Solar Shingles: Renewable Energy Solution With Curb Appeal

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For those who can afford them, solar shingles provide an attractive option for routing solar-delivered electricity into a home.

Good timing helps — like the need for a new roof — but a growing number of homes now feature such high-end renewable energy products, a number that promises to continue climbing as overall prices decline.

solar shingles lumaresources_ss01
Luma Resources solar shingles are designed for steep sloped roofing applications.

This is especially true for those who don’t relish the look of traditional photovoltaic solar panels, either because they have too heavy a profile or their appearance detracts from the graceful lines of a traditional shingled roof.

As prices drop, solar shingles are regarded more often today as a good alternative to the traditional solar panel. Unlike larger solar panels, solar shingles blend in nicely with the rest of your roof.

As PV Magazine’s Charles W. Thurston aptly points out, “The nascent field of U.S. solar shingle manufacturers is beginning to expand from its small base in building-integrated PV (BIPV), leveraging their systemic reductions in installation costs, their improved roof and solar integration, and their continuing march-out of newer materials.”

Two large manufacturers lead the field in this industry: Dow and CertainTeed. But new competitors include GAF and Corning, plus a slew of Chinese manufactures. How solar shingles are made is changing, as well, including the use of flexible glass, thin film, and hybrid solar/thermal options.

solar shingles Dow solar-home-background
DOW PowerHouse solar shingles

Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles are presently available in 17 US states, including the east and west coasts, plus Hawaii.

“Many homeowners are increasingly interested in taking control of their energy consumption by generating their own power with solar,” said Yochai Gafni, Commercial and Marketing Director for Dow Solar.

As with traditional solar panels, the front-end cost is a stumbling block. Systems for typical 3,000 square-foot house can cost as much as $25,000, even though monthly electricity bills will be reduced. But cost calculations are very much location specific, depending on amount of daily sun, roof configuration and direction, and differences between local utility providers.

“For an additional 27,480 over the cost of a traditional roof, you could receive 58,640 in energy savings over 25 years and potentially increase your home value by $33,000,” Dow’s marketing department penned in a recent press release. Calls for more specific information was not provided at the time of this publication.

Dow does offer some financing programs that information is not reviewed here..

Colorado’s McStain homes features DOW solar shingles.

“Colorado continues to be a national leader in solar energy innovation, and has embraced the POWERHOUSE solution in this market,” said Dan Pezolt, Dow Solar Commercial Director, in a recent news release. “Colorado already has motivated homeowners who are interested in smart and sustainable home investments that bring down their energy costs without interfering with the look of their home. In this case, we’re providing a novel solution using an untapped part of the home – the roof – for innovation in both energy generation and value.”

Traditional roofing manufacturer CertainTeed  also offers a line of solar shingles, including the Apollo II solar roofing system, featuring 14 high-efficiency monocrystalline silicon solar cells per module. This equals a power rating of 60 watts per module.

Apollo with Solaris - Crystal Gray
CertainTeed Apollo II solar shingles

Its slim profile provides a clean integrated look that a rack mounted system cannot match. Apollo II modules have achieved a Class A fire rating when installed in accordance with the installation manual.

Smaller manufacturers like Rochester Hills, MI–based Luma Resources offer options on solar shingles. A solar shingle designed for steep sloped roofing applications. The polycrystalline photovoltaic tempered glass module is adhered to a custom formed metal shingle. A premium plastic edge protector surrounds the glass to provide added durability. The junction box located on the back is positioned in the center of the shingle, allowing equal length wires to run in either direction.

Composing as the roof, the solar shingles come with their own custom flashing that surrounds the system. The flashing transitions the solar shingles into, virtually, all other roofing products. Underneath the solar shingle there is space for air flow and wire harnessing.

Photos: Solar shingles via Luma Resources, Dow PowerHouse solar shingles, and CertainTeed Apollo II.

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

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35 thoughts on “Solar Shingles: Renewable Energy Solution With Curb Appeal

  • Are there any products to be used with metal roofing?

    • The existing standard panel works great with metal roofing. You don’t need a shingle version. You have to install rails first on a conventional roof to put in a standard system. You just need clips to clip to the metal roof in the case of a metal roof.

  • I wonder if they have lower efficiency due to heat issues. As solar PV panels get hot, they tend to generate less power. That is one of the reasons why racks raise solar PV panels off the roof .. . that creates some ventilation space that helps cool down the solar PV panels.

    But lower efficiency PV panels are better than no PV panels.

    • Better yet would be to cool the panels and use that heat for hot water and/or air conditioning. Such a hybrid system would provide two kinds of solar – PV and Heat. And better than that would be to create panels that are roofing itself, not added to an existing roof. Imagine if all the sunny rooftops were creating clean free electricity rather than warding it off and replacing it with dirty, non-renewable sources, as we currently do. How much money and pollution would America save and what effect would that have on our economy and environment? If we have the will to live ethically, we will find the ways.

