solar shingles on home

Solar shingles: what you need to know

You don’t have to install solar panels on your roof to go solar – solar shingles are an innovative solar technology that can also help property owners save on their energy bills just like traditional solar panels. In this article, we’ll review the key differences between solar shingles, also called solar roof tiles, and their solar panel counterparts, as well as weigh the pros and cons of a solar shingle installation.


Key takeaways about solar shingles


  • Solar shingles use the same technology as solar panels, but they are smaller than traditional solar panels and designed to look similar to ordinary shingles. 
  • Unlike solar panels, shingles aren’t available in all cities or from every solar manufacturer.
  • For consumers already planning on replacing their roof, the cost of solar shingles may be less than the cost of installing a solar panel array.
  • At this time, solar shingles are typically less efficient than solar panels.
  • Solar shoppers should use the EnergySage Marketplace to browse for all types of solar systems based on price, efficiency, brand, quality, and more.

In this article:

Solar shingles vs. solar panels: a comparison

Solar shingles are smaller photovoltaic panels that are designed to look and perform like traditional roofing materials such as asphalt in addition to producing electricity generated by the sun. Solar shingles use the same technology as traditional solar panels but are the same size and shape as a roof shingle.

 Traditional Solar SystemTesla Solar RoofSuntegra Solar Shingles
Production (W per shingle/cell)170-350W71.67W

105-114W
Efficiency19-23%~17-20%15.9%-17.2%
Average Cost (Before Incentives)

$2.77/W$6.40/W$4.90/W

What do solar shingles and solar panels  have in common?

1. Photovoltaic technology 

All solar panels and solar shingles are paired with solar inverters and connected to the power grid. 

2. Incentives

Solar shingle installations are usually eligible for the same incentives as traditional solar panel systems such as the 26% federal solar tax credit.

3. Net metering policies

All building-integrated photovoltaic systems are subject to the same rules allowing you to send excess electricity they produce to your utility for credit on your electric bill.

How are solar shingles and solar panels different?

1. Cost

Solar panels are generally significantly less expensive than solar shingles. That’s because there are fewer solar shingle brands to go around and they’re generally more expensive to install (although this can depend on multiple factors including the brand you choose and if your roof already needs replacement). Read more about one popular solar shingle brand in our analysis of Tesla’s Solar Roof vs. traditional solar panels

2. Efficiency

Solar shingles use the same technology as solar panels, but they’re less efficient because there’s less airflow under them, meaning they aren’t able to cool as easily as panels with traditional racking equipment. This problem may be offset by the size of your roof: the larger the roof, the more sunlight solar shingles can capture, and the less efficiency becomes an issue. 

3. Flexibility

Solar shingles are designed to replace or overlay standard asphalt shingles. Solar panels, on the other hand, can be affixed to any type of roof, metal to rubber.

Advantages of solar shingles

Solar roof shingles are an exciting product with a few key advantages over traditional solar panels: their aesthetics and their potential cost advantage when you factor in a roof replacement.

Durability

Many homeowners are surprised to learn that solar shingles can be more durable than ordinary asphalt shingles. Some manufacturers even claim that their solar shingles can withstand extreme weather and are fire-resistant. Additionally, they are lighter, making them ideal for homes that cannot support a lot of roof weight.

Aesthetics

The key obstacle that solar shingles solve for is appearance; if you’re concerned about putting bulkier solar panels on top of your roof, solar shingles might be for you. Products like the Tesla Solar Roof are much sleeker than traditional panels, and can blend in with several roof types easily.

Cost-competitive with a roof replacement

You may have to replace your roof prior to installing solar panels, especially if it’s towards the end of its useful life. When you install solar shingles, you’re also getting a brand new, more durable roof as part of the deal. And in some cases, this can be more cost-effective than installing solar panels and building a new roof to go along with them. This is not always the case, but for older homes that need roof repairs anyway, a solar shingle installation might be a way to save a little bit of extra money.

Disadvantages of solar shingles

With any disruptive product comes some downsides, and solar shingles are no exception. The major downsides to consider with solar shingles are pricing, availability, roof type limitations, and energy production capabilities. It’s essential to consider these advantages and disadvantages when it comes to deciding if solar tiles or solar panels are better for your property. If a roof replacement is already a planned major home renovation, solar shingles might be a great option and ultimately save you time and money. It’s also important to keep in mind that companies that sell solar shingles may have different prices. Solar shingles have only been around since 2005, and because the technology is relatively new, there isn’t a lot of data to indicate whether they have as long of a lifespan as traditional solar panels. It can also be difficult to find a contractor that installs solar roof shingles.

