Solar Tiles or Electric Solar Panels?

Solar Tiles or Electric Solar Panels?

If you want to help the planet by installing electric solar panels, but really don’t like the idea of large PV solar panels being mounted on the roof of your lovely home, solar tiles or solar roof tiles could be the solution you have been looking for.  Solar tiles really are a viable alternative to standard electric solar panels and definitely warrant your consideration if you are going to create your own solarpanel home.

With the increasing interest in solar energy solutions for the home, new technologies have been developed that provide the normal benefits of electric solar panels but are much better looking when installed on your home.   Please note: solar tiles are for pitched roofs and not suitable for flat roofs.  If your house has a flat roof and you want to install solar energy, your options are pretty much limited to setting out arrays of electric solar panels on your roof.  However, if you have a pitched roof, now have a choice of standard electric solar panels and solar tiles for your solar panel home.   It should also be noted that solar tiles tend to cost more than standard solar tiles and installign them will require that part of the roof has to be re-tiled, additng to the expense of installation.

Therefore, if you are not that concerned about the appearance of solar panels or more concerned with keeping costs down, standard electric solar panels will do the job. 

What are Solar Tiles/Solar Roof Tiles?

Solar Tiles or Solar Roof Tiles operate on the same principle as standard electric solar panels or solar Photovoltaic panels.  The advantage of solar tiles is that they are manufactured to the same modular size as normal roof tiles and are easily integrated into a new roof at the time of construction or into an existing roof when the roof covering is replaced.  Solar roof tiles look very similar to normal roof tiles or roof slates and are used in the same way as normal roof tiles.  Solar roof tiles come in a variety of styles, colours and sizes. A common and affordable solar tile is manufactured to look like traditional asphalt shingles.  Solar tiles are aesthetically a major improvement over conventional roof-mounted PV panels.  Recent developments have produced solar roof tiles that just blend in with the rest of the roof and are virtually unnoticeable.  Solar tiles are a very attractive option for those who want to have a solar panel home but don’t like the appearance of large PV panels mounted on their roof.

How Solar Tiles Work

Although solar tiles generally look vary much like normal roof tiles or slates, each solar roof tile has a top layer of photovoltaic (PV) material that turns sunlight into electricity.  Solar roof tiles are known as BIPVs (building-integrated photovoltaics) because they integrate solar power generation into the design of the building so that it is still aesthetically pleasing.  BPIVs are used as substitutes for traditional building materials such as skylights, facades and roof tiles.   Solar tiles can be installed on the roofs of most homes.  Each tile has a plug-in connector and they are simply wired together during the installation process.  As with standard electric solar panels, solar roof tiles can be connected to the electricity grid and excess energy can be sold to the utility company.

Why use Solar Tiles?

The main reason for using solar tiles is their appearance.  Electric solar panels sit on top of your existing roof.  Although attempts are being made to improve their appearance, they are quite noticeable and detract from the appearance of the home.  The beauty of solar tiles is that they are designed to be integrated with your standard shingles, roof tiles or roof slates, so they blend in.  Quite simply, they go unnoticed or actually add to the appearance of your roof.  The use of solar roof tiles is especially attractive if you are extending your home or having your roof replaced.  In these circumstances the solar tiles can be integrated into the new or replacement roof as part of the standard build process.

Do Solar Tiles Make Financial Sense?

Yes.  Like PV solar panels, solar tiles are a green renewable energy product and many governments are providing grants and rebates to encourage each of us to have our own solar panel home.  The actual return on investment for solar tiles will depend on where you live, how much of a grant you receive from the government and how much you are paying for your electricity.  As a very general rule of thumb, expect a solar tile system to pay for itself in 10 – 18 years.  Solar tiles are usually guaranteed to work for 20 to 25 years.  However, most manufacturers expect them to continue working for 40 or 50 years.   Also, keep in mind that electricity prices have been rising rapidly for the last couple of years.  If this trend continues, solar tiles and PV panels will pay for themselves in a much shorter time period than that shown above.

Advantages of Renewable Solar Energy

As with standard electric solar panels, solar roof tiles do not generate heat, they work silently and produce no harmful emissions or greenhouse gases.  They are a truly green renewable energy product.  Not only will solar tiles reduce your electricity bill, but you will also reduce your output of CO2.  The actual amount of CO2 reduction will depend on how much electricity you save.  To give you an indication, if you save around 1800 kWh per annum, the amount of CO2 that you produce will reduce by approximately 1000kg per year. The other advantage to installing solar tiles is the potential increase in the value of your home.  While some people might be put off by the appearance of a house with large PV solar panels mounted on the roof, solar tiles are very unobtrusive and should be seen as a definite asset to your home.  To get an indication of how much solar tiles will add to the value to your home it is advisable to contact your local estate agent.

Not all Solar Tiles are the Same

Some solar roof tiles make use of thin film PV material.  This material is flexible and allows the manufacturer to produce tiles with a curved profile.  Thin film solar tiles are not as efficient as the material used in standard solar panels, but this is not really an issue.  If you use the thin film solar tiles you will just need to install more of these tiles to generate sufficient solar electricity to meet your energy requirements.

Recently, a new solar tile has been developed – the solar electric roof slate.  Each solar electric roof slate is a two piece solar photovoltaic assembly with a solar module and a glass laminate cover. Each module is supplied with electrical connectors which link it to adjacent modules. These solar roof slates incorporate one of the best PV materials: they 21% efficient, delivering approximately 30% more energy from the same tile area than most standard solar panels.  This means these solar slates require less than 10sq m per kWp (kilowatt peak).  This makes them very suitable for homes with a limited roof area or homes with less sunny climates (see below).

What About Cooler Climates such as the UK?

One of the major concerns for those living in more northerly latitudes such as the United Kingdom or the northern states in the US, is will solar tiles work effectively?  The answer is Yes!  A company called Solarcentury has developed solar roof tiles and solar electric roof slates for these cooler climates.  Their solar tiles and slates do not require direct sunlight to work, they only require daylight and will even produce electricity on cloudy days.

Solar Thermal Tile

Another very recent development is the solar thermal tile.  This is used in the same way as solar tiles described above and looks very much like them.  However, the key difference is that while solar roof tiles are used to generate electricity using PV technology, these solar thermal tiles are designed to heat water for washing and bathing.

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