You don’t have to install solar panels on your roof to go solar – solar roof tiles are an innovative solar technology that can also help property owners save on their energy bills just like traditional solar panels. In this article, we’ll review the key differences between solar shingles, also called photovoltaic shingles, and their solar panel counterparts, as well as weigh the pros and cons of a solar shingle installation.
Solar shingles vs. solar panels: what’s the difference?
Many homeowners are curious about the difference between solar shingles and traditional solar panels. Solar shingles use the same technology as traditional solar panels, but are the same size and shape as an asphalt roof shingle.
All photovoltaic technology, as in all solar panels and solar shingles, is paired with inverters and connected to the grid. Solar shingle installations are often eligible for the same incentives as a traditional solar panel system (like the 26 percent federal ITC.) In addition, building-integrated PV systems are subject to the same net metering policies as standard solar panel systems.
The answer to the question “Should I install a solar roof or solar panels?” is simple: it depends. Some homes can benefit from solar shingles, while others are better suited to traditional solar panels.
Advantages of solar shingles
Solar roof shingles are an exciting product with a few key advantages over traditional solar panels: their aesthetics and their potential cost advantage when you factor in a roof replacement.
Many homeowners are surprised to learn that solar shingles can be more durable than ordinary asphalt shingles. Some manufacturers even claim that their solar shingles can withstand extreme weather and are fire-resistant. Additionally, they are lighter, making them ideal for homes that cannot support a lot of roof weight.
The key obstacle that solar shingles solve for is appearance; if you’re concerned about putting bulkier solar panels on top of your roof, solar shingles might be for you. Products like the Tesla Solar Roof are much sleeker than traditional panels, and can blend in with several roof types easily.
Cost-competitive with a roof replacement
You may have to replace your roof prior to installing solar panels, especially if it’s towards the end of its useful life. When you install solar shingles, you’re also getting a brand new, more durable roof as part of the deal. And in some cases, this can be more cost-effective than installing solar panels and building a new roof to go along with them. This is not always the case, but for older homes that need roof repairs anyway, a solar shingle installation might be a way to save a little bit of extra money.
Disadvantages of solar shingles
With any disruptive product comes some downsides, and solar shingles are no exception. The major downsides to consider with solar shingles are pricing, availability, roof type limitations, and energy production capabilities. It’s essential to consider these advantages and disadvantages when it comes to deciding if solar tiles or solar panels are better for your property. If a roof replacement is already a planned major home renovation, solar shingles might be a great option and ultimately save you time and money. It’s also important to keep in mind that companies that sell solar shingles may have different prices.
We’ll get right to the biggest sticking point for solar shingles: they’re expensive. Check out our analysis on the Tesla Solar Roof vs. traditional solar panels for a more in-depth look at pricing differences, but the key thing to know is that in just about every case, solar shingles cost significantly more than solar panels. This gap will likely shrink over time, but as long as solar shingles are still a new and experimental product, they’re likely to remain the pricier option.
Aside from the much-hyped Tesla Solar Roof, several companies have announced and even started installing their own solar roof products. However, across the board, these options have rolled out very slowly and in limited geographies. Solar shingles are just not being produced at a large scale yet, and as such, they’re often very hard to actually install. Some customers have been on waiting lists for years, and there’s not necessarily an end in sight.
Unlike traditional solar panels, solar shingles won’t work on every roof. Most shingle products are made to replace standard asphalt tile roofing, and some brands have alternative options for tiled or wooden roofing. Solar panels can be mounted on just about any roof type, from metal to rubber, making them a more flexible option for homeowners. Solar panels are ideal for an existing roof, while solar shingles are better suited for new constructions or when you’re replacing your roof.
Efficiency and energy production
Solar panel technology has matured significantly in the past decade or so, and panels these days can have efficiencies of over 22 or 23 percent in some cases. Solar shingles sacrifice efficiency and energy production for their sleek aesthetics, and most shingle brands have efficiencies more in the range of 14 to 18 percent. If you have a large enough roof, this won’t actually be a problem for you, but if your roof is small and you use a lot of electricity, solar shingles may not provide enough solar energy for you.
Solar shingles: top options compared
Typically there are two types of solar cells used to make solar shingles: CIGS cells and monocrystalline silicon cells. CIGS cells are made of copper indium gallium selenide. These thin and flexible solar shingles have a high conversion efficiency. The other type, monocrystalline silicon cells, are a natural semiconductor and are the type of solar cell used in traditional rooftop panels. They, too, have a high-efficiency rate and are typically more expensive than CIGS cells.
