A Comparison of Tesla Solar vs. SunPower


Have you been inundated with salespeople coming to your door or calling your phone trying to sell you solar panels? They promise that the money you invest in the panels will come back through the savings you see on energy bills. There are numerous solar companies out there, but two leading businesses in the world are Tesla and SunPower.

Tesla solar panels are less expensive than SunPower panels upfront, but they may not produce as many savings in the long run. Over time, SunPower products are the better option when it comes to solar panel efficiency. Choosing either brand will still save you money and help the environment.

Both companies have a lot to offer consumers who are interested in going solar. Deciding which company has the better product for you and your family comes down to weighing the pros and cons of both. Read on to learn all there is to know about Tesla Solar and SunPower so you can make an informed decision (plus discount codes to both companies at the end!).

Tesla Versus SunPower – The Solar Market

Tesla, under the reign of Elon Musk, purchased the company SolarCity for $2.6 billion in 2016. This purchase was meant to develop and sell solar panels and solar roof tiles. SolarCity would become Tesla Solar, and a new venture for Musk was born. However, not everyone agreed with this purchase. With SolarCity came its $3 million in debt.

Why did Musk think purchasing SolarCity was a good idea? In 2016, the company was the largest residential installer of solar panels in the United States. The solar industry was valued at an already impressive $52.5 billion in 2018, but it was projected to be an astounding $223.3 billion by 2026. It seemed like a lucrative venture.

However, SunPower gives Tesla a run for its money in every category. SunPower has been around in some form since it was formed out of a lab at Stanford University in the 1980s. The company knows what it is doing, and it is transparent with customers about the products they sell.

This article will compare the two solar companies based on the following criteria:

  • Cost
  • Efficiency
  • Quality
  • Aesthetics
  • Warranty

How Does Tesla Manufacture Solar Panels?

When Tesla purchased SolarCity, it maintained SolarCity’s successful sales and marketing organization, including the outside third-parties that manufactured the solar panels. Tesla was working with the well-known and highly-regarded international company Panasonic, but this partnership was not lucrative for Panasonic.

It is difficult to pinpoint who exactly manufacturers the panels now. Panasonic still builds Tesla’s solar batteries for Tesla Powerwalls and electric vehicles, but Tesla Solar is now working with a company called Hanwha for their solar panel manufacturing needs. Tesla Solar is known to be vague when talking to customers about their solar panel brand.

This means that Tesla customers may not know the brand of solar panel they are actually purchasing for their home or the quality of the manufacturing company. On the other hand, SunPower has its own brand of solar panels and is upfront about the quality of its products. At this point, Tesla Solar is not as lucrative as SunPower.

Cost: The Winner Is Tesla

The cost of solar panels versus the money saved on the utility bill each month is the main factor when comparing solar companies. In June 2020, Tesla announced it would be offering the lowest cost for solar panels in the United States. The claims are impressive, stating their pricing is one-third less expensive than the industry average.

When it comes to cost, Tesla is less expensive than SunPower. Tesla’s cost (before incentives) ranges from $8,200 for a 4.08 kW system size to $32,800 for a much larger 16.32 kW system size. The average SunPower solar panel system costs $36,300 for a 7.9 kW size. The price per watt equates to Tesla’s $2.01 versus SunPower’s $4.60.

It is important to note that Tesla sells solar panels and solar roof tiles. The solar roof option replaces the entire roof of your home rather than putting solar panels on top of the existing roof. If you need to replace your roof anyway, this option is attractive since the homeowner gets a brand new solar roof.

One of Tesla’s advantages is that it started offering a lowest-price guarantee last year. So, Tesla will match a competitor’s lower price if all of the following conditions are met:

  • A similar system is offered by another company at a lower price
  • The quote was made within the previous 14 days
  • The quote represents the same financing option Tesla is offering

How Does Tesla Keep Prices So Low?

Looking at the above numbers, it is clear that Tesla is making good on their announcement that it would be one-third less expensive than the competition. But, this is easier said than done. How does a global company make a profit if they are basically giving their products away?

