Tesla Solar Panels
If you’re looking to install solar panels on you home you might be doing so to save money on your energy costs or generate clean energy in the face of climate change. While solar panels often save money in the long run, they’re still a substantial investment and may require large amounts of cash or taking out a loan.
While there can be dozens of solar installers to choose from in a single area and hundreds across the country, Tesla remains one of the largest in the nation. It now installs solar panels and its unique Solar Roof in at least parts of 25 states and promises to match the prices of its competitors. Tesla is no longer one of the three largest solar installers as it disinvests from sales and marketing, and relies more on subcontractors for installation, according to the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
Those guaranteed low prices, matched with quality panels, batteries and inverters means Tesla likely offers more solar power for less money than other national players. Tesla customers might lose some of that value in customer service. While customer satisfaction ratings don’t exist for the still relatively new solar industry, anecdotal evidence suggests Tesla may be skimping on customer service after purchase. Tesla’s workmanship and weatherization warranty could be stronger.
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Tesla is a good option for someone who wants the most solar for the least amount of money, even if it means some challenges elsewhere. While we weren’t able to test a Tesla solar installation or the customer’s experience, if you value customer service you’re likely to have a better experience with a different provider. Note also that reports in December 2021 showed the US Security and Exchange Commission was investigating a whistleblower claim that Tesla misled customers and regulators when fixing fire hazards in its solar panel systems, though no new developments have been reported since. More on that below.
It’s difficult to compare solar providers, since each rooftop installation is different and will perform differently based on the orientation of your roof, nearby tree cover, local weather from one day to the next and more. I’ll give you the essential information about Tesla’s solar panels and let you know how it stacks up to the competition. I’ll stick with Tesla’s panels here, and review the Solar Roof separately.
What do I get from Tesla solar panels?
Tesla used to offer only four sizes of solar arrays, but now offers quotes on systems as small as 4.8 and as large as 17.6 kilowatts, increasing in 0.4 kW increments. (That jump in size is the capacity of one solar panel, which often come in a 400 watt size). Tesla promotes its panels’ sleek, low-profile design. To my eye, Tesla’s installations are indeed less obtrusive than others. If that’s important to you, Tesla has an advantage here.
What equipment does Tesla install?
Unless you’re particular about who manufactures your panels, what’s really important is how long they’ll last and how well they’ll work. Tesla’s solar panels have maximum efficiency ratings that range from 19.3% to 20.9%, which compare favorably with other panels (though slightly more efficient panels are available).
You can pair your purchase with one or more Powerwall batteries, Tesla’s well-regarded energy storage option, and have energy at night and during power outages, or take advantage of time of use rates. Many other major solar companies offer it with their installations.
The Powerwall can provide 13.5 kilowatt-hours of usable energy. Tesla says it has the ability to power most appliances, though full use of larger 240-volt appliances like air conditioners and clothes dryers may require more batteries. How long 13.5 kilowatt-hours lasts depends on how much energy you use, but if you avoid using energy-intensive appliances it should last you a couple of days at least. (Your solar panels will provide power during the day and possibly recharge your Powerwall, weather permitting.) The Powerwall can provide 5 kilowatts of energy continuously or 7 kilowatts for a short peak.
You can install Powerwall batteries indoors and outside of your home. They’re roughly 6 inches deep, 2 and a half feet wide and almost 4 feet tall, so they shouldn’t be difficult to tuck away somewhere.
The final bit of hardware is the Tesla solar inverter, which converts the direct current electricity your panels generate into alternating current that your house can use. A key metric here is efficiency. Tesla’s solar inverter operates at 97.5% or 98% efficiency, according to the company. That puts it near the top end of what’s typical. It comes with a 12-and-a-half-year warranty.
What warranties does Tesla offer?
Tesla’s warranty says your panels are guaranteed to work at 85% capacity after 25 years or it will replace them. That’s roughly in line with other major companies.
The Powerwall’s warranty guarantees that the battery will hold at least 70% of its rated capacity after 10 years.
