What are solar shingles?

In a nutshell, solar shingles are thin-film solar cells that are designed to look, and protect your roof, like traditional asphalt shingles. Most solar shingles today are made using copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) technology. Like solar panels, they are designed to resist a variety of weather conditions, including rain, hail, winds and snow. DOW Powerhouse, the leading manufacturer of solar shingles in the United States, has recently introduced solar shingles in Michigan, where snow and cold weather conditions are the norm in winter.

Solar Shingles - DOW Powerhouse
A solar shingle installation (Image credit: DOW Powerhouse)

What is the conversion efficiency of solar shingles?

In the past, one of the primary concerns with regard to solar shingles was their efficiency in comparison to the more commonly used solar panels. Thanks to technological advances, CIGS thin-film solar shingles are now delivering a comparable conversion efficiency (the amount of sunlight that gets converted into electricity). In the past, thin-film solar cells used to have an efficiency of about 10%, but according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in 2008 a new world record was set with CIGS solar cells reaching 19.9% efficiency under laboratory conditions, similar to the 20-22% efficiency of multicrystalline silicon-based solar cellsĀ used in photovoltaic solar panels under laboratory conditions. It’s important to note that these performance levels degrade significantly in real world conditions.

Are solar shingles expensive?

Another common concern with solar shingles is their cost. When they were new to the market, they were more expensive than solar panels, making an already expensive undertaking even more costly. However, with the development of CIGS thin-film solar cells, solar shingles are now cost competitive with solar panels, and can even be cheaper as the labor costs associated with installation are lower due to the reduced time needed for installation.

What are the disadvantages of solar shingles?

Solar shingles are not for every roof! The slope and orientation of your roof are key determinants of whether solar shingles can be installed. Where solar panels can be angled to receive maximum sunlight, there’s not much you can do if your roof is not facing the right direction. Furthermore, unlike solar panels which can be removed and taken with you when you move, solar shingles remain in place until you are ready to change your roof again.

Lastly, because solar shingles are relatively new to the market compared to solar panels, there is less information about their long-term durability and efficiency. There are some concerns that they may not hold up as well as solar panels, but with growing interest and new technological advances, solar shingles are poised to compete head on with the more conventional solar panels. Why not Discover more about solar energy where you live?

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