Tesla has decided to eliminate a few things, claiming doing so will help keep costs down. First was the door-to-door consultation. Tesla stopped this service in 2017, which means a residential installer will not come to your door to discuss the sizing of your roof, your energy consumption, where the sun hits, etc.

Instead, Tesla has made a uniform approach to solar panels: consumers simply choose from four system capacity options that all promise the $2.10 per watt price. The risk, however, is ending up with too many or too few solar panels on the roof. This, in turn, may not be as efficient for a homeowner’s energy consumption.

Tesla has also cut its marketing expenditures. Tesla is already a household name due to its electric vehicles and innovative creator, Elon Musk. The company figured it already had brand equity so it could save money on marketing and give those costs back to the customers.  

Saying No to Consultative Sales

Direct-to-home sales are the bread and butter of the solar panel industry. Most companies plant their salespeople in a neighborhood to go door-to-door and sell their products. If they get a sale, they can then use that customer‘s credibility to lure new customers into the solar panel world. Tesla, however, has said no to this method.

The upside to having a consultant right in your home is that they can discuss sizing, rooftop solar panel options, your current energy consumption, and even where the best sunlight is during the day. An average homeowner may not know where to place the panels or how many they need to buy. A consultant eliminates the research.

Is saving one-third the price over a competitor worth not having that professional help? Tesla says yes, but customers and installers might say no. Instead, they may see the extra cost as a suitable trade-off for the knowledge that their solar panel system works as efficiently as possible and produces the greatest return.

Efficiency: The Winner Is SunPower

The main reason for purchasing solar panels is to use energy more efficiently so that you save money on your electric bill. After comparing the rated power and efficiency, SunPower is the clear winner over Tesla and has some of the most efficient panels in the solar market. Maybe that is why they cost more upfront than Tesla.

Tesla is now installing the Hanwha 315-watt Q-Cell Panels since it is no longer working with Panasonic. SunPower just released its 415-watt panel, so those are the main two solar panels to compare for efficiency. SunPower has a higher wattage, which means it can produce more power given the same amount of sunlight as its Tesla counterpart.

Solar efficiency is the usable electricity that is converted from the amount of sunlight that hits the surface area of the panels. If a solar panel has an efficiency rating of 10 percent, it means that 10 percent of the sunlight that hits your solar panels will be converted into electricity. The higher that percentage, the more efficient your panels.

Hanwha 315 quotes between 18.7 and 19.6 percent solar panel efficiency. This means that the Tesla solar panels would convert, at best, 19.6 percent of the sunlight that hits the roof into usable electricity. By comparison, the SunPower 415 has an average 22.3 percent efficiency rating. SunPower is the winner for efficiency by nearly 3 percent.

Panel Quality: The Winner Is SunPower

SunPower products are recognized as the most enduring and long-lasting solar panel product on the market. How do they compare to Tesla’s Hanwha? The best way to compare the quality of a solar panel is to look at its rate of degradation. After 25 years, your solar panels will likely be weaker than they were on day one.

Solar manufacturers know weather and UV exposure can degrade their solar panels over time. They give an output warranty term, a minimum output at the end of that warranty term, and a maximum annual decline. The average is usually 80 percent production after 25 years. SunPower and Tesla are both higher than that average.

The degradation rate is when the solar panels lose efficiency in energy production over time. Both companies have an output warranty term of 25 years, which is the guarantee of a percentage of production for 25 years. SunPower is superior in the minimum output of rated power at the end of this warranty term and maximum annual decline:

 Hanwha 315SunPower 415
Minimum rated power output at end of warranty85% – the average production after 25 years92% – the average production after 25 years
Maximum annual decline of 2 to 25 yearsless than .54%0.25%

SunPower offers a product with a lower degradation rate than Tesla, which means the SunPower 415 will produce more power over time and, in turn, allow for more savings in energy and money. When comparing the numbers, this means after 25 years, the SunPower Product should give 7 percent more production than Tesla’s Hanwha 315.

Product Warranty: The Winner Is SunPower

There are two warranties for solar panels, the performance warranty discussed above and the equipment warranties below. The Hanwha and SunPower performance warranties are both 25 years, but the equipment warranties are much different. SunPower is the clear winner with an equipment warranty that matches performance.

