There are many ways to install a photovoltaic (PV) solar system, but the most common way is to put solar panels on a roof, nice and high where the panels can avoid shade. That inevitably got people thinking: What if the roof itself could be incorporated into PV solar? What if we had solar roof tiles?
Those products came on the market in 2005, and they have many similarities to solar panels. In fact, technologically they're just mini solar panels. The big difference is that solar shingles - also called "building integrated photovoltaics" or BIPV - are solar panels that look like shingles so they blend in like a normal roof.
And just like solar panels, solar shingles can cut costs on energy bills. While solar shingles are an exciting technology, customers weighing how to go solar have several things to think about:
- Because they're newer, solar shingles tend to be more expensive than solar panels, though - like panels - the price for them continues to drop. Top-of-the-line solar shingles can run $66,000 to $78,000 for an average 3,000-square-foot roof. A solar array for a similar home costs around $25,000, before tax credits.
- Solar shingles are more expensive in part because they are less efficient at generating power than solar panels. It takes about 20 to 25 shingles to generate the same power as one conventional solar panel. It would take even more shingles to generate as much power as SunPower's high-efficiency panels.
- Installing solar shingles is normally cost-effective only if your roof already needs to be replaced.
- While solar panels can be installed in the sunniest place on a roof - or can be tilted to catch the most sunlight - roof tiles can't be adjusted. If the roof is not already oriented to the sun, they will not be efficient at generating power. Every home has a unique orientation to the sun, so this can vary greatly from house to house.
- Because solar shingles are a relatively new product, finding local dealers who can install them remains a problem in some areas. Again though, that is changing as shingles become more widely used.