olar energy has become a popular choice for those looking for an environmentally friendly and cost-effective power source. However, traditional panels can sometimes be an eyesore on roofs and impact the overall aesthetic of a building. This is where solar shingles come in as a solution. They are an innovative technology that combines the functionality of solar panels with the look of traditional roofing materials, offering an attractive and efficient alternative. In this article, we will explore the benefits and potential drawbacks of this option and examine if it is viable for those looking to go green. We’ll also highlight some top producers to make your choice easier.
Introduction to solar shingles
Photovoltaic technology continues to evolve, and researchers are pushing the boundaries with innovative alternatives to traditional solar panels. One of the most intriguing options is the solar shingle - a cutting-edge solution that combines the functionality of a solar panel with the aesthetic appeal of a traditional roofing material.
So, what exactly are solar shingles and tiles? They are photovoltaic panels incorporated into a home’s roof to look like traditional roofing materials like asphalt or slate while also producing electricity from the sun. With its innovative design, the solar shingle is paving the way as a leader in building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), an advanced class of photovoltaics that seamlessly integrate with the structure of your home. Other forms of building-integrated photovoltaics include solar powered exterior cladding, photovoltaic curtain walls, and balconies fitted with solar railings.
Now let’s look at the working principle of solar tiles. They function similarly to traditional solar panels, except they consist of smaller individual components. A shingle or tile is usually around 12 inches wide and 86 inches long. To cover a standard roof, you'll need about 350 of these tiles. In contrast, typical solar panels are typically 65 inches by 39 inches in size.
In every other respect, solar shingles are similar to traditional panels. They also rely on the photovoltaic effect – a process that converts light energy into electrical energy. This happens when light particles, called photons, interact with the electrons in the smallest unit of a solar tile called a photovoltaic cell. Photovoltaic cells are made up of two layers of a semiconductor material that have different electrical properties: one layer is positively charged, and the other is negatively charged. When the photons hit the cell, they cause the electrons to flow from the negatively charged layer to the positively charged one. This creates an electrical current that can be harnessed and used to power our homes.
Types of solar shingles
For homes, you can choose between several types of photovoltaic solar shingles. The standard silicon solar cells and the innovative copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) thin film photovoltaics are the two most popular options.
Silicon solar tiles
Silicon models utilize the same monocrystalline silicon found in computer chips. Like large monocrystalline panels, they are thin and stiff but more costly than CIGS options. Right now, they can convert energy with an efficiency of anywhere from 15% to 24%.
IGS solar tiles
A newer type is the CIGS variety, made from copper, indium, gallium, and selenide. Unlike typical rigid silicon-based solar photovoltaics, CIGS models fall under the category of thin-film photovoltaics, offering greater flexibility and lighter weight. But its performance is significantly weaker compared to crystalline competitors, with only a 12-14% efficiency rate.
Solar roof tiles vs. panels
Solar shingles are not yet a widespread choice among homeowners, leading some to ask whether they're truly worth the investment or simply a marketing gimmick. This section will compare the two and help you make the optimal decision for your needs.
When comparing power output, solar panels tend to have the advantage. Residential solar panels can generate up to 400 watts of electricity, while PV shingles produce a more modest 13 to 70 watts per unit. To reach the same power output as one panel, you may need anywhere from 5 to 30 shingles.
The size and visibility of solar panels on a roof can vary, with the appearance of the panels dependent on the type chosen. Some homeowners may find that blue polycrystalline panels detract from the overall look of their home, while monocrystalline alternatives are more discreet with their black color. However, most photovoltaic panels still tend to lack aesthetic appeal, often appearing bulky and taking up large amounts of roof space.
Solar shingles, however, have been designed to blend in seamlessly. They look just like traditional roofing materials, with a sleek design that gives the roof an attractive appearance. This is what draws many people to this solution, with aesthetics being one of the biggest reasons for their popularity.