Which of these types of solar shingles are available to homeowners? Here are a few of the top competitors in this emerging space:
Tesla Solar Roof
You’ve no doubt heard of the Tesla Solar Roof, either from Elon Musk’s Twitter account or reading an article like our full overview of the product. It’s the most talked about solar roof tile product, but has yet to live up to the hype. The Tesla Solar Roof has had plenty of hiccups along the way to a full release, and it still isn’t widely available.
Certainteed solar shingles
Available across the country through their installer network, Certainteed has two solar shingle options available: the Apollo II and the Apollo Tile II. The Apollo II and Apollo Tile II systems are designed to work as an addition to your roof, so you won’t need a full roof replacement like with the Tesla Solar Roof.
Hanergy, a Chinese thin-film solar provider, announced their glass HanTiles system in 2019, and we’re still waiting for it to fully launch in the United States. Their product is a wavy, glass solar tile that replaces your existing roofing material much like the Tesla Solar Roof tiles do.
SunTegra solar shingles
Somewhere between solar panels and solar shingles are Suntegra’s solar shingles, a low-profile solar option that looks like a roof tile-shaped solar panel. However, they do still replace roof tiles. Post-installation, your roof might have part SunTegra tiles and part remaining roof tiles.
Why are solar shingles more expensive than solar panels?
Solar roof tiles and shingles have historically been more expensive than conventional solar panels, although they are becoming more cost-competitive. If you decide you want to use building-integrated PV, it is more cost-effective to install the shingles when replacing your roof, because you can simply integrate them in with your conventional asphalt roof shingles or replace your asphalt shingles as a whole for a more durable roof..
Many homeowners wonder about the price and general cost comparison of BIPV to typical rooftop solar panels. In addition to solar shingles’ cost being slightly higher, solar roof tiles are also less efficient than traditional solar panels. That being said, these shingles can still generate savings on electric bills: the average homeowner can save anywhere from 40 to 70 percent on their electricity costs by installing solar roof tiles.
One of the downsides of building-integrated PV is that it may be less effective at generating electricity depending on the orientation of your roof. While conventional solar panels can be tilted to catch the maximum amount of sunlight, your roof is static and may not have the best angle for solar roof shingles.
Frequently asked questions about solar shingles
In some cases, such as new construction or replacing a roof, solar shingles may be a more cost effective solution. For existing roofs, however, solar panels are almost always a cheaper solution.
This depends on how much power can be generated by the solar shingles, the size of the home and energy consumption. If a solar roof is exposed to enough sunlight to meet the needs of a household then yes, solar shingles can technically power a house.
The choice to get solar shingles depends on many factors. In some cases solar shingles are a more cost effective choice, and in other solar panels might be a better option. For example, if a roof replacement is needed regardless of if you get solar or not, solar shingles may very well be the more attractive choice.
Like solar panels, solar shingles are designed to last for many years—on average 25-30 years.
Solar panels are not designed to replace a traditional roof. While they can be fitted to a roof, homeowners can expect damage due to leaking. Additionally, homeowners cannot do any kind of construction or walk on solar panels that have been substituted for a traditional roof. Solar shingles allow for a little more flexibility without the risk of water damage.
Where to buy solar shingles
Solar shingles have only been around since 2005, and because the technology is relatively new, there isn’t a lot of data to indicate whether they have as long of a lifespan as traditional solar panels. It can also be difficult to find a contractor that installs solar roof shingles.
However, solar roof tiles are becoming increasingly popular for aesthetic reasons. They can be a good option for property owners subject to homeowners’ association (HOA) regulations – because solar shingles are thin and lie flat on the roof, they look more like a standard rooftop, and can be a good alternative if your HOA restricts the use of solar panels.
While some homeowners think that conventional solar panels look bulky, we at EnergySage think that solar panels look pretty good on homes. Manufacturers are recognizing that homeowners want visually pleasing solar energy systems, and are creating more appealing panels in response (have you seen these gorgeous all-black panels? So sleek!).
Regardless of solar panels or solar roof shingles, the best way to go solar is to compare all of your options in one place. Homeowners should register their property to get multiple quotes for a solar energy system, and then compare the quotes side-by-side to easily understand their pros and cons. When you register on EnergySage, you can specifically note that you’re interested in solar roof shingles! While many of our installers work with traditional PV panels, some may also be able to provide you with quotes for low-cost solar roof shingles, too.