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A Guide to Solar Shingles: Are They Worth It? (Updated)

Currently, with the transition to having a future without carbon emissions, the supply of electricity has turned to the use of solar energy. Therefore, at the residential level, photovoltaic energy has taken a fundamental role.

That is why the installation of solar panels is the most common way to take advantage of the sun's energy, however, there is a more innovative technology that is starting to deploy in the industry, we are talking about solar roof shingles. This article will explain everything related to solar shingles so that you stay up-to-date to the most recent development and so you can evaluate if they are a good option for you.

What Are Solar Shingles? Composition, Types and Pros & Cons

What are solar shingles?

Solar shingles are nothing more than solar cells designed to look and function like conventional roofing materials. In other words, they are a type of shingle made from photovoltaic cells. They do not only act as your roof but at the same time, they generate electricity from solar energy conversion.

Solar shingles allow you to obtain all the benefits of solar energy without sacrificing the aesthetics of your home or generating more weight on your roof. Therefore, they have been an interesting technology to transform traditional roofs into electric power production stations.

Composition/Structure

Solar shingles incorporate solar cells generally made of ceramic or undulated fiberglass, each one containing 3 or 4 photovoltaic bands. Such photovoltaic bands are connected to the installation that passes under the roof. In figure 1 you can see the composition of the solar shingles:

Solar Roofing Layers (Forward Solar Roofing)
Fig 1. Solar Roofing Layers | Credit: Forward Solar Roofing

It is worth mentioning that the semiconductor they generally use is silicon (like most solar panels), while others use cells made with a thin film of materials such as copper, indium, gallium selenide (CIGS), or others. In addition, since solar shingles are quite thin, this allows them to have greater flexibility and be lightweight.

How do they work?

All solar shingles are designed to function as roofing materials, as the main idea is to join the solar panels with the roof rather than simply mounting them on top.

The operation of solar shingles is the same as that of conventional solar panels. That is, the semiconductor material absorbs sunlight to produce a flow of free electrons, thus generating electricity to power equipment with renewable energy.

How are they installed?

The installation of solar shingles does not require a mounting system as in the case of conventional solar panels. Instead of mounting them on top of a roof, solar shingles are integrated directly into the roof.

Solar roof shingles are part of what is known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), which convert a structure or surface from the construction sector into a generating source of electricity by using solar cells with colors and shapes that integrate into the building smoothly and aesthetically.

It is worth mentioning that solar shingles require the entire roof to be replaced as is the case with Tesla solar shingles (see figure 2).

Tesla Solar Roof
Fig 2. Tesla Solar Roof | Credit: Tesla

So for the installation of solar shingles, it is necessary to change the conventional roof because the active solar shingles (which contain silicon solar cells) will also act as structural support for the house and will have the same appearance as the inactive shingles (which do not generate energy).

Therefore, it is advisable to install them when your roof is going to be replaced or is new construction. It is important to take this into account, especially when evaluating the budget for the installation of a solar shingle system.

Finally, you have to take into account the factors that will determine the number of shingles you will need, including the size of the shingles selected, the area of ​​your home, and the amount of energy you will need to generate.

What are the different types of solar shingle technology?

Although the solar roof shingles industry is relatively new, this technology is constantly growing. In the market, there are currently two types of photovoltaic solar shingles, classified according to the type of semiconductor material that they are made from and their respective shape. These two are the following:

Crystalline Silicon Solar Shingles

Crystalline silicon solar shingles are very similar to those of a traditional solar panel, as they are rigid in shape, they also have a thin frame, which matches conventional roofs and is installed in line with the existing roof materials.

CIGS Solar Shingles

This type of photovoltaic solar roof shingle uses CIGS semiconductor materials as thin-film technology to produce solar energy at home. With these materials, more flexible and lighter shingles can be made that can be incorporated. An example of this type of solar roof shingles would be this product for instance.

Don’t be confused: Solar shingles and shingled solar panels are not the same things

What are shingled solar panels?

Another new type of development is related to the shingled solar panels, which have been adapted by cutting solar cells into strips and superimposing them within a framed module. This process allows eliminating the gaps between cells by placing more silicon cells in a module, this allows increasing the output power and the efficiency of the module.

Therefore, this technology allows improving efficiency, reliability and aesthetically they are more pleasant than conventional crystalline solar panels.

What are some important aspects of shingled solar panels?