Price

We’ll get right to the biggest sticking point for solar shingles: they’re expensive. Check out our analysis on the Tesla Solar Roof vs. traditional solar panels for a more in-depth look at pricing differences, but the key thing to know is that in just about every case, solar shingles cost more than solar panels. This gap will likely shrink over time, but as long as solar shingles remain a fairly uncommon product, they’re likely to remain the pricier option. In some cases, depending on the brand, you may find that if your roof needs to be replaced, the cost of a solar roof is fairly comparable to a roof replacement + new solar panels.

Availability

Aside from the much-hyped Tesla Solar Roof, several companies have announced and even started installing their own solar roof products. But, in many cases, these options have rolled out very slowly and in limited geographies. Solar shingles are just not being produced at a large scale yet, and as such, they’re often very hard to actually install. Some customers have been on waiting lists for years, and there’s not necessarily an end in sight. However, some brands, like CertainTeed, are now available across the country and do not currently have a waitlist.

Roof limitations

Unlike traditional solar panels, solar shingles won’t work on every roof. Most shingle products are made to replace standard asphalt tile roofing, and some brands have alternative options for tiled or wooden roofing. Solar panels can be mounted on just about any roof type, from metal to rubber, making them a more flexible option for homeowners. Solar panels are ideal for an existing roof, while solar shingles are better suited for new constructions or when you’re replacing your roof.

Efficiency and energy production

Solar panel technology has matured significantly in the past decade or so, and panels these days can have efficiencies of over 22 or 23 percent in some cases. Solar shingles sacrifice efficiency and energy production for their sleek aesthetics, and most shingle brands have efficiencies more in the range of 14 to 18 percent. If you have a large enough roof, this won’t actually be a problem for you, but if your roof is small and you use a lot of electricity, solar shingles may not provide enough solar energy for you.

Solar shingles buying guide: top brands

While more limited than traditional solar panels, several companies make solar shingle products. Here are a few of the top competitors in this emerging space:

Tesla Solar Roof

You’ve no doubt heard of the Tesla Solar Roof, either from Elon Musk’s Twitter account or reading an article like our full overview of the product. It’s the most talked about solar roof tile product, but has yet to live up to the hype. The Tesla Solar Roof has had plenty of hiccups along the way to a full release, and it still isn’t widely available.

Certainteed 

Available across the country through their installer network, Certainteed has two solar shingle options available: the Apollo II and the Apollo Tile II. The Apollo II and Apollo Tile II systems are designed to work as an addition to your roof, so you won’t need a full roof replacement like with the Tesla Solar Roof.

Timberline Solar

The Timberline Solar roofing system offers sleek, recessed shingles that integrate with your roof. This offering from GAF Eenergy offers a worthwhile alternative to the Tesla Solar Roof. Very cost-effective, the Timberline solar roofing system offers another significant advantage over others in the market. According to the manufacturer, the Timberline can actually be attached nailed down using only a nail gun. This is a significantly cheaper and more effective solar solution compared to the Tesla Solar Roof, which requires extensive in-depth installation.

HanTiles

Hanergy, a Chinese thin-film solar provider, announced their glass HanTiles system in 2019, and we’re still waiting for it to fully launch in the United States. Their product is a wavy, glass solar tile that replaces your existing roofing material much like the Tesla Solar Roof tiles do. One of the biggest selling points for HanTiles is the design; with a variety of styles, this solar roofing system satisfies the demand for an aesthetically pleasing yet efficient solar system.

SunTegra 

Somewhere between solar panels and solar shingles are SunTegra’s solar shingles, a low-profile solar option that looks like a roof tile-shaped solar panel. However, they do still replace roof tiles. Post-installation, your roof might have part SunTegra tiles and part remaining roof tiles.

Types of solar shingles

Typically there are two types of solar cells used to make solar shingles: CIGS cells and monocrystalline silicon cells. CIGS cells are made of copper indium gallium selenide. These thin and flexible solar shingles have a high conversion efficiency. The other type, monocrystalline silicon cells, are a natural semiconductor and are the type of solar cell used in traditional rooftop panels. They, too, have a high-efficiency rate and are typically more expensive than CIGS cells. 

