Review: Best Shingle-Style Solar Panels of 2022
Building Integrated Photovoltaics or BIPVs, solar panels that look like shingles, tiles or slate, have made a comeback lately. Why? Because the tech is better, and the cost is lower.
Solar panels are increasing in popularity, with 2020 alone seeing a 43% increase in installations from 2019–a new record. By 2030, solar panel installations are expected to quadruple, making it clear solar panels are here to stay.
For some people however, the aesthetic impact of installing solar panels on their roofs is still a step too far.
For those turned off by the sheen of flat panels, however, building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) do away with front-and-center disposition of solar panels on roofs, allowing building owners to generate solar energy more discreetly.
In this article, I will break down exactly what BIPVs are, how much they cost, which are the best BIPV systems, and more. First, here’s a quick table of contents:
Topics and Solar Products Reviewed
What are BIPVs?
Building-integrated photovoltaics are, in the simplest terms, materials capable of generating solar power that replace ordinary building materials. Whether this is roofing, cladding, or otherwise, the smart thing about BIPVs is that they become part of the building–not just an extension.
Commonly, BIPVs are used in roofs, most often as tiles. This is the clever part–BIPV roof tiles, otherwise known as photovoltaic (PV) slates, solar tiles, or solar shingles, can almost perfectly blend into existing tiled roofs. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to look primarily at BIPVs for roofs.
So there’s the “ugly solar panels” problem solved–now it’s about working out what BIPV system is the best for your needs.
Advantages of Solar Tiles for Building Design
- Discrete design means no bulky solar panels sitting on top of your roof. This allows much more seamless integration into your property’s appearance.
- Because solar tiles are a part of your roof, they’re inherently much more durable. A typical solar panel system on a roof is at a greater risk of weather damage, especially in high-wind areas. This is because solar panels are mounted on a metal rack that’s slightly raised from the roof, so they are naturally more exposed to the elements. However, to make it clear, modern solar panels are still designed to withstand weather extremes, it’s just that solar tiles are more durable by default.
- Solar tiles, like all solar systems, can help reduce your electricity bill by up to 50% and give you access to clean energy.
- They’re long lasting, with a predicted lifespan of between 25 and 40 years. Admittedly this is only a prediction, albeit a well-informed one, because solar tiles are a relatively new technology having only been widely available for around 10 years.
- Low maintenance. Solar tiles, when properly installed require very little in the way of upkeep, but again, because it’s a new technology we won’t have all the answers until around 15-20 years from now.
Disadvantages of Solar Tiles
- High upfront costs. Solar tiles are definitely more expensive than ordinary solar panel systems, with the typical cost per roofing square (100 square feet) sitting around $1,100–$2,600. It’s understandable because solar tiles are a new technology, but it’ll give many people interested in switching to solar pause for thought.
- Lengthy installation time. Properly installing a solar tile system requires specialists trained in both roofing and electrical work. It will usually take around two weeks to fully install a solar roof and you’ll likely need a team of around 10-15 people to do it! As technology improves and more people opt for solar tiles, the installation process will no doubt get quicker and require less people to do it.
- The return on investment isn’t great, with the expected ROI of roof with solar tiles taking around 15-20 years. These days, a solar panel system has an ROI of roughly five years.
- Lower efficiency than solar panels. Until technology improves, solar tiles currently have to trade efficiency for aesthetics. By efficiency we mean how much sunlight solar tiles convert into electricity–right now, solar panels average at around 25-30% efficiency, compared to solar tiles which operate between 10-20%.
The Best Solar Tiles Overall
Each of the BIPV systems we’ve listed here are different in their own ways, which we’ll go into in more detail in the sections below. For now, here’s an overview of the best solar tiles available on the US market.
Best Solar Tiles for Design: Tesla Solar Roof
World-renowned clean-energy brand Tesla first introduced its Solar Roof in 2016 and since then, it has become one of the most popular solar tile options in the United States.
Purely from a design perspective, Tesla’s Solar Roof wins hands down. You get access to four different tiling options, with each carrying the same sleek design expected of Tesla products.
Because of the variety in choice, it’s remarkably easy to blend Tesla’s PV slates into your home’s overall design. A statement on their website reads “each tile looks great up-close or from the street, complementing your home’s natural aesthetic styling.”
Looking through the example images it’s hard to disagree. A key advantage is that Tesla will replace your entire roof with their slates, although not every slate will be solar capable. This helps add to their seamless appeal, as most PV slate systems can still stand out against existing roof tiles.
One oddity of Tesla’s Solar Roof is that the company is yet to officially reveal its efficiency rating, leaving owners of their solar tiles in the dark. This is a bit strange considering Tesla is well known for talking proudly and in detail about its technological achievements.
