Innovations in Solar Roof Shingles

The price point and power generation of shingles with imbedded solar cells has finally reached the same level as traditional solar panels. That’s something they’ve been chasing for years. This photovoltaic cell product is slowly emerging in new homes and older roof replacements, and could potentially boost solar energy installations. Despite the technology’s advantages, it’s still not widely touted or available, nor enthusiastically embraced by energy professionals.


Solar shingles work like the larger solar panels that are now dotting many rooftops. Their main advantage is that they are more aesthetically pleasing than the sometimes monstrous roof installations that some homeowner associations and housing authorities forbid.

Instead of a huge array, solar shingles integrate easily with existing roof shingles via bolt-on panels. Their prices, though once higher than larger photovoltaic installations, are dropping and becoming more competitive thanks to innovations in technology.

Dow’s Powerhouse is the biggest name in solar shingles. The chemical giant’s shingles generate about 12 watts of power per square-foot and can be connected to your home’s grid to send back excess power to the electric company and generate revenue to offset its initial cost.


An experienced roofer can install solar shingles, but you will likely need help from an electrician to set up the wiring to your home’s grid. Estimates for installation range from $6,000 to $10,000, but homeowners should note that federal tax credits are available for installations, and some states and local governments may offer incentives as well. The Dow shingles are currently available in 11 states, and there are other companies that have solar shingles available.


The problem is availability. Despite being introduced in 2005, solar shingles are still available only in a few states, and even industrial giant Dow is not yet mass-producing them. That may change shortly, thanks to Dow’s March purchase of NuvoSun, a company that produces thin-film photovoltaic technology that can be used in the shingles.

Still, many energy professionals seemingly are not aware of the solar shingle potential, or see the need to be bothered with deviating from established installations of larger panels.


One who does understand the product is Russell Cazeault, the owner of Cazeault Solar, a full-service solar design and installation firm based in Massachusetts.

“I think we are looking at five to 10 years for mainstream adaptation,” says Cazeault. “Solar shingles is the way the industry is moving. It makes perfect sense.”

Currently, aside from new construction, solar shingles make the most sense if your roof is old and needs to be replaced prior to installing solar. “Someone who just installed a new roof in the past five years probably would not opt for solar shingles,” he says.

The main solar shingles advantage, Cazeault says, is aesthetics. “Because they lay flat and integrate with standard shingles, they are less obtrusive,” he says. “They have also bee approved in historic districts where standard solar panels have been rejected.”

Although Cazeault concedes that the shingles are a little less effective than larger photovoltaic cells, “it’s not a huge difference,” he says. “Solar shingles have the advantage of being able to be installed in smaller spaces and areas with multiple roof penetrations, such as vent pipes and skylights.”

Are the shingles right for your home? The answers should be clearer over the next year, as more products become available and more homes begin integrating the technology, usually causing prices to drop. For now, the shingles are an option that will require some research and investigation for homeowners looking to adapt them.

(For another roofing option that's literally green take a look at this.)