The best way to go solar is to compare all of your options in one place with EnergySage. Homeowners should register their property to get multiple quotes for a solar energy system, and then compare the quotes side-by-side to easily understand their pros and cons. While many of our installers work with traditional PV panels, some may also be able to provide you with quotes for low-cost solar roof shingles, too.

Interested homeowners can buy solar shingles through installers listed on EnergySage. To do this, simply note that you’re interested in solar roof shingles when you register.

Are solar shingles right for you?

The simple answer to this question is that it depends. When deciding between solar panels and solar shingles for a solar system install, there are a lot of factors to consider. From availability in your area to the present condition of your roof, making a decision about a solar system is truly unique to each property and homeowner or business owner considering making the switch. To answer this question, you’ll primarily want to consider consider these two factors:

  1. Solar shingles cost more, but they are more aesthetically pleasing than solar panels.
  2. Solar tiles aren’t as efficient as solar panels, but they can still generate enough electricity to cover 40 to 70 percent of your electricity costs.

Common questions about solar shingles

What are the costs of solar shingles vs. solar panels?

In some cases, such as new construction or replacing a roof, solar shingles may be a more cost effective solution. For existing roofs, however, solar panels are almost always a cheaper solution.

Can solar shingles power a house?

This depends on how much power can be generated by the solar shingles, the size of the home and energy consumption. If a solar roof is exposed to enough sunlight to meet the needs of a household then yes, solar shingles can technically power a house.

Are solar shingles a good idea?

The choice to get solar shingles depends on many factors. In some cases, solar shingles are a more cost-effective choice, and in other situations, solar panels might be a better option. For example, if it’s time to replace your roof, solar shingles may very well be the more attractive choice.  

How long do solar shingles last?

Like solar panels, solar shingles are designed to last for many years—on average 25-30 years. 

Can solar panels be used as a roof?

Solar panels are not designed to replace a traditional roof. While they can be fitted to a roof, homeowners can expect damage if a solar panel system is used as their primary roofing material.. Additionally, homeowners cannot do any kind of construction or walk on solar panels that have been substituted for a traditional roof. Solar shingles allow for a little more flexibility without the risk of  damage.

Where to buy solar shingles

Interested homeowners can buy solar shingles through installers listed on EnergySage. To do this, simply note that you’re interested in solar roof shingles when you register.

Solar roof tiles are becoming increasingly popular for aesthetic reasons. They can be a good option for property owners subject to homeowners’ association (HOA) regulations – because solar shingles are thin and lie flat on the roof, they look more like a standard rooftop.

The best way to go solar is to compare all of your options in one place with Energysage. Homeowners should register their property to get multiple quotes for a solar energy system, and then compare the quotes side-by-side to easily understand their pros and cons. ]While many of our installers work with traditional PV panels, some may also be able to provide you with quotes for low-cost solar roof shingles, too.


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About Kerry Thoubboron

Kerry is an expert in all things solar! She's worked in the industry for more than 6 years, starting her career as an Energy Advisor dedicated to helping customers compare their options and make well-informed solar decisions. She graduated from Boston University with a degree in Environmental Analysis and Policy. Outside of work, you can find Kerry snowboarding, watching The Office, or having passionate debates about which New England state is best (spoiler: it's Vermont).

6 thoughts on “Solar shingles: what you need to know

  1. Michael Bennett

    How in the world can you write an article on solar shingles and not include the GAF Solar Timberline? I mean, Standard, who owns GAF, is only the largest roofing manufacturer in the world….

    Reply
  2. wicky

    In a more understandable way, you can completely use solar shingles instead of solar batteries to generate electricity from this renewable energy source.

    Reply
  3. Robert Montgomery

    In Mid-Michigan, we can get a lot of snow in the winter time. Would it pay to go solar if the panels are covered in snow 5 to 6 months out of the year or is there a way to work around that? Thanks.

    V/R

    Robert Montgomery
    Army Retired Veteran

    Reply
  4. deborah Beal

    Can solar shingles be put on a surface other than a roof? Can they be used on schools? Our schools have relatively new roofs but we have heard solar shingles are more powerful than solar panels and we would like to take advantage of renewable energy resources.
    Really Interested,
    Debbie Beal
    School Committee Member,
    Nauset Regional Schools,
    Orleans Massachusetts
    dbeal053@gmail.com

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Will Tesla’s Solar Panel Roof Be the Next Solar Shingles? - Solar Lights Sky

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