Sharing my experience with you, because there was little information when I started out going down this path and I wished I knew more.
Ordering and Pricing
Once you decided that you want solar roof for your house, ordering it cannot be simpler. Everything is done via the Internet, and you just need to plug in a few numbers before Tesla figures out the size of your system and recommend Powerwall capacity for you.
I found that the number of batteries you can order without talking to a person is dependent on your electricity bill. I have experience with Powerwall from before, and it is wonderful once it is working. It definitely makes a difference as it stores solar energy for peak hour use, and I recommend considering them. Related, it is worth noting that my electricity company switched my rate plan to time-of-use as soon as my solar system is turned on, so now electricity cost is different depending on the season and time of day, making the battery very useful.
Additionally, if you install Powerwall at the same time you install solar roof, the cost is eligible for tax credits and some other rebates, such as the Self Generation Incentive Program.
Alternatives and Cost
I don't want to maintain links to them, but alternatives exist and many of them are American just like Tesla. Solar shingles are available from other vendors: Dow/RGS, Luma, SunTegra. Energy storage options include: LG Chem, Sonnen. I don't have experience with them, and my brief investigation lead me to believe some of them are better when you install them at the same time your house is built. Many cost less than Tesla products.
It'll take you decades to recover your investment; you won't be making money selling excess electricity from your solar system back to the grid. Tesla's financing terms is (I think) terrible and not very transparent. At least when I looked into it, they are only showing you monthly payment amount; after calculating the total cost, it worked out to around 30% interest in my case.
In addition to time-of-use energy bill to make things more confusing, my electricity company also has this True-Up billing that tracks your overall annual usage. If your solar system isn't generating electricity as much as you use annually (for example, your usage increased as you bought an electric car mid-year and now charge at home), you'll get a bill at end of the year to "reconcile" that difference and it may come as a shock. The company (PG&E) still changes monthly for gas, I still pay for electricity delivery charge monthly, so this True-Up billing seems to me an excuse to drown you in monthly paper reports so that you won't look closely when the bill comes?
You'll be asked to sign several documents, as well as uploading a lot of pictures to prepare for installation. I think this generally give Tesla an idea of viability and the company will send a technician to perform site survey, who will go on the the roof and into the attics and generally be taking similar pictures for documentation.
Powerwall cannot be installed within 3 feet of your gas meter, and you generally want them and the inverter to be on the same wall as your main panel. If that is not possible the electrician will put in work to route everything for you, so not being able to accommodate all that equipment on the same wall isn't really a problem. However, electrician may have to route over other things like garage door motors.
Tesla will take care of the permits and most of the paperwork. Inspector may want to count how many smoke detectors you have in your home, and generally check if the rest of the house is up to code.
Subpanel and Backup
There is a subpanel where all the breakers are, and you get to decide which breaker is backed by battery. Alternatively, the electrician may just decide to put the entire house on battery backup and they'll add a subpanel near your battery instead or the old subpanel. Definitely ask about the backup everything option, because I feel it is less work, fewer breakers they have to reroute, and therefore take less time for installation.
When power is cut to your home, it takes a second for battery to kick in and so it is not seamless. You want to put your Internet router and modem on a separate uninterrupted power supply battery to buffer that one second. With important equipment on UPS, lights will flicker when your block suffers power loss, but everything will continue working normally.
I learned this from the technician that each breaker has two wires that are best balanced. If not it could impact your Powerwall and it shuts down randomly. On that note, there are different versions of Powerwall and it isn't clear to me why Tesla would install the older version that:
- wouldn't work with the mobile app,
- turns off in the evenings on its own, and
- generally is useless because it cannot be programmed.
It's not like you have a choice or there is a pricing difference (A).
Roof Tear Down
There is no other way around it, to make way for solar roof your existing roof is coming down. Tesla subcontracts this work out to folks that normally performs roof installations.
If your current roof is covered in Terracotta roofing tiles, there may not be anything under them. Apparently it is okay when my house was built in the 70's to not even put moisture barriers behind them. In this case, Tesla will charge you 10% more to install additional plywood boards. You'll find out via an e-mail that asks you to accept a new agreement (B).
If there is swimming pool anywhere near your roof, there is going to be stuff floating on the surface after the tear down. Generally speaking areas in your backyard is going to be covered with saw dust and stuff that came off from the roof. You can ask ahead of time if anything was going into the pool and the answer would be, that they won't be dumping materials from your old roof in there. Still it would have been nice if they can put a temporary cover over it. You will probably find nails in the pool, best fish them out so they won't stain.
If you have one of those solar pool heater panels that pumps cold water up to your roof, Tesla will ask you to remove them. I found out after weeks of trying to find someone who can remove and dispose them that it isn't really necessary (C). You cannot keep them, but the tear down contractors will remove them for you provided there is no water in the pipes.
The gutters will come off when tear down happens, and despite Tesla informing me that new gutters must be installed, the roofing contractor asked me if I intend to keep the old ones. This is going to be a recurring theme working with Tesla, that one group doesn't really talk to another, and they don't communicate well with subcontractors either (D). Another thing about gutters is that some of them apparently don't work well with solar roof, or rather roofers haven't figured out how to work with solar roof.
Installation and Power Outage
Solar roof installation is supposed to take 4 days. For a while, with the number of people working on-site it does seem possible. However, towards the end, the number of folks working on the project decreased dramatically.
Powerwall installation took 2 days but it almost seems like it could have been done in one day, if they have more time to commission the batteries.
