Traditional solar panels can be replaced with Tesla's solar roof tiles. Tesla Solar roof tiles are more compact and are often more aesthetically pleasing. In addition, to support their lifetime guarantee, these solar roof tiles are three times stronger than conventional roof tiles and are constructed of tempered glass.
They are currently around three times more expensive than conventional solar panels. In addition, due to the small size of the tile and the reduced surface area for power production, they could not be as effective as conventional solar panels. There are also doubts about the tiles' resilience.
Solar roof tiles may be a suitable alternative for specific homes. Still, they may not be the ideal solution for everyone due to their high cost and potential efficiency and durability difficulties.f
Tesla roof tiles – what are the advantages and disadvantages?
After Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s new product, solar roof tiles, in 2016, there was a lot of excitement. Tesla is the expert in creating mass excitement for its products, even if these products do not always hit the spot. One of the products which have not taken off, like the Tesla vehicles, for example, is the Tesla roof tile, and there are many logical reasons for this.
The history of roof-integrated solar
It is commonly agreed that having large solar panels mounted on your roof can be visually challenging, especially on the cheaper system installs, where the installers under the pump will plonk the panels anyway.
I often hear owners of prestigious homes say: “There is no point saving $1200 per month on my electricity bill, and my house has just become $40,000 uglier.”
For this reason, building-integrated solar, from the solar film on windows and roof integrated panels and smaller solar tiles, have been popular with architects and home designers for the last decade.
Unfortunately, the cost of these customised products, three to four times the cost of conventional mass-produced solar panels, has meant that many companies have come and gone, leaving these technologies stranded, unsupported, and with a questionable reputation.
So while in theory, moving the solar cells into a roof tile seems to make logical sense and sees two different products merged into one, there are technical and cost considerations that might work against this solution.
What are Tesla Solar Roof tiles?
When presenting the new roof tile product, Elon Musk stated, “We need to make solar panels as appealing as electric cars have become”, and that is precisely what we have achieved with our solar roof tiles.
Solar roof tiles, as the name suggests, are much smaller and more compact than conventional PV panels. When placed together can achieve solar generation in small corners and edge areas where standard panels can not go.
Ideally, the Tesla solar roof tiles are used on a new home, but a retrofit should theoretically be possible.
Tesla solar roof tiles can completely replace your current roof tiles. So, for example, if you currently have concrete tiles on your roof and invest in Tesla solar roof tiles, you should be able to undertake a complete swap with no issue.
So, in summary, Tesla solar roof tiles are smaller, more compact versions of solar panels embedded into a roof tile that replace your current conventional roof tiles.
The Advantages of Tesla Solar Roof Tiles
The critical advantage of Tesla solar roof tiles is their visual appearance. It’s like having a standard panel-type solar system, but no one notices it because the cells are integrated into the tiles and therefore are not obvious. Also, in 2016 four styles were launched, creating visually pleasing roofs.
It can go into little corners where conventional panels will not fit
A second advantage is the compactness of the actual solar roof tile. Conventional panels on roofs with many corners or gables are restricted to where the large solar panels can fit. The advantage of the solar roof tile is that all those seemingly wasted small areas in a panel install can now be filled with electricity-generating cells.
The Tesla roof tiles can fit around obstructions for regular panels, such as skylights and vents. This could help maximise the true potential of your roof’s solar energy as long as the roof tiles use efficient solar cells.
A third advantage is that each tile is three times stronger than traditional terracotta and concrete roof tiles. Tesla solar roof tiles are made from tempered glass in four different options – Tuscan style, slate, textured and smooth. No matter what option you select, they all look like traditional roof tiles and come with a lifetime guarantee.
While Tesla Solar Roof Tiles provide several benefits, you do have to pay a premium price. Currently, no exact cost has been provided for Australians. Still, an Electrek article suggests that 400 square meters of Phase 1 solar roof tiles with a 12.3kW capacity will likely cost between $100,000 to $130,000.
This Tesla price is similar whether you are building a new home or replacing the roof of your current house.
A conventional top-of-the-range 12.3 kW solar panel system will set you back a maximum of 15,000 – $20,000, and the roof tile element will not cost more than $45,000 for a new roof – therefore, as you can see, the solar tiles do come at a premium.
In our quick math, this cost is more than double what you would pay for a traditionally tiled roof with a standard solar system of the same capacity.
Durability in the Australian climate
The 2nd disadvantage is the after-sales service and spare part situation. While Tesla would have run many tests during pre-production, unique issues can always occur in our harsh Australian climate. One of the main concerns is the maintenance of the tiles – both the costs and processes.
For example, who would you call when there is an issue? A roofer solar installer, or a particular Tesla tile expert, who most likely charge a hefty fee. Will these professionals know how to fix all the potential issues?
While the likelihood of something going wrong with a product from Tesla is low due to its quality and production processes, there is always a chance.
I also wondered who would keep spare tiles for many decades. What if an intense hail storm hits your roof in 10 years? Will matching Tesla roof tiles still be available in significant numbers, or will there be a shortage?
Then there is the issue of connection points. In conventional solar systems, the plugs connecting the panels are seen as weak spots as water penetration, corrosion, and UV can challenge the integrity of these plugs over the years.
With a Tesla Solar tile roof, the tiles will be somehow connected, and a Tesla roof will have many hundred of these electrical connection points.
Should one of them corrode due to water penetration, how will the repair person easily and quickly find the one lousy connection point in a sea of hundred connections? Tesla might have an easy answer to this, but our detailed research has not been able to unearth them.
Also, if a 400 square meter roof can deliver a 13.2 kW system, the cells in the Tesla tiles are relatively low in efficiency. A standard 400W panel takes up about 2 square meters. Therefore a 13.2 kW system will need 33 panels and 66 square meters of roof space, considerably less than the Tesla offering.
Potential performance disadvantage in hot weather
Finally, solar cells do not like heat and perform less and less when the roof gets hotter than 25 degrees Celsius. For this reason, solar panels are installed above the ordinary roof tiles with an approx 100 mm gap to allow wind flow below the panels for cooling and heat evaporation.
By embedding the cells in a glass ceramic tile, in summer, this tile will store heat, and the efficiency of the solar cell can be affected. This means the whole Tesla roof tile system output could suffer on hot days, just when one needs renewable electricity to run guilt-free air conditioning.
Are Tesla solar roofs available in Australia?
The answer is yes! Tesla began installing their solar roof tiles in July 2021. However, Tesla has been suffering from supply chain issues, like many Covid-19-affected businesses. This has led to many delays in the company being able to acquire and transport the tiles. These delays have caused uncertainty about how quickly these roofs can be installed.
So if you plan on purchasing Tesla solar roof tiles, contact them first and ensure they are available.