      • I was just thinking same thing – using the heat for hot water. It may require a fairly complex system to couple the two – right now, electrical connections are fairly simple – you’d need a similar way to couple hot water tubing. I believe the panels would have to be designed to supply this capability from the start.

        • Yes, Brooks. I’ve had this idea for a long time. Use either water or some benign gas (didn’t original refrigerators have a flame on top to heat ammonia?) that could quickly transfer the heat off the back of the solar cells and put it to use to heat water and/or “fuel” an air-conditioning system.

          This also serves to increase the efficiency of the PV cells, so it’s a hybrid system that uses both aspects of sunlight.

          You’re right though, coupling them as panels or shingles is a design challenge.

          Final design imagination: making them into roofing itself (that would be the roof on any new construction roof facing good sunlight). This would go a long way towards an economy of scale for such a product, if widely used.

          The whole system would rapidly decrease our need for huge dams, nuclear, gas, or coal-fired generation as well as help provide most local transportation (if it also charged the drive battery in the car, as I think is Elon Musk’s vision).

          • Brian, I like your idea for its elegance, but started think and see a need for tubing tightly coupled to panels (for good heat absorption), tubing couplers, a heat exchanger (your rooftop fluid couldn’t be water if temps go below freezing), pump(s), temperature monitors, etc. And you’d still need insulated storage tanks.

            OTOH (I’m good at this) you could just add a few more panels and use excess power to heat water. If panel prices keep coming down, it may be much less complicated ( and cheaper) to do this than your more elegant idea. I think you’d have to do a careful tradeoff.

          • Sensible replies to the idea of using hybrid panels to gather both electricity and heat. Yes, it is a design challenge. But keep in mind the dual benefits of moving excess heat away from the PV cells: they get more productive. Plus, that heat can be used elsewhere (hot water and/or air conditioning).

            Bucky Fuller once defined “pollution” as “wasted resources.” Using an integrated systems approach puts that troublesome heat to good use, and increases the efficiency of the PV cells.

            And yes, walking on or near the panels needs to be considered as well as all the other complexities. Solved, we can turn our houses from energy-depleting machines we live in to energy-producing machines we live in. Not only might we get lighting and electronics from sunlight, but also local transportation in our electric or plug-in hybrid cars plus hot water at least.

            Thanks to Wildisreal (below) for sharing an initial attempt at a hybrid system.

        • Does anyone think we could draw off enough heat by running water tubing under the sheathing (between rafters)? Similar to how radiant floor works, but now the roof is radiating into the tubes to say heat up my pool… This of course is for new construction and utilize good practices like no hidden water connections and so on…

          • Interested guy (IG) I’m pretty ignorant. But there’s a lot of good info in the comments here including links.

            Thanks Gary – looked up Orion – but our hot water needs in summer are minimal – no pool. In winter, it would be nice. Guest Post has nice write up on this.

            Also, recent comments by Bob Wallace mentions fire fighters on roof – must accommodate.

            IG: I’m glad you replied and woke me up to fact that people are still reading and commenting to this article.

      • Byron and Brooks go to the site and give it a good read. There are 17 drawings and explanations that will give you a good overall of the concept. The best solar panel ever thought up

      • Using rejected heat from solar panels has some issues with the amount of low grade heat that is collected from the panels. If you can use it to heat water for a very large pool it could be worth the piping and pumping losses. If you want to use it for domestic hot water you would need to use a pre-heat storage tank because you would not want to circulate the high temperature from the domestic tank behind the panels. The preheat tank would need a large enough volume of water to cool the panels and not artificially heat them as the tank warms. The first pass of the water through the system can collect heat and increase the PV performance. What happens as the water is heated and does not remove heat? Would the system stop circulating water and how do we deal with the “stagnation” of the solar thermal system? The cost for large solar storage, piping, pumping, fittings, etc. can be expensive and gains in the efficiency of the panels would be offset by operating cost. Freezing climates can also add complexity and cost to the system. These items should be considered when designing this type of system.

        • Guest Post brings up good caveats to the “cool the PV panels and use the excess heat elsewhere” idea. Some say it’s more cost-effective to just add more PV panels than to add a solar hot water system. Perhaps it is too complex and daunting to try to take both electricity and heat out of sunlight (trying to not waste resources and use the synergy for both electricity and heat). I wonder if cooling the PV panels and wasting the heat would increase efficiency enough to make that worthwhile. Gary suggests Orion Solartech, which grabs both electricity and heat and is strong enough to be the roof rather than be added to it. (I wonder about traction while walking on them, as others have questioned.) I wonder how well they work.

      • I don’t see why it’s such a hard problem to figure out how to make the entire roof out of PV shingles. I’m due for a new roof soon and I’d love to put in a complete PV solution but there’s no way I could sell my HOA on letting me put one of these products; it still looks an afterthought at best. It would be great, in my situation, to find a siding solution as well.

