Solar panels used to be bulky, expensive, and unattractive. These days, they're getting so small and durable they can serve as functional shingles, becoming part of the roofing itself.
As the climate crisis continues to threaten life on planet Earth, it's increasingly important that we embrace renewable energy and reduce our reliance on polluting fuels, but there are other reasons to love solar power, too. For one thing, once you set up your system, it's free! In fact, if you collect enough to have extra, you can even use solar power to make some money on the side.
Solar energy is created when photovoltaic cells are exposed to sunlight, which releases electrons from their atoms and makes them loose. When these electrons move freely through the cell, they create electricity. Solar shingles are designed to look and function like traditional roofing materials such as slate tiles or asphalt. Not many home solar users are familiar with this technology. However, when Tesla joined the home solar industry with its Solar Roof, the overall home solar market got a significant boost.
Tesla is not the only pioneer in this segment, but their move has brought attention to the already existing solar shingle creators, and inspired new companies to create competing products. The following are some of the best solar shingles available in the market as of this writing.
Tesla Solar Roof (version 3)
The Tesla Solar Roof is a fully functional roof replacement featuring durable tiles designed to look exactly like conventional roofing tiles or shingles. The roof looks just like normal roofing, but generates electricity.
In Elon Musk’s official 19-minute video unveiling of this product, he revealed that Tesla uses hydrographic printing to ensure the appearance of the tiles looks very much like a dark shingle, slate or clay tile. The glass layer has louvers that allow the light to pass through to the solar cells from above but when the tiles are viewed at an angle for example when one is standing on the street below, the louver reveals the printed design. Anyone with no prior knowledge would probably be unable to tell that the roof contains solar panels.
Subsequent updates have been made on the original design. The latest version of the Tesla Solar roof has a larger tile size, a higher power density and a reduction in the number of parts used in assembling the solar roof. This has resulted in a much lower manufacturing and hence the retail price. It's also easier and faster to install and has a far more appealing design.
CertainTeed Apollo II
This product is made by the North American Company CertainTeed, which manufactures roofing, siding, insulation, drywall, and other build material products. The Apollo line has two solar products—shingles and tiles—each of which integrates with new or existing concrete tile or asphalt shingle roofs, rather than mounting over existing roofing.
The Apollo II line doesn't use hydrographic printing and glass louvers like Tesla, but while its appearance doesn't mimic normal high-end roofing materials such as slate, the Apollo II is still unquestionably more attractive than regular solar modules.
Unlike typical solar panels, which have several inches between the roof and the back of the panel and appear to be suspended in midair, both Apollo II systems are low-profile, integrated solar solutions.
Apollo II shingles have an exposed surface area of about 670 square inches, which translated to roughly 0.109 watts per square inch, equivalent to standard panels.
RGS Powerhouse 3.0
RGS Energy acquired the Powerhouse line in 2017 from Dow. Initially, it was based on thin-film solar, but when Dow bowed out of the solar industry in 2016, RGS switched it to monocrystalline cells. Just like the Apollo tile, Powerhouse directly replaces the traditional asphalt shingle. It has a 17.1% cell efficiency with each shingle having “41.6 * 31.5” dimensions. One generates 60 watts.
The Powerhouse comes in only one style, an all-black appearance akin to the Apollo II tiles. When viewed from above, the solar cells can be seen but cannot be seen at an angle such as at street level.
It is advisable to install the RGS Powerhouse system with a new roof as opposed to replacing an already existing roof.
Note: As of this writing, RGS Energy is in the process of filing for bankruptcy, so the future of its technology is somewhat in doubt.
Luma Solar Roof
Unlike the RGS and CertainTeed shingles, the Luma Solar roof contains both solar and non-solar components giving the roof a more uniform appearance. They offer a complete roof replacement package simply referred to as the Solar roof.
They also have their PV Shingles offered as a stand-alone product that can be installed alongside contemporary roof shingles. Each of these shingles has “54.37 * 15.62” dimensions and uses polycrystalline cells to produce 60 watts of electricity.
SunTegra Tile and Shingle
Based in New York, SunTegra is a company that produces two products. Their Tile which has been designed as a replacement for concrete tile materials and their shingle which is placed on already existing asphalt shingles. Both of these products are designed to be integrated alongside traditional roofing tiles and shingles and not to be used in isolation. The shingle differs from other solar shingles in size since it is larger than normal asphalt shingles.
They sit atop your roof and are not meant to replace existing shingles. They measure “52 5/8 by 23 1/8” inches and are ¾ of an inch high. It incorporates an air channel at the back of the module. This channel keeps the panel’s temperatures low and improves efficiency. These panels use monocrystalline cells and can produce up to between 100 and 110 watts.
The introduction of solar shingles and solar roofs means users can get solar products that look much better than the conventional solar panels and increase the value of their homes. However, setting up such roofs cost more than the normal solar panels, and are still a bit less efficient. Also, because such modules are established directly against the roof, they get hotter, a challenge that can lead to reduced efficiency and a shorter lifespan.
As the tech continues to improve, though, these systems will get more and more appealing. Make sure to shop around with installing companies to get the best deal on your initial investment. Some companies will install your shingles for free, collecting their fee from the power savings the equipment goes on to earn over the years.