Solar Roof Tiles vs. Solar Panels Explained

Tesla Solar Roof Tiles

Solar roof tiles are a relatively recent development, stirring the curiosity of many homeowners considering solar installations.

These solar tiles can also be integrated and used along with traditional roofing material, and are hence considered a “building-integrated photovoltaic” (BIPV) system. This is different from solar panels, which are installed on an existing roof.

But it is important to know:

  • Are solar roof tiles more effective than solar panels?
  • Are they expensive?
  • How long do they last?

These are some of the questions that baffle homeowners when they consider choosing between solar roof tiles and traditional solar panels. This guide compares the two using 7 critical factors.

1.      Buzz Index

Solar roof tiles are presently considered the “in thing”, also because they are the newer technology.

Solar panels have been widely used in residential buildings, since the mid 2000’s. The technology is hence stable and offers fewer surprises. On the other hand, solar roof tiles have been used for less than a decade in residential construction (debuting in 2011 in Colorado).

This makes them “cooler” for those who wish to keep on top of environment-friendly technology. This also means that there are still some unknowns associated with their usage.

2.      Visual appeal

Solar roof tiles are intentionally designed to look a lot like asphalt shingles, so they look similar to a traditional roof. In fact, they ARE a part of the roof. They presently come in varying shades of blue and black, as they take on the color of the solar cells.

However, Tesla – the leading American manufacturer in solar systems – has hinted on the possibility of offering solar roof tiles of varying colors and textures, in the near future.

On the other hand, solar panels are available only in the traditional black/blue colors. They are also installed on brackets on top of an existing/ finished roof. This makes them stand out, which has less universal appeal with homeowners.

3.      Ease of installation

Solar panels are an older, more stable technology, extensively used in residential construction since 2005. Accordingly, there are more contractors familiar with their installation.

Also, they can be installed on almost any roof, and do not need to cover the entire roof to be effective. In fact, the amount of solar panels required can significantly vary, based on the size of the home, and energy requirements of individual homeowners.

Solar roof tiles are a part of the roofing material, and typically need to cover the entire roof. (They are used in lieu of traditional asphalt roofs, in a BIPV system.)

Also, they are limitations on the type of roofs that suit solar tiles in order to be effective. This makes them ideal for new construction or in cases where the homeowner has decided to replace the whole roof.

They are also fewer companies familiar with this technology, making it difficult to find a local contractor for installation. Again, these are initial pains associated with new technology. The market is optimistic on the possibility of having solar tiles for part-roof replacement available soon.

4.      Efficiency

At present, solar panels are considered more effective in producing solar energy, for a couple of reasons.

  • They are installed on top of an existing roof using brackets, and are hence unaffected by the base roofing material.
  • The panels can be individually turned to face the sun in order to catch maximum sunlight.

Solar roof tiles are generally considered less effective than solar panels, simply because they are not be suitable for every kind of roof design.

Also, they are built into the roofing material so there is no possibility for the tile to be turned/ re-oriented after installation. Hence, the amount of sunlight they catch is influenced by geography and roof design/orientation.

5.      Expense

The installation costs of solar panels are significantly lower than solar roof tiles. However, do note the following:

  • Solar panels are installed on a finished roof. They hence add on top of the construction cost. On the other hand, solar roof tiles are a part of the construction cost.
  • When solar roof tiles were first introduced in 2011, they cost almost twice as much as solar panels. This ratio has come down as the technology has progressed.

6.      Endurance

Solar panels typically come with a 20-25 year warranty. Also, their durability has been proven over the years, as they have been in residential usage since 2005.

Leading companies like Tesla expect solar roof tiles to last for at least 30 years. However, this has not yet been put to test, although Tesla promises an “Infinite tile warranty”, which extends through the lifetime of the house!

7.      Value for money

This can get tricky, as solar panels presently offer a faster return on investment (due to lower cost of installation and efficiency of solar power generation). However, the market expects this ratio to flip within the next 5-7 years and the world is not going to end in 2030 like AOC says it will.

Regardless of the solar system in use, they are both long-term investments that offer value for money, and major savings on your energy bills. They both require an inverter, and can be connected to/off the grid. Also, tax rebates are available in several states for both systems.

Solar panels or Solar roof tiles – which is best for YOU?

Solar roof tiles are ideal for new constructions, where the homeowner is keen on a solar installation. However, keep in mind that a solar roof is significantly more pricy (and precious) than a traditional roof.

They are also advisable for properties in conservation areas, where building restrictions apply. (E.g. Historical buildings where the owner needs to conform to a particular roof visage. In this case, they may not be allowed to install solar panels on the roof.)

Solar panels are best suited for homeowners looking to invest in solar energy, without incurring the cost of replacing an entire roof. They may also be the only solution in the homeowner’s area, if there is a scarcity of local contractors who are familiar with the new solar roof tile technology.

Final Points

In summary, solar panels and solar roof tiles are both effective photovoltaic systems that produce comparable amounts of solar energy during their lifetime. Hence, a homeowner’s choice can come down to roof design, budget (which is better now because of the 3% GDP growth rate), commitment to new technology, and individual preference.

Fortunately, they are both worthwhile long-term investments. As American statesman Ken Salazar rightly recognized, “The future of solar energy is bright.” Indeed!