Over 1 million UK households now have solar systems installed on their property according to the Solar Trade Association. Their popularity is due at least in part to the decreasing costs of solar technology. Most of these households will have on-roof solar panels but solar tiles are being recognised more and more as a viable alternative. New-build homes are increasingly being fitted with solar tiles as standard and their occupants will benefit from the savings on electricity bills that solar power has been proven to bring over the last couple of decades.
Though solar roof tiles will not be suitable for every homeowner, they are a great solution for those who are planning to build a new roof and want it to look as aesthetically pleasing as possible while incorporating solar energy. If you don’t want to compromise the style of your house but wish to generate clean energy this may be the technology for you.
Most solar power companies are busy improving the power and efficiency of solar panels, but there are a few who are focusing on making them look better and more natural.
Solar tiles, also known as solar shingles or solar slates work just like solar panels but they are made to look like traditional roof tiles. They are made up of photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity in the same way as solar panels. Solar roof tiles are small modules that can be attached to your existing shingles or substitute them. They are made of thin film PV or classic monocrystalline solar cells.
While solar panels are much cheaper and generally more efficient than solar tiles, the overall appearance of a home or building can sometimes be more important. This may particularly be the case when looking at investing in solar energy for a listed building. The same applies if you live in a protected area where changes to the buildings are not permitted for aesthetic reasons. Solar tiles can be useful for getting around tough building regulations as well as for retaining the original appearance of a building.
The price of solar tiles used to be much higher than it is now, and they are becoming more price-competitive and popular as time goes on. They were once considered a premium product for those who wanted a traditional roofline but are now a more common alternative to “bolt-on” solar panels.
Advantages of solar roof tiles
- Solar roof tiles are almost invisible: This is probably the biggest advantage of this technology. Solar tiles are sleek and subtle. They look like a planned part of the structure, rather than having been tacked on as an afterthought. If you have solar panels on your roof, usually everyone will know that they are there!
- Solar roof tiles, just like solar panels will generate clean, free energy for you: You can save money on your electricity bills as solar tiles can generate a significant amount of the electricity that your household uses. Based on an electricity bill of £600 a year, your household could save over 50% on its annual energy charges with a 4kW solar roof tile system. The smallest option, a 1kW system, will produce savings closer to 15%.
- You can also take advantage of the Smart Export Guarantee to export any electricity that you don’t use to the National Grid. Your energy supplier will pay you for this excess electricity.
- Solar roof tiles are more durable than traditional, bolt-on panels: Solar panels can last up to 40 years or more, but because they are rigid modules mounted on metal, they can be damaged by extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes. In-roof solar tiles are fixed to rafters and battens which means there are no gaps for wind to get underneath and so they are extremely secure. Solar roof tiles are tough as nails and even a hurricane force wind would not be able to rip them off. Tesla’s solar tiles, for example, are up to three times tougher than traditional tiles so they can provide your roof with some serious protection.
- Solar roof tiles are a great option for new buildings: They help to reduce wasted roof space and maximise solar efficiency. Their installation is simple, quick, and can be done by any roofer or solar installer.
- Solar roof tiles are Ideal for listed buildings: If you live in a listed property or within a conservation area, you may not be allowed to alter the appearance of your home. Fortunately, solar tiles are a great way to keep the switch to solar inconspicuously. It’s important to always consult with your local authority before proceeding.
- Solar roof tiles can increase the value of your property: This is due to the demand for green energy being high and growing all the time.
- Solar roof tiles require minimal maintenance: Because there are no visible fixings or spaces under roof-integrated solar tiles, there is nowhere for debris to build up on the roof. There is also the added benefit of not needing to disassemble a roof-integrated system if roof maintenance or repairs need to be carried out.
Disadvantages of solar roof tiles
- Solar roof tiles cannot be installed on an already existing roof: They are only suitable if they are being used for new buildings or if the plan is to substitute all the tiles on an already existing building. This is because solar and traditional shingles must be installed at the same time. Solar panels, on the other hand, can be installed even after your roof is finished.
- Not all roofs can accommodate them: The roof must be pitched and angled perfectly for solar roof tiles to work. Solar panels, however, have a better chance of being positioned even on ‘difficult’ roofs.
- The initial cost of buying solar roof tiles is higher than of traditional asphalt ones: Currently, solar roof tiles are a more expensive option than traditional bolt-on panels. If you are already planning to build a new roof, however, the added cost of installing solar tiles might not be so restrictive.
- Solar roof tiles are slightly less efficient: The efficiency of solar tiles tends to range between 10-20%, while high-efficiency solar panels generally achieve 18-25% efficiency.
- Solar roof tiles take longer to install: Of course, replacing a whole roof takes far longer than just installing a few solar panels which can of course add quite a bit to the total cost.
How much electricity can solar tiles generate?
There are a few factors which influence the amount of energy that solar tiles can generate including:
- The more solar roof tiles there are, the more electricity they can generate.
- The length of time the sun is out, as the longer the exposure to the sun the greater the amount of electricity that can be generated.
- The pitch of your roof and the orientation of the south-facing roof in relation to the position of the sun will make a difference.
- The efficiency of the make of solar tiles purchased will also affect the amount of energy that can be generated.
How much do solar roof tiles cost?
Solar tiles can cost more than twice as much as solar panels. To give an example, a 4kW solar tile system will typically cost between £12,000 and £16,000, while a 4kW solar panel system usually costs between £6,000 and £8,000.
They are more expensive because the tiles are a newer technology in a less competitive market and the installation process is longer and more complex.
The cost of a solar tile system is difficult to estimate as it will depend on the size of the roof and what proportion of the roof is being covered.
Though a solar tile system may seem an attractive option, solar tile technology is still in its infancy and currently expensive. There are also very few UK suppliers at present. If you are a homeowner considering converting your home to solar power, you may find solar panels the best fit for your requirements.