SunPower Vs. Tesla (Which brand should you choose?)

The battles we are currently seeing between solar tech giants such as SunPower vs. Tesla will be more common in the future.

Solar energy has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1909. From feeble, costly solar water heating systems, solar technologies have provided notable breakthroughs towards decarbonizing grids and running space satellites.

It’s unsurprising to see large organizations such as the U.N. and SEIA take giant strides towards net-zero carbon systems and sustainability, with solar at the dead center.

With all countries setting ambitious climate change goals, we can expect many companies to jockey for the top spots and make the most out of this demand surge.

This will culminate in close-knit competition in the solar energy market, which we’ll all benefit from.

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SunPower Vs. Tesla

Let’s look at the SunPower vs. Tesla tale of the tape:

SpecificationsSunPowerTesla
Solar Panel ManufacturingMade In-houseOutsourced (Hanhwa)
Rating / Efficiency415W @ 22.3%315W @ 18.7%
Output Warranty 25 years25 years
Output Guarantee92% of Rated Power185% of Rated Power1
Solar Product Warranty25 years12 years
Warranty of Other ComponentsInverter (25 years)
Mount (25 years)
Monitoring System (10 years)
Energy Storage (10 years)
Inverter (10 years)
Mount (10 years)
Monitoring System (None)
Energy Storage (10 years)
(1 The term ‘Rated Power’ is the ideal solar panel output in desirable conditions. It is expressed in watts.)

On the business side of things, even though Tesla is a relatively new player in the solar industry, they are only slightly behind SunPower in energy revenues ($1.6 billion vs. $1.8 billion in 2018). This is quite a feat since SunPower is considered an “O.G.” in the solar energy business.

A deeper look into the finances shows that the majority of Tesla’s revenues come from:

  • Energy Storage Business (PowerWall)
  • High Gross Margins

Getting To Know Tesla

When you hear the word Tesla, you imagine a fancy-schmancy car instead of solar panels. It’s no secret that their popularity is deeply rooted in their electric vehicle business.

The Tesla brand tends to be synonymous with EVs rather than solar panels.
The Tesla brand tends to be synonymous with EVs rather than solar panels.

While many of you may see Tesla as the go-to solar brand, some of you will have mixed opinions about their solar energy products.

In terms of product offerings, Tesla has two main solar products:

Tesla Solar Roof

During its launch, Tesla marketed its solar roof tiles as an innovation over the typical rooftop.

Based on our analysis, Tesla solar roofs are better than traditional rooftops since they allow you to earn your money back over time. And the best part? They don’t even look like solar panels (see figure below.)

Tesla Solar Roof Tiles Come in four (4) Designs depending on your preference — SunPower vs Tesla.
Tesla Solar Roof Tiles Come in four (4) Designs depending on your preference.
Source: Tesla, Inc.

So, is a Tesla Solar Roof worth it? In our opinion, going with solar panels is still the quickest way to get your money back.

Not to mention, Tesla is not ready to roll out solar roofs on a massive scale.

Tesla Solar Panels

Even though Tesla’s solar panels are slapped with the Elon Musk seal of approval, Tesla does NOT manufacture its solar panels.

Panasonic was the initial supplier of Tesla’s solar cells before moving to Hanwha. To be specific, they use the QPeak Duo Black solar panels, similar to 300W solar panel performances. 

This third-party outsourcing might raise concerns for some of you regarding quality control.

Since Tesla solar panels are more economical than Tesla solar roofs, we will use them as the point of comparison with SunPower’s solar panel for this Sunpower vs. Tesla article.

Getting To Know SunPower

On the other hand, SunPower is a company dedicated to developing and installing solar energy systems. This commitment to solar innovation translates into impeccable products that outperform their peers.

In terms of solar panels, their primary offering is the SunPower 415, which boasts 22.3% efficiency compared to a conventional panel on same-sized arrays (260 W, 16% efficient, approx. 1.6 m²).

SunPower also claims to have the highest D.C. power output protection in the solar industry, with 92% D.C. power after 25 years of usage.


SunPower Vs. Tesla — Result

Here’s the bottom line:

Sunpower is the winner In terms of efficiency, rated power degradation, and warranties. However, Tesla solar panels have arguably better visual appeal. Not to mention, Tesla has been very competitive in price-matching and low installation costs in recent years.

Comparing SunPower vs Tesla Solar Panels.
Comparing SunPower vs. Tesla Solar Panels.
Source: stellarsolar.net

Which Company Produces Better Quality?

You probably remember from our conversation earlier that we’re more impressed with the stat sheet of SunPower 415 Solar Panel than Tesla’s Hanhwa 315.

Although you can’t entirely deny the aesthetic allure and the pleasure you derive from saying that your solar panel roof is by Tesla.


SunPower vs. Tesla – Which Company Is Cheaper?

Let’s look at the price points.

According to the NREL’s white paper report, SunPower’s residential solar panels cost around $4.2 per watt.

This is pretty high considering that the median price of residential solar in the U.S. is $2.75 per watt.

SunPower Residential Solar Systems cost around $4.2 per watt
SunPower Residential Solar Systems cost around $4.2 per watt
Source: 2021 NREL white paper

As of 2020, the median gross cost of solar panels is $2.75 per watt.
As of 2020, the median gross cost of solar panels is $2.75 per watt.
Source: 2021 NREL white paper

However, Electrek.co recently reported that Tesla has decided to become competitive in the pricing arena. According to Electrek, Tesla’s price reduction in their installation service will come from lowered installation costs and more powerful solar panel modules. This results in a $2.44 per watt cost before FTCs (Federal Tax Credits).

