Solar-based technologies are finding applications in virtually all aspects of life, providing alternative energy solutions and widening the range of options available to us. We've covered solar air-conditioners, solar car chargers, solar generators, solar water pumps, solar laptop chargers, solar water heaters, solar freezers, solar streetlights, etc. This article will cover another solar energy solution, solar roofing shingles.
Considering the affinity that solar panels have with roofs, adapting solar panel modules for direct use as roofing sheets is a no-brainer. Otherwise called solar shingles or pv-shingles, they are solar panels designed to look like and function as conventional roofing materials, that is, protect houses from rain, sunlight and adverse weather, while also performing the work solar panels are known for, that is producing electricity. Alongside the solar carport and solar streetlight, they belong to a class of solar energy solution known as building-integrated photovoltaics, BIV.
A Brief History
The solar shingle was created by DOW Chemical Company and unveiled in 2009. In the same year, TIME Magazine recognized the new invention as one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2009. In 2011, DOW rolled out its Powerhouse Solar Shingle and predicted at the time of announcement that it could see up to $10 billion in revenue by 2020 courtesy of the new product line.
One of the main marketing proposition of the new product was that they were more aesthetically pleasing than traditional solar panels. Another was that they were easy to install without needing locating rafters and anchor points to bolt into, like traditional solar panels.
Made from Copper Indium Gallium Slenide solar cells, the shingles worked the same as most standard panels, trapping sunlight and converting it to electricity, before transferring it to an inverter box, from which it is converted for us in appliances. DOW estimated that the solar shingle would sell for 10% to 15% less than traditional solar panels. But that did not prove to be the case as solar shingles ranged in price from $4 to $12 per-Watt, while traditional solar panels in 2015 were only $3.50 per-Watt. Federal, state and local incentives helped to decrease the price point, sometimes by almost half, but the product was failing to catch on as predicted. Before it’s eventual downfall in 2016 when it discontinued the Powerhouse line and announced that it had cut 2,500 jobs globally, its shingles had only been installed on 1,000 homes.
Following the sad end of DOW’s Powerhouse shingles, many companies attempted to take over the industry. In 2016, Tesla entered the alternative energy industry by acquiring Solar City. CertainTeed and Atlantis Energy Systems tried to compete, but Tesla has become the major name in the solar shingle game.
Once Tesla announced its new line of 'Solar Roof' their hold on the industry was solidified. In 2017, they released the first two variations of the Solar Roof in the form of textured and smooth glass. In 2017, RGS Energy and the first movers, DOW reached an agreement to bring back the Powerhouse line. As if followed around by misfortune, in 2020, RGS Energy filed for bankruptcy and DOW again stopped producing its shingles.
Solar Panels Vs. Solar Shingles
The major downside to solar shingles still remain the pricing. Conventional solar panels are cheaper than shingles by up to 70%! Even Tesla has also had some challenges keeping the price down for its solar roof system, which has been a point of issue for its consumers. For instance, after launching its Solar Roof v3 in 2019, the optimization of the technology and faster installation process saw a significant reduction in the price of the Solar Roof. But in March 2021, Tesla changed course and increased the price again. It is expected that Tesla will keep the cost of its shingles on the rise.
The figures listed above for roofing alone can buy an entire house in Nigeria! Regardless of the fact that tax incentives are offered on everything solar from an economic point of view, Solarkobo would not advice its clientele to make such an investment even if they can afford it.
And the Winner is Solar Panels!
The major and possibly, only marketing proposition for solar shingles is their fine aesthetics besides nothing else. They are able to integrate with both concrete and asphalt. However, the efficiency of solar panels is perhaps the singular most important consideration when making a choice of solar panels. Tesla is yet to release data on the efficiency of its solar shingles, but EnergySage estimates that typical solar shingle brands range from 14% to 18% efficiency, whereas most traditional solar panels are way higher, offering from 22% to 23%efficiencies.
Again, the Winner is Solar Panels!
Not all the shingles Tesla uses in its installation are actually solar panels. In other words, not all the solar shingles actually produce electricity. Some of the shingles are just roofing sheets though the active shingles that Tesla uses to generate electricity for the Solar Roof are visually indistinguishable from inactive panels. This adds to the cost of the investment because it demands the replacement of an entire roof. (Other brands like CertainTeed and SunTegra, however, allows users to buy and install the amount of shingles they need and retrofit to already existing roofs. This reduces the overall costs.)
Also, for the most part, solar shingles are currently limited in style and colours, though brands like Tesla are introducing new options. The same cannot be said for solar panels. There is a wide and increasing range of solar panel design technologies available to users. Find out here.
For flexibility in installation, solar panels can be installed in just a few hours. On the other hand, solar shingles would take weeks to be installed.
Also, Tesla incorporates its inverter and Powerwall as part of the package that includes installation. As of 2022, a Powerwall costs around $10,500 for both the equipment and installation. To be sure, as at March 2021, Tesla has stopped selling the Powerwall alone but as part of its Solar Roof and solar panels! Otherwise, buyers that already own solar panels would have to find a Tesla-certified installer to buy and install the Powerwall on their behalf. This does not compare in anyway with the flexibility that is afforded the buyer of solar panels who can buy just buy an inverter and batteries from our online shop for instance and across different brands and have them installed.
For flexibility in choice, presently, solar shingles are a niche product as, in comparison, only a few brands offer solar shingles.
In the case of Tesla Solar Roof, if a user needs to relocate and move the panels, the entire roof has to be moved. This is not an easy situation. Traditional solar panels can easily be moved.
Some of the other brands beside Tesla give more flexible options for buyers. Tesla insists on installing the entire roof, both active, power-producing and inactive shingles. For instance, Certain Teed and SunTegra allows users the chance to install only the number of solar tiles that will match their power needs. This reduces costs, makes it relatively easy to relocate the panels and faster to install. In January 2022, GAF Energy introduced solar shingles that can be nailed into place. Yet, this does not match the range of options available in the solar panel market. Solar panels are designed according to the users energy needs and then retrofitted onto existing structures. They can be easily disconnected and moved without any major architectural changes. This gives a rare flexibility to the user.
And the Overall Winner Is Solar Panels! For now.
Top brands that offer solar shingles besides Tesla include, CertainTeed, SunTegra, Luma, Exasun, Hanenergy, Sunflare, etc.
In conclusion, for the present, solar shingles are still luxury products. Optimization of the technology, increasing demand, lowering of production costs and more brands offering shingles will certainly drive down the costs and make the products more market-competitive. In the mean time, they are still very much a work-in-progress. Analysts believe that Tesla's Solar Roof is driven by Elon Musk's celebrity and its difficult to doubt them. Even with competitive costs, we can be sure that they will remain a niche product and will certainly never displace the traditional solar panels for obvious reasons.
Solarkobo helps its clients in Lagos and across Nigeria make the best possible choice of solar panels that accommodates their budget and fits their peculiar needs. We also import and install solar shingles on order in Lagos and across Nigeria.