Both solar panels and solar shingles utilize the photovoltaic effect, but solar shingles are less effective. This is because they are attached directly to the roof without any airflow underneath, causing heat to escape and reducing their efficiency. On the other hand, the panels can be positioned to face the sun and can be easily relocated, whereas solar shingles are integrated into the roof and cannot be adjusted. This means that, depending on the weather conditions or the home’s design, the PV cells may not always receive optimal amounts of sunlight, further decreasing their efficiency.
As a rule, the efficiency of solar shingles falls within the 14% to 18% range. If your roof is spacious, this shouldn't be a concern. However, if you have limited roof space and consume a substantial amount of electricity, shingles may not satisfy your energy needs.
The average lifespan of solar shingles and panels is 20-25 years, but with good maintenance, they can endure even longer. Additionally, despite being a recent technology, they typically come with a warranty of 25 years or more from installation companies, surpassing the warranty of traditional roofs.
Installation and maintenance
Solar shingles have proven to be more convenient than solar panels in terms of installation. Unlike the panels, which require the expertise of a solar professional to install, they can be easily installed by regular roofers. However, the installation process is quite lengthy, requiring around a week to complete, assuming the existing roof is in good condition. If the roof needs renovation, the installation can take even more time.
Additionally, with their appearance similar to traditional roof tiles, they are surprisingly easy to maintain. It's recommended to keep an eye out for snow and leaves, but otherwise, cleaning can be done with just a garden hose.
Installing solar shingles requires more materials, resulting in a higher cost compared to panels. On average, the cost of such solar installation is around 15% to 25% higher than a typical PV panel system.
For an average U.S. roof size of 1,700 square feet, the cost of solar shingles can range from $25,000 to $60,000 or $15 to $35 per square foot. But the actual cost can differ based on the size of the roof, the energy needs of the household, and the manufacturer and installation team. Also, certain installers offer roof replacement as part of their package, which may render PV tiles an economical choice if you plan on replacing your roof soon.
Best PV shingle manufacturers
Solar shingles made their debut in 2005, and the industry has since expanded to include a range of producers. Selecting the right one can be challenging, which is why we have compiled a list of the top solar tile producers to help simplify the process.
Tesla Solar Roof
The first company that comes to mind when discussing solar roofs is Tesla. They've made great strides in innovation and have received a lot of attention for it. The Tesla Solar Roof has been making waves in the solar world, with everyone from tech geeks to eco-warriors talking about it.
The Solar Roof consists of two distinct textured glass tiles - active and inactive. When installed, your existing roof will be replaced by a blend of active units, which contain monocrystalline solar cells for energy production, and inactive units, that function as traditional tiles. These Tesla tiles are made from tempered glass and are advertised as three times stronger than standard roofing tiles. Additionally, they have been rated by ASTM D3161 Class F for wind resistance, meaning they can endure winds up to 110 mph.
One of the standout features of Tesla Roof Tiles is their sleek design. Tesla has four different styles to choose from – textured, smooth, Tuscan, and slate – that blend in with the look of a regular roof. If preserving the appearance of your roof is important to you, then Tesla's tiles are a fantastic option. Furthermore, Tesla provides a lifetime warranty on their tiles, guaranteeing their durability for as long as you own your home.
One of the major issues with Tesla Roof Tiles is the cost factor. The installation of the Tesla Solar Roof requires a complete roof replacement, even if your roof doesn't need it, which adds to the overall cost compared to just installing the panels. The cost of the Tesla roof is approximately $25,000 more than normal solar panels, but it only provides 77% of the energy output. When compared to other PV tiles, Tesla's option comes in at a higher price point of $11.77 to $15.40 per watt.
Established in 1904, CertainTeed has a long history of producing quality building materials. In the early 2010s, they expanded their offerings to include solar roof shingles that are made using the same monocrystalline technology as PV panels. They offer two products, the Apollo II and the Apollo Tile II, both of which generate the same amount of power – 60 watts from 14 cells. The Apollo II is perfect for homes with asphalt roofs, while the Apollo Tile II works well on concrete tile roofs.
