You may be thinking; “Solar power my home? I’ve heard that before.” It’s true that solar power has been long hailed as the solution to our coming energy crisis, with thousands of megawatts beating down on our planet daily, it very well may be that one day our homes will be powered with clean energy without the need for home improvements. The biggest deciding factors in the world of solar power are efficiency and the cost of panels with much product variation between them, low-efficiency and low-cost panels are available but only suitable in large installations, and higher efficiency comes at a higher price. Huge bounds have been made in the technology in recent year’s thanks, in no small part, to the massive investment by companies in solar panel efficiency, which has brought down the price to less efficient models as well. One of the current hot topics in this industry is Solar Shingles – (see building-incorporated solar panels)
What are Solar shingles?
The solar shingle is just what it says on the tin; a shingle for your roof with solar energy capabilities. You may have noticed the chunky solar panels cropping up slowly throughout suburbia in recent years but you probably haven’t noticed solar shingles appearing in your neighborhood due to the fact of their seamless integration onto your rooftop. This very fact alone has seen solar shingles penetrate the home market at comparable rates to solar panels since their introduction, as efficiency increases and the market drops its prices in the natural way of things it is likely that they will largely cede market dominance from the solar panel side of the industry. Another contributing factor to the slow uptake of home solar power generation, at least in the UK, has been the necessary planning permission to install the already expensive paneling. Solar shingles require no such permission as they are simply attached straight to the existing roof without need for support structures for weighty solar panels again saving on cost, though grid management systems are still required.
Solar Shingle Pros
But how much energy can a home be expected to save with a solar shingle set up? This depends again on a number of factors, amount of sunlight where you live, the size of the roof and the efficiency of the shingle itself. Shingles in the lower end of the market can produce anywhere up from 13 watts, using this as a base value it would require 77 tiles to generate a kilowatt of power; enough to considerably reduce the outgoings of a family sized home. SunPower boasts of 22% efficiency in their shingles which are silicon based, Dow uses new thin film technology which allows for greater flexibility at a reduced price, albeit at a lower efficiency. The greater flexibility of the Dow model means that it can be applied to existing shingles as opposed to SunPower which requires the shingles to be installed as replacement to existing ones. Where thin film technology has come into its own is its resistance to the elements; hail, rain and the elements at large have been huge problems for the industry. A thicker shield reduces the light falling on highly sensitive equipment, whilst rain can leave smears and grit on panels; reducing their efficiency and even scratching them. Thin film technology utilises Copper Indium Gallium diSelenide (CIGS) to generate its power where silicon would normally be used and this offers a number of benefits. It is as lightweight and durable as established roofing materials and so once installed requires considerably less maintenance and upkeep. One benefit solar panels have over shingles is they can move to track the sun throughout the day to maximise efficiency, this benefit is reduced with CIGS technology however as Dow’s new shingles outperforms other shingles under indirect lighting, under shaded or diffused light and when cloudy.
Solar shingles Cons
Solar shingles do have some considerations which must be made before investing, whilst they can be applied directly to the roof reducing cost there; they require a roofing substrate which can handle the increased temperature your roof will experience as shingles dissipate heat less effectively than non-solar shingles being metal based. Solar panels are still the cheaper and more efficient solution if you are more concerned about power generation and less concerned about whether people think you are making a political statement.
Whichever you choose it is clear that the solar energy boom is coming if not begun already, more and more homes are opting for independence from rising energy prices which are only going to rise higher before the solar revolution is fully underway. Consider that First Solar have claimed in the past week that they will start manufacturing thin-film cells which generate electricity at half the cost of coal in the next few years and it can be seen that it is not only possible to convert your home to run on solar shingles but it has now become financially viable in the short term to do so.
Author: Philippe Allaire, is a French Canadian writer with a passion for alternative energy. On his personal website you may find many more great tools you may use to try and reduce your carbon footprint.