Tesla’s solar roof has been all the buzz over the past few years, promising to cut costs while making solar energy fashionable on neighborhood homes. Tesla’s solar roof is expected to come to the UK soon, and consumers are interested in how much it will cost.
Tesla’s roof tiles will cost around £10 per square foot after tax credits. This is the average cost for a 2,000 square foot roof, which includes solar-active tiles and inactive glass tiles. This is over twice the cost of a roof replacement or solar panel installation, individually.
Does it make sense to buy a Tesla solar roof? As it turns out, this is a complicated question. Tesla’s solar roof has faced numerous delays and setbacks, and many people fear that it will never reach the UK at all. In this article I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the solar roof, and what you should expect if you’re a buyer in the UK.
What is the Solar Roof?
Solar energy typically relies on photovoltaic panels. I’m sure you’ve seen them – they’re big and relatively inefficient. You need a lot of panel area to generate any significant amount of electricity.
In the past decade, though, the cost of solar energy has gone way down due to economies of scale. These days, people are installing solar panels on their roofs at reasonable costs. The panels generate electricity for the home all day, helping to offset the cost of electricity purchased from the grid.
However, they’re kind of ugly. The panels sit on top of the roof, protruding out in weird rectangular shaped boxes. They aren’t always durable, and installation can be expensive.
Tesla’s Solar Tile Innovation
As they’ve done previously with refashioning electric cars, Tesla’s solar roof is trying to shift the paradigm by integrating solar energy directly into roof tiles. The solar panels aren’t on the roof anymore – they are the roof.
Tesla has developed and begun production of its solar roof tiles. They look like normal roofing tiles, except they produce solar electricity for the home they’re installed on. That’s right – your house can look like it has a normal roof, when actually, your roof generates electricity anytime the sun is out, offsetting your electricity bill.
The tiles come in four varieties, all made of tempered glass: Textured, Tuscan, Smooth, and Slate. When you cover a whole roof with Tesla’s solar roofing tiles, only a handful of the tiles are actually generating solar electricity. The active and inactive tiles look identical, and the inactive tiles work to focus light efficiently onto the active ones.
The Advantages of the Solar Roof
It sounds neat, right? The solar roof is quite innovative and could lead to more widespread adoption of solar energy. Solar energy is particularly attractive for a few reasons.
First, solar is carbon-free. In a world where carbon emissions have led to massive changes in the global climate, governments are now trying to roll back fossil-fuel electricity and replace it with carbon-free sources, like solar. If you install solar on your home, whether it’s Tesla’s roof or just panels, you’ll get a hefty tax incentive.
That’s not the only economic incentive for solar, either. Once you install solar energy on your roof, it’ll help lower your electricity bill, since you’re now generating your own electricity. Oftentimes, your panels will generate more electricity than you use, and you can sell the extra electricity back to the grid.
One last economic advantage to the solar roof is that it’s both solar energy generating and a roof. Normally you pay for these things and install them separately, but not with the new solar roof tiles.
Solar panels usually last a long time. They don’t typically break because of technical issues; rather, they break because of mechanical failures, like getting smashed or crushed. Solar panels can be quite fragile.
Fortunately, solar roof tiles are tested for their durability, and according to Tesla, they are three times stronger than standard roofing materials. Instead of protruding out from the roof where panels are more likely to suffer from wind or debris damage, solar roof tiles are expected to be much more durable than traditional home solar systems.
An important bottom line is that for a solar roof to work, it has to function as both a solar electricity generation system and a roof. According to Tesla, their tiles fit that function perfectly. The roof also comes with a lifetime warranty, so you won’t have to pay to replace it in case they’re wrong.
Challenges for Tesla’s Solar Roof
The solar roof sounds great, right? Well, it may be a case of “too good to be true”. The technology has faced countless setbacks over its ugly history.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the solar roof in 2016 after Tesla acquired solar manufacturer and installer SolarCity. He showed off the technology with all of the advantages I mentioned above, and by 2017, the company was taking orders.
“Give us $1,000,” Tesla said to its American customers, “and we’ll make sure that you’re one of the first to get your solar roof installed.”
By May 2018, over 11,000 orders had been placed. Little did consumers know, they were going to have to wait a while.
Sales Before Technology
Tesla has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to selling their products before they’re ready. Technophile and entrepreneurial celebrity Musk loves jumping on the news and telling the world about the next big technology they’ll be releasing. Thousands of orders come in, with one problem: there’s no date when orders will be filled.
This is how, for example, Tesla introduced all of its electric cars. It wasn’t a huge problem with the first few models when most orders were filled within a year.
The absence of a delivery date is a brilliant marketing technique. There are few things more exciting than getting a phone call saying “Congratulations, your luxurious new car is ready for you!” Plus, the lack of a delivery date reinforces Tesla’s futuristic, state of the art brand image.
But things went wrong when the Model 3 sedan was introduced and ordered in 2016. The car took a full 16 months for orders to start getting filled. Even when they were filled, the Model 3 had mechanical problems and production defects, lasting all the way until the end of 2019 and causing a major headache for Tesla’s engineering department.
Solar Roof Delays
The solar roof is an even worse story than the Model 3. Introduced in 2016 and ordered in 2017, by August 2018, only 12 solar roofs had been installed in California, the US’s biggest solar energy state.
Towards the end of 2018, Tesla announced that they had been having problems at their Gigafactory production facility in Buffalo, New York, which further slowed the deployment of solar roofs. Remember, this is after over 11,000 orders had been placed! Musk predicted “tremendous growth in 2019” for the solar roof, but sadly, was wrong.
There was a remaining problem with the roof tile technology, which required installers to cut the glass tiles on site. These led to frequent microfractures, which meant that installed roofs lacked durability and needed reinstalls within a few months.
