What are Solar Panel Roof Tiles?
Solar roof tiles (also referred to as solar shingles) are small solar PV panels which are designed to look like traditional roof tiles. If you’re replacing your roof these tiles can be fitted alongside standard tiles to generate solar electricity for your home.
Solar roof tiles are often referred to as solar shingles or sometimes as solar slates. Solar tiles are more widely available in the US at the moment but they are becoming more and more of a popular choice in new builds in the UK, or they can be installed as part of a complete roof replacement.
A solar tile roof is viewed by many as a more attractive alternative to traditional solar panels as these can protrude out and often don’t match the colour of the roof. However, they are not suitable for all roof types and (like most new technologies) there are pros and cons to consider before making an investment.
How Do Solar Roof Tiles Work?
Solar tiles can be installed by a professional roofer just as normal tiles would be, but they then need to be wired together by a solar electricity professional. Usually the roof will be made up of a combination of both solar and standard tiles in a ratio that suits your home’s power needs.
Once in place the tiles generate power in the same way as traditional solar PV panels, i.e. they convert sunlight into usable electricity for your home.
Each solar tile includes photovoltaic (PV) cells. When these cells are exposed to sunlight they generate an electric field or a DC current. The tiles are connected by cables to something called an inverter, which is usually kept in the loft. This inverter converts the DC current to AC so it can be used in your home.
Benefits of Solar Tiles
Eligible for FiT Payments
Just like standard solar PV panels, if they are installed by an accredited MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) solar supplier your solar tiles will be eligible for the government’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT) payments. This means you can earn money for the energy your tiles generate; when the tiles are in place and connected up you’ll receive a certificate from the installer so you can apply for the scheme. You’ll then receive payments (according to the relevant tariff) every quarter for the next 20 years.
NOTE: The FiT scheme is closing to new applications in March 2019 so you should act quickly if you’d like to your tiles or panels to earn money for the next 20 years.
Energy Bill Savings
Generating your own electricity with solar PV (panels or tiles) will significantly reduce the amount of electricity you need to buy from your supplier. Many suppliers claim that you could reduce your electricity bills by as much as 50% annually, The amount you’ll save will vary from home to home depending on:
- The available daylight e.g. they will generate more during longer daylight hours in summer
- The position and angle of your roof. South facing roofs are best but roofs facing east or west will also work well. North facing roofs are not recommended.
- The efficiency of the tiles, i.e. how good they are at their job. This will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
- The number of tiles you have. Of course, the more tiles you install the more electricity you’ll generate. While a 6kW system may generate up to 50% of the electricity used, a 1kW system may only generate 15-20%.
- If you don’t use all the electricity generated by your tiles the surplus will automatically be sent to the National Grid. However, if you have a solar battery it will store this surplus energy so you can use it at another time, meaning you’ll need to buy even less from your supplier.
Solar Tile Manufacturers
The UK is somewhat behind the US in the solar tile market, but this should change in the coming years. Here are a few of your options if solar tiles sound like the best option for your home.
Tesla Solar Roof Tiles
Tesla are the leading name in solar roof tiles but are currently only available to pre-order in the UK with a deposit of £800. They are made with tempered glass reported to be more than three times stronger than standard roof tiles; so strong in fact that they include a manufacturer’s warranty as long as the life of your house and a 30 year power warranty. There are 4 designs to choose from so you can pick the tile which best matches your home’s architecture. Find out more about Tesla Roof Tiles.
GB Sol Solar Slates
GB Sol are a British solar company manufacturing in Wales for over 20 years. They offer a solar PV slate product in natural blue which can be installed as part of a slate roof replacement. If you’re not planning to replace your roof, GB Sol also offer a Roof Integrated system, i.e. traditional solar panels which lay much flatter to the roof to blend in with the structure more.
Solarcentury Sunstation Roof-integrated+ (Built-in+)
British company Solarcentury used to offer a range of solar tiles called C21e but these are currently not on the market. They do however manufacture the Sunstation Roof-integrated+ in partnership with IKEA; this is a 6 panel system installed to sit flush with your roof tiles to form a ‘seamless part of the roof’. Although these are not technically solar roof tiles they offer the aesthetic benefits of a more integrated look but don’t require a full roof replacement and deliver higher efficiency than roof tiles. Find out more about Solarcentury or their partnership with IKEA.
Are Solar Tiles Better Than Solar Panels?
Solar tiles’ offer one big benefit over panels: they look better. Rather than fixing a frame to your existing roof and adding large panels to the roof the solar technology is integrated into the structure of the roof.
Currently solar tiles are not as effective as panels at generating electricity. So if efficiency and reducing energy bills are more important to you than having a good-looking roof, solar panels are still the best choice.
Solar tiles cost significantly more than solar panels to install. The high price tag is largely due to the fact that not many companies are manufacturing them, particularly not in the UK, so the market is not very competitive at the moment. This may change as the technology becomes more widespread.
New builds or New Roofs
Solar roof tiles or shingles can’t be integrated into an existing roof, so unless you’re working on a new build project or looking to replace your entire roof, they’re not a viable option. The tiles are built into the structure of the roof itself as they’re intended to blend in as much as possible.
Solar tiles could also be a potential solution for listed buildings or homes in conservation areas; planning permission may be more likely to be granted for solar PV if it is more in-keeping with the aesthetic of the existing structure. It’s important to check with the local authority before making any purchases or commitments.
Take a closer look at how they compare here in Solar Roof Tiles vs Solar Panels.
Alternative to Solar Tiles and Solar Panels
If you aren’t replacing your roof but the prospect of adding large solar PV panels is a concern, you may be interested in roof-integrated solar PV as an alternative. These are traditional solar PV panels which can be fitted to an existing roof, but are installed flush with the roof, i.e. they don’t stick out like traditional frame fitted panels.