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Shingled Panels vs. Solar Shingles: Differences & When to Use Them?

First of all, shingled solar panels and solar shingles are not the same type of panel.

At first glance, they both look more aesthetically appealing than traditional crystalline silicon  (c-Si) panels. However, their materials, structure, performance and applications can vary greatly.

This article will compare shingled panels and solar shingles side-by-side. Then you can better understand their particulars and apply them wisely.

Shingled Panels vs. Solar Shingles

What Are ‘Shingled’ Solar Panels?

In a conventional c-Si solar panel, solar cells are usually square. Dozens of cells, typically 60, 72, or 96, are interconnected using metal contacts, comprising busbars, fingers and interconnect ribbons, to aggregate and transport the generated electricity.

In these conventional panels, there are gaps between the cells, which are visible in general.

In a shingled solar panel, the cells are cut into smaller rectangular strips using laser technology. Unlike the assembly technique used in conventional panels that primarily involves soldering, the cell strips in a shingled panel are overlapped (or ‘shingled’) similarly to roof shingles.

Specifically, the front edge of one strip is connected to the rear edge of the adjacent strip, generally using electrically conductive adhesive (ECA).

In a nutshell, the word ‘shingled’ indicates the look of the cells and how they are connected.

This assembly technique minimizes the use of metal contacts as well as the gaps between cells. Therefore, it leads to a more pleasing appearance.

What Are Solar 'Shingles'?

Solar shingles differ significantly from conventional c-Si panels.

Also known as solar roof tiles based on their designs, these solar panels integrate solar photovoltaic cells into the roofing material itself. They act as both roofing material and solar panels, providing protection for the roof/structure while generating solar power.

Shingled panels typically employ crystalline silicon (c-Si) as their photovoltaic material. By comparison, solar shingle products can utilize either c-Si or thin-film materials, including CIGS, depending on specific design requirements.

CIGS thin-film material is widely used in solar shingles because:

  • Their superior thinness and flexibility open up vast possibilities for shingle designs.
  • Their good performance in low-light conditions can enhance power output given layers above the photovoltaic material in solar shingles may not be of good transparency.

Unlike other panels, solar shingles highly integrate cells into the roofing material. They minimize or eliminate visible metal contacts, and their installation doesn't require the use of traditional racking and mounting systems. 

These advantages contribute to a seamless, all-in-one roofing solution that not only enhances the roof's functionality but also its aesthetic appeal.

Shingled Panels vs. Solar Shingles: Pros and Cons

Following a brief overview of these two innovative panels, a more in-depth examination of their pros and cons is essential to grasp their full potential and limitations.

Pros and Cons of ‘Shingled’ Panels

Pros

  • Higher Power Density: Shingled solar panels boast a several percent increase in area exposed to sunlight due to the reduced gaps between cells. This design enables them to generate more power per square meter than traditional panels.
  • Improved Aesthetics: Their minimized cell gaps and reduced contacts naturally lead to a more uniform and streamlined appearance in comparison to conventional panels, which is more visually appealing on a rooftop.
  • Increased Shade Tolerance: Their small strip-shaped cells are interconnected in a hybrid configuration that leverages both series and parallel connections, which increases shade tolerance and power out under shading conditions.
  • Enhanced Durability: The overlapping cells provide additional structural support, making these panels more resistant to mechanical stress and external forces. Whereas the use of ECA helps to reduce internal stresses due to thermal expansion, making them more durable under various conditions.
  • Low Maintenance: Their maintenance, which includes cleaning and replacing damaged panels, is basically equivalent to the upkeep required for conventional products. This is easier and less complex than the maintenance for solar shingle products.

Cons

  • Higher Cost: The complexity of their manufacturing can increase the likelihood of defects. Their high manufacturing cost can translate into higher product prices than traditional panels.
  • Limited Market Availability: Although gaining popularity, shingled panels are still relatively new to the market. Their commercial supply might be limited compared to more established traditional panels.

Pros and Cons of Solar 'Shingles'

Pros

  • Dual Functionality: Solar shingles are high-end solar panels on the market, functioning as both a roofing material and a solar power generator. It can be a cost-effective option if you are already planning to replace your roof.
  • Enhanced Space Efficiency: Solar shingles maximize the use of available roof space without additional racking and mounting systems. This enhances space efficiency and hence brings about a compact look.
  • Unparallel Aesthetics: They are designed to blend seamlessly with traditional roofing materials, offering a more aesthetically pleasing appearance alternative to traditional, bulky panels and even shingled panel products.
  • Durability: As more integrated systems, quality solar shingles can withstand harsh weather conditions, including hail, strong winds and heavy snow, under which other panels as well as their mounting systems are more prone to damage.
  • Increased Property Value: Solar shingles inject elements of ‘futurism’ into the property. These panels increase the property value and make the home more attractive to potential buyers.

Cons

  • Much Higher Cost: They cost more than other panel products available in the market. The installation of them requires a new roof or replacement for existing roofing materials, which can add up costs greatly.
  • Relatively Lower Efficiency: Since a balance is needed between their roofing and power generation capabilities, solar shingles typically have efficiencies lower than other panels, including shingled products.
  • Lower Installation Flexibility: Solar shingles are limited by the natural orientation of the roof. They are less versatile in terms of installation angles compared to traditional rack-mounted panels which can be adjusted. This can affect their ability to capture maximum sunlight, ultimately impacting the overall efficiency of the system.
  • Complex Replacement: If the photovoltaic material is faulty, you usually have to replace the entire shingle product. Meanwhile, since a replacement may induce damage to existing sealant, you should re-apply roofing sealant and do extra tests to ensure the area is well watertight. 
  • Availability: As a newer technology, there may be fewer product options and vendors specializing in solar shingles compared to traditional panels.

Shingled Panels vs. Solar Shingles: When to Use Them?

Yet, to many, solar panels transcend their functional role as power generators, doubling as sleek, modern art pieces.

The demand for more good-looking panel products is growing.

Solar shingles are an awesome BIPV choice for homeowners who prioritize aesthetics and a seamless roof appearance and wish to integrate renewable energy solutions into their homes. They are especially perfect for new constructions and roof replacement projects.

However, they may come with certain trade-offs, particularly related to cost and efficiency. It is important to weigh these factors carefully.

In contrast, while they may not offer the same sleek aesthetic and authentic BIPV experience as solar shingles, shingled solar panels provide a more reliable performance and streamlined installation, all while maintaining a satisfactory appeal. 

They are an ideal choice for retrofitting on existing roofs without the need for significant modifications required for the installation of solar shingles. They are also suitable for projects with budget constraints due to their lower upfront costs in comparison to shingle products.

Conclusion

To date, the advancement of both shingled solar panels and solar shingles shows no signs of slowing.

New technologies, such as passivated edge technology, and cross-disciplinary research, have been blended into the ongoing development of these panels. In addition to improvements in aesthetics and performance, their prices will continually decrease.

Evaluate each technology against your specific conditions and expectations to determine the best fit for your project!

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