Solar panels vs. solar roof: Which is better

March 11, 2019 | 2min read

When homeowners first decide to go solar, they will soon have an additional choice to make: Solar panels or solar roof: Which is the better investment? Currently, while Tesla’s solar roof isn’t widely available, there is a waiting list of people who have made their deposit and are now waiting for Tesla to produce their roof tiles. But just because there is a waiting list for Tesla’s roof tiles doesn’t mean that Tesla’s system is the better investment. In fact, traditional solar panels are a lot cheaper to install and they produce more power than Tesla’s roof tile systems!

Solar panels vs. solar roof: How much does it cost?

Solar roof: The average home size in the US is 2,467 square feet. Tesla estimates that most homes with average electrical consumption would do well with a 35% solar tile roof. That is, 35% of the roof tiles would be solar, the rest would be non-solar. For the average-sized home, Tesla’s 35% solar roof would cost  $53,903 installed, before deducting any available incentives, or about $21.85 per square foot. Such a roof tile solar system would produce about 6.25 kW of power.

Solar panels: If the owner of that average 2,467-square-foot home opted to go with solar panels, they could install an 8.5 kW system for about $26,030 before incentives. That’s $27,873 less than the solar tile roof, and 136% as much power!

Solar panels vs. solar roof: When do you break even?

The break-even point for solar panels is between 8 and 10 years for the average homeowner. Determining the break-even point for a solar tile roof is complicated. Did you need to replace your roof? If so, you should deduct the cost of roofing your home with a conventional roof from the cost of your solar tile roof. An easier way to compare the return-on-investment is to compare the cost of solar panels to that of a solar tile roof.

Forbes magazine did an apples-to-apples comparison of a 3,000-square-foot Tesla roof that generates 8 kW of power to a 10.8 kW solar panel installation:

Tesla Roof

System Life (estimated) 30 years
Power: 8 kWCost: $55,600
Federal tax incentive: $14,200
Net cost of roof: $41,400
Value of power generated: $43,100
Net return on investment: $1,700
Solar Panels

System Life (estimated) 30 years
Power: 10.8 kWCost: $35,000
Federal tax incentive: $10,200
Net cost of system: $24,800
Value of power generated: $61,400
Net return on investment: $36,600

As you can see, you end up way ahead by going with solar panels rather than a Tesla roof. The Tesla roof is expensive and it doesn’t generate the same amount of power that solar panels do. About the only reason that a Tesla roof might be an attractive option is if you absolutely must have the maximum “curb appeal.” Otherwise, solar panels are hands-down the better choice.

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Levine, David. 12 May 2017. Why Tesla’s Solar Roof Is a Bad Buy. Forbes Magazine. Web 16 Jan 2019.