Why I just chose solar over FSD on my Model 3, and why you should too

Sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money. That old saying couldn’t be more true, than for homeowners considering adding solar panels to their rooftop.

After getting a Tesla Model 3 in September, I’ve driven 7,000km in the car and absolutely love it. While the car is amazing in its growing capabilities, I’m incredibly keen to use and review the extra features available by upgrading to the Full Self Driving package.

This upgrade doesn’t come cheap at A$8,500 and Elon has indicated that price would increase as functionality improves. Right now an FSD upgrade will allow you to:

  • Navigate on Autopilot: automatic driving from highway on-ramp to off-ramp including interchanges and overtaking slower cars.
  • Autopark: both parallel and perpendicular spaces.
  • Summon: your parked car will come to find you anywhere in a parking lot.

Coming later this year, the car will be able to:

  • Recognize and respond to traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Automatic drive on city streets

While those features sound fun and certainly get plenty of attention when showing off to your friends, financially, FSD right now is hard to justify and investing the money into a solar system feels like a far better investment.

After building our forever home 3 years ago, we haven’t yet added solar to the roof. Given the rising power prices and our growing needs for power, now is great time to consider solar.

To begin, around 2 million homes and businesses in Australia have added solar, so clearly there are benefits to be had and many Australians are already realising those benefits, namely a cheaper power bill.

If you live in a state where the Government provides a solar rebate program (like Victoria), then any calculations on return on investment will be improved. If you’re looking to stay in your house for longer than the time it takes to pay back the solar panels, inverter and installation costs, then you’ll be ahead.

In years gone by that timeframe for payback has been as much as 5-7 years. Given the aggressive competition in the market, global production scales and technology improvements, the cost of solar has reduced dramatically, shortening that cost to as little as 2-3 years.

The price of the system really depends on two things, the quality of the products (panels and inverter) and the install cost. I’ve seen plenty of cheap systems advertised online and it really does feel like a race to the bottom.

To begin the research I found SolarQuotes.com.au which provides a great video on how to select the right solar panel brand and model, along with the right inverter.

Thankfully their updated Solar 101 for 2020 edition had exactly the options available by a local solar company (Kdec Electrical and Solar), which helped narrow my selection. My favourite slides are those that reveal entry-level to top-end manufacturers.

Naturally, everyone has different budgets, but I took the approach of doing it once and do it properly, so was looking mid-to-high-end system of around 5 to 6.5kW in size.

After now having received a quote for SunPower and a SolarEdge Inverter, talking it over with my wife, we’re going ahead and adding solar to our home.

Our system will include:

  • 20 x SunPower 325W P-series All Black Mono Crystalline modules (SPR-P19-325) with 25 year product warranty and 25 year lineal performance guarantee.
  • 1 x SolarEdge HD Wave 5kW solar inverter (SE5000H)
  • 20 x SolarEdge P370 DC Optimisers with 12 year product warranty on inverter + 25 year product warranty on DC optimisers.
  • Production/consumption monitoring and faults notification via mobile app.
  • All associated mounting hardware and isolator shrouds to be supplied in a black finish for added aesthetic appeal.

The price of the system is made more affordable thanks to the Small scale technology certificates (STC’s) which is a discount the solar providers claim from the Government. Then you get your discounts which is currently A$1,888.00 off the price of the solar system and another A$1,888.00 in an interest-free loan to be paid off at around $10pw for 4 years.

Despite selecting premium panels and a top-end inverter, our outlay for a solar system will be less than 60% of the current FSD price. Our performance estimate (based on current power use, location and orientation of our house, the size and efficiency of the system, panel layout etc.. has our ROI in just 2.9 years. After 25 years, we’d be $63,670 better off. To be honest, I don’t expect to hit that, but even if we come close, the benefit is clear, this will save us a significant amount of money over the panel’s lifetime.

This ROI does depend a lot on the feed-in tariff and the power rate we pay on a new solar power plan. The state average is around $0.12 for a feed-in tariff (FIT), that’s the excess power you generate, but aren’t using, so is sent back to the grid. If you look around, you can find some as high as $0.20, like at Amaysim (yes they do energy as well as mobiles). With a higher FIT, you also usually find higher power rates for what you use. At this point, it’s a matter of running the numbers in a spreadsheet to choose the right provider for you.

While I’ve hovered over the FSD buy button more than a few times, solar is the better investment for my family.

I would absolutely love to have FSD and cover its evolution on techAU. As many on Twitter know, I’ve asked @ElonMusk to trade some of my 42 referrals in for FSD, but it seems he’s not up for a trade. I’m headed towards 50 and had the old referral program still be around, I would have qualified for a brand new 2020 Roadster worth more than $300,000 (2% off per referral).

As great as FSD would be, it’s not easy to justify when solar has a better opportunity to return the money invested, faster.

As Tesla march towards full level 4/5 autonomy, they’ll also release their ridesharing service. This will compete with Uber, but eliminate the cost of the driver’s cut, replacing it with a smaller % for the owner of the vehicle. The amount an owner can earn will depend on the demand in the market where they live, as well as their ability to be without their car for personal journeys.

Musk has promoted estimates like $30,000 per year. In reality, I live in Albury Wodonga which currently doesn’t have Uber. While there is a rubbish taxi service here, I imagine Tesla’s requirement to launch their ridesharing program in a market will depend on it’s potential scale. Best case, this would be a few years away for my location and we’ll see it launch in US cities first, then Australian capitals, then regional locations.

So for me, it’s solar for now, and I’ll evaluate FSD at some point in the future.

While adding solar and battery sounds like the ideal solution to reduce or eliminate your power bill, the reality is the ROI on a battery isn’t really there right now. As a Tesla fan, I’m hoping we see Powerwall 3 soon and at a reduced price from the current model. While the VIC Government also has a battery rebate, $4K off a $12K product is still A$8K and that’ll take many, many years to pay off and would not make a good investment right now.

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Jason Cartwright
Jason Cartwrighthttp://techau.com.au/author/jason/
Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021


  1. Great to hear someone really focused on the payback time and ROI. Good for you, here in NY, we have a short summer and long dark winter, and its hard to get a quote with a payback in much less than 7 years.

    Problem is an average investor can double their money in 7-9 years, historically, so there is no comparison.

    I also need a 20Kw system, so investment is material. Its more like a model 3 than FSD!

    Yet people around me keep buying the “no utility bill” story and not thinking of it as the investment it really is.

    Im glad you can get a 2-3 year payback. Id jump if we had that here, but most companies are charging A LOT for the labor. 25,000 in labor was last quote I saw.

    Competition needs time to work over here, though I do see panel capacity marching higher, and that means eventually getting the system you need with less of them, and ultimately a lower install cost.

    Congratulations on a smart investment, and good work sir on this article. I wish there were more voices of reason, like yours in this category.

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