handoffs that were maybe less than smooth, and we ended up with like five different electricians in that last week or so. Made it a little tricky for them to communicate with each other, and there were some mistakes actually in cabling. But they own their mistakes … two people came back a month or two later when I was having charge and solar issues and communication errors on the app. They looked at it. They’re like, yeah, we need to put a thicker gauge in for the communication wires because the distance between in your house from your garage to the other side. We should have gone a little thicker. I appreciated that. I said thank you for admitting what’s wrong and offering how quickly you’re going to fix it within two days.” -Paul Braren

Another issue that came up was that one of the two Gateways stopped working and wasn’t logging data. The solar panel system was working fine, but you couldn’t see any data in the app. Annoying, yes. Dealbreaker, absolutely not. Tesla replaced the Gateway and everything is working great again.

In my case, I’ve actually detailed some of the issues I had in my previous video on my solar panel system. The short story is that I had difficulty coordinating with my solar installer in a timely fashion to make sure that my house’s general contractor could pre-run conduits and cabling for the solar team. I wanted to try and limit the amount of conduit runs on the surface of the roof as I could and reduce intrusion points into the house. In the end, it all worked out, but it was a little frustrating during the process.

The other big thing is permitting. Getting approvals from your town and utility to interconnect your solar to the grid can be … slow … to say the least. Prime example is that I’m still waiting for my battery system to get installed because of some very, very slow permitting approvals. And I know Paul has had the pleasure of enjoying these issues, too. In both our cases, I think our recommendation to everyone would be to have patience.

It cost how much???

I know the big question that most of you are probably asking right now, “But how much did it cost?” This is where it gets a little tricky … and interesting. Paul’s Tesla Solar Roof and four Powerwalls cost $153,918 (not including incentives). I’ll give you a second to pick yourself up off the floor. Yeah, it’s pricey, but let’s break that down. The Solar Roof by itself cost $110,497. The four Powerwalls cost $32,400. And there was another $11,171 necessary for some re-roofing.

Let’s compare that to what I paid … or will have paid by the time the batteries are installed. My entire system will have cost $88,791. Of that, $55,384 is for the solar and $33,407 for the batteries. However, that doesn’t include the cost of my roof.

What I can tell you is that my roof did not cost $65,127, which is the price difference between our two systems. My roof was somewhere in the $40,000 to 50,000 range, which means my total system cost with the roof is probably about $15,000 to 20,000 less. To try and equalize that, you could say he paid about $4.00/watt, while I paid about $3.22/watt.

As I mentioned before, it’s a metal roof. An asphalt roof would have cost half as much, but wouldn’t last nearly as long. If I had an asphalt roof installed, there would be no contest between our total costs. My entire setup would have come out far ahead. However, this is what I liked about comparing our two houses. It’s a premium roof compared to a premium roof, so it’s an apples to apples comparison.

Granted, Paul’s solar array is much larger than mine (27.6kW vs. 17.2kW) and he’s also got more battery storage (twice the storage capacity of my system), which means that accounts for some of the additional cost … but not all of it. If you double the size of a solar panel system you’re considering, it doesn’t double the price. The cost per watt often diminishes a bit as you scale up. Tossing a few extra solar panels onto your array doesn’t dramatically jack up the cost.

Another factor to consider is the Federal solar tax credit of 30%. Paul is essentially getting 30% off his roof, which I’m not. After the tax credit, it works out to a cost of $107,743 for Paul for solar, batteries, and a roof. If you lump the cost of my roof into my setup, it works out to about $107,154 (Solar = $62,154, roof = $45,000). Looking pretty good for Paul. However, even if I didn’t get solar, I still would have wanted the metal roof for durability and longevity, so for me … I don’t look at the costs of my roof as part of the equation.

None of this is taking into account the energy savings we’ll see over time, or the net metering benefits. That could be its own video. And on that note, net metering rates are highly variable based on where you live. Local governments are changing these rules as we speak, like they did in California not too long ago. On a recent episode of my Still TBD podcast, I spoke to Spencer Fields from EnergySage about how net metering and these changes are impacting solar adoption. If you want to get grandfathered into existing net metering rates in your area before they possibly change, you might not want to wait. Here are links to that interview and to my EnergySage portal.

