When Tesla’s Elon Musk announced a ramp-up in his company’s Solar Roof program in 2020, he named 17 states in which installations would be immediately available. This announcement also included an offering of employment for installers (no experience required) and the promise of solar panels that would make up the entire roof of homes for all who wanted them.
Utah was one of the original 17 states in Musk’s announcement, and as such, the state has experience with the Solar Roof, its installation, its economic viability, and its role in the renewable energy market. There is so much to consider when deciding on the viability of a Tesla Solar Roof in Utah.
Musk’s announcement meant there would be Tesla-certified installers in the state of Utah, so homeowners could confidently hire qualified companies. And, while there are precious few Tesla-centric rules and regulations in Utah, the state has its pros and cons when it comes to solar power for your home. Read on to learn more about Tesla’s Solar Roof in Utah.
Utah’s Enormous Potential for Solar Energy
Utah gets a lot of sun, which should not come as a shock. It is widely thought of as a desert state (even though only about one-third of Utah is actually desert). More importantly, Utah is one of the driest states in the nation, meaning it does not get much rain outside of the mountainous areas.
- Less rain means fewer clouds.
- Fewer clouds overhead mean more sunlight.
- More sunlight means more solar energy produced.
In fact, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Utah is one of 11 states that could, on its own, provide all of the solar power electrical needs for the entire United States. That is a lot of solar power availability. But, deciding whether solar is right for your Utah home—and then deciding whether Tesla’s Solar Roof is for you—takes some thought.
The state has also invested in solar technology, making it friendly to solar energy companies and customers alike. It has done so through legislation and through available tax credits.
State House Allocated Almost $400 Million
This money was earmarked in 2006 for economic development issues related to renewable energy and for research teams and facilities at two different Utah universities.
While this money was not designated for solar energy alone, the industry falls under the renewable energy umbrella.
Tax Credits of the State Level
Utah also offers state tax credits for solar installations in addition to the available federal credits. These will be phased out by 2024, but they remain available now.
Offsetting costs by any available means is something nearly everyone can get behind, making Utah an especially solar-friendly state.
Utah Solar Energy Facts and Figures
Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) estimates that, according to its records, the acreage home in Utah uses around 800 kilowatts each month, which translates to a monthly electric bill of just under $80 or so.
- The state receives about 15 percent more sun than the US average.
- This means that a Utah home with a photovoltaic (PV) system could generate more solar power than a similar home in other states.
However, this does not automatically mean that all Utah homes need Tesla Solar Roofs.
A search of several different solar panel companies in Utah reveals that the average PV system will cost a little less than $15,000, provide a savings of around $20,000 in utility bills over the life of the PV system, and pay back the cost of the panels in less than 15 years—not exactly no-brainer statistics when it comes to installing expensive solar power systems, including the Tesla Solar Roof.
One of the key factors (other than the cost of the Tesla system, discussed below) governing one’s decision for or against solar must be net metering. While the average reader may not know this term, most people are familiar with the concept, especially if they have done any investigation into home solar power.
The argument for a PV system is that, on sunny days, the system generates more electricity than the home uses and that excess power is sent into the grid. This causes the electrical meter to run backward, and the homeowner actually gets paid for that energy instead of having to pay the electric company. Too good to be true? Sort of.
- 1:1 rate: Utah solar customers, until the mid-2010s, were credited for the electricity they put into the grid at the exact same rate they paid for electricity drawn from it. Use 800 kW, pay $80. Generate 800 extra kW and feed that to the grid, get $80.
- Rocky Mountain Power settlement: In 2017, RMP changed this rate so that they credited customers who fed excess power into the grid at 90% of the rate they charged. While not a huge reduction, it will skew your return-on-investment figures—a problem if you already paid for and installed your system.
- Settlement fallout: In late 2020, the settlement contributed to further reduction in the credit. Currently, some customers are getting credited at about 50% of the rate at which they purchase the energy. It does not take an economics wizard to see investment returns shrinking.
- Use it or lose it: Home systems that feed energy into the grid generate credits to the homeowner’s bill in Utah. If you were to produce enough energy so that your monthly bill ended up being negative $10, Utah utility companies issue a credit on your bill, but accumulated credits do not carry over year to year.
While some might argue that the settlement harmed customers, it was hammered out with the assistance of the Utah Solar Energy Association. This group hoped to accomplish two things: keep rooftop solar systems like the Tesla Solar Roof affordable, and prevent their plan from diminishing the 4,000 solar-related jobs in the state (and increase that number, if possible). So far, the settlement seems to be working.
It bears mentioning that net metering practices differ from utility provider to utility provider. Not every single electric company in Utah does it exactly the same way, so be sure to check into the procedures followed by your specific provider.
Lower Capacity Systems
The economic imbalance created by this net metering can be avoided by installing a system that does not produce 100 percent of your home’s power needs. One Utah solar company recommends installing a system that produces 60 percent of the power needed to ensure that your solar system rarely, if ever, produces any power to feed into the grid.
Installing a system that produces 100 percent of your home’s power needs in a place like Utah (meaning a place that gets more sunlight than average) means that you will be producing a good amount of extra power that will go to the grid. With net metering being what it is in Utah, that may not be an option you want.
Since RMP is now crediting customers for their excess electricity at a lower rate than they are charging for it, in a sense, those customers are losing money by feeding their extras back into the grid. A case can be made that any kind of credit saves you money, but RMP still seems to be getting the better end of the deal.
Customers who are looking for peak efficiency in the face of this model will want to install batteries. The Tesla Solar Roof does not automatically come with storage capacity, but the Tesla Powerwall battery is a must-buy for all Solar Roof customers.
