What Are Solar Shingles and How Do They Work?

For most people, residential solar power means photovoltaic solar panels mounted on rooftops. Another option available now is to use solar shingles for your roof. 

Solar shingle technology is newer and provides a different look for your home that some homeowners find aesthetically pleasing. 

While you might find solar shingles easier on the eye than PV panels, looks are just one consideration if you’re looking for the best renewable energy option. 

Read on to learn whether solar shingles are the right renewable energy choice for you.

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What Are Solar Shingles?

Solar shingles utilise photovoltaic cells to capture the sun’s rays and a balance of system to convert solar energy into electricity.  Shingles work the same way as PV solar panels but are designed to look and function like traditional slate or asphalt shingles. 

Instead of using mounting hardware and frames to install solar shingles — as is common with rooftop solar panel arrays — they are embedded into the roof during construction and replace conventional shingles. For this reason, solar shingles are also known as Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). 

Because solar shingles are integrated into a home’s structure, they are typically more suited to new builds or when replacing an old roof. Solar panels are much easier to retrofit onto an existing building.

Solar shingles serve the dual purpose of protecting your home against the elements and providing electricity to power your home. Solar shingles can even be more durable than traditional roofing materials like asphalt and may last longer before needing to be replaced.

Since PV shingles are embedded into your home’s roof,  they may be less likely to dislodge during a wind storm or be damaged by hail and other extreme weather events than PV panels. 

On the other hand, they’re also significantly less efficient — and more expensive to purchase and install — than a rooftop solar panel system.

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How Do Solar Shingles Work?

Solar shingles work the same way as other photovoltaic solutions. Photovoltaic cells absorb sunlight and harness the flow of electrons. Solar energy is collected as DC electricity and converted to AC (household) electricity by your portable power station or other balance of system.

Rather than using mounting hardware to install solar shingles on top of your roof like panels, the shingles are part of your roof, replacing traditional asphalt or slate shingles. Since they’re designed to look and function like conventional roofing materials, solar shingles tend to blend in more than panels. They can be particularly useful for residential roofs with an angular construction. 

Unlike photovoltaic panels, your ability to place and angle solar shingles to capture the maximum available sunlight is limited by your roof’s design and construction. Depending on the amount of available roof space that receives direct sunlight, this limitation is one factor that can impact their efficiency compared to panels.

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How Many Types of Solar Shingles Are There?

There are two types of photovoltaic shingles: silicon and CIGS.

  1. Silicon Solar Shingles are made of the same material as most PV panels and work similarly. They are thin and designed to match the size and shape of regular asphalt or slate roof shingles.
  2. CIGS Solar Shingles, or copper-indium-gallium-selenide, use a thinner, lighter, and less expensive material than silicon. The cost and durability of these shingles make them an attractive alternative, and more PV shingles now use this technology.

Silicon panels are currently easier to obtain, but CIGS panels have maintained and grown a presence in the market.

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What Are the Differences Between Solar Roof Shingles and Solar Panels?

Solar PanelsSolar Shingles
Average Size per Unit39 inches by 65 inches
(990mm x 1,651 mm) 
12 inches by 86 inches (300 mm × 2,180 mm)
Average Cost of Residential Solar Array$5,000 to $35,000 (USD)$63,000 to $75,000 (USD)
Photovoltaic MaterialSiliconCopper indium gallium selenide or monocrystalline silicon
Output (per unit)100-400W13-70W
AppearanceBlue or Black ColorBlack
Average EfficiencyUp to 23%14-18%

Size

At 12 inches by 86 inches (990mm x 1,651 mm), the average photovoltaic shingle has a smaller area than a panel. A single rigid solar panel can be 68 x 45 inches (1,722 mm x 1,134 mm). 

PV shingles are also significantly thinner and lighter, adding less weight to your roof. 

On the other hand, because PV shingles are less efficient, you will likely need more space for a complete installation than you would for panels.

