Tesla is famous for their solar roofs, but they also install solar panels. A LeafScore reader in NorCal shares his experience installing Tesla solar panels at his home in the East Bay.
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For his three-bedroom home in Piedmont, California, a small town in the East Bay Area, Alder Yarrow, a wine writer and strategy consultant, chose Tesla for his solar installation in July 2021. He paid about $35,000 for the system, using Federal and state tax credits that dropped the price to about $28,000, and saw his monthly electricity bills cut in half, from about $300-500 a month to an average of $150.
He kindly walked us through his solar project step by step, sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Applying for Tesla solar panels
He didn’t shop around for a solar provider, since he knew people who worked at Tesla, and people whose solar projects were installed by them. The application process was smooth, he notes – you apply online, and get an evaluation of your home’s solar potential, which they do through satellite photography.
“For example, maybe you have a chimney, skylight or gas vent they have to fit the solar panels around – I had all three, on my multi-level home with a steeply-pitched roof with a lot of angles and peaks – or trees that cause lots of shade,” he adds.
The power of battery backup
Since he wanted battery backup, he chose two powerwalls, as recommended. “Battery backup isn’t just helpful in emergencies, during power loss due to wildfires, but on a daily basis, since you pull energy stored in the battery first before pulling energy from the grid, and so save money. During the day you’re not using much energy, evening is peak demand,” Yarrow says.
Tesla solar panel installation experience
He chose solar panels, not a solar roof – which uses Tesla’s own technology and was almost twice the price of panels. They gave him an estimate, and he made a deposit (fully refundable) of about $1,000.
Tesla then offered a proposal, a design for where the panels would go, and a detailed estimate. It cost less than the original estimate, since they couldn’t fit as many panels on his roof than initially thought. He approved it, and made a 50% down payment.
A crew installed the solar project in one day, about a month after he approved it, and paid 50%. “I had to send photographs of all my electrical panels and exterior walls, so they’d know where to install the power walls.”
“Then, I began a looong, slooow process. This is where the hiccups started.”Alder Yarrow
Tesla finished the installation, except for digging a deep hole and putting in grounding rods. It’s a safety requirement, so if the house is struck by lightning, the electricity is conducted into the ground. Several new electrical boxes were mounted on the outside of his house, which meant moving a gutter downspout, an extra $700.
As he waited to hear when the grounding rods would be installed, which were required for him to pass the building inspection, six weeks went by. Instead, his project manager, tasked with submitting solar power plans to the local municipality for the permit required, said the inspector would come on a certain date. His house passed the inspection.
“Then the three-month battle to get my grounding rods in begins. Tesla says, you don’t need them because you passed inspection, but I did need them; it’s a requirement,” notes Yarrow. “I must have done seven phone calls, 27 emails – horrible customer service.”
Permission to Operate and system start
After the grounding rods were put in, it took four months for Tesla to submit his solar project to Pacific Gas & Electric to obtain the all-important Permission to Operate letter, which means you can finally turn on your solar installation and start saving money.
So since Yarrow’s system was installed in July 2021 but didn’t start running until November or December, he says he lost hundreds of dollars, since he had to keep paying PGE the full rate all that time. “Tesla had no financial incentive to act since they already had my money,” says Yarrow.
After PGE turned on his solar system, “It worked like a charm,” he says. His monthly electricity bills plummeted from about $300-500 a month to $188 in April (“it was cold, so lots of heat”), only $23 in May (“it was mild”), $90 in June, and $220 in July (“it was hot, so lots of air conditioning”).
“Tesla probably has the best technology in the business.” The long delay beforehand? “My customer service experience was atrocious.”
In a comparison of the best solar providers in the US, Forbes gave Tesla an A+ for BBB Grade and a Very Good customer rating, praising its Pros: a “well-designed and easy to use app with monitoring and control,” “powerwall bundled with every Tesla purchase” and price-match guarantee with other solar providers. Its only con noted some customers experience installation delays.