Solar Panels vs Solar Roof Shingles: How Do They Compare?

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Solar roof shingles aren’t as well-known as solar panels, but they’re gaining some traction in the renewable energy sector. But before you commit to a solar roof, you should compare it with standard solar panels to see which option will best suit you.

Solar panels have been in residential and commercial use since around the 1950s. Houses with mounted PV panels on roofs or rooftops are more common than ever as people become more conscious of the environment. 

However, not everyone is a fan of how solar panels look mounted on their home. This led to the development of aesthetic and camouflaged solar roof tiles, offering similar benefits with a sleeker design. 

Both solar panels and solar roof shingles work similarly to convert sunlight into electricity. However, there are major differences in their appearance and how they are installed – which impacts each technology’s lifespan, efficiency, and cost.

Because solar roof shingles are relatively new, not many people know them. Their scarcity and high cost mean they’re not typically included in the list of Australia’s best solar panels – but as the technology evolves, they may soon be able to compete with other top solar brands.

Let us introduce you to solar roof shingles and how they are different from solar panels.

What Are Solar Shingles?

Solar shingles function as both roof shingles and solar panels. They can work as either actual roof tiles or overlay on your roof, unlike solar panels, which are mounted on top of your existing roof. Solar roof tiles are also known as ‘building-integrated photovoltaics’ (BIPVs).

Solar shingles became commercially available in 2005 and are growing in popularity for eco-friendly homes because of their aesthetic nature compared to solar panels. The solar roof concept integrates photovoltaic (PV) shingles and roof tiles into a single product.

The two most common types of solar panel shingles are silicon shingles and CIGS shingles.

  • Silicon Solar Shingles – Monocrystalline silicon, which computer chips are made of, is used to create older solar shingles. Similar to monocrystalline solar panels, they are thin and rigid but more expensive than CIGS solar panel shingles. The efficiency of its energy conversion is around 15% to 20%.
  • CIGS Solar Shingles – CIGS stands for copper, indium, gallium, and selenide, which make up the thin-film solar cells used in the shingles. CIGS is used in newer solar panel shingles. This semiconductor material makes the shingles thin, flexible, and lightweight. The efficiency of its energy conversion is about 10% to 12%.

How Do Solar Shingles Work?

Solar panel shingles work in the same way as solar panels in that they harness sunlight and convert that energy into electricity. But while their functions are similar, the workings of their installation and appearance differ. 

Solar shingles use semiconductors to collect knocked-off electrons from the sunlight. These electrons are then acted upon by PV cells, and the process creates a current that can generate electricity, which is exactly how solar panels work

For solar shingles to work, they must be installed as part of your roof. This means a mounting system isn’t needed for the system to function. Your solar shingles then essentially become your roof. They can be installed directly on your rooftop and will work towards harnessing renewable energy to power your home. 

Pros & Cons of Solar Shingles 

As solar shingles are relatively new, not all people know their capabilities.Without knowing the pros and cons, it can be difficult to consider whether to install a solar roof instead of the standard solar PV panels. 

So, what advantages and disadvantages does this new technology offer?

Advantages of Solar Shingles 

Solar shingles are a unique advancement in renewable energy. The benefits of solar shingles include: 

  • Highly Durable – Since the shingles act like your actual roof, they can withstand rainfall, debris, and even harsh weather conditions.
  • Notably Stable You don’t have to worry about your solar panel shingles being blown away by strong winds since they cannot easily be detached compared to mounted solar panels.
  • Long-lasting – They can produce their maximum energy output anywhere from 20 to 30 years.
  • Can be an economical choice  If you’re considering replacing your roof, installing solar shingles is more economical than an equivalent amount of solar panels in addition to a new roof.
  • Easier to maintain than traditional solar panels – Since solar shingles are made to withstand harsh weather conditions, they require less frequent maintenance.
  • Repels nesting animals – There is no gap between your roof and the solar panels, so you don’t have to worry about birds or rodents.
  • Aesthetic design They’re almost camouflaged into your home, so they look sleek, polished, and attractive. 
  • Higher home value for resale – Since solar shingles are integrated into your home, you can’t take them with you should you want to move. While that sounds like a negative, it does add to the resale value of your property.

Disadvantages of Solar Shingles 

As innovative as solar roof tiles are, they are not without their flaws, especially when the technology is so new on the market. Some of the key downsides of solar shingles include: 

  • Less effective than traditional solar panels – Solar shingles rely on the orientation and direction of your roof, so if you’re facing away from the sun, you won’t be able to optimise your solar shingles.
  • Requires higher capital – Though they require less frequent maintenance, you also need to shell out quite a bit at the beginning to purchase and install solar roof shingles. 
  • Long installation time – Unlike solar panels, which can be installed in a day, solar panel shingles take a week or more to install.
  • Compatibility issues – Solar shingles are not compatible with all types of roofs. You will have to consider this in your budget if you don’t plan to make your roof all solar shingles.
  • High failure rate – Compared to solar panels, shingles have more potential points of failure since there are more parts. Each shingle or tile has to match the shingles around it since they need to be electronically connected.
  • New technology The studies related to the efficiency of solar shingles are young. The technology is still evolving. In the following years, you will surely see better and more efficient solar shingles that you may wish that you had waited for.
  • Limited style options If you’re particular with the style and colour of your roof, you may be short-changed as solar shingles currently have limited style and colours.