In addition, Tesla has made the consultation / quoting process more seamless thanks to their convenient solar panel calculator. SunPower is still holding its punches in this area. In their opinion, talking to a consultant is still the way to go to get a free evaluation.

While SunPower is not wrong, the concept of empowering your potential clients does give Tesla the upper hand, at least initially. Not to mention this goes really well with their price-matching strategy.


The Climatebiz Insight

Looking at these figures, a 5kW solar panel system in the United States will cost you around:

  • $4.2 per watt * 5,000 watts = $21,000 for SunPower
  • $2.44 per watt * 5,000 watts = $12,200 for Tesla

“Surely this makes Tesla the winner?”

Hold your horses! Remember that in terms of efficiency, SunPower has the superior solar cells (22.3% efficiency vs. Tesla’s 18.7%)

This means that a SunPower 5kW solar panel system will produce 19.25% more power (22.3% divided by 18.7%) than the Tesla solar panel.

Therefore, we can normalize the $21,000 price of SunPower to make it comparable to the Tesla pricing.

$21,000 divided by 1.1925 equals = $17,610

$17,610 divided by $4.2 equals = 4.193 kW

In summary, a $17,610 SunPower system (4.193 kW) will produce the same amount of power as a Tesla PV system worth $12,200 (5kW).

However, while the solar cell efficiency of SunPower helps reduce the cost of its entire system, Tesla still has the lower price for a 5kW residential system.

Note: These systems will offset 78% of the electricity consumption of a home with a monthly bill of $130-$150, depending on which state you are in.

Which Company Is Right For You?

Here’s an updated summary:

SpecificationsSunPowerTesla
Solar Panel ManufacturingMade In-houseOutsourced (Hanhwa)
Rating / Efficiency415W @ 22.3%315W @ 18.7%
Output Warranty 25 years25 years
Output Guarantee92% of Rated Power85% of Rated Power
Solar Product Warranty25 years12 years
Warranty of Other ComponentsInverter (25 years)
Mount (25 years)
Monitoring System (10 years)
Energy Storage (10 years)
Inverter (10 years)
Mount (10 years)
Monitoring System (None)
Energy Storage (10 years)
Updated Summary of Comparison

SpecificationsSunPowerTesla
Cost ($ per watt)$4.2$2.44
System Size (Normalized with respect to efficiency)4.193 kW5kW
Total Cost (Normalized with respect to efficiency)$17,610$12,200
Additional Considerations (Sample Case Study: 5kW system)

Climatebiz Professional Advice

If at this point you’re still undecided, consider the following:

Go with Tesla if you:

  • Are not fond of spending hours with consultants and installers;
  • Are not a fan of going through electricity bills to get precise sizing (an intelligent online estimate is fine);
  • Want a cheaper solar system at face value;
  • Value looks of solar panels on roofs (this is debatable though).

In a nutshell, Tesla buyers prefer the convenience and don’t mind a broader solar system size estimate. The cheaper initial cost and near-term savings (up to 12 years) are appealing to you as well.

Although lagging behind performance and warranties, you can't deny the charm a Tesla Product brings to the table.
Although lagging behind performance and warranties, you can’t deny the charm a Tesla Product brings to the table.
Source: Tesla, Inc.

Go with SunPower if you’re:

  • Detail-oriented and a fan of exhaustive approaches (leave no stone unturned!) like our lengthy deep dives on U.S. Solar Panel Installations;
  • A fan of a more tailor-fitted approach;
  • Value good warranty established reputations and love the 92% output guarantee after 25 years.

Bottom-line:

SunPower is your best bet if you:

  • Value higher solar panel production capacity over 25 years (long-term savings).
  • Love a hands-on approach (which includes assistance in licensing, permitting, HOA approvals, and all that regulatory stuff).
  • Enjoy the peace of mind that comes with warranties from a company that has been in the game long enough.

Don’t Completely Ignore Solar Roofs

While we agree that the Tesla solar roof cost cannot compete with traditional solar panels, we don’t want to remove it from your options entirely.

Tesla’s think tank definitely had a target market in mind when it created the Tesla Solar Roof concept. And given that it’s a relatively new and unique product, it’s crucial for you to learn everything you can about Tesla Solar Roofs before deciding if they’re right for you.


Final Thoughts 

We’re confident you can make your own decision based on the information we provided you in this SunPower vs. Tesla discussion.

Just remember; your solar system will be on your roofs for 25+ years. Therefore, the company you choose will determine your renewable energy experience for the decades to come.

Enjoy your savings while helping mother earth!

Gustav Cruz, B. Eng

Gustav Cruz, B. Eng

Gustav has a Bachelor of Engineering and is currently practicing as a senior-level electrical engineer specializing in research. He is eager to deliver his analyses in a comical fashion while providing you with the right amount of scientific information. He believes that, with a bit of help, a well-informed decision is rewarding to make, it saves you money, and it is a win-win for all - the planet included.

2 Comments
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  1. I am considering TESLA solar system and spoke to an engineer @ Tesla. According to him, Tesla now (Apr 2022) uses T400H TESLA panels manufactured at Buffalo factory. They no longer use Hanwha panels.

    • You are correct Punit, we have already gotten feedback from Tesla. You can expect an updated article within the next week.

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