What are Solar Roofing Shingles?

Published: Sep. 28, 2018

How are Solar Shingles Made?

For the environmentally-conscious or self-sufficient homeowner, solar shingles can be an attractive option. Not to be confused with solar panels, which sit on rooftops and generate electricity from the sun, solar shingles serve two purposes: to generate that same electricity while providing adequate roof coverage for your home. Solar shingles are made of wire, a waterproof, photosensitive outer layer, and material that can turn sunlight into electricity. In most solar shingles, the circuits overlap and therefore, connect automatically. For homeowners worried about curb appeal, most are designed to look like typical shingles and can blend in with surrounding houses.

History of Solar Roofing

The beginnings of solar shingles dates back over a century ago when Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. This discovery revealed that by shining sunlight on an electrode submerged in conductive solution, an electric current could be produced. Though the discovery was groundbreaking, solar power remained somewhat untapped for a century. Then, in 1941, Russel Ohl invented the solar cell. Eventually, solar panel technology was patented in the 1970s, and Dow unveiled their first solar shingles in the early 2000s. Though that venture was a flop, in more recent years, solar shingles have re-emerged as a more attractive and cost-effective option than solar panels. Today, Dow has re-entered the market and now sells solar shingles again alongside Tesla and Aesthetic Green Power.

Advantages of Solar Shingles

  • Environmentally-Friendly: Using solar shingles will drastically reduce the amount of CO2 you’re emitting into the atmosphere. The energy that powers your appliances will come from the shingles on your roof instead of natural gas, coal, or a nuclear power plant.
  • Save on Energy Bills: By producing your own energy, you eliminate the need to pay a utility company for electricity. Furthermore, you can sell the excess energy generated by your solar shingles to your local utility company. Most power companies will send a monthly check to homeowners who sell them the excess solar energy.
  • Appearance: Solar shingles are designed to resemble ordinary shingles, so they will blend in with other houses in the neighborhood. In fact, many people don’t realize they’ve seen solar shingles because they look so similar to other shingles. Tesla sells textured, smooth, Tuscan, and slate style solar shingles.
  • Durability of Material: Solar shingles typically have the same durability and flexibility as other shingles. For example, Tesla backs its solar shingles with an “infinity warranty” on their durability.

Disadvantages of Solar Shingles

  • Initial Cost: For homeowners who don’t need a new roof but are interested in making their home solar-powered, solar shingles might not be the best option. On an average American house, a solar shingle roof can cost up to $50,000. For homeowners who can’t rule out the possibility of moving, solar shingles are a tricky investment because they’re impractical to move, and they can take years to pay off. However, if you have money to spend, are interested in the new technology, and have a desire to “go green,” a solar shingle roof could be a great opportunity for your property.
  • Orientation: The amount of energy generated by the solar shingles relies on their positioning toward the sun. Solar panels are easier to orient toward the sun, but solar shingles permanently face a particular direction. Because of this, they usually have lower energy outputs than solar panels.
  • Technology: While the outer material of a solar shingle might be durable, like most technology, the inner workings of the solar shingle might diminish over time. Production output is said to decrease by 1% after the first year of use, and it decreases by half a percentage point every year after that. This might force homeowners into replacing the roof after 30 years even if the material protecting the roof is still reliable.

Alternatives to Solar Shingles

If your main reason for looking into solar shingles is to produce your own solar energy, you can also look into solar panels. Though solar panels are bulkier and more conspicuous, they are easier to angle toward the sun for maximum energy production, and they can be easier to take with you if you happen to move. Metal is another environmentally-friendly option when searching for roofing material. Though they don’t produce energy, most metal roofing products are made of 25-95% recycled material and can be recycled again at the end of their lifespan. They can also keep your house cooler during the summer months because they reflect the sun’s rays.

If you’re looking for other roofing products that resemble solar shingles, slate shingles and asphalt shingles have similar features. In fact, most manufacturers design their solar shingles to resemble asphalt or slate shingles.

Ratings (wind, hail, fire resistance)

Most new solar shingles have a Class 4 ANSI FM 4473 hail rating, a Class A UL 790 fire resistance rating, and a Class F ASTM D3161 wind rating. In case of an internal fire within the home, most new solar shingle companies provide training or instructions for firefighters for safely cutting through the shingles.

Pricing

With the purchase of a solar roof, the average American homeowner would spend around $50,000. However, making that purchase would eliminate a monthly electricity bill since the roof would be serving two purposes: to provide adequate coverage for the home and to produce energy. Additionally, the cost of your solar roof also depends greatly on the size of your roof, your energy demand, and your geographic location. Tax deductions are also available for homeowners interested in purchasing a solar roof. The federal solar tax credit allows you to deduct 30% of the cost for installing a solar roof from your federal taxes. All in all, it’s important to contact solar roof manufacturers and contractors for more precise information on pricing before moving forward with a solar roof project.