Solar shingles are an alternative to traditional photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that some people believe could be the future of renewable electricity generation for homes and businesses.
If you’re wondering what solar shingles are, how you can get them, and if they are worth it, we will examine the answers to all of those questions and more in this comprehensive guide.
What are solar shingles?
Solar shingles, also known as solar tiles, solar roof, or solar roofing, are a product with the shape of traditional roof tiles and the functionality of solar panels, able to turn sunshine into electricity. Solar shingles can either partially or completely replace the materials on a home roof with subtle, electricity-generating devices.
Many people know of solar shingles from the Tesla Solar Roof product, which made headlines a few years back when Elon Musk debuted them on stage. More recently, companies like GAF Energy have started to compete against the Tesla Solar Roof with products like their Timberline Solar panel, which can be installed just like traditional roofing material without additional solar power expertise.
Essentially the blend of thin-film solar panels and building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), solar shingles are a relatively new product in the residential renewable energy industry, and are among the most exciting technologies to watch in the 2020s. Helping to shape the appearance of a solar-powered future, homeowners may be able to install solar shingles and save money on their long-term electricity costs with renewable power.
Talk to Palmetto about going solar today.
Solar Shingles vs Solar Panels
Solar shingles and solar panels are very similar. They both harness sunlight, produce electricity, and can qualify homeowners for solar tax credits upon installation. Each technology is designed for durable long-term performance, with both modern panels and solar roofing expected to last for 25 years or more.
However, there are also a few major differences between solar panels and solar tiles. Most importantly:
- Solar shingles are much thinner than rigid solar panels
- Solar panels can be ground-mounted, while shingles always require rooftop placement
- Solar shingles can be integrated into building materials, while panels can only be mounted on top of a roof
When choosing between a new solar roof or a traditional solar panel system, the costs, availability, and value of each technology are highly location and customer-specific. If you’re considering an installation, here are the pros and cons of solar shingles vs. rigid solar panels to help you determine the best choice for your property's power.
Advantages of A Solar Roof
In 2022, solar shingles and solar roofing products are emerging from a variety of manufacturers, with ongoing improvements in efficiency and durability. Compared to ordinary solar panels, building-integrated solar tiles have two main advantages: superior aesthetics and dual-functionality.
Low Profile: Despite their ability to reduce electricity costs and carbon emissions, some homeowners still think solar panels are “too ugly” for their roof. While we can see the beauty in both black and blue solar panels, there is no arguing that solar shingles can provide building owners with familiar roofing aesthetics, thus creating a less invasive installation. Sleek, modern, and even futuristic, solar shingles certainly win the aesthetic battle compared to traditional solar panels.
2-in-1 Functionality: More importantly, solar shingles offer 2-in-1 functionality as both a building material and an energy-generating device. Even though solar shingles tend to be more expensive than ordinary panels alone, this does not account for the costs associated with roofing materials. When replacing an old roof and adding solar shingles simultaneously, homeowners may be able to save money by combining two upgrades at once.
Disadvantages of A Solar Roof
Despite all of the hype around solar shingles, the technology is still experiencing many growing pains when compared side by side with PV solar panels. With that being said, solar roofing is still finding its footing in the residential market, and many of its disadvantages could be overcome by the end of the decade with further advancements.
Cost: Unless you also account for the cost of a new roof replacement, solar shingle installations are almost always more expensive than solar panels, with higher upfront costs and slower returns on investments. The average cost to install a solar shingle system can be between $60,000 and $75,000, which is significantly more than the price of a similar solar panel system. Of course, when the timing is right, there are instances in which a solar shingle installation can cost less than a total roof replacement and a solar energy system combined.
Availability: No matter how much you want a solar roof, the availability of a high-quality installation is still very limited nationwide. While Tesla famously paused solar roof installations amid supply chain shortages, other providers are also struggling to deploy their products, largely due to a lack of local installers. As a result, anyone looking to purchase solar shingles may experience long waiting periods due to an imbalance of supply and demand.
Power Efficiency: With less surface area and depth to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity, solar roofing tiles are generally less efficient than solar panels. Today, the average home solar panel has an efficiency of 15% to 20% and higher, while solar shingle efficiency tends to be on the lower end of this range. Knowing this, more roof space is required to install solar tiles than rigid panels.
Installation Flexibility: Unlike rigid solar panels, solar shingles are designed to physically replace roofing materials, which limits their overall installation flexibility. While solar panels can be installed on nearly every roofing material, and even angled to maximize power generation, building integrated solar shingles can only be installed on roofs that are specifically compatible with the product’s make and model.
Solar Tiles vs Thin-Film Solar Panels
While “true solar shingles” are installed directly into your roof, some companies will also market thin-film or flexible solar panels as a less invasive alternative to rigid PV panels.
In cases like this, your thin-film or flexible solar shingles would simply be overlaid on top of existing roofing materials, rather than built into the roof. Without dual-functionality, this limits one of the main benefits of solar roofing vs PV panels.
Solar Shingle Installation: Solar Roof Replacement vs. Partial Building Integration
When buying a solar roof there are two different installations a homeowner can consider: total replacement or partial integration.
In a total solar roofing replacement, every single piece of your new roof will be generating electricity and powering your home. Although this can produce tons of power, a full-roof replacement limits homeowners to one specific system size. Depending on the installation, this may be either too expensive or not large enough to offset a home’s electricity demand.
Alternatively, with partial building integration, solar shingles or solar tiles are designed to seamlessly integrate with existing (or brand new) roofing materials. Here, your roof would contain a combination of solar shingles and other materials to best meet your home’s electricity demand. In this kind of installation, homeowners can potentially save money by choosing to not install solar tiles on roof faces with less sun exposure or limited power generation potential.
Top Solar Shingle Manufacturers
In 2022, American homeowners can choose from a handful of popular solar shingle companies. Emerging from cleantech and roofing companies alike, here are some of the top solar roofing manufacturers currently on the market, in alphabetical order:
As we mentioned earlier, finding a solar shingle contractor can be difficult in many parts of the country. So, even if you can get your hands on an order of shingles directly from the manufacturer, your local solar installer may not have the experience to help install them.
As mounting and interconnection methods for different makes and models vary, some manufacturers like GAF Energy are aiming to make installation as easy as possible. They claim their new Timberline Solar product can be installed by any roofer with a nail gun.
Of course, unless you are an experienced electrician AND a roofer with a nail gun, we highly recommend talking to a professional before ever attempting to install solar shingles yourself.
Is Solar Roofing the Future of Home Solar?
In the right scenario, solar shingles are worth it for homeowners looking to replace their roof and install a renewable energy system at the same time. With two-in-one functionality, a smart solar roof consisting of building integrated photovoltaics allows you to generate green electricity for your home without losing any curb appeal.
Unfortunately, price and availability are still very strong limiting factors for the short-term expansion of solar shingles in the United States. As a result, many homeowners may find that an investment in traditional solar panels can be quicker, cheaper, and easier to achieve.
No matter where you are in your solar journey, Palmetto can help you find answers, products, and contractors you can trust. To get started, you can request a Free Solar Design and Savings Estimate today, and find out how much you can save by going solar.