A notable downside of Tesla’s Solar Roof is that it cannot be added to an existing roof – instead, you will need to replace the entire roof with their tiles. Naturally this comes at some expense, with the average cost of roofing a 2,000 sq ft home being around $55,300.
Compare this to the typical cost of a non-solar roof on a 2,000 sq ft home, which is roughly $14,000. Or, the cost of adding an ordinary solar panel installation, which will set you back $18,000 for a 6 kw system.
Tesla Solar Roof specifications:
- Dimensions per tile/shingle: L 45” x W 15” x H 2mm
- Can withstand wind speeds up to 166 miles per hour
- Maximum power per tile/shingle: 71.67 watts
- Weight per tile/shingle: 7 lbs
- Warranty: 25 years (12.5 for the inverter)
Best Solar Tiles for Durability: SunTegra Solar Shingles (STS 114)
SunTegra is another player on the solar roofing market, with a number of versions of their solar shingles available. We’re focusing on their STS 114 range here, which provides the highest output of their solar shingles.
STS 114 shingles come equipped with SunTegra’s “TegraVent” technology, which gives them excellent resistance against overheating. Their simple design gives them added durability too. According to their website, SunTegra’s solar shingles contain “50% fewer parts than conventional rack-mounted systems”, which leaves far fewer things to go wrong than those of their competitors.
SunTegra Solar Shingles specifications:
- Dimensions per tile/shingle: L 52” x W 23” x H 0.75”
- Can withstand wind speeds up to 130 miles per hour
- Maximum power per tile/shingle: 114 watts
- Weight per tile/shingle: 18 lbs
- Warranty: 25 years
Best Solar Tiles for Efficiency: Luma Solar Roof
Luma’s solar tiles share a similar sleek aesthetic to Tesla’s Solar Roof, with installations looking every bit as stylish and futuristic. The best part? They’re also incredibly efficient.
On average, Luma’s solar tiles boast a conversion efficiency rating of 22.1%, which in the world of solar tiles is almost unheard of. Though still not quite at the level of traditional solar panels, Luma’s solar tiles definitely give you plenty of power.
At around $4.50 per watt too, Luma’s solar tiles are up there with the most affordable options on the market.
Luma Solar Roof specifications:
- Dimensions per tile/shingle: L 54.37” x W 15.62” x H 2”
- Maximum power per tile/shingle: 80 watts
- Efficiency: 22.1%
- Static wind load: 2,400 Pa
- Static snow load: 5,400 Pa
- Weight per tile/shingle: 19.8 lbs
- Warranty: 25 years
Best Solar Tiles for Versatility: Forward Solar
Forward Solar, a startup company with serious investment, have created their own range of solar tiles. The unique part about their offering is its metal standing seam roof type, which enables their solar shingles to be attached to roofs and garages, barns, warehouses, and other industrial-style roofs.
Buying solar tiles from Forward Solar means paying a remarkably cheap $3.75 per watt, which is by some margin the most affordable of the solar tiles described in this article. They’re not actually available for installation at the time of writing, but you can reserve them on their website now.
Forward Solar specifications (please note, available specs are currently limited):
- Energy density: 19 watts per square foot
- Venting: Passive Venting System
- Warranty: 30 years
Best Solar Tiles for Reliability: GAF Timberline Solar
Power Shingles. GAF’s new Timberline Solar shingles resemble traditional asphalt shingles.
GAF, one of America’s best-known roofing companies, launched their solar shingles range in early 2022. Details on things like price-per-watt are currently limited, but one thing that was announced has definitely caught the attention of the industry.
GAF’s solar shingles, called Timberline Solar, use half as many connections as other rival manufacturers, including Tesla. What this means is that there are fewer connections that can break, which in turn dramatically increases the reliability of GAF’s solar shingles.
The company’s extensive reach across the US has many solar power supporters hoping that they can persuade more people than ever to consider adopting the technology. The price point is quite appealing too, with the predicted cost to roof a 2,000-square-foot home being around $30,000 (substantially lower than Tesla’s Solar Roof offering).
GAF Timberline Solar specifications:
- Dimensions per tile/shingle: L 64.25” x W 17.2” x H 1”
- Maximum power per tile/shingle: 45 watts
- Warranty: 25 years
Power Generator of the Future
BIPVs are still an emerging technology, but they represent one of the best options for generating clean energy, all while keeping the character of your home intact.
Despite the substantial upfront costs right now, as the tech is refined and perfected, it’s only logical that prices will fall. This is especially true now that big-hitters in the roofing industry like GAF have gotten involved. With the price of solar panels dropping rapidly too, PV slates will inevitably follow suit.