Tesla tells customers they’ll have to pay more for solar roof

An upscale suburban house has a Tesla in the driveway and solar panels on the roof.

Tesla has jacked up the price of its solar roof, which integrates solar panels directly into roof tiles, Electrek reports. A 12.3 kW system that Electrek priced at $54,966 last summer now costs more than $70,000, according to Tesla’s online calculator.

Customers report that Tesla is not only raising prices for future solar roof installations—it’s demanding more money from some existing customers whose panels haven’t been installed yet.

“Tesla has reneged on its solar roof contracts and has raised the prices for people (like me) who have already signed contract with them,” one Ars reader told us. “For example, they are asking for an additional $21,000 for my project from about $66,000 to $87,000.”

Another customer shared a similar story with The Verge:

One solar roof customer told The Verge he signed a contract in February to install the solar roof for $35,000, with an additional $30,000 for the batteries. Later, he received a “terse email” from Tesla stating that in several days he would receive a new contract with higher prices. He was told he now owed $75,000 for the solar roof—a 114 percent increase—and $35,000 for the batteries.

Part of the price increase may reflect Tesla’s realization that not all roofs are equally easy to cover with solar panels. Tesla’s online cost estimator now asks customers about their “roof complexity,” which is “determined by the pitch, number of joints, chimneys, and other features on your roof.” Tesla warns that “complex roofs take more time and material to install than simple roofs.”

If Tesla’s online price calculator for solar roof is accurate, its new, higher prices are still fairly competitive with conventional solar panels—at least here in the District of Columbia. In 2019, I paid $35,538 for an 8.5 kW system, spending $12,000 for a new roof at the same time. Today, Tesla estimates that a 8.5 kW system would cost $36,783 for a “simple” roof. That compares favorably to the $47,538 I paid for solar panels and a new roof 18 months ago. Of course, solar panel prices have continued to drop in the last 18 months, so conventional solar panels would likely cost less if I ordered them today.

Tesla’s solar roof apparently can’t achieve the same energy density as conventional solar panels. I installed 8.5 kW worth of conventional solar panels on my roof, which is around 1,000 square feet. In contrast, Tesla’s calculator indicates that it takes more than 1,400 square feet of roof to fit 8.5 kW worth of solar roof tiles.

There’s also no guarantee that Tesla won’t change its estimate once it sends someone to actually look at your house. The cost calculated by Tesla’s website is only an initial estimate.

Solar roof has a troubled history

Tesla’s solar roof dates back to 2016, the year Tesla bought SolarCity, a solar panel installation company founded by two of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s cousins. Prior to the merger, SolarCity installed conventional solar panels that sit above a customer’s roof (Tesla continues to install conventional solar panels today). But in 2016, weeks before the SolarCity deal was due to close, Tesla announced the solar roof project, which features roofing tiles that double as solar panels.

Tesla started accepting preorders for solar roof in May 2017. In August 2018, Musk told investors that Tesla had “several hundred solar roofs” installed. But the company then quickly walked that statement back, clarifying that Musk was including people who were scheduled for roof installations but hadn’t gotten them yet. The same month, Reuters reported that Tesla was struggling to manufacture roof tiles at its solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York.

In 2019, Tesla announced it was slashing prices for the solar roof in an effort to boost sluggish demand for the product. In 2020, Tesla canceled the orders of some customers because they were out of Tesla’s service area. At the same time, Tesla said it had “roughly tripled” solar roof installations between the first and second quarters of 2020.

Tesla’s Q3 2020 earnings report bragged that Tesla had reduced the time required to install a solar roof to as little as 1.5 days. “We continue to onboard hundreds of electricians and roofers to grow this business,” Tesla wrote. Tesla’s Q4 2020 earnings report stated that the company “made great progress growing our Solar Roof deployments,” but it didn’t provide any hard numbers.

All of which is to say that, after years of delays and setbacks, Tesla may be finally selling the solar roof at significant scale. And the company has apparently discovered that the costs of installing a solar roof are higher than previously anticipated for many customers.