CertainTeed products have some pros and cons compared to competitors. On the plus side, they are designed to work with your existing roof, which makes the installation process easier and more affordable. However, they are not as sleek or low-profile as Tesla's offerings, as they are not completely invisible. The cost for CertainTeed shingles ranges from $6.40 to $8.00 per watt, while the tiles are priced at $7.65 to $10.00 per watt.
When your solar solution is set up by a CertainTeed Credentialed Solar Installer, you'll receive a 15-year workmanship warranty. For an even longer warranty of 25 years, you can opt to work with a Master Solar Installer. Additionally, CertainTeed offers monitoring hardware with a 5-year warranty.
Another reputable brand is Suntegra. Similar to CertainTeed, they offer two options for their solar products, shingles and tiles, so you can decide which one fits your roof material most.
Suntegra’s solar shingles are integrated with the roof and mimic traditional asphalt ones. Three wattage options are available: 105, 110, and 114 watts. Their cost varies depending on the wattage you choose, with prices starting at $5.70 per watt and going up to $6.40. Solar tiles, on the other hand, come with a lower power capacity of 64 to 70 watts and a steeper price tag. You can expect to pay anywhere from $6.16 to $7.81 per watt.
Forward solar roofing
Forward Solar, a startup based in Oakland, California, is currently operating in the San Francisco Bay Area but has big plans for expansion both domestically and globally. What sets them apart is their solar tile product, which features a metal standing seam roof type that allows their solar solutions to be installed on roofs, garages, barns, warehouses, and other industrial-style roofs.
Forward offers an energy density of 19 watts per square foot, a passive venting system, and an impressive 30-year warranty. Their tiles can be considered a cost-effective option, with a price of just $3.75 per watt - the most budget-friendly among all the tiles listed in this article.
Luma solar roofs
A pioneer in the solar energy market, Luma was the first to bring PV shingle systems to North America over a decade ago. Their tiles boast a sleek design similar to Tesla's solution but with even better efficiency. In the world of solar roofing, Luma's 22-24% efficiency range for their products is virtually unparalleled, surpassing Tesla's 18-20% by a significant margin. Additionally, Luma's shingles are slightly bigger than Tesla's, so you don't need as many pieces to cover the same roof area.
Luma monocrystalline PV models have a lot to offer, with 80 watts of power per unit and the ability to withstand high winds, including Category 5 hurricanes. They also boast the distinction of being the only solar shingles that can be upgraded, a valuable feature as technology continues to advance. Unfortunately, their product warranty is limited to just 5 years, though the power warranty is for 25 years.
With a long history of providing superior roofing materials, GAF has introduced the Timberline Solar Energy Shingles. This product is revolutionary as it is the first PV shingle that can be installed with nails, which simplifies the installation process greatly. GAF provides full roof replacements that come equipped with photovoltaic systems, similar to the concept behind the Tesla option. This means that you can't upgrade just a section of your roof with their shingles.
The GAF offering boasts a 45-watt power rating and an impressive 22.6% efficiency, comparable to top-performing PV panels. GAF offers multiple design options for the normal, non-power-producing parts of your roof when you install a Timberline roof. With four colors to choose from, including birchwood, charcoal, pewter gray, and weathered wood, you're sure to find a look that matches your home.
Final thoughts: are PV tiles a good investment?
Solar tiles are a fantastic option for homeowners who want a modern, sleek, and stylish way to generate clean energy for their homes. With seamless integration into the roof, these tiles provide a clean, uniform look that is preferred by many over traditional panels. This makes them a good choice for those who want to go green without sacrificing their home's appearance.
It's worth mentioning, however, that solar tiles tend to be less cost-effective than traditional panels. They are typically more expensive per unit of energy produced, which means the investment could take longer to pay off. Homeowners should weigh the aesthetic appeal of photovoltaic tiles against the potential for increased costs before making a decision.