Solar Roof Shingles vs. Solar Panels

When it comes to residential renewable energy, solar is the most popular option, as well as the easiest to install. With the growing solar market has also come diversification from traditional solar panels in the form of solar shingles and solar roof tiles. 

What are the differences between the two and which could be the best option for you?

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    What are Solar Panels?

    Solar panels are glass-like devices that convert sun rays into electricity. They are usually placed on the rooves but can also be installed in other locations like the ground or detached parking structure.

    Read: How Do Solar Panels Work?

    Solar panel

    What are Solar Roof Shingles?

    Solar roof shingles are small solar panels designed to function and look similar to standard roof shingles. Most of them measure 300 mm 2,180 mm. They can, therefore, be considered as photovoltaic sheets that convert the energy from the sun into usable energy.

    Solar power shingles act as both the roof of the house and as a solar power system. This is the reason why they are also referred to as solar roof shingles.

    Read: Are Solar Shingles Worth It?

    CertainTeed Solar Roof Shingle
    image Credit: CertainTeed

    Comparing Solar Panels and Solar Roof Shingles

    Panels and shingles perform the same function, where they are both used to generate electricity or heat from the sun. However, the two technologies share other similarities as well as differences.

    Working Principle

    Panels and shingles have the same working principle, where they both employ the photovoltaic effect.Panels and shingles are made of solar cells constructed using semiconductor materials. Under normal conditions, the cells are dormant. However, once exposed to the sun, they are activated and start to generate electricity instantly.

    The semiconductor materials used to make panels and shingles are made of electrons that are held together in their atoms. When they are exposed to sunlight, they absorb the energy particles called photons that energize the materials. This allows electrons to break free from their atoms and to start moving across the cells.

    The whole process results in the generation of electricity, which is the flow of electrons. The produced power is then tapped and directed to the next component in the system. This can either be an inverter or charge controller, depending on the type of system in place.

    Efficiency

    If solar output and efficiency are among your top priorities, panels perform better than shingles and tiles with an efficiency of about 22%. That’s partly because you can tilt or angle them to get the best positioning-related results. It’s not possible to do that with tiles and shingles because of their mounting style, thus the best shingles that are currently available for purchase have a conversion rate of about 20%.

    Based on the figures, it is evident that the difference in efficiency between panels and shingles is very small. Thus, either of the two technologies can generate enough electricity for your home provided that the system is designed correctly.

    Cost

    Another significant consideration is your budget. Solar shingles can be more than three times the cost of traditional solar arrays. Even so, many homeowners can take advantage of solar panel incentives that make the costs more affordable.

    The variation in cost between panels and shingles is due to the nature of the market. The solar panel sector is competitive due to the high number of manufacturers flooding the market with their products. This has resulted in the price of panels reducing considerably over the years.

    In contrast, shingles are still new technology. The number of manufacturers is, therefore, few compared to those producing panels. The lack of stiff competition is the reason why the price of shingles is still high. Here is a list of the most popular manufacturer of shingles:

    The cost of solar shingles for homes is also dependent on the manufacturers. For example, Tesla roof cost around $45,000 for roofing measuring 2,000 square feet. This makes Tesla solar roof shingles one of the most expensive in the market. 

    Read: Solar Roof Shingles – A Guide for Homeowners

    Sometimes it might be reasonable to install shingles as opposed to panels. For instance, if you are planning on installing a new roof, it would be cheaper to install solar shingles as opposed to a traditional roof and then add panels on top. The reason for this is that shingles will act as both a roof and generator of electricity, thereby justifying the high cost.

    Installation

    It’s usually faster to install solar shingles and tiles than panels. Plus, if you already need a new roof, the installer can take care of both requirements simultaneously. Many people want to know how long their solar installations will last. 

    Panels have been on the market for comparatively longer than solar shingles or tiles. The manufacturers of the latter products have figures for expected longevity. However, it’ll take some time to see if those estimates come to pass in reality.

    When it comes to installation, residential solar power shingles are easier to mount compared to panels. The process is also fast when working with shingles. Solar technicians may only require a few hours to install shingles for a system that may take several days when using panels. 

    However, there are other areas where panels outdo shingles. Shingles are limited by the fact the installation design is dependent on the nature of the roof that is the tilt and orientation. This has an impact on the output of the devices. They are inefficient when the roof is not facing the sun and efficient when it is facing the sun for the most part of the day.    

    In contrast, solar panels offer more flexibility during installation for maximum efficiency. They can be tilted or oriented, depending on the position of the sun. This allows maximum sunlight to fall on the panels during the day, leading to increased output. Furthermore, solar panels can be installed anywhere within the home, unlike shingles, which can only be placed on the roof.  