At the end of the day, both of our setups were costly, but were designed to fit our specific needs. Paul wanted aesthetics, the dual layered system with a tight membrane on his roof for water tightness, and an all-in-one solution for electricity, storage, and charging his car. They have 2 electric vehicles and an air source HVAC heat pump to cover, which meant a bigger solar array. He and his wife are becoming empty-nesters, so they were also downsizing to their new home. They took some of the proceeds from that sale to cover part of the cost of this. For me, I liked the more modular approach that can evolve over time if it needs to, and a roof that would last well beyond my lifetime. I only have one EV right now and a more efficient geothermal HVAC and hot water setup, so my electricity needs are slightly lower. Again, both of us built out our systems to fit our needs … and they’re our dream forever homes. There’s a lot of long term thinking at play here.

It’s still a little too early to tell how we’re both doing on a goal of hitting all of our yearly energy needs from our roofs. New England in December and January is the worst time of year for energy production, but I’m still producing half of what I’m using. I’m more than happy with that. It’s going to be interesting to see how this looks in the middle of summer.

Where are all the Solar Roofs?

But that raises the biggest question for me: where are all the Tesla Solar Roofs? This product was originally announced in August of 2016. We’re 8 years into its existence and we’re still not seeing it take the solar world by storm. Well, I think there’s two things at play here: 1) cost, and 2) availability. As you already saw, the Solar Roof isn’t cheap … at all. It’s a premium product, but when it comes to standard solar panels you can get some great bargains out there. Especially with second hand panels. While my setup isn’t cheap either, it would be possible to get that cost down … way down if you wanted. For instance, I could have saved money with an asphalt roof. I could have gone with a 10kW system vs. a 17.2kW system. I could have chosen a cheaper panel versus the more expensive ones I opted for … or even gone with used.

As for availability, Tesla is still struggling to get enough experienced installers out there to meet demand. Paul said it best with this:

“Would you recommend a solar roof to somebody who has interest in one?” -Matt Ferrell

“Yes. The only hesitation there is about the install crews that Tesla’s is kind of monkeying with the install model. So here in New England, there’s not a lot of installers, so I don’t know how long your wait time will be. So if you’re trying to, like, add an addition to your house and add solar and it has to happen in a certain month, I would say no. But if you’re building new, and you have some time to work with Tesla, maybe even a multi month wait, and you can handle some flexibility in the schedule, then, yeah.” -Paul Braren

I feel like a broken record when I say this, but the decision to get solar on your home is a very personal one. Nobody knows if it’s the right fit for you other than you. Knowing what your goals are up front can really help in figuring that out. That’s why I created my Achieve Energy Security with Solar Guide to help people through the process. Even though Paul and I went in very different directions with our solar setups, we’re both really happy with the results so far.

And before I sign off, I need to circle back to Marques for a second. In his video he showed some production numbers that looked wildly high … so high that many people were commenting on that on the video. Well, turns out that was a software bug with how Tesla was tracking the numbers … it was doubling the solar production numbers. Paul actually encountered that bug before Marques shared his experiences.

“I reported it to Tesla and I did a little tweet about it showing a video. Here’s the problem. It’s doubling the values, and it’s showing as if I produced twice as much solar as I actually did. What was my source of truth? It was the SPAN smart panel, which is also monitoring. So, how did I know? Well, I could record a nice 40 second concise clip for some developer to look at, like, Okay, this guy has a source of truth.”

“He knows it doubled. All the data is wrong for the last week or two. He reached out to me on Twitter DM and fixed it within days. A month later, Marques Brownlee’s video comes out. Same problem. I make the comment under his video. I report it, like, you might want to look at this video. Millions of people already have seen it in the first 12 hours.”

“He’s got the data doubling. He has a similar size roof. Yeah, they fixed his too, and you put a little comment under his YouTube video. I like that. That’s what you want, is some engineer that’s working at a company. Put a lot of money into that really cares.” -Paul Braren

I love that too.

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