This problem wasn’t solved for another year, when in October 2019, Musk finally revealed the version 3 solar roofing tile, more than 3 years after initially introducing the technology. The version 3 tile does not have to be cut on-site, and does not seem to suffer from the same microfracturing problems.
Deployment of the Solar Roof in the US
Since finally upgrading to the version 3 tiles and fixing the technology, Tesla has begun larger-scale deployment in the US during 2020. Here, too, came another issue: installation.
Usually, when you install a roof or solar panels, different contractors will come to your house for each. With the solar roof, on the other hand, your contractor needs to be certified to install both roofs and solar energy. That’s a pretty rare qualification.
Tesla has been certifying installers since 2018, but nonetheless, deployment in the US seems slow. Tesla claims to have installed over 400,000 solar roofs in the US, but this claim is hard to verify. Consumers across the country are wondering, where are all the solar roofs? Most neighborhoods have only seen one or two installed if any.
Further, in June of 2020, Tesla started refunding deposits on some orders for solar roofs. They claimed the issue was a transportation one and that customers were not in areas that they could service. The company has a history of bad customer service.
How many solar roofs have Tesla installed in the US? The short answer is, nobody knows. This doesn’t bode well for other countries, like the UK.
Deployment of the Solar Roof in the UK
Like the US, customers in the UK were allowed to reserve their solar roof by putting down an £800 deposit as early as 2017. Unlike the US, none of these orders have been filled yet.
With production only just beginning to ramp up in the US after three years of delays, Tesla has been slow to deploy solar roofs in other markets. While there are plenty of orders in the solar-friendly UK, it will still be a while before they are filled.
By the end of 2020, no solar roofs had been installed in the UK, and while orders are expected to begin being filled in 2021, it’s likely that this deployment will be very slow. Transportation throughout America has hindered Tesla from installing its roofs there, and getting the roofs to Britain will only be more challenging.
How Much Will Tesla Roof Tiles Cost in the UK?
Assuming that someday, the solar roof does, indeed, reach the UK, consumers still want to know how much it will cost them.
Remember, a solar roof is a combination of both a home solar energy system and a roof. On their own, a roof replacement can cost between £5,000-£7,500, and an 8 kW home solar system costs around £12,000. After the UK’s 30% tax credit for residential solar, this cost comes down to £8,400.
On the other hand, a 2,000 square foot Tesla solar roof will cost around £26,400, which includes 10 kW of solar capacity. After tax credits, the cost comes down to £18,480, or £9.24 per square foot of tile.
Tesla’s solar roof will thus cost a little under twice as much as the combination of a roof replacement and solar panels. It will, however, install more solar capacity, which means homeowners will save more on their electricity bills.
As an added bonus, you’ll get an £800 discount on Tesla’s Powerwall solar energy storage technology if you purchase it with a solar roof. The Powerwall is not necessary but can be useful for further establishing grid independence. Adding a Powerwall to your system will still cost you over an additional £8,000.
Should I Buy A Solar Roof?
Now that you’ve heard the numbers, you might be wondering under what circumstances buying a solar roof makes the most sense.
Tesla argues that the roof will pay for itself over time by offsetting electricity costs. But, you could just as easily do that with panels. If you’re interested in Tesla’s solar roof, you’re probably interested in solar energy for your home generally, since both panels or the roofing tiles are an investment to save money on electricity in the long-term.
One appealing aspect of the solar roof is its durability and lifetime guarantee. From the roof-replacement perspective, Tesla’s roof isn’t a bad option, assuming that the tiles are as durable as the company suggests. With the lifetime guarantee, you’ll never have to purchase a roof for your home again.
If you don’t need a new roof, that means that they’ll be pulling off your current roof before installing the solar roof. This may add significant labor costs, since that’s a pretty intense process, not to mention, an annoyingly tedious one.
My advice would thus be this: if you need to replace the roof on your home and you’re interested in installing solar energy, then the Tesla solar roof might be a good option for you. However, if you don’t need a roof replacement, then it probably makes more sense to just install traditional solar panels instead.
Besides, who knows when you’ll actually receive your solar roof. It could take months or years. If you need a roof replacement, you likely won’t be able to wait that long. Personally, I would avoid banking on a Tesla roof if I don’t know when they’ll be able to deliver it.
Tesla’s solar roof is an innovative technology that could potentially change the world market for both roofing and solar energy. However, it has been fraught with setbacks that undermined the company’s credibility and the timeline for deployment of the technology.
It took over 3 years to fill some of the first orders for the solar roof, and still haven’t been any orders filled in the UK. We’ll probably see some orders filled in 2021, but in the meantime, should you invest in a solar roof and put down a deposit?
I’d say don’t get too excited. It’s still a very real possibility that Tesla’s solar roof will never make it to the UK. If you’re in need of a roof replacement, don’t wait around for Tesla. It’s going to be a while.
Further, if you want to offset your electricity bill by installing solar, realize that you don’t need Tesla’s solar roof to do it. You can spend much less by simply installing solar panels on your existing roof; not to mention, the installation will be completed much sooner.
The solar roof is expensive, and from a financial perspective, it doesn’t make more sense than traditional solar panels or a normal roof replacement, unless you intend on doing both together, in which case the cost is comparable.
However, Tesla has always promoted luxurious products to a high-end audience. Perhaps UK buyers of the solar roof have plenty of money that they can afford to invest while waiting around for Tesla to hopefully install their roofs someday.
If you’re one of the company’s many diehard fans, there’s something in a solar roof for you other than just roofing and electricity. After all, that’s how they market all their products. In that case, if you have the money, go for it – put down your £800 deposit today. I hope you get your roof sooner rather than later.