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 you save on your 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’re smaller than traditional solar panels and are designed to look similar to ordinary roof shingles. 
  • Unlike solar panels, shingles aren’t available in all cities or from every solar manufacturer.
  • If you’re already planning on replacing your roof, the cost of solar shingles may be comparable to 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 power systems based on price, efficiency, brand, quality, and more.

In this article:

Solar shingles vs. solar panels:

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 system vs. top solar shingles brands

 Production (Watts per shingle/cell)EfficiencyAverage Cost (Before Incentives)AVERAGE TOTAL COST (FOR A 10 KW SYSTEM)
Traditional solar system170-350 W19-23%
$2.86/W$28,600
Tesla Solar Roof71.67 W~17-20%$6.40/W$64,000
SunTegra Solar Shingles
105-114 W15.9-17.2%$4.90/W$49,000
Certainteed Apollo Tile II73 W17.8%<$6.40/W (approximately)$64,000 (approximately)
GAF solar shingles45 WNo published efficiency~$4.80W~$48,000
Hantiles~105 WNo published efficiencyNo published priceNo published price
LUMA80 W22.1%No published priceNo published price

How are solar panels and solar shingles similar?

1. Photovoltaic technology 

All solar panels and solar shingles are paired with solar inverters and connected to the power grid. They harness energy from the sun to supply clean energy to homes and businesses. Whether you choose to install standard solar panels or solar shingles, you’ll be generating renewable energy right at home, lowering your carbon footprint.

2. Incentives

Solar shingle installations are usually eligible for the sSolar shingle installations are usually eligible for the same rebates and incentives as traditional solar panel systems such as the 30 percent federal solar tax credit.

3. Net metering policies

All building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) systems (aka solar shingles and tiles) are subject to the same rules as solar panels, 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, the complexity of your roof, and if your roof already needs replacement). 

Generally, the price per square foot of your solar shingle system will depend on how much of your roof includes solar shingles vs. regular roofing material – while you won’t cover your entire roof with solar shingles, the number you do include can vary significantly based on the size of your roof and how much electricity you consume. 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 often less energy-efficient. There’s typically less airflow under solar shingles compared to traditional rack-mounted solar panels, meaning they aren’t able to cool as easily. This problem may be offset by the size of your roof: the larger the roof, the more solar shingles you can install, and efficiency becomes less of 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 almost any type of roof, metal to tile.

Advantages of solar shingles

Solar roof shingles are an exciting product with a few key advantages over 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 regular shingles made of asphalt. Some manufacturers even claim that their solar shingles can withstand extreme weather and are fire-resistant. They’re also lighter, making them ideal for homes that can’t support a lot of roof weight.

Aesthetics

The key reason most people are interested in solar shingles is their 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 easily blend in with your roof.

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 almost as cost-effective as installing solar panels and building a new roof to go along with them. This isn’t always the case, but for older homes that need roof repairs or a new roof installation anyway, a solar shingle installation can be a good choice.

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.

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 and 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 – which is why installations are often completed by roofers. 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

Most shingle products are made to replace standard asphalt tile roofing, and some brands have alternative options for other roofing types like tiles. Solar panels can be mounted on just about any roof type, from asphalt to metal, 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 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. Many companies offering solar shingles also offer conventional roofing as a product. 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 still isn’t widely available – it’s possible it might never be. In fact, Electrek recently reported that Tesla is canceling many Solar Roof installations across the country and is closing its market in a few key areas, including the greater Los Angeles area, Northern California, Oregon, and Florida.

Certainteed 

Certainteed Solar is a roofing company that also offers solar shingles. 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.

GAF Energy

GAF Energy’s Timberline Solar roofing system offers sleek, recessed shingles that integrate with your 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 be attached using only a nail gun, making it a significantly cheaper and more effective solar solution compared to the Tesla Solar Roof, which requires a complicated 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 will likely be part SunTegra tiles and part regular roof tiles.

LUMA Solar

LUMA is a luxury solar roofing company that enables you to upgrade your current roof to include their solar shingles. Their shingles install like traditional metal roofing and boast efficiencies comparable to solar panels at 22.1 percent. With their solar shingles, LUMA includes a 5-year limited product warranty and a limited power warranty that guarantees 80 percent of original output at year 25.

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 many traditional  solar panels. They, too, have a high-efficiency rate and are typically more expensive than CIGS cells.

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. 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.

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. If you’re interested in solar shingles, you’ll want to consider these two key 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 your 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.

Start exploring your solar options

The best way to go solar is to compare all of your solar installation options in one place through 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 as well.