Tesla Solar: Elon Musk’s New Prices Aims for Cheaper-Than-Grid Clean Energy

Tesla is making a big play for the cost-conscious buyer.

Tesla Solar

Tesla has unveiled a solar rental scheme designed to make clean energy a no-brainer for households. The scheme offers panels for homes as low as $50 per month, with potential savings reaching over $150 per month for some buyers.

“It’s important that the whole world transition to sustainable energy, so we’ll make costs as low as possible,” CEO Elon Musk declared to his 27.9 million Twitter followers.

It’s part of Tesla’s long-term goal to encourage society to ditch the fossil fuels and move to sustainable alternatives, amid a heating planet fueled by climate change. Tesla, which merged with SolarCity in 2016, also offers Solar Roof tiles and retrofit panels alongside its electric car and battery products. This year, these plans have intensified: Tesla has also announced plans to roll out the solar roof further, produce multiple terawatt-hours of batteries per year, and deploy the Megapack for grid-scale projects.

The new solar renting scheme, which is initially rolling out to six American states, aims to undercut the price of grid power with retrofit panels offered on a monthly payment basis. European fans also had some good news from the relaunch — the company’s solar operations are set to expand to the continent next year.

“With the new lower Tesla pricing, it’s like having a money printer on your roof if you live a state with high electricity costs,” Musk stated via Twitter. “Still better to buy, but the rental option makes the economics obvious.”

However, Inverse research found that not all states will offer the same benefits: renters in sunny California could save $155 on their comparatively high energy bills, but buyers in the less-sunny state of New Jersey may lose money through renting. Solar panels are plummeting in price and undercutting the grid in both the United States and China, but it may take some time before it makes economic sense for everyone.

Tesla's solar panels on the roof.
Tesla's solar panels on the roof.

Tesla Solar Rental: Who Can Get Connected

Tesla’s solar rental system is currently available to select customers in six states:

  • Arizona ratepayers with the Arizona Public Service Company or Tucson Electric Power.
  • California ratepayers with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric or Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.
  • Connecticut ratepayers with Eversource Energy (CL&P) or United Illuminating Company.
  • Massachusetts ratepayers with National Grid USA (Massachusetts Electric), Eversource Energy (NSTAR-Boston Edison), Eversource Energy - South Shore (NSTAR-Commonwealth Electric), Eversource Energy (WMECO), Unitil (Fitchburg Gas and Electric Company) or Eversource Energy (NSTAR-Cambridge Electric Light).
  • New Jersey ratepayers with PSE&G-New Jersey, Atlantic City Electric, Orange & Rockland NJ (Rockland Electric) or First Energy (Jersey Central Power & Light).
  • New Mexico ratepayers with PNM or El Paso Electric Company (New Mexico).

Tesla Solar Rental: How the Price Compares to Fossil Fuels

Tesla offers varying prices and generation estimations depending on the state and size of the installation.

There are three solar sizes on offer:

  • A small install, aimed at houses measuring between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet, that harvests 3.8 kilowatts.
  • A medium install, aimed at houses measuring between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet, that harvests 7.6 kilowatts.
  • A large install, aimed at houses measuring over 3,000 square feet, that harvests 11.4 kilowatts.

None of them come with the Powerwall, the battery that holds clean energy for when the sun is not shining. Users will have to buy that separately.

Inverse has produced a handy table detailing how Tesla’s offer stacks up, and how much users could expect to save. Note that in New Jersey, where Tesla recommends solar rentals to consumers paying less for their energy bills, buyers could end up paying more for solar than regular grid power.

Tesla's solar energy savings.
Tesla's solar energy savings.

The company also warns that each install may require additional expenditure to get started, like to the main electric panel. Installation and maintenance is covered by the monthly cost and there’s no long-term contract, but Tesla charges $1,500 to remove the panels from the roof. Upsizing after installation is free, but downsizing incurs the $1,500 charge. Users selling their home can transfer the agreement to the new owner.

Tesla has also provided a breakdown of how the rental costs make sense for a small home system:

Tesla's breakdown of savings from the home energy system.
Tesla's breakdown of savings from the home energy system.

Tesla Solar Rental: How It Factors Into Elon Musk’s Broader Plan

Tesla has been gradually shifting to offer a greater focus on its energy products, following an aggressive ramp-up for its Model 3 electric vehicle in 2018. The launch of the $35,000 electric car in July 2017 left the firm struggling to produce 5,000 cars per week, starving its battery output as cells went to the Model 3 instead of its non-vehicle products.

In March 2019, Musk declared that 2019 was the year of the solar roof and Powerwall. Now that the worst was over, the firm could focus on a broader range of products and roll out its solar-harvesting roof tiles to eight states. The Powerwall, which uses battery cells also designed for electric cars, is critical to the solar products as it stores energy to provide a constant supply when the sun has set.

In July, this plan kicked up a notch. Musk told investors during the firm’s second-quarter earnings call that the firm was aiming to produce multiple terawatt-hours of battery capacity per year. The Gigafactory, a giant Tesla-owned factory in the Nevada desert, reached a production rate of 20 gigawatt-hours in August 2018.

“In order to really make a fundamental shift in the world’s energy usage and really transform things to a sustainable energy future, if you’re not in the terawatt-hour range, it’s like, it’s a nice news story but it is not fundamentally changing the energy equation,” Musk told investors during the conference call.

Expect more news on the solar energy front as the rental scheme rolls out further.