Solar Shingles

Everything You Need To Know About Solar Shingles

A Complete Guide to Solar Roof Tiles

Updated:
Reviewed by
George Duval

As photovoltaic technology becomes more modernized, researchers are beginning to develop alternatives to the traditional solar panel. Solar shingles are a recent addition to the expanding lineup of new PV technologies. Solar shingles and roof tiles are meant to replace normal roofing materials with roof shingles that generate electricity. They still function as roofing materials, being fire resistant and providing protection during storms. They cost more compared to traditional solar panels, but provide the same power output. Some are opting to switch to solar shingles simply for the aesthetics, as the low profile and simple design can add a nice modern touch to a home. A major deterrent for installing solar roof tiles is that they necessitate the complete replacement of the roof, which adds to the cost of installation.

Closeup of Tesla SolarCity roof tiles. Source: Wikimedia

What are Solar Shingles?

Solar roof tiles are photovoltaics that are integrated into the roof of your home. They are designed to look and act like traditional roofing materials, like asphalt or slate, while simultaneously generating power from the sun. They are part of a group of PV modules called building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPD, a class of PVs that are built into the architecture of a structure.

Solar shingles first became commercially available in 2005, and the market today has grown to encompass several companies and manufacturers. Tesla is the most well-known provider of solar roof tiles, though other companies like Luma, SunTegra, and CertainTeed offer them as well.

Solar shingles offer all of the same protections as normal roof shingles, but they also generate electricity. Source: Joy Yu

How do Solar Shingles Work?

Solar shingles work just like traditional solar panels, except the individual modules are much smaller. Sunlight strikes the solar tiles, and the semiconductor material converts light energy into electricity via a chemical process. The electricity is then used to power your home.

The average size of a solar roof tile is 12 in x 86 in (300mm x 2180mm), and each solar roof tile can produce anywhere between 50 to 115 watts. Whereas early solar tile manufacturers used flexible CIGS as a semiconductor, more companies today are utilizing crystalline silicon solar cells. This means they can achieve higher efficiencies and be more competitive with traditional solar panels.

Solar shingles come in different types. Some can be applied directly onto existing roof tiles, while others replace the roof completely. Some are made with flexible semiconductor materials, while others are multilayered and use traditional c-Si solar cells. Since not every part of the roof of a house faces the sun, installers might only place solar roof tiles where they will achieve the highest efficiency, while using similarly designed non-solar roof tiles where the sunlight doesn’t shine, as well as on the perimeters of the roof.

Are Solar Shingles Worth It?

Solar shingles tend to be quite expensive. On average, they can cost between $3.80 to $9.00 per watt. The price depends on the manufacturer, system size, and type of solar tile. Installation costs can also be a huge additive, as solar shingles that require a complete roof replacement cost much more than those which are simply layered over existing roof tiles. Although they are expensive, you can still take advantage of net metering with solar shingles like traditional solar panels.

It’s important to remember that you’re not just getting a PV system, but a roofing material as well. Solar roof tiles have proven to be quite durable, being able to withstand strong winds and hailstorms. Some manufacturers claim that their solar roof tiles are stronger than traditional roof tiles.

Solar roof tiles can be installed alongside normal roof tiles. Source: NREL

Some homes might not be suitable with solar roof tiles. Those who already have expensive roofing materials might see it as an extra cost. Many solar shingles require completely removing the old roof and having it replaced, which can put off many homeowners. Solar roof tiles are best installed on homes that are still being built, where the owner has complete control over the design and building materials of the home.

Many like solar roof tiles simply for the aesthetic value. They have a dark color and a shiny, sleek look. Some might see the switch as a worthy investment, considering they get a sleek new roof along with a reduced energy bill.

Solar Shingles vs. Solar Panels

The major difference between solar shingles and solar panels are the aesthetics and the price. Solar shingles are more appealing to the eye. The sleek look adds a look of modernity. They blend in better with the home, and passersby often can’t tell that the house even has an installed PV system. Granted, solar tiles are still limited in styles. They all tend to have the same look; dark in color and completely flat. Tesla has only recently come out with new designs, like their Tuscan-inspired roof tiles, which have a dusty brown color and are shaped more like traditional roof shingles. Solar shingles also lack many of the extras required with a solar array, as the mounting racks, brackets, and external wiring are absent.

Solar panels are cheaper to install, mainly because they don’t require a complete replacement of the roof. In many cases, installing both solar panels and new non-solar roofing separately can cost less than an entire solar roof tile installation. Where installing solar panels can cost an average of $3 per watt, installing solar roof tiles can cost between $3.80 to $9 per watt.

As far as longevity goes, solar panels and solar roof tiles are about the same. Both are manufactured to last about 20 to 30 years. Sunpower, one of the highest quality manufacturers of solar panels, offers a 25 year performance warranty, while Tesla has a 30 year performance warranty on their solar roofs.

Maintenance for solar tiles is a bit easier compared to solar panels. There are fewer nooks and notches for leaves and dirt to build up, and it’s harder for bugs and birds to make a home inside. Simply spraying solar roof tiles with a garden hose is enough to keep them clean, while solar panels have to be removed in order to be cleaned and inspected. On the contrary, solar shingles are new, so we don’t know how easy they are to service and repair when they start getting old.

Solar panels are much cheaper to install than solar shingles. Source: Justin Lim

Solar roof tiles also tend to be more durable than solar panels. They’re not just for generating electricity, they are actually a roof material. That means they are built to be resistant to hard impacts, like hailstorms and debris from strong winds. Solar roof tiles are also made to be fire resistant, the same of which can’t be said for solar panels.