How Much Do Solar Shingles Cost? 

Solar shingles cost around $318 per square metre. A Tesla solar roof currently costs around $80,000 to $100,000 USD for a 366m² roof, and prices continue to fluctuate. Other brands in Australia cost between $13,000 and $18,000 for a 4kW system. 

The average cost of a 4kW solar PV system with solar panels is $5697, meaning you can expect to pay three to four times as much for equivalent solar roof shingles. 

A comparison by Solarquotes demonstrated that Tesla solar roof tiles cost almost ten times as much as equivalent Jinko solar panels for a lower Watts per m² output. A Tesla solar roof v3 was estimated to cost $8.00 per Watt, compared to $1.00 per Watt with the Jinko solar panels. 

However, this doesn’t factor in the cost of standard roof tiles, which must still be installed to mount solar panels. For a new build or roof replacement, this means the price would be offset by avoiding the expense of standard roof tiles. 

The variables that can make that higher or lower are your roof’s size, slope, and pitch. For Tesla solar roof, for example, there are three complexities:

  • Simple – single-level roof with a few obstructions, a low pitch, and uncrowded mounting planes
  • Intermediate – multi-level with a higher pitch and more crowded mounting planes
  • Complex – multi-level with a steep pitch, very crowded mounting planes, and plenty of obstacles

What is the Difference Between Solar Panels and Solar Shingles? 

The main difference between solar panels and solar shingles is their appearance. Solar panels are mounted on your roof, so there is a gap between the panels and your roof. However, solar shingles act like your roof. Solar panels tend to look bulkier than solar shingles.

Installation of solar panels is different from solar shingles. You first need to set up scaffolding and install mounts before you can put them on the solar panels.

Meanwhile, the first step for solar shingles is to strip off your existing roofing (especially if it’s not compatible with your manufacturer’s solar shingles). You should get professional help as the skills of both a roofer and an electrician are required to install the solar shingles correctly.

Are Solar Shingles Cheaper than Solar Panels?

No. Solar shingles are more expensive than solar panels. For a 4kW solar roof, you can expect to pay three to four times as much as you’d pay for an equivalent solar PV system – and this often doesn’t include a solar inverter or battery. 

Because solar panels are older technology, there are a variety of manufacturers out there. The competition creates better value solar panels available to Australian consumers. On the other hand, solar shingles have relatively fewer manufacturers; and the lack of competition puts their price at the higher end.

Are Solar Shingles More Efficient than Solar Panels? 

No. Solar shingles are not more efficient than solar panels when harvesting energy from the sun. 

The issue with solar shingles is you cannot adjust their orientation. If your roof is not facing the sun, you cannot maximise your solar shingles. On the other hand, solar panels can be adjusted to maximise their efficiency. 

Additionally, if you only have a small-sized roof, you can’t maximise the power of your solar panel shingles.

Are Solar Shingles Worth it? 

A solar roof may sound appealing, but with the technology currently available, solar roof tiles are far more expensive and less efficient than standard solar panels. This means solar shingles aren’t currently worth it unless aesthetics is your only priority.

If you’re not building a new home or already replacing your roof, installing a solar roof also means a full replacement, with all the inconvenience and expense attached. 

Unfortunately, solar shingles don’t work for all homes. If your home can not maximise your roof angle to harness the sun’s rays, it will be better to invest in solar panels. Additionally, it is essential to consider that solar shingles are a relatively new technology. This means there are still many learning curves and changes expected in the future for this product. 

In future, if solar roof tiles offer increased efficiency at lower price points, they may be worthwhile for many more Australians. In the meantime, solar panels will offer you the best performance and the best value. 

Solar Shingles FAQs

Can I Get Solar Panels that Look Like Shingles? 

Solar roofing technology is still young and evolving, so there are limited options in terms of style and appearance. Solar roof tiles have an appearance that blends in more than standard solar panels but still don’t look exactly like regular roofing shingles. 

Can You Walk on Solar Shingles?

Yes, you can walk on solar shingles. Since they’re made to endure harsh weather and fallen debris, they can withstand people walking on them. However, it is still best to check with your supplier.

How Long Do Solar Shingles Last?

Solar shingles can perform their maximum capacity from 20 to 30 years. They may last longer if they’re well-maintained.

Can Solar Panels Be Used as a Roof? 

Generally, solar panels cannot be used as roofs because they need to be mounted on something. However, solar roof or solar shingle technology is specifically designed to replace standard roof tiles.  

Are Tesla Solar Roofs Available in Australia?

Yes. Tesla solar roofs are available in Australia. Reservations for Tesla solar roofs started in July 2021; however, lead times for installation vary from state to state. Costs for the Tesla solar roof v3 in Australia easily reach $100,000 once factoring in the exchange rate, making them a very pricey option.  

Disclaimer:

This article is published in good faith and for general informational purposes only. JFK Electrical does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. Always seek personalised advice on solar energy to ensure any recommendations suit your property and scenario.

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