Cost

PV panels currently cost much less than PV shingles. In the US, the average cost for a solar panel rooftop installation runs from $3,500 to $35,000. You can reduce installation costs to zero if you use portable solar panels, but they’re not suitable for permanent rooftop installations.

In contrast, a complete solar shingle installation typically costs between $63,000-$75,000 (USD).

Due to market availability, demand, and other factors, the cost of solar shingle installations varies wildly between countries — and even between cities.

PV shingle installations typically only make sense in a new construction or roof replacement to make the cost easier to absorb.

Materials

Photovoltaic panels are generally silicon, with monocrystalline silicon cells as the most effective type of panels on the market. Monocrystalline panels consist of a single silicon crystal, while polycrystalline panels consist of multiple crystals moulded together.

PV shingles can be silicon or copper indium gallium selenide. The latter is lighter and more durable. The thinner design allows them to be part of the roof structure rather than mounted on top.

Output

Solar panels yield as much as 400W of electricity per panel/hour under ideal conditions. Factors that can impact output include the angle, air temperature, cloud cover, and obstructions (like tree branches) that cast the panel in shade. 

PV shingles are both smaller and less efficient. Each shingle typically yields between 13-70W of electricity. To generate enough electricity to even partially power your home, you should expect to buy more shingles and use much more rooftop space than you would for a more traditional PV panel array.

Aesthetics

Solar panels are mounted on your roof, while the shingles are integrated into the building itself. Shingles are sized and shaped to blend into the roof visually. The black colour works well for most roof designs.

For this reason, many people find PV shingles more aesthetically pleasing than rooftop panels. 

The price you pay for aesthetics isn’t cheap. But it may be worth it to you. It may also be the only solar option if you’re part of a homeowners association (HOA) with rules about what you can install on your roof.

Efficiency and Rated Power

Solar panels are much more efficient than PV shingles; panels can reach as high as 23-24%, while shingles generally only hit 14-18% efficiency. 

Efficiency in solar power measures the amount of direct sunlight converted into electricity by PV panels or solar shingles. 

Rated power measures the maximum amount of electricity a solar panel or shingle can produce in one hour under ideal conditions. 

Both efficiency and rated power are determined using Standard Test Conditions. Such ideal conditions rarely exist in the real world. It’s crucial to keep this in mind when planning and purchasing a solar power system. 

Just because a solar panel has 400W rated power and 23% efficiency doesn’t mean you’ll achieve that level of electricity generation during every daylight hour. 

Efficiency and power output are partly a matter of design, but both are heavily impacted by the unit’s position and angle to the sun. You can position and angle solar panels to optimise sunlight capture. Photovoltaic shingles, in contrast, have to accommodate the existing roof angle and orientation.

Versatility

Solar shingles rarely make sense for any application other than residential installations where aesthetics are a prime concern. Due to their expense and integration into the building’s structure, shingles are best suited for new builds and full rooftop replacements.  

Photovoltaic panels have far more versatility. Even rigid solar panels can provide power on the go when installed on a van or RV. Portable solar panels fold up and provide electricity for off-grid adventures like camping. Flexible solar panels can be moulded and adhere to almost any type and shape of surface.

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How Much Does It Cost To Install Solar Shingles?

Installation and purchase of PV shingles is substantially more expensive than installing PV panels. In the US, a solar shingle array typically runs between $60,000 and $75,000.

In other countries, the price tends to be even higher — partly due to less widespread options. 

The average cost above includes the cost of 300-350 solar shingles, as well as labour for installation.

To defray these costs, it’s best to install them when you’re building a new home or replacing your existing roof. This can bring the cost more in line with what you would already pay for roofing installation and materials. 

Depending on your circumstances, a rooftop replacement may drop your homeowners’ insurance cost. 

If you’re considering a permanent solar shingle or panel solution, don’t forget to check your eligibility for government tax rebates and other incentives. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels and switching to clean renewable energy sources like solar is a global imperative — for citizens and governments.

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Pros and Cons of Solar Shingles

So, which option is better for you? 

