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Solar Shingles: What Are They and How Do They Work?

Solar shingles are thin photovoltaic (PV) sheets. They can lay on top of existing shingles, replace them, or be used in the construction of a new house or roof.

They are based on a technology that was developed by Dow Chemical and further innovated by Tesla. Solar shingles provide homeowners with an affordable, stylish solar energy panel that also serves as a weatherproof, protective roof shingle.

Solar Shingles Features

In functionality, solar shingles are similar to solar panels. Their main purpose is converting sunlight into electricity. But they offer several other beneficial features.

Solar Shingle Size

Firstly, solar shingles are smaller than traditional solar panels. They are comparable in size to the average roofing shingles, about 12 inches wide by 86 inches long.

Solar shingles are also light, weighing approximately 13 pounds per square foot. The tiles are less than an inch thick. The typical solar roof installation requires about 350 tiles.

Solar Shingle Materials

Thin film solar shingles (TFSC) are PVC solar shingles made from copper and indium gallium selenide, a semiconductor that allows the cells to be thin and flexible.

TFSC possesses one of the highest conversion efficiency rates, averaging about 10–12%. Some brands use monocrystalline silicon (mono-Si), which is a natural semiconductor used in making computer chips. Mono-Si cells average 15–20 percent efficiency rate.

They are generally more expensive, but the efficiency may make the increased cost worthwhile.

Solar Shingle Power Output

The amount of power generated by solar shingles depends on the brand and type of shingle. The average solar shingle produces between 13 and 63 watts of electricity. Estimates indicate 350 tiles can reduce the average utility bill by 40 to 70 percent!

All solar-shingle systems require an energy inverter kit. These kits harness the solar power captured by the cells.

Solar Shingles vs. Solar Panels

Although solar shingles and traditional solar panels serve the same purpose, each system has its own pros and cons.

Aesthetics rank as the top difference between solar shingles and solar panels. Solar panels are somewhat bulky. Some people think this creates an unseemly appearance. Solar shingles, however, blend perfectly with your existing roof design.

Installation is another big difference. Solar panels fit the vast majority of roofs, provided they are in good repair and receive adequate sunlight. Many solar shingles will require an entirely new roof.

Longevity

Longevity presents a complicated comparison between solar panels and solar shingles. Solar panels typically maintain high energy efficiency for 20-25 years, while solar shingle lifetime depends greatly on the manufacturer and the installer.

For example, Tesla’s solar roof shingles boast a 30-year power warranty and a durability warranty for your home’s lifetime. Other solar shingle manufacturers, such as RGS Energy and its Powerhouse platform (adopted from Dow Chemical’s design), offer only a 24-year energy production warranty.

Solar Roof Tile Pros

Like solar panels, solar roof tiles help reduce pollution as well as save you money on your power bill. These reasons alone are good ones for purchasing solar shingles, though there are other benefits and drawbacks to consider.

 Here are some of the pros of choosing solar shingles:

Sleek Appearance

Many homeowners choose solar shingles for aesthetic reasons. While solar panels are bulky and noticeably stick out on rooftops, tiles are designed to match the existing roofing. However,  solar shingles may not match all roofing exactly. Despite this, they tend to blend in, creating a sleek, consistent appearance.

Money Savings

Scientific American reports that solar shingles can lower electricity bills by about 50 percent. In addition, homeowners who choose Energy Star–approved solar-power systems may be eligible for a deduction of 30% of installment costs.

Solar Shingle Cons

Solar shingles offer many discernable benefits compared to solar panels, but the technology is still new and has some drawbacks.

Lower Efficiency

Solar shingles often are less efficient versus solar panels, particularly if they are made with thin-film solar cells. Solar panels can also be adjusted to the best angle for sunlight exposure, while shingles are stationary. Because of their immobility, you need more shingles to achieve the same energy output, increasing your total cost.

Long Installation Time

The long installation process is one of the biggest disadvantages of solar shingles.  Despite technological advances, a large solar shingle roof installation can take up to a week and longer if you’re rebuilding your roof for an embedded system like Tesla’s. By comparison, most standard solar panel systems are installed in a single day.

Cost to Install Solar Shingles

The cost of solar shingle systems vary widely by the home’s square footage, energy needs, the shingle manufacturer, and the installer. Some systems, such as RGS Powerhouse, can cost only $15,000 to install, while Tesla’s solar roof can cost upward of $70,000. To get the best price, comparison shop several brands and installers.

Tesla Solar Roof

In 2016, Tesla acquired SolarCity in a $2.6 billion deal and launched its solar panel program. SolarCity was a residential and commercial solar installer and leaser of solar equipment. Since the acquisition and merger with Tesla, SolarCity has focused on traditional solar panels and their futuristic solar roof product.

Tesla’s Solar Roof is the new solar offering on the market. It’s the biggest brand with the most cutting edge features, including Tesla’s Powerwall battery and monitoring app for iPhone and Android.

Tesla Solar Roof Pros

  • Tesla handles the whole project, from design to installation, including the removal of the existing roof and installation of the new one
  • The 30-year warranty is unbeatable, and it ensures you will maintain efficiency over your payback period
  • The Tesla solar roofs look great. There are two available tile types, a futuristic glass roof or a blend in with a textured tile
  • The Tesla solar roof is the top-of-the line in innovation, allowing you to enjoy being ahead of the solar curve.
  • The tiles are made from tempered glass, which is more durable and resilient versus traditional roofing material 
  • The smartphone app tracks energy usage and battery storage

Tesla Solar Roof Cons

  • It is one of the most expensive options for a solar-powered roof. With the price of Powerwall batteries, it can cost between $50,000 and $100,000 for the solar roof tiles and installation
  • While traditional installations take up to three days, Tesla solar roof installation takes many weeks
  • Maximum output is around 10kW for their largest installations. This may be insufficient for some household’s power needs
  • If you drive an electric vehicle, a second or even third Powerwall battery will be needed
  • You must replace your existing roof, which is costly and time consuming. 

Recommendation

Tesla’s solar shingles may be too expensive unless you are installing it on a new house or replacing your roof anyway. Solar panels are far cheaper, and you are paying more for the Tesla brand despite the fact that the technology is still maturing. If you really want a Tesla solar roof, make sure to shop around for installment prices.

RGS Energy Solar Shingles

Dow has been a leader in solar energy innovation since 1994. The company recently left the solar industry but before leaving created the Powerhouse solar shingle, which RGS Energy took under its wing.

Powerhouse is the company’s official solar shingle system. It comes with a solar monitoring system that shows how much energy your system is producing at any point in time.

CertainTeed

CertainTeed has built its reputation as a developer of sustainable solutions. The company provides conventional roofing as well as manufacturing the Apollo II solar roof tiles. The Apollo shingles are hardy: They can withstand 250 pounds of pressure per square foot and winds up to 150 miles per hour.

Next Steps

Solar roof tiles offer a popular aesthetic look as well as saving on electricity bills and helping reduce pollution. Whether you are trying to save on electricity costs or help reduce carbon emissions, solar shingles are a great investment if you can afford them. 

If you’re ready to take the next step toward becoming a solar powered household, be sure to get quotes from several reliable sources. Solar shingles are costly, but if you can afford the installation, they provide tremendous cost savings and great aesthetic appearance.

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