These sleek, wall-mounted batteries hold power in reserve to allow customers to hold onto any excess power they do not use each day. This is especially useful on particularly sunny days. Customers can then access that stored power on cloudy days where solar power is less abundant. It is also accessible during power outages.
Without the Powerwall, you would pay for the power that day at a higher rate than the price at which you sold the extra power.
Tesla Solar Roof Cost-Effectiveness in Utah
Net metering is one of many factors you should consider before deciding on a solar system, but when it comes to a Tesla Solar Roof, it is a little more complicated for a few reasons. Most notably, comparing a Tesla Solar Roof to another solar panel system is an apples-to-oranges comparison.
The Tesla Solar Roof is nearly twice as expensive as most other home PV systems. The company does not apologize for it, either. You are paying for the Tesla name, sure, but also for a system that is more than just an attachment to your home. Musk has famously said of the system (more than once), “It’s not a thing on the roof, it is the roof.”
Because of this, Tesla-certified solar companies in Utah point to costs beyond the system. The argument is that you are paying for a solar system and a roof, so if you consider the cost of a Tesla Solar Roof, you must factor in the cost of a new roof along with the cost of a comparable PV installation in order to create a fair comparison.
- You may have an estimate for a Tesla Solar Roof at $40,000.
- Perhaps a competing PV system’s estimate comes in at $25,000, but Tesla installers would insist on adding the cost of a new roof to that competing system’s estimate.
- A roof for a home of this general size might be up to $20,000. This line of thinking shows Tesla to be less expensive.
Perhaps this is twisted logic, perhaps it is a big stretch, or perhaps it is a valid point. After all, that the Tesla system is also a roof is not up for debate, so it makes sense to factor in the cost of a roof when comparing costs. Whether or not you need a new roof will likely factor heavily into your decision for or against the Solar Roof.
Return on Investment
Once you have decided on the reasoning to which you subscribe, the Tesla system is just like any other solar system. You must figure out if and when it will pay for itself and then ascertain whether the monthly savings are worth it.
- Paying for itself: The Tesla system’s higher cost may not pay for itself at all. Then again, adding roofing costs into the equation makes it a little more likely. We replace our roofs every 20 years on average, and the Tesla Solar Roof is designed with a 25-year lifespan.
- Monthly savings: Coupled with the monthly savings on utility bills, the Tesla Solar Roof comes closer to being able to pay for itself during its life, but potential customers must remember the net metering information above: you will not get any money back, only credits on your bill and those credits will expire.
- Carbon footprint: Many solar customers do not list cost or savings, or investment as a primary reason for installing their chosen PV system. The more we learn about climate change and greenhouse gasses, the more people consider decreasing their carbon footprint, a key solar selling point.
As you can see from above, non-monetary considerations factor heavily into many customers’ choices when going solar.
Getting a Tesla Solar Roof in Utah
Searching for qualified installers of the Tesla system on Tesla’s website produces the names of three Utah companies and two in neighboring states. The three Utah firms are in or around Salt Lake City, but they do service the entire state. This is good since Salt Lake City is nearer to being a mountainous (meaning, in this case, rainier) climate than the sunny desert that covers a third of Utah.
With the state and federal tax credits mentioned above, and with the good and bad of Utah’s net metering program, potential customers have ample reason to consider the Tesla system despite its initial cost, which at first glance can be potentially off-putting. The system itself is gaining traction in the market, and Utah continues to position itself as a state government friendly to the renewable energies market.
Your chosen Tesla-certified installer will be able to give you an estimate—a must, of course, but also a necessary tool for calculating cost-effectiveness—based on four factors:
- Location of your home
- Size of your home (in square feet)
- Number of stories in your home
- Your average monthly electric bill
The available surface area directly affects how much energy the Tesla Solar Roof can produce. Since the system requires some roofing tiles that are not solar cells, an accurate determination of the roof’s size and layout is vital to correctly determine the final output of the system. Also, if the bulk of the roof slants off to the north, you will get less sunlight on it than if it were a flat roof on a house in an open field.
If your home uses an inordinately large amount of electricity, you need to know that going in—if your system has no hope of cutting down on your bill in any significant way, that is knowledge you will want before making your decision. Super-low energy use may also affect the number of solar tiles your Tesla Solar Roof might need in order to perform well.
The final estimate can then be used to determine tax credits, energy savings per month and over the life of the system, roofing expenses that will be eliminated by having a Solar Roof, and finally, whether this is the product for you.
Solar Roof Installation
One downside to the Tesla Solar Roof is its availability. Depending on when you order, you may find yourself on a waiting list—not for the installation but for the parts. Tesla has admitted to some disparity between demand for the solar tiles and the company’s supply. Some customers have reported a waiting period as long as one year.
- Once the materials are available, your installer should be able to complete the installation of your Tesla Solar Roof in about one week.
- This will vary according to the size of your roof, and some roof configurations are more complex than others.
- However, Tesla and its installer affiliates uniformly hold to the one-week timeline.
Finally, following installation, homeowners will need to receive permission to operate (PTO) from their utility provider. Different providers and municipalities have different procedures and regulations regarding PTO, but a Utah homeowner must receive this before activating the installed system.
The Tesla Solar Roof is an up-and-comer in the renewable energy world. Its higher up-front costs can be off-putting, but research into facts, figures, as well as projected and actual costs may reveal the product to be more cost-effective than it may seem at first glance.
The Tesla Solar Roof system, in particular, is well-suited for use in the state of Utah, as the legislature seems to be relatively friendly to solar power and to renewable energy in general.
Also, the state’s climate and topography make it a better-than-average environment for solar power, allowing for somewhat better energy production than in other, less sunny states. Depending on a homeowner’s point of view (and perhaps that of his accountant), this may affect his decision to install the Tesla Solar Roof or any other solar system.