    Another difference occurs when you decide to change houses. Solar panels can easily be uninstalled and then installed again in the new home. However, that is not the case with shingles since they double as the roof. Therefore, removing them from one house and then installing them again in another one is a complex process.

    Durability

    Both solar panels and shingles are durable since they are both built to withstand harsh weather conditions. But how long can they last?

    Panels can last for more than 20 years. Manufacturers of solar power shingles state that they can also last for the same number of years as panels. Tesla has even gone to the extent of claiming their products will last more than 40 years. However, the life span of shingles is yet to be proven since they are still new technology.  

    It is worth noting that the long lifespan of both panels and shingles is not a guarantee that they will maintain their efficiency throughout. Due to various factors, they might suffer from reduced output after many years of use.  

    Maintenance and Repair

    Solar panels and shingles are designed to last. Therefore, the two technology requires little maintenance and repair works once they installed. However, the difference arises when the need to replace faulty panels or shingles arises.

    Solar panels can be replaced easily compared to solar roof shingles. The technician is only required to isolate the faulty panel, remove it, and then install the replacement. On the other hand, replacing defective shingles can be a complicated process. For instance, one might be required to remove the shingles around the faulty one to allow for replacements to be fitted.

    Also, removing a shingle to allow for replacement leaves the house exposed since shingles act as both a power system and the roof of the house.

    Aesthetics

    One of the things to consider is whether you want a conspicuous solar setup. Many people take pride in generating green power and want everyone to know about that decision. So, they go with solar panels that are very noticeable from the curb. 

    On the other hand, if you want solar power without making major changes to how your roof looks, solar shingles are the way to go.

    Luma solar shingle
    Image Credit: Luma

    Benefits of Using Solar Roof Shingles or Solar Panels

    Here are the benefits associated with installing a home solar power system that makes use of either solar panels or solar shingles:

    Reduced Energy Costs

    Both panels and shingles are responsible for converting sunlight into usable electricity. Therefore, when used alongside other solar components such as inverters, they allow you to come up with a system that generates power directly from the sun.

    A well-designed solar power system that uses panels or shingles can solve all your energy needs. This, in turn, reduces energy costs since you are no longer dependent on the costly power from the grid.

    Source of Income

    Residential solar systems designed with either panels or shingles are capable of generating more energy than is needed within the home. As the owner, you can choose to sell the surplus to utility companies for distribution to other consumers. The power system then becomes a source of income, which allows you to recover the cost of installing the system within a short time.

    If you want to sell to utilities, you will be required to connect the solar power system to the grid and install a net meter. The role of the net meter will be to compare the number of units you supply against the ones you take from the grid.

    Increase in Home Value

    A house with a solar system in place, regardless of whether it is using panels or shingles, is worth more than those without one. This is due to emerging trends in the real estate sector, among them the passion for sustainable homes and the need to save on energy costs.

    The trends are leading buyers into picking homes with a solar system as opposed to those that are dependent on the grid. Therefore, if you are considering selling your house in the future, then you should increase its value by installing a solar system. 

    Solar Incentives and Tax Credits

    States across the US are encouraging homeowners to install solar power systems by giving incentives and tax credits. The benefits apply to both solar panels and solar shingles and have played a crucial role in making the device more affordable.

    Therefore, you can be sure of spending less regardless of the technology you choose to use while also being guaranteed high returns on investment.   

    Protection of the Environment

    You have the responsibility of protecting the environment for the benefit of the current and future generations. You can realize this by installing a solar power system.   

    By using solar power, you reduce the demand for fossil fuels used to generate electricity in power plants, which is then fed to the grid. This, in turn, reduces the emission of harmful gases that are the primary cause of global warming and climate change.

    Conclusion

    Solar panels and solar roof shingles have similarities and also differences. The two technology have the same working principle and are both durable. But, panels are more efficient, cheaper, and make maintenance and repair work easier compared to shingles. On the other hand, shingles are easier to install and give the house an appealing look compared to panels.

    Regardless of whether you choose panels or shingles, there are benefits that you will enjoy. The installed power system will reduce energy costs by minimizing dependence on the power from the grid. The system becomes a source of income when you choose to sell excess energy. Having a solar system in place increases the value of your home.

    Also, utilizing solar energy allows you to play a part in protecting the environment by reducing the demand for fossil fuels.

    Author bio:
    Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co.

    Author

    • John is an electrical and solar technician, writer, and blogger who specializes in renewable energy, sustainability, and technology. He seeks to inspire more people to adopt solar energy and to work towards a sustainable future.