With a sleeker look, solar shingles offer aesthetic advantages for some homeowners. But when it comes to performance and price, PV panels remain the gold standard for residential solar power.

Pros

  1. Aesthetics. Because PV shingles integrate into the structure of your home’s roof, many people find them more aesthetically pleasing. The appearance can be significant if your homeowners’ association (HOA) restricts the use of photovoltaic panels.
  2. Durability. Both PV panels and PV shingles will last. The best PV shingles withstand weather conditions, including hail, which not all PV panels can handle during extreme weather events.

Cons

  1. Cost. Solar shingles remain substantially more expensive than photovoltaic panels. At $60,000 to $75,000 for installation and purchase, they can run to well over double the cost of PV panels. 
  2. Efficiency and Power Production. Solar panels are much more efficient than shingles. Panels also produce more electricity per unit. You need fewer panels and less overall space for PV panels than for PV shingles.
  3. Positioning. You can set up solar panels at the ideal angle to maximise direct sunlight during the day. PV shingles do not provide this option; you need to accept the angle of the roof and purchase more shingles to get the power you need for your home. If you’re embarking on a new construction, consider the roof’s position and angle to the sun during the design phase. This gives you the best option to optimise a solar shingle system’s efficiency and output.
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How Many Solar Shingles Do You Need for Your Home? 

The average solar shingle installation requires 300-350 photovoltaic shingles to deliver all the power you need for your home. The estimated total cost is currently between $60,000 and $75,000 USD. 

You would need 20-25 PV panels for comparable electricity generation from photovoltaic panels, costing between $5,000 to $35,000 with installation.

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How To Make the Switch From Solar Panels To Solar Roof Shingles

Switching from solar panels to PV roof shingles is demanding and expensive. After taking down the solar panels, you need a professional installer or roofer to remove your current tiles and install the shingles one at a time. The process includes making the connections between tiles and connecting the entire array to your balance of system.

Because this process is so arduous, PV shingles make the most sense when you’re ready to replace your existing roof. It brings the cost more in line with regular roof replacement costs.

Due to the higher efficiency and long lifespan of solar panels, it’s hard to think of circumstances when making the switch from panels to PV shingles would be a wise financial decision.

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Conclusion

Solar shingles are a sleek option for people looking for a renewable power source for a new construction or replacing an existing roof. Even so, the differences in cost and electricity production make photovoltaic panels a much better option for most people. 

EcoFlow’s PV panel options, including the powerful, efficient 400W Rigid Solar Panel, deliver a more robust solar power option for your home. Check out our residential solar panel solutions — including our whole home generator — today.

FAQs

Is It Easy To Install Solar Shingles on a Roof?

The process of installing solar shingles on an existing roof is extremely complex. Installation includes fitting the shingles into place, connecting them, and connecting the entire array to your balance of system. You’ll need to hire professional installers, and the time and labour costs will be high. Solar shingle installations are best suited for new construction and replacing an existing roof. Solar panels are much simpler to retrofit on your home’s existing roof.

Will Solar Shingles Increase Your Home’s Value?

Yes, solar shingles will increase your home value. In the US, solar power adds $20 to your home value, on average, for every $1 you save on your electricity bills. PV shingles are also less visually obtrusive than solar panels and can provide a durable rooftop that generates electricity and provides structural stability at the same time.

What’s the Lifespan of a Solar Shingle?

Solar shingles are typically durable enough to last at least 25-30 years. With proper maintenance and care, they can last even longer. Solar shingles can be an attractive option for new home builds and rooftop replacements, comparing favourably to the 15-30 year lifespan of a traditional asphalt roof. 

ECOFLOW
ECOFLOWhttps://www.ecoflow.com/
EcoFlow is a portable power and renewable energy solutions company. Since its founding in 2017, EcoFlow has provided peace-of-mind power to customers in over 85 markets through its DELTA and RIVER product lines of portable power stations and eco-friendly accessories.

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