Tesla also offers a 10-year warranty on the workmanship of the installation and a 10-year warranty for the weatherization of your roof. These are fairly average for the industry, but lag behind the leaders.
Does Tesla use in house installers?
It’s been reported that Tesla has increased the use of subcontractors and pulled back on its own installation teams. It’s unclear if Tesla still operates in house teams, but subcontractors are becoming more common.
Does Tesla offer monitoring services?
When everything is up and running, you can monitor it all from the slick-looking app Tesla offers its users. Via the app you can monitor your energy production and usage. If you have a Powerwall, you can also customize how it operates. You can set how much charge you’d like your Powerwall to reserve for outages, boost its reserve when a storm is approaching, and adjust when you draw energy from your Powerwall based on time of day. I did not test the app, but it has a 3.7 star rating on Google Play and a 3.8 in the App Store.
How much do Tesla solar panels cost?
Price, because it’s hard to generalize and compare across companies, doesn’t factor into the score we give solar companies, but it’s an obvious consideration when you’re shopping for solar panels. A Wood Mackenzie analysis determined that an 8-kilowatt solar installation in 2022 cost $2.99 per watt on average. Larger systems will tend to be cheaper per watt than smaller systems.
Tesla’s online estimates typically come in below that mark, unless you include back up batteries. With one Powerwall and the federal tax credit (30% of the cost if you install through 2031), Tesla estimates that installations range in cost from $4.29 per watt for a 4.8-kilowatt system to $3.48 per watt for 7.6 kilowatts and $2.70 per watt for 17.6 kilowatts. If you remove the suggested Powerwall batteries, the estimates come to $2.10 per watt for each size. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reports the national median-size solar array is 7 kilowatts. One Powerwall costs $10,500, though Tesla appears to be offering a discount if you buy more than one.
Tesla’s prices for panels without storage are well below the information available for other national providers, though they may not be the final cost. Your $100 refundable deposit only starts the process. You may need to upgrade your electrical main panel or pay extra for hiding the conduit from your solar panels. Tesla has also suddenly changed its solar panel prices in the recent past.
Tesla will match any installer who quotes you a lower price. If that quote comes within 14 days and is for an array of the same size or larger, Tesla will match the price on a dollar-per-watt basis. All you need to do is to submit the competing quote through your Tesla account.
Tesla offers fewer choices than some other installers. While others might offer Tesla’s Powerwall and another brand or size of battery, Tesla only offers the Powerwall. Because your energy needs vary from others, you might find a better fit for your needs with another company.
In December 2021, Reuters reported the SEC was investigating a whistleblower’s claims that Tesla failed to notify customers of an issue that may have caused some solar arrays installed before 2018 to catch fire. The company launched Project Titan in 2018 to fix the issues, but was not upfront about the reason and did not offer to shut down solar panels to decrease the risks, according to the complain. Several of its solar customers have sued Tesla over fires. The SEC said that the ongoing investigation into Tesla does not mean it has found that Tesla broke the law, Reuters reported, and no new developments have come to light since. The SEC declined to comment on any probe in response to a CNET request in April. Tesla, which does not operate a press office, did not respond.
What financing options does Tesla offer for solar panels?
Tesla lets you purchase solar panels in cash or through its own financing option. If you finance your panels through Tesla, you’ll owe 10% down (assuming you have “excellent” credit) and you’ll start making payments 35 days after your solar array receives permission to operate.
Does Tesla operate in my state? How do I order?
The only surefire way to know if Tesla’s solar panels are available in your area is plug your address into its website and check. I found service in parts of 25 states. That means it’s available in a few more states than some of the other major solar companies, like Trinity and Sunrun, though SunPower serves more. (Tesla’s service areas for solar panels and Solar Roofs are not identical. It’s possible that Solar Roofs are available through a certified installer where panels are not.)
States Tesla installs panels
The ordering process is fairly straightforward: Enter your address. Enter your average monthly electricity cost. Tesla will then spit out a suggested solar array and number of Powerwall batteries. It also provides an estimated cost and a visual mockup (though not of your house). You can add or remove solar panels and Powerwalls from your order and see how it will affect your estimated electricity usage and storage capabilities.
