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What is the Tesla Solar Roof, and how does it compare to rooftop panels?

"You may find it better to stick with the easiest path forward."

"You may find it better to stick with the easiest path forward."

Photo Credit: Tesla

The description of Tesla's Solar Roof sounds ingenious. The conventional-looking tiles are made of both sun-catching glass and architectural-grade steel to create shingles that can deliver energy to a home while providing a durable surface.

Tesla bills it as being able to provide "clean energy … for decades." 

But homeowners considering renewable options for their dwellings might want to first read up on the history of the Elon Musk-owned product, which was first unveiled in 2016

Since then, the news has been mixed. 

In 2018, CNBC asked, "where are the tiles?" The story highlighted apparent lackluster sales. 

The news agency reported last year that Tesla agreed to pay $6 million to customers in a settlement over alleged installation rate hikes involving thousands of people. One customer's price tag reportedly jumped from around "$72,000 in his original contract to around $146,000," the report said, citing court filings.

CNBC estimated that, as of the start of 2023, about 3,000 systems were installed in the United States.

The appeal, however, is easy to see. Homes shown with Solar Roof look attractive, partly because they don't have bulky panel systems on their rooftops. Tesla claims that Solar Roof combined with its Powerwall — a home battery with an integrated solar inverter (in its latest iterations) — can provide energy storage 24/7. 

CNET reports that the sun-catching tiles can be mixed in with regular shingles at a percentage picked by the customer. As for strength, a Tesla video clip shows its product holding up to a hammer strike, while other types of roofing materials fail. 

"Tesla's Solar Roof is possibly the sleekest solar solution out there," CNET's AJ Dellinger wrote

The price of more common solar panels can vary due to a variety of factors. CNET estimates it at between $15,000 and $20,000 for a 5-kilowatt system. That's on the low end of MarketWatch's 6-to-8-kilowatt estimate for what the average home needs. Tesla's settlement provides a clue to Solar Roof's expense. 

Tax breaks can defray some of the cost for most solar projects. 

Regardless of what type of solar system you pick, you will need to make sure it is installed correctly. Finding a reliable contractor is important. Tesla touts a team with 480,000 solar projects under its belt. The company also sells and installs traditional panels. 

"From design to power on, we take care of everything," Tesla boasts

In the end, the reduction of planet-warming air pollution is the most critical detail. Switching to solar can prevent thousands of pounds of dirty air pollution from being spewed annually. Various forms of air pollution are linked by medical experts to negative health concerns "at every stage of life" — from wheezing to even premature death, per the American Lung Association. While solar energy can't guarantee pristine health, it can help to lower risks by negating fossil-burning energy production. 

Community solar programs offer an option to reap the savings of clean energy — often between 5% and 20% on your annual bills — without installing any equipment at home. You can learn more with some easy, online research.

When it comes to traditional panels or Solar Roof, CNET's Dellinger wrote that the latter option has "a lot of promise." 

"But the custom tiles can be cost-prohibitive. For now, you may find it better to stick with the easiest path forward to save on your energy bill and shrink your carbon footprint," Dellinger wrote. 

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