Raising the roof

Tesla Solar Roof price explained: why it’s suddenly soared in cost

Tesla's solar-harvesting tiles have seen a price increase. Here's why.

Tesla has hiked the price of its Solar Roof, and it’s left customers confused.

Earlier this month, it emerged that Tesla was raising the price on its solar energy roof tiles even for customers that had already signed a contract for installation. Electrek reported that prices had risen by around 30 percent. The New York Times spoke to one customer who received an initial estimate of $60,000 for their roof, but then received a final quote of $112,000.

During the company’s first-quarter earnings call, CEO Elon Musk admitted the firm made “significant mistakes” when assessing how hard it would be to install certain roofs. The new pricing system factors in roof complexity.

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Tesla Solar Roof: what is it?

Tesla is perhaps best known as an electric car manufacturer, but its website describes its mission as much broader: “Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

In October 2016, Musk demonstrated its vision of a “house of the future” on the set of Desperate Housewives. It showed a Tesla Model 3 electric sedan in the garage. The home’s roof was covered in Solar Roof tiles, a roof with a mix of solar and non-solar “dummy tiles.” The two tiles are designed to look identical, meaning it looks like a regular roof to the untrained eye.

The house was completed with a Powerwall battery, which stored energy from the tiles so the house could run from clean energy even when the sun’s not shining.

The Solar Roof was relatively rare after its unveiling, bar a smattering of installs in early 2018. That changed in October 2019, when the company unveiled its third-generation tiles designed for faster installation times.

A Tesla Solar Roof on a house.Tesla

Tesla Solar Roof: how much did it cost before?

Musk claimed that, in 80 percent of cases, the new tiles would offer “a price point that is less than what the average roof costs plus solar panels.”

Research from Electrek after the announcement found a 9.45-kilowatt roof of 1,862 square feet cost $38,266. Once the Powerwall and repairs were factored in, it cost $54,866.

LinkedIn engineer Robby Valles shared on Twitter in August 2020 that his 1,737-square-foot 7.37-kilowatt solar roof cost $34,067 before tax credits.

Tweet reading “here’s the cost breakdown at $34k, but tesla recently lowered the prices for the v3 solar roof so it’s very affordable now”Twitter / Robby Valles

For comparison, HomeGuide lists the cost to replace a 2,000-square-foot asphalt roof as $10,460 at the high end. EnergySage lists the average cost of a seven-kilowatt solar system as $19,670 before tax credits.

This suggests Valles’s roof may have cost slightly more than buying the two separately, although it’s hard to say as the price would vary depending on the house.

Tony Cho, who ordered a giant Tesla Solar Roof for his Florida retreat, told Inverse in January 2021 that it cost around 35 percent more than the price of panels and a new roof. Jason Lassen, who bought a Solar Roof for his Wisconsin home, told Inverse in March 2021 the price was “almost the exact same” as the cost of a good shingle roof plus solar.

Tesla Solar Roof: what changed?

In April 2021, Tesla made a number of changes to its solar offerings.

  • It is no longer possible to purchase the Solar Roof or the retrofit roof panels without also purchasing the Powerwall battery. Musk claims this will simplify installations.
  • The Powerwall 2 will unlock more peak power capability through a software update in May 2021. Newer batteries produced since around November 2020 offer more power than advertised. Energy remains the same, but peak power and steady-state power are around double in these newer units.
  • The Solar Roof is now more expensive.

Electrek obtained an email that went out to Solar Roof buyers. It included a line that explains “we have increased the price of Solar Roof and have added adjustments for individual roof complexity.”

On the firm’s new Roof Complexity web page, it explains:

Your roof’s complexity will determine your Solar Roof installation’s level of difficulty, which is factored into your final purchase price. Roofs fall into three tiers of complexity — simple, intermediate and complex. Roof complexity is determined by the number and severity of roof obstructions such as the pitch, number of joints, chimneys and other features on your roof that add to the difficulty of the installation.

Tesla Solar Roof: how much does it cost now?

Buyers have seen their prices increase massively since the change.

One buyer that spoke to Electrek ordered a 3,395-square-foot Solar Roof capable of 18.2 kilowatts. Including two Powerwalls, and before tax credits, the total price was $77,019.92. Under the new system, their price has soared to $118,870.33, a more than 50 percent increase.

The New York Times spoke to Ana Bianchi. Her roof was initially going to cost $63,000, but two weeks before installation the price increased to $85,000. Bianchi, who canceled the order, described the situation as “outrageous.”

A Tesla Solar Roof, with a Tesla Model 3 in the driveway.Tesla

Another, Peter Quint, told the publication that he was quoted $75,000 for a roof on his 4,000-square-foot house. When the price soared to $112,000, he called Tesla and was put on hold for over three hours. He ultimately canceled and used regular shingles plus panels, saving nearly $70,000.

Tesla Solar Roof: what does Elon Musk say about the price increase?

Musk further explained the company’s rationale during the first-quarter 2021 earnings call:

“First of all, I should say the demand for the solar roof remains strong. So despite raising the price, the demand is still significantly in excess of our ability to meet the demand to install the solar roofs. So production is going fine, but we are choked at the installation point.”
“We did find that we basically made some significant mistakes in assessing the difficulty of certain roofs, but the complexity of roofs varies dramatically. Some roofs are literally two or three times easier than other roofs. So you just can't have a one size fits all situation. If a roof has letter protuberances or if the core structure of the roof is rotted out or is not strong enough to hold the solar roof, then the cost can be double, sometimes three times what our initial quotes were.”
“So in those cases, what we obviously offer to do is to refund customers their deposit. What we cannot do is go and just lose a massive amount of money. We just got to provide a refund of the deposit.”

Tesla Solar Roof: are there any alternatives?

Yes: check out our guide to five alternatives to the Tesla Solar Roof.

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