Solar roof shingles are a relative newcomer to the solar energy industry and were first available in 2005. Solar panels on the other hand have been around much longer, but which are better – solar shingles or solar panels? This article takes a look at the major differences between solar roof shingles and solar panels to determine if one is better than the other.
The best way of identifying whether solar shingles are better than solar panels (or vice versa) is to compare the two, taking a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each, in relation to various factors that may affect a solar energy installation.
Looks & Appearance
We all want our homes to look the best they can, both inside and out. This factor alone is one of the key reasons why people might choose solar shingles over solar panels. A solar shingle will in effect replace a roof tile, fitting flush among other solar shingles or a combination of solar shingles and traditional roof tiles. Solar panels on the other hand (if fitted to a roof) will need to be installed on top of a metal track raised a few inches above the roof tiles, which many people don’t like the look of.
When looks and appearance are taken into consideration, solar shingles win. The flush fitting design makes solar shingles integrate better with a tiled roof, improving aesthetics over a traditional rooftop solar panel installation.
When we take installation costs into consideration, it’s important to take a look at both new roof installations and existing roof installations.
New Roof Installations
For new roof installations (new buildings or the re-roofing of an existing building), solar shingles are likely to be the cheaper option when compared with traditional solar panels. This is down to the fact that a solar shingle replaces a roof tile, thus reducing the need to purchase and install roof tiles where the solar shingles will sit. If traditional solar panels were to be installed, the roof would need to be fully tiled to provide weather protection.
Existing Roof Installations
For those looking to install a solar energy system to their existing roof, solar panels are likely to be the cheaper option. If solar shingles were to be used instead then the labour involved in removing existing roof tiles to make way for the solar shingles would add additional cost to the project. Although this might be negligible for some, it still adds an additional layer of cost.
When solar roof shingles first came to market, the thin-film technology they used wasn’t anywhere near as efficient as a traditional silicone solar cell. A high quality solar shingle would provide around 10% conversion efficiency, whereas a high quality solar panel would provide around 20% efficiency. This is less of an issue nowadays however as thin-film solar technologies can reach around 19% conversation efficiency by utilising copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) technology.
Another factor concerning the efficiency of a solar roof shingle versus that of a traditional solar panel is down to the positioning of the solar cells. With solar shingles, the angle and tilt of your solar cells is limited to that of your roof and you can’t just alter the beams of your roof to provide a better angle for optimum conversion efficiency. The positioning of traditional solar panels however isn’t limited to the angle of your roof. Instead, the tracking that rooftop solar panels sit on can be adjusted to provide optimum conversion efficiency. Traditional solar panels can also be installed with an automated tracking system that follows the sun during its daily cycle across the sky.
Maintenance & Repair
Although both types of solar cell will be a relatively low maintenance option, the complexity of any required repairs should be taken into consideration. In the event of a solar shingle needing to be replaced, that shingle (and possibly others around it) would need to be removed, exposing your loft space to the elements temporarily. The process of replacing a traditional solar panel would be much easier, simply removing the panel from the tracking system rather than the structure of the roof.
Both solar roof shingles and solar panels have good and bad points. It’s likely that deciding whether solar shingles are better than traditional solar panels will come down to whether or not you will be installing them onto a new roof and how concerned you are about aesthetics. In most cases, traditional solar panels will be the most suitable option, giving you a tried and tested solution that integrates well with your home.