Energy

  • More power: This is possible since they do not require busbars in the upper side, and in addition, they do not need to be separated so there is a more effective PV area is exposed to sunlight.
  • Less energy loss: The solar cells of the modules with shingles can be wired by grouping them in parallel, which further minimizes the losses due to the effect of the shade.

Reliability

Solar panels with shingles have greater resistance to external factors since static and dynamic load tests show that this technology is more resistant to external forces compared to conventional panels.

More Aesthetic

Shingled solar panels have a more delicate appearance and they do not show their circuits in a visible way. In addition, they are installed just flushed with the roof. This acts in favor of installations in high-end design houses.

What is the difference between shingled solar panels and solar shingles?

Shingled solar panels should not be confused with solar shingles used in photovoltaic energy applied to construction (see figure 3).

As already mentioned, solar shingles are nothing more than shingles made of photovoltaic cells, and these products replace the conventional roof.

On the other hand, shingled solar panels are a new technology in which the solar cells are cut into 5 or 6 strips and connected with a conductive adhesive overlaying each strip (making it simulate as if they were roof tiles).

The biggest difference between them is that the shingled solar panels do not act as structural support to your roof, they are just attached or installed on top of the roof. Meanwhile, solar shingles do act as your roof essentially, meaning they provide structural support and protect your house from external environmental parameters.

Shingled Solar Panels Mounted on a Roof
Fig 3. Shingled Solar Panels | Credit: Arstechnica

Solar shingles vs. conventional solar panels: What are the pros and cons?

It is important to take into account the pros and cons of solar roof shingles and conventional panels. Both systems can supply renewable energy but as it can be seen, they have important aspects that distinguish them. Following that idea, we gathered some of the most important pros and cons to consider when facing a decision between solar panel roof shingles and conventional solar modules.

FeaturesSolar Roof ShinglesConventional Solar Panels
AestheticThey have complete integration with the roof, making the house look futuristic and elegant.They are bulkier and not as aesthetically pleasing.
Option AvailabilityLimited styles and installers are available.A large variety of products.
CostsMost solar shingles on the market cost more than the average value of solar panels in the U.S. Tesla solar shingles are probably the cheapest at $1.8 per watt but the average goes between $3.8 and $7 per watt.The cost is much lower than that of solar shingles. Depending on the brand it can be $0.99 per watt.
InstallationShingles are often more difficult to install as the entire roof must be replaced. Also, there are fewer solar shingle companies.Conventional panels are easier to install, you just have to mount them on top of the roof and there are many solar installers to work with.
EfficiencyShingles generally have lower conversion efficiencies than solar panels. Efficiency is generally close to 15% with a few exceptions.Currently, the average efficiency of conventional panels is close to 20%.
Optimum OrientationSolar shingles are totally dependent on the slope and orientation of your roof. Solar panels are also dependent on the tilt and orientation of the roof, however, there are alternatives such as reverse tilt mounting systems that allow placing the modules facing directly to south at the optimum tilt angle to maximize production.

As you can see, solar shingles might be a good option if you need to replace your roof, if you are building a new home, or if you really just want to have the latest cutting-edge technology in the solar industry that looks futuristic and elegant. If that is not your case, it may be better to opt for traditional solar panels.

Are solar shingles the right choice for your solar roof?

As the number of solar shingle suppliers increases and prices fall, high-end consumers may find it attractive to implement this type of technology. However, many users also wonder if such technology is the best option for their roofs.

The truth is that it depends on several factors, some of which were mentioned above (see solar roof shingle vs. conventional solar panels table).

To use solar shingles, it is recommended that your budget and the orientation of your roof match the requirements. Also, if you are in a renovation process (specifically if you need to change the roof) it would be a strong point in favor of solar panel roof shingles.

On the other hand, if your home does not need a roof replacement, your budget is limited, you have an unfavorable roof orientation, or you want market variety, conventional solar panels would definitely be the best option.

It is advisable to evaluate several quotes from installers with conventional solar panels and solar roof shingles to compare effectively energy production and costs.

Conclusion

Solar roof shingles will allow you to enjoy all the benefits of solar energy without sacrificing the aesthetics of your home. However, they are considerably more expensive to install than a traditional solar panel system and will not produce the same energy.

Therefore, the decision to install solar shingles remains exclusively on the economic capacity that the owner has and the needs that he wants to cover.

In addition, as already mentioned there are many technologies available in the market and regardless of which one you want to use to power your home, it will always be advisable to compare the options you have and consult with an expert company in the area.

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