Solar panel installation also took somewhat similar delays. I think Tesla is terrible at giving you estimates and keeping you updated with progress. The leads on-site have no visibility into schedule for other groups, and strangely I've had different leads for the roof installation: the first two seems to be keep pulse on the project, but the last one was just, "I don't know if it'll be done tomorrow." Not the kind of confidence-inspiring words you want to hear from a lead. Tell your customer what you do know! Additionally, why wouldn't Tesla tell people at ground zero when the electricians are going to show up?
At some point during installation electricians will shut off power to your home so they can work on the main panel. With shelter-in-place mandates this affects school for my kids and my work. If you only need Internet and have laptops, you can possibly back up the modem and router on portable battery, then work with your laptop. Other devices will probably drain the portable battery too quickly for you to keep working. Power was out for roughly half day. It is worth noting that some devices at home don't like power being cut off suddenly: servers, consoles that enter low-power state, desktop computers in general. You want to turn them off ahead of time and keep them off, so that when power is restored they won't create a surge all powering up at the same time.
Contractor will need to charge their power tools, enough tools that will trip your circuit breaker. Best figure out which room you don't mind suddenly losing power for, that doesn't have equipment plugged in requiring power constantly. It isn't difficult to flip the breaker, but you simply will not be aware unless you are monitoring closely. External plugs probably share breakers of the adjacent room.
To Be Continued...
I'll share more experience once I have more time. But I'll end for now with a section dedicated to rants.
Frustrating Experience Overall
The immediate positive experience with the ordering simplicity is replaced with a lot of frustration as I worked with Tesla. It all went downhill from there.
The technicians that came to perform the installs were great. They answer questions and know that they are doing, some of them will even try to get corporate office and representatives from out-of-state to do work for you.
The people that you talk to on the phone, however, are not the most responsive nor most knowledgeable. One of them questioned my ability to read, much to my surprise. Calls ended up in voice mail often, and rarely do I get a callback. E-mails are often ignored, or you may get a reply after 6 weeks. I don't think they really work for you, and I wish some of them would at least read the questions before pasting some generic response. At one point, to get Tesla to replace the broken Powerwall unit, I had to call Nevada every few days. Every time is a different person, who'd spend time reading what must be a tome of notes, then tell me they'll call me back. Not every representative is like this, of course, and some of them really put in the effort to provide customer service; but they are few and far in between, many of them wasted a lot of my time that I'll never get back.
Some more frustrating experiences:
(A) My initial Powerwall unit didn't work at night. During the day there is solar, so who in their right mind would want to pay for battery backup that only works during the day? Took nearly a year of troubleshooting and calling to fix this when Tesla had finally replaced Powerwall, inverter, and something else. This is something I had already paid in full, but for a year I didn't get what I paid for.
(B) When Tesla sends you an updated agreement after the site survey, read the new agreement carefully. For me, not only was there additional costs associated with roof preparation, the cost for the roof (few dollars) and Powerwall (few thousand dollars), as well as the overall system size changed (slightly smaller). It is really bad form to change these numbers, because it alienates your customer and erodes trust. I think it is shady.
(C) When Tesla sent a message saying that I must remove the solar pool heating panels from the roof, it was just weeks before tear down was going start. I must have frantically contacted about a dozen vendors online and finally one of them questioned why I wanted this done. I was told that most roofers will just remove them for you if you are not putting them back (you cannot reuse them anyway, since they'll be blocking the solar tiles). I then tried to confirm with Tesla via both text and e-mail whether I can just cut and drain the pipes without completely removing the panels. At this point the representative still says I must remove solar pool heating panels, and I got back exactly the same instruction from before. Turns out all you needed to do is cut the pipes near the eaves, put caps near the T junction of your pool pump that sends water to your roof. But it is too easy to say just that, instead you get paragraphs of requirement telling you something else.
(D) It seems like Tesla is organized into silos that really cannot communicate with each other and don't talk to the subcontractors. That in order to get some answers it is impossible to just talk to one person. Not sure if it was because my broken Powerwall issue got escalated, solar roof is still a product that representatives are not trained to deal with, or there are just normally that many individuals assigned to reach out to other people in the organization for... something. But it sure is annoying to have to listen to the music and recordings while you are holding on the phone, or explaining things several times over. I think a lot of this can be done through e-mail, but Tesla would rather record your conversation with their representatives than to answer your e-mails and commit to making things right. If you got to speak to the representatives enough times you'll realized most of them don't know what they are talking about; you really want to talk to the people that actually do the work.
Why put e-mail address on Tesla's website when it is clearly not the way Tesla wants to be contacted? Why assume that when a customer sends you e-mails, they don't expect any replies? Why is there a limit to the voice mail box, so when you cannot leave messages, you must spend time waiting in queue to talk to a representative who often doesn't have the answer? With higher cost than other solar shingles or batteries, Tesla should put in more effort, do much better at servicing their customers, and not left their customers with more questions than answers. I want to support and see Tesla be successful because I think its mission is admirable. Every time I support Tesla, however, I am left questioning my decisions. I know (hope) eventually it'll probably work out, but getting there is definitely a character-building experience, one that I don't enjoy going through.
More to Read
These are links I collected over time, in no particular order.
- Information about batteries, https://southern-energy.com/guide-to-tesla-powerwall/
- Tesla may not service your location, https://www.fool.com/investing/2020/06/26/the-solar-roof-is-dying-and-so-is-teslas-energy-co.aspx
- Compares some numbers, https://www.solarreviews.com/blog/how-much-does-the-tesla-solar-roof-cost-compared-to-conventional-solar