My underperforming Tesla Solar system (formerly SolarCity)

Solar Savings

Customer with Tesla (formerly SolarCity) since Jan 16, 2015
Job number JB-8024630-00
System size
Months of
Tesla Solar
Telsa Solar
Tesla Solar
Lifetime of Service
Tesla Solar
Lifetime of Service
Tesla Solar
Lifetime of Service
6.615 kW DC612636422.19 kWh37252.72 kWh43213.083333333 kWh

Q. Are you just trying to smear Tesla (formerly SolarCity)?

A. Absolutely not, in fact my Job Number is JB-8024630-00. I would LOVE for Tesla to get a hold of me and resolve this. I would love to have no more months where my system does not even produce the minimum possible estimate. Isn't that reasonable? I would love to be able to talk to customer care and let them know that more months than not, my system does not even make the minimum estimate. I've tried, I'm told that they see no errors so it's working as designed, they talk over me, they don't listen and then they hang up on me. The support culture at Tesla seems to be to be rude to customers. I would love to tell people how great Tesla solar is. But as it sits I simply can not. I have tried for over 3 years to get Tesla to fix my system. I have sat on hold more than any person should. I've opened tickets, never to get any response. It's impossible to get anyone to come out. Tesla's bills have no contact information on them. It is very hard to find any sort of phone number on Tesla's website. Tesla locks you in for 20 years and then it seems like they don't want to hear from you at all. There is literally no recourse if your system does not work as designed.

Q. Is solar worth it? Is Tesla (formerly SolarCity) worth it?

A. I get asked this question all the time, 'is solar worth it?' My short answer is, 'well, my system is performing at 86% of what I was guaranteed by Tesla (formerly SolarCity) over 4.5 years now. I save about $20 a month. I don't know if it's worth the hassle to have those panels on the roof. I can't really say I'm going green because Tesla always blames trees that were there at time of system design and wants me to remove them.

The long answer is that I have a lease with Tesla (formerly SolarCity). What this means is that Tesla (formerly SolarCity) installed the panels and entire system for free. It cost me nothing upfront, and they understandably took all the tax rebates. They guarantee me a certain amount of production every year and I pay them a fixed rate each month accordingly based on that guarantee. At the time of writing my system is performing at about 86% of what they guaranteed me over the lifetime of me having Tesla (formerly SolarCity) service, yet I am paying for a 100% performing system. Still, even underperforming, by the time it's all said and done I pay just over $0.10/kWh when I would have been paying about 0.13/kWh if I were buying all of my energy from Xcel Energy, so I save on average $20/month. Unfortunately what that also means is that when the system underperforms, like it historically has, I pay the increased rate from Xcel Energy to make up for Tesla (formerly SolarCity)'s shortcomings.

To be fair, Tesla (formerly SolarCity) CLAIMS in your contract that they will reimburse you every two years for any underproduction the system has. The rub on that is that they will reimburse me at their guaranteed rate, whereas I had to buy it at the Xcel Energy rate, which is over 50% more expensive.

Not only that, but they removed a portion of my reimbursement for tree shading, the very trees that were there at time of system design and install (sigh) and that I have trimmed far beyond original design specs. I tried to talk to them about it and the people who DECIDE your reimbursement are not customer-facing. They decide and that is final. A customer has no recourse and that is by design. Additionally, reimbursement checks don't just come automatically, you have to chase them down, my second check should have come earlier this year, it's July now and I've called Tesla three different times about it. My first reimbursement check for 2015-2016 should have been for $226.51, but Tesla sent me one for $217.44 with a note about shading (there is no shading). I don't know what my check for 2017-2018 will be as I haven't seen it. Tesla does not even come out to assess if there is any potential shading, they do it all by Google Maps.

Other things you don't necessarily think about are the fact that, if you have hail damage on the roof, Tesla (formerly SolarCity) charges $400 to remove and reinstall the panels for re-roofing. I dread trying to get Tesla to work with insurance and a roofer on a schedule. I honestly doubt it would ever happen. Some months it costs me much more to have Tesla (formerly SolarCity) than it would have cost me to simply have Xcel Energy. For example, check out My Full Power History and look at Dec 2015 through Feb 2016. It cost me $0.148 to $0.1789/kWh when it would have cost me $0.13kWh or less with Xcel.

Q. Is it true Tesla (formerly SolarCity) puts a lien on your mortgage?

A. Sort of, but they call it a 'fixture filing'. This used to be an FAQ on the support site, but they have blocked it now We are refinancing our home mortgage, and were informed today that SolarCity has a fixture filing filed. Our financial service company needs this to be removed for our refinance to go through. Can you help us with this?: 'Tesla (formerly SolarCity) files a UCC-1 fixture filing because it protects our ownership of the solar system against any mortgage lender or other creditors of the customer from claiming an interest in the solar system.' True, to them it's not a lien, to banks it is. In order to refinance banks will require it to be removed, which will cost you about $80 IIRC and crunch already tight timelines. Pop lien and Tesla into Google for more information.

Q. My friend has referred me to Tesla (formerly SolarCity) since he/she says they are saving a lot of money. Are your calculations wrong? How can I be sure who is correct?

A. The odds are that your friend has associated the displaced expense of solar with savings from the power bill. With Tesla (formerly SolarCity) your power bill obviously drops, but you are simply paying another company for power instead. Here are some questions you can ask to clarify:

  • What is your solar production compared to your guaranteed rate from Tesla (formerly SolarCity)?
  • As I mentioned above, Tesla (formerly SolarCity) gives each person a guaranteed yearly production in their contract. What you pay monthly is based on that guaranteed yearly production. If your friend doesn't know what his system is making in comparison to the guarantee, he/she can't possibly know how much they are saving (or not saving). As I stated above, my system over its lifetime is performing at 83% of the guarantee, yet I'm paying the 100% performing price.

  • Are you including your utility companies hook up fee in the total cost of electricity?
  • Right or wrong, Xcel Energy charges me about 8-$12/month to be connected to their power grid and draw energy from them. I get charged this amount each month whether I use power or not. While not a fee charged by Tesla (formerly SolarCity), it still is part of my total cost of electricity.

  • When it's all said and done, what are you paying per kWh?
  • This is big. My guaranteed rate for Tesla (formerly SolarCity) last year was $0.0848/kWh, yet I paid about $0.105/kWh total for electricty. Some was due to the system performing only up to 79% of the guarantee that year, the rest was due to me using a bit more power than the previous year. This is still a saving over Xcel Energy, which would have been about $0.1303/kWh according to my projections. On average I save about $20 per month when averaged out over the year. Is that worth it to not be able to plant trees, to worry about paying $400 to remove and reinstall the panels in the event of a hailstorm, or to have contractors refuse to look at something on your roof since you have solar panels? I don't know.

  • What is your total electrical bill each month when averaged over a year, utility company and solar?
  • I've noticed when people talk about all of the savings they are making with solar, it seems like they don't calculate the full cost of electricity. This includes any fees and taxes from their power company associated with electricty, as well as what they are paying to Tesla (formerly SolarCity). It's very numbers-driven, but I've made everything very transparent in My Full Power History. I have my bills for electricity listed all the way back to 2009. You can see months that Tesla (formerly SolarCity) performed up to guarantee in green, and when they didn't in red. You can see what I paid per kWh each month. You can see some months where I have great kWh costs, and then some where it's significantly more expensive than Xcel Energy. You decide if solar is worth it.