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Solar Roof Shingles vs Solar Panels

Solar roof tiles blending in with existing roof slates.

First available in 2005, solar roof shingles are a relative newcomer to the solar energy industry. 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 the two technologies.

Comparison

The best way of comparing solar shingles to solar panels is to take a look at their key differences. This will help you decide which is more suited to your particular needs.

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 an entire roof tile. It will fit flush among other solar shingles or a combination of solar and traditional shingles (such as asphalt shingles.) On the other hand, rooftop solar panels are often installed on top of a metal track raised a few inches above the tiles. To many, this is a less aesthetically pleasing design than the shingle alternative.

When we take looks and appearance into consideration, solar shingles have the edge. Their flush fitting design allows them to better integrate with a shingle roof.  This improves aesthetics over a traditional rooftop solar panel system.

Installation Cost

When we take solar installation costs into consideration, it’s important to take a look at both new and existing roofing projects.

New Roof Installations

For new roof installations (new buildings or a roof replacement), solar shingles are likely to be the cheaper option. As solar shingles are a direct replacement, you eliminate the need to install traditional roof tiles where they will sit. When it comes to solar panels, you would still need to install roof tiles beneath the panels. This helps to ensure your roof will be fully waterproof.

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. Deciding to install solar shingles to an existing roof will inflate the cost of your project. This is because of the labor involved in removing existing tiles where you will install your new solar shingles. Although this cost might be negligible for some people, the process still adds an additional layer of cost.

Energy Efficiency

When solar roof shingles first came to market, they weren’t very efficient. This was down to the use of thin-film technology which wasn’t as efficient as traditional silicon solar cells. A good solar shingle would provide around 10% conversion efficiency whereas a solar panel would provide around 20% efficiency. This is less of an issue nowadays as thin-film solar devices can reach around 19% conversation efficiency. They are able to do this by utilizing copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) technology.

Another factor concerning the efficiency of solar roof shingles versus that of traditional solar panels is their angle and tilt. With solar shingles, their angle/tilt is limited to that of your roof. You can’t just alter the beams of your roof to provide a better angle for optimum conversion efficiency. With solar panels, you are not limited to the angle of your roof. Due to the tracking that rooftop solar panels sit on, you have the ability to adjust their angle and tilt. This helps you achieve optimum conversion efficiency for your environment. You can even install your solar cells with an automated tracking system that follows the sun during its daily cycle across the sky.

Maintenance & Repair

Both solar shingles and solar panels should be relatively low maintenance, but you should still take ease of repair into account. In the event that you need to replace one of your solar shingles, you would first need to remove the shingle (and possibly others around it.) This process will temporarily expose your loft space to the elements. The process of replacing a traditional solar panel is far easier. You would simply need to have the panel removed from the tracking system, rather than altering the structure and integrity of your roof.

Overview

Both solar roof shingles and solar panels have good and bad points. It’s likely that your choice will come down to whether you will be installing them onto a new or existing roof and how concerned you are about aesthetics. In most cases, traditional solar panels will be the most suitable option as they give you a tried and tested solution that integrates well with your home.