When you’re satisfied with your setup, you can place your order with a refundable deposit of $100.
From here, you’ll need to submit your utility bill and take a few pictures of your roof. Tesla uses that information and satellite imagery to design your system.
It’s not clear when Tesla first sends someone out to view your roof and property, but it seems to be trying to reduce costs. (While the price-per-watt cost of residential solar is falling, the price of panels, inverters and other hardware is falling faster than soft costs like labor and site visits.) Experts say it’s vital that an installer does a site visit to take account of obstructions that may affect solar panel performance. Relying on satellite imagery only gets you so far.
At this point, you’ll sign a contract and installation moves ahead largely as it would with any installer. Permits are pulled. Tesla sets an install date (which can be rescheduled). A local team puts panels on your roof.
Your installation may be subcontracted to a certified installer. Tesla has in-house installation teams, but more and more it’s relying on third-party installers to expand the reach of its tech. In particular, it certifies installers for the Powerwall and its other solar option, the Solar Roof.
Although Tesla did not respond to requests for confirmation about its selection process for install teams, this is information you should be provided before you sign your contract, if it’s important to you.
You have a couple of backstops, too. You can cancel your contract within up to three days after you sign. Also, your final payment isn’t due until the newly installed system passes an inspection by your local authority. You also have the option to return your system for up to seven days after it’s fully functional. Some work won’t be refunded or returned (like a Powerwall installation) and Tesla won’t make cosmetic repairs to your roof after it removes panels. What is or isn’t returnable and refundable will be detailed in your energy products order agreement, which you should read carefully before signing.
Is Tesla the best choice?
As with any major purchase, you should get multiple quotes from multiple companies. Make sure they answer all your questions and provide the information you need. While Tesla doesn’t have a press office, its customer service representatives were easy to get in touch with and seemed knowledgeable. Still, it shouldn’t be your only call.
If you’re looking for the lowest prices and the backing of a national brand, Tesla is the way to go. Tesla’s price match means it will always be competitive in terms of cost. Likewise, the estimates it provides online (which are only estimates) come in well below the national average. If the look of your panels is really important, Tesla’s do sit closer to the roof and look sharp. Tesla also offers more information up front about its warranty than some of the other players. Still, make sure you can view it in detail before committing.
The Powerwall is among the industry leaders in solar batteries. It sets Tesla’s equipment apart, but it’s also available from some other installers.
There is very little reliable customer service and satisfaction information for the solar industry. Tesla Solar doesn’t have a score with the Better Business Bureau, but anecdotally Tesla’s customer service for solar is bad enough in some cases to make people regret their purchase. Its customer service call center was responsive and it’s not hard to find customer service complaints for any of the major solar installers, but the complaints about Tesla seem louder and more numerous.
- Cheaper than other national brands
- Quality panels, inverters and batteries
- Customer service has a bad reputation
- Offers fewer options than other installers
How we test solar companies
Reviewing solar companies in a hands-on way is difficult. Accounting for all the differences project to project is impossible. To provide a helpful review, we focused on what we can measure and meaningfully compare among companies.
We focus on three buckets of criteria: equipment, warranties and service.
Within the equipment category, companies receive scores for the panels, inverters and batteries they install. Warranties include the guarantees on the panels, workmanship and weatherization against leaks. Companies earn points for service if they offer a price match, a meaningful level of price transparency and a well-rated app for monitoring solar production. They lose points if there are major issues pertaining to customer service (lawsuits, investigations or clear reputations for shoddy service). These issues will always be detailed in the review.
We don’t consider the average price of a company’s installations in their score. This information is difficult to find and hard to compare across service areas (and even roof to roof). Companies are often slow to disclose it, too. We also leave out easily found but not useful information like how many states a company operates in.
Correction, Jan. 31, 2023: An earlier version of this article misstated the Better Business Bureau’s grading process. Any company can receive a grade from the Bureau, regardless of whether it has paid to go through the accreditation process.