Tesla claims “lowest-ever” cost for rooftop solar in US by 33%

In amongst the steady flow of battery storage and electric vehicle updates and CEO tweets, Tesla has quietly laid claim to “the lowest-ever cost” for installing rooftop solar in the United States – and announced a money-back guarantee to back it up.

In a blog post published on Friday (US time), Tesla said its average rooftop solar system size was now “one-third less expensive” than the industry average in America, a price differential it says was made possible by “several simple improvements to a decades-old industry.”

As the US edition of PV Mag calculates here, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) puts residential solar prices in the US at $US2.83/W in the first quarter. And according to Tesla’s claim, that would put its rooftop PV offering at about $US1.89/W installed, before incentives.

Chart: Tesla

“With our new pricing, an average customer buying a large system in California will make their money back in only six years by reducing their electric bill, ultimately making an average of $US88,000 (just over $A127,000) over the system’s lifetime,” the Tesla blog says.

“All systems, in all states, generate more value than ever when purchased with cash or financed with a solar loan,” the post continues.

“If you change your mind after purchasing or are unhappy with the system, we will uninstall it and issue a full refund within seven days from system turn on.”

Tesla says it has been able to achieve this much of this price advantage through “simple improvements” to the sales and installation process, including offering fixed system sizes that customers can order “with a single click” online.

“Our internal software platform now automates solar panel placement for energy optimisation on a roof, significantly reducing the time needed to design a new system,” the blog says. “No more need to spend hours in consultations reviewing old utility bills.”

Apparently, this one-size-fits-all feature has appealed to Tesla’s American customers – even if it flies in the face of the advice of many a seasoned rooftop PV installer – with Tesla claiming more than 80% of online orders are using the automated system.

And this change, alone, it says, has cut the company’s solar sales and marketing costs by 64% – a saving that can then be passed on to customers as well as re-invested in further software improvements.

But savings are also being achieved via “core” solar technologies, including new premium panels with higher power and efficiency, and features that facilitate easier pairing solar with the Powerwall home battery system.

The company is also offering US customers in six states no up-front cost payment plans, or “subscriptions” for rooftop solar and Powerwall battery storage, for a fixed monthly payment that you can cancel anytime.

If all this looks like a slightly desperate grab for solar sales, it probably is. Tesla’s solar business has been the notable underperformer of Elon Musk’s “three-legged stool” vision of a sustainable future.

Despite grand plans underpinned by promises of revolutionary solar shingles and the 2016 purchase of Solar City, installations in the fourth quarter of 2019 were down 26% from a year ago to 54MW, and remain well out of range of a peak of 258MW in 2015.

But as the US inches out of Covid-19 and heads to a November federal election, anything is possible. And if there’s one thing we know about Elon Musk, it is that he should never be underestimated.

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