A warranty gives customers peace of mind. There are four main pieces of equipment that will be covered under warranty for a certain period of time:

  • The panels – The actual solar panels that are installed on your roof
  • The inverter – A computer that is usually mounted next to the other solar energy system components and inverts your energy from direct current to alternating current
  • Racking – The mounting equipment that affixes panels safely to your roof
  • Monitoring – A system that monitors important information about the solar panel system, such as energy consumption, energy usage, possible damage to the solar panels

These four elements are broken down in the table below based on the product warranties the companies offer. The clear winner for each of the four components is SunPower:

 Hanwha       SunPower
Panel12 years25 years
Inverter10 years25 years
RackingN/A25 years
MonitoringN/A10 years

The output warranty term for the Hanwha product is 25 years before it begins to degrade slowly, but the warranty for the solar panels is only 12 years. Like any other warranty, if something breaks after the 12 years are up, you are liable for the cost. Tesla uses a home battery called a Tesla Powerwall, which is different from average monitoring.

This, along with the other data above, makes SunPower’s warranty superior in that the warranty covers the solar panels over a 25-year span.

Aesthetic: Tesla and SunPower Tie

Believe it or not, you could tell someone they will save thousands of dollars on their electric bill with solar panels, but they will still say no because they think solar panels are ugly. Luckily, this should not be a problem with either Tesla Solar or SunPower.

The main aesthetic components people notice on their solar panels are

  • Color
  • Cells
  • Wiring
  • Frame
  • Backing

Tesla knows how to appeal to consumer aesthetics. The Tesla solar panels do not use skirting, which may be unattractive when covering up any mounts, wires, or other hardware. This means the Tesla solar panels have a smooth-looking assimilation onto the roof. Overall, they are sleek and black in appearance.

SunPower also has a reputation for producing a smooth, glossy look that is visually appealing from the ground. The cells from SunPower have less of a “wired” look than Tesla, which some customers may find more attractive. In fact, SunPower has patented their wireless cell look so that they are the only company that offers this choice.

Both Tesla and SunPower offer aesthetically-pleasing choices for solar panels that are superior to the competition. Since the actual look of solar panels is important, you should take a look at both companies’ solar panels side-by-side to see what design you like best. This is truly a decision where beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Final Comparison – Tesla Versus SunPower

Tesla has cut their sales and marketing expenses in order to slash its solar panel prices. This may not be the case if you decide to replace your entire roof with Tesla’s roof installation option, but for solar panels, they are the best deal. However, you may not make up the same savings in the long run through the panels’ energy efficiency.

SunPower clearly has the longest warranty, most powerful efficiency, and lower degradation rate than its competitor. It also includes a consultation, so you can get a clear answer on what products you are purchasing and how much savings is equated to your own personal situation. Every home is different when it comes to solar panels.

Not only are Tesla and SunPower two of the most competitive companies in the solar panel market. They are also two of the leading stocks in the world when it comes to renewable energy companies. SunPower’s revenues have declined, however, from 2017 through 2019. Tesla went up from 2017 to 2018 but then declined in 2019.

The one thing Tesla has that SunPower does not is much more global name recognition. This is one of the reasons why Tesla cut its marketing expenses – why market a name when you do not have to? Tesla may make high-quality electric vehicles, but only time will tell whether its solar panels will last the promised 25 years.

Conclusion

Tesla’s addition of solar panels adds to an already impressive resume of electric vehicles and large battery sales. There are many different solar products that fall under the Tesla name, from solar panels and roof shingles to solar tiles and even an entire solar roof. Yet, the company does not have its own specific solar panel brand.

SunPower, on the other hand, is the leader in solar utilization. While the SunPower name is not as recognizable as Tesla, that fact alone does not indicate that the company is any less impressive in the solar market. SolarPower has the advantage in most of the categories above. It is up to you to decide what you value more.

Pro Tip: Ordering Tesla Solar? Save $100 instantly by using a Tesla referral link from another Tesla owner.

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Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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