Solar shingles laid over a rooftop.

A Quick Guide To Solar Roof Shingles

Oct 14, 2022

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In most homes, roofs are designed to keep out the elements and to insulate, while solar panels generate electricity. Combining the two into one product enables roofing tiles to also produce renewable energy. Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) have solar cells within building elements, such as glass, curtain walls, sheathing and roof tiles. These products generate clean energy and provide building functionality in one product.

Solar shingles are one of the most popular types of BIPV, thanks in part to Tesla, which has helped make the concept more mainstream. Many aesthetically minded homeowners like the idea of solar shingles because the solar system can seamlessly blend into the roof. Yet, solar shingles continue to be a niche market, although some experts expect it to gain considerable market share in the near future.

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What Are Solar Shingles?

Solar roofing tiles or solar shingles are roofing products that contain photovoltaic cells. They are a newer solar technology which Dow Chemical Company first announced in 2009. The Powerhouse Solar Shingle was designed to blend with an asphalt shingle roof and was released by Dow Chemical in 2011. In 2016, Tesla entered the solar shingle market in partnership with SolarCity. The Tesla Solar Roof received much public attention but has not become particularly widespread.

One reason solar roof tiles have a relatively low market share compared to traditional solar panels is because of the upfront cost of the solar shingle roof system. Also, the efficiency of solar shingles is usually lower than convention PV modules.

When installing solar tiles, the contractor replaces the existing roof or installs them on new construction projects. Usually, the installation includes both active and inactive solar tiles, which are sometimes identical in appearance. However, for some solar roofs, there is a visible difference between the active and inactive sections.

The inactive shingles are used in places where there isn’t enough sunshine to warrant the additional cost of the active shingles. Although it varies by manufacturer, the typical lifespan of solar shingles is about 25 years.

How Solar Shingles Work

In many ways, solar shingles operate the same as traditional solar systems from an energy production standpoint. In fact, solar shingles are usually made of semiconductor materials, such as monocrystalline silicon, and contain solar cells. The shingles absorb solar energy, generating an electrical current.

A string or central inverter turns direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC), which the home can use. In addition, some solar shingles can charge home energy storage systems, such as lithium-ion batteries. This enables the home to use clean energy even when the sun isn’t shining or the roof is covered with snow.

How Solar Shingles Compare To Traditional Solar Panels: Pros And Cons

There are numerous advantages and disadvantages for homeowners to consider before installing a solar roof.

Pros Of Solar Roof Shingles

  • Appearance: Solar tiles often look like asphalt shingles and have a low profile. Typically, it is difficult to tell a roof with solar shingles apart from a non-solar roof.
  • Durability: Solar shingles hold up well against rain, snow and wind.
  • Size: Solar shingles are smaller than solar panels. Therefore, it is easier to fill an entire south-facing roof with shingles.
  • Functionality: Solar tiles perform as a roof shingle and generate energy from solar cells, serving two purposes.

Cons Of Solar Roof Shingles

Although there are some benefits to this technology, there are also drawbacks.

  • Efficiency: The percentage of sunlight converted to electricity by solar shingles is usually lower than with conventional solar panels. The efficiency of solar tiles is commonly estimated between 14% – 18%, whereas the efficiency of solar panels is typically between 18% – 22%.
  • Cost: The cost per watt for solar shingles is typically higher than traditional solar modules. However, this price gap is smaller when considering the cost of the roof, if a new roof is needed.
  • Emerging technology: Solar shingles are relatively new to the solar market and therefore aren’t as proven and developed as conventional solar panels.
  • Lifespan: Solar shingles haven’t been in use as long, so their lifespan is somewhat unproven compared to conventional PV modules, but they may have similar warranty terms.

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Using Incentives To Pay For Solar Shingles

Solar roof shingles can qualify for the federal tax credit and net metering programs (where applicable). However, to meet the requirements of the federal tax credit, you must have a sufficient tax liability, and you must install the system on a primary or secondary residence. Due to the Inflation Reduction Act, the federal tax credit has been extended at 30% of the cost of the system until 2033.

If you install a $30,000 solar roof shingle system, you may qualify for a $9,000 tax credit (30%), reducing the total net cost to $21,000. It’s essential to speak with a tax expert to ensure you qualify for the federal solar tax credit.

In addition to federal incentives, roof shingles may also qualify for other solar energy incentives programs. Local and state incentives and utility rebates may further reduce the cost of a solar roofing system.

Solar Shingles FAQ

Because they are a relatively new product, many solar shoppers have questions about them and how they work.

Will I need to get a new roof to install solar roof tiles?

Yes, the solar shingles will replace the existing roof materials. Therefore, roof shingles are a more attractive option if you need a new roof or for new construction projects. However, if you already have a roof in good condition, it diminishes one of the benefits.

Can I install solar shingles myself?

Although installing solar roof tiles as a DIY project is possible, it’s not recommended because installing this product requires both roofing and solar knowledge. There can be specific hazards associated with solar shingles and working on roofs can be risky. For example, the Tesla Solar Roof is slippery, so it can be unsafe to walk on it. In addition, if you don’t install the solar tiles correctly, it can void the manufacturer’s warranty.

Will my homeowners association (HOA) allow solar shingles?

HOAs often want houses in the neighborhood to have a uniform appearance and sometimes have prevented homeowners from installing solar panels. In other instances, they may put limitations on PV installations, such as requiring that the solar modules and conduit aren’t visible from the front of the home.

However, because solar shingles have a low profile and, in some cases, completely blend with non-solar shingles, HOAs are less likely to object. To get started, refer to your HOA’s covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) to determine if they put restrictions on solar systems. If there are limitations, speak with the HOA to determine if solar tiles are an exception.

Where can I get solar shingles?

If you want a specific type of roof shingle, check with the manufacturer to determine if a local solar installer works with this product. For example, Tesla Solar Roofs have certified installers that are trained in installing its products. Also, you can contact local solar contractors to determine if they install solar shingles. However, not all solar installation companies work with solar tiles.

The Bottom Line: Solar Roof Shingles Are Less Efficient And More Expensive

Solar shingles are a relatively new option on the solar market that combines the functionality of solar panels and  roof shingles. Although they are more expensive than solar panels, they act as a roofing product, replacing the need for a separate roof.

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Rocket Solar does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

A Sun Equation

The angle of exposure × the size of your panels ... let us take care of the math!

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