Solar panels do have the benefit of being able to be removed after installation. If you were to sell your house after installing a PV system, you can decide to bring your solar panels, or leave them on the home as an added feature. Solar roofs can’t be removed and molded onto another house. They are custom fitted for each installation. Although, homes with solar roofs can be sold for a $15,000 premium on average compared to similar homes without PV systems.

Pros & Cons

Solar roof shingles are a long term investment. Weighing the pros and cons is important, especially since you’ll be paying more than traditional solar panels. Doing research and knowing the ins and outs is a must before making a final decision.

Pros

Aesthetics

Solar shingles and roof tiles have a low profile and blend in with the home. Oftentimes, it’s hard to tell that the home even has a PV system installed. This makes them more aesthetically appealing compared to traditional solar panels.

Durability

Solar roof tiles aren’t just meant for producing electricity, they are actually a bonafide roofing material. That means they are durable and made to last. Some manufacturers even claim that their solar shingles are stronger than non-solar shingles. They are manufactured to withstand hailstorms, strong wind, and debris from heavy storms. They’re also fire resistant.

Longevity

Solar shingles can last as long as traditional solar panels, usually having warranties between 20 and 30 years.

Maintenance

Solar shingles are easier to maintain compared to solar panels. They don’t have as many places for dirt buildup, nor do they have many places for birds and bugs to hide. This means that a solar roof can easily be cleaned off with a garden hose. Compare this to solar panel maintenance, where the panels have to be physically removed and cleaned.

Perfect for New Homes

Though they are costly, solar roof tiles are more cost-effective when installed on a new home. The cost of installation is much lower because the roof doesn’t need to be removed and the house can have the solar shingles built-in.

The cheapest way to install roof shingles is by installing them on a new home. Source: Avel Chuklanov

Cons

Cost

Solar shingles are expensive when compared to traditional solar panels. On average, solar panel installations cost about $3 per watt, while solar roof tile installations can cost between $3.80 to $9 per watt. The cost of removing the roof is a big part of the cost. Sometimes, installing a new non-solar roof and a conventional solar panel system can actually cost less than installing solar shingles.

Time to Install

Solar roof tiles take more time to install due to the roof removal. Whereas conventional solar panels may take a few days to install, solar shingles can take about two weeks.

Limited Styles

Since solar roof tiles are still relatively new technology, styles are limited. Currently, most solar shingles tend to be black in color and completely flat. While some like the sleek appearance, it’s nice to have variety in styles. Tesla is now releasing different styles of their solar roof tiles, which look like more traditional roof tiles in both color and shape, while still generating electricity.

Require Entire Roof Replacement

Most solar roof tile installations require complete removal and replacement of the roof. That adds to the cost of installation. For a home with expensive roof materials, this can be a major setback.

Can’t be Transported

Solar shingles are custom built for the house they are installed on. That means they can’t be installed on another home if you decide to get up and move, unlike traditional solar panels. Though, this can be considered a pro, seeing as homes with solar roofs can be sold for a premium.

Efficiency

Solar shingles tend to be less efficient than solar panels. Whereas the best solar panels have efficiencies in the low 20% range, solar tiles hover in the mid to high teens, topping out around 18%.

Future of Solar Roof Shingles

The market for solar shingles is growing. More people are adopting the solar roof as an alternative to traditional solar panels. The collaboration between Tesla and SolarCity helped catapult the popularity of solar roof tiles into the mainstream. The solar roof is a hit with newly built homes, where owners can avoid the extra cost of replacing an existing roof. Though cost is still a deterrent for many homeowners, the increase in demand is pushing manufacturers to innovate new technologies that make solar shingles less costly and more efficient.

While solar shingles are gaining in popularity, there’s still no word on when solar shingles will become competitive against traditional solar panels. Once the technology behind solar shingles is perfected, maybe we will see a transition to the sleek and invisible solar roof tile, and away from clunky and cumbersome solar panel arrays.

Conclusion

Solar roof tiles are still taking off. Though they’re sleek and help homes blend in, they’re expensive compared to traditional solar panels. The initial cost and amount of labor can put off some homeowners, who might not want to replace their entire roof. Those who are building a new home can circumvent the high cost by having the solar roof built in with their new home. Despite the high cost, it’s important to remember that you get what you pay for. Solar roof tiles also function as a legitimate roofing material, they aren’t as delicate as traditional solar panels. They can hold up to fire, hail, and strong winds, and can even be walked on. Making the choice between solar roof tiles and solar panels can be tough. So make sure to dig deep and have a full understanding of your needs before making a final decision.

FAQs

What are solar shingles?

Solar shingles are PV cells that are integrated into the roof of your home. They generate electricity while simultaneously functioning as a roof material.

How much do solar shingles cost?

Solar shingles cost anywhere between $3.80 to $9.00 per watt. The cost of installation is a significant factor as the entire roof must be replaced when installing solar roof tiles.

Are solar shingles better than solar panels?

That depends on your wants and needs. Solar shingles cost more, but they have a low profile and are more aesthetically pleasing. They are also very durable since they are an actual roofing material, unlike solar panels. Solar panels are much cheaper, and can be removed and taken with you in case you decide to move or sell your house.

George Duval

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Author Bio

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George Duval

George Duval is a writer and expert in sustainability and environmental studies. After graduating with a B.A. in Sustainability from Florida International University, George began dedicating his life to researching new ways to make the world a greener place. His expertise ranges from organic gardening, to renewable energy, to eating plant-based diets. He is currently writing and editing for a number of publications, most of which focus on the environment.

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