What are Solar Shingles?
Solar shingles are small photovoltaic modules designed to look and function similar to a standard asphalt or slate roofing material while also producing photovoltaic energy.
- Solar shingles are more durable and just as easy to maintain than traditional asphalt shingles.
- While solar panels still have some edge on shingles, the advantage is quickly receding.
- The cost of installing panels vs shingles is approximately equal.
Understanding Solar Shingles
Solar shingles are small photovoltaic cells designed to look and function similar to a standard asphalt or slate roofing material while also producing photovoltaic energy. They are in a special class of solar energy systems called building-integrated photovoltaics. Most shingles are approximately 12 in × 86 in and can be stapled directly to roofing cloth, just like a conventional shingle.
Initially, solar arrays were only available in the form of the large panels that most people are familiar with seeing on the roofs of many homes. As photovoltaic technology improved and became smaller, the idea of solar shingles started to become more popular. The first version of solar shingles hit the market for general consumers in 2005, with several more manufacturers entering the market since. In October 2016, Tesla entered the solar shingle market via a joint venture with SolarCity.
Today, there are several shingle manufacturers including SolarCity/Tesla, CertainTeed, and even Dow Chemical.
Solar shingles take many shapes and sizes, including some that come in the form of rigid single-sized panels that take the place of conventional shingles, semi-rigid panels that are very similar to conventional roofing shingles, and the newest entrants to the market that are made of flexible thin-film technologies. Some of the most common solar shingles on the market use the same rigid poly or mono crystalline silicon that is used in standard roof-mounted solar panels.
In terms of installation, shingles can actually be much easier to install than their larger counterparts. This is because while solar panels need to locate roof rafters to secure mounting hardware and lots of additional fixtures to mount the panels at the correct angles, solar shingles can be installed on most roofs with a process that is very similar to that of installing traditional asphalt shingles.
When it comes to appearance, shingles also have a growing following because they are much less obtrusive than traditional solar panels. In many cases, a viewer would not be able to tell that a roof was covered in solar shingles. Typical solar shingles have a dark purple or black color and glossy finish, similar to a conventional roof after it rains.
Tesla has developed several new styles of solar roof that mimic slate and tuscan-style roofs to further enhance the appearance of solar shingles while generating as much power as traditional panels.
The cost of solar shingles is currently between $3-$9 per watt fully installed, depending on the manufacturer, with the cost of a full roof installation ranging between $20,000 – $75,000 based on roof size.
As of 2019, the average cost of a traditional roof-mounted solar installation in the US was right around $20,000, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association, while Dow Chemical Company reports that the typical installation consisting of about 350 solar shingles would also come in around $20,000. Of course, local and federal incentives are likely to reduce the final cost to the homeowner.
Solar Shingles vs Solar Panels
Some of the biggest benefits of solar shingles over traditional solar panels include being much more aesthetically pleasing, being more cost effective (if you are already replacing your roof), being more durable compared to asphalt shingles, and their ability to be removed and reinstalled if the homeowner were to move.
The biggest disadvantage of shingles compared to panels lies in their energy efficiency. Most shingles on the market have a slightly lower lifespan than solar panels and due to their inability to change the pitch at which they are mounted, may not be at the optimal angle for collecting sunlight. (Tesla solar shingles boast a 25-year lifespan and claim to be just as efficient as traditional panels) Finally, one of the biggest limiting factors at present is that many solar installers do not offer solar shingles yet.
Solar Panel – A solar panel, also known as a photovoltaic module, is a large panel of semiconducting materials, glass, and metal that generates power from the sun through the photovoltaic effect.
Solar-Grade Silicon – Solar grade silicon is a form of high-purity silicon (99.9999% pure) that is produced exclusively for the solar industry and does not typically include semiconductor-grade silicon.
Photovoltaic Module – A collection of photovoltaic cells mounted together to collect sunlight for energy. Also, colloquially called a solar panel.