        I think the bottle neck is the need for a glossy surface on the panels. If these materials could be engineered to have a matte surface I think they would become very ubiquitous very quickly. A high gloss surface may look great on a car, not so much on a house. I would think a matte surface could help efficiency as well; a glossy surface, by it’s very nature, is a surface that reflects light.

        • Does your HOA control how your entire roof looks or only the part visible from the street?

          I’ve never had to deal with a HOA. Not sure I have the disposition to do so…. ;o)

          • I’ll soon be having a fight with our Hysterical Protection Commission. MD has a solar access law that definitely applies to HOAs but not clear about HPCs.

            HPC made it clear they don’t want people to see them from street. City attorney is now aware of law but after a month, hasn’t issued an opinion

            Fortunately, an installer is going first. Meanwhile we’ve got slum land lords with run down properties – cars in back yard – that’s ok, but Solar Panels? Horrors!

        • I agree, Jay, a matte finish would look good and might collect better. It should also be capable of being walked on. And using the whole south-facing roof makes sense; the efficiency and cost could be spread out. It would be that part of the south roof, not added on it.

          I see south-facing walls as an un-utilized resource. Passive houses expand the window area, but what about all the space around the windows? Seems some standard south-wall system would heat air to be shunted to the north side of the house.

          Why pay to waste fossil fuels while ignoring this typical and widespread resource? All sunny south walls could be providing heating from free clean sunlight instead of rejecting it on the outside only to replace it on the inside via a furnace? Save the furnace or wood heater for the rainy days, but every sunny day could be supplying the heat we need in all houses with sunny south walls. That wouldn’t supply all the heat we need always, but it would start supplying a lot of heat we’re currently ignoring.

        • It’s not that it is so hard to make the entire roof surface be panels, but that building codes and fire regulations in different areas require a border space for firefighters to stand on, even though these shingle/tile panels are strong enough to hold them.
          As for dark colored or black panels with a matte finish, they are available, even in a frame less design so that it looks like a solid surface. It just depends on what you are willing to pay for appearance and what your local codes allow.
          A final note on HOA’s and dealing with them. Regionally for myself there are some solar companies that are better prepared to do this. Having the presentation materials and being used to taking care of the permits and variances, perhaps you can find one near you that can do the same.

          • I don’t think it has anything to do with panel/solar shingle strength, but with traction.

            Firefighters, in general, want the overhang or, if there are none, the outside edge of the roof easy to walk. They don’t want to get out into the center of the roof until they are sure that the framing underneath hasn’t been compromised by fire.

            It’s time for someone to devise a ‘whole roof’ system that allows panels to be installed in the most attractive way possible. That allows for walking space, for skylights/roof doors, etc.

          • I was going by videos that the solar roof company has on YouTube, where they say that local fire codes require the border area, so they have a flashing system to allow for this. And in another where they demonstrate the installation procedure with the workers standing on them while doing so.
            Whole roof or section installation of solar panels will be great but I’m afraid that rather than the ability to do it slowing things down it is the variety of building and fire codes across the country doing so.
            With part of the Sunshot program being to reduce the paperwork and hassle of installations maybe these regulations will become more standardized in the future.

    • You are correct @spec9:disqus , there will be about a 5% loss in production for panels that have minimal air flow underneath the panels and are so close to the roof.

      There is an option out there with venting called SunTegra. There’s a Shingle and a Tile option, both with the proprietary venting to keep the panels cooler and greatly reduce that heat loss. Air flows up the nose and out the top of every panel, creating more even cooling throughout the entire system.

      Here’s the link

    • The panels have an air gap underneath. If you eliminate the sheathing, you could get even more air. Putting this on a new house you can roll the cost into the mortgage and it pay for itself over the life of the loan.

  • Someone needs to develop an entire solar system for new construction that totally blends into the roof from edge to edge. Everything out there is ugly and looks like an afterthought.

    • In Europe they have clay tiles for roofing and also solar tiles to match them and they blend in very well.

    • I’ve read before that the margins around solar panels are often dictated by fire-safety regulations. Firefighters need areas to safely hook ladders to and walk on in case they need to operate on the roof. Or something like that.

      • Yep. This is actually but one excellent example of the many dynamic and inconsistent permitting headaches that adds cost to solar installations.

      • It’s very dangerous to walk on a roof. The strength could be compromised by fire underneath.

        Fire fighters want the outside edge of the roof available for walking. Solar panels are slick surfaces.

        We need ‘whole roof’ systems that use the panels as roofing, come with skylight and roof door options (for accessing/cleaning the panels) and easily walked edging.

        Done right there would be no need for plywood decking or any sort of shingles/tiles. Just attach the racks to rafters and snap the panels in place. Leave the bottom side exposed for easy access to wiring.

        Save construction money on roofing.

    • there are regulations on offsets, Offsets are areas where nothing can be placed for easier access to the roof in case of a fire making the end to end concept moot.

      to me looks are secondary saving cash is first.

  • Building-integrated PVis the way to go, and everything should be done to bring costs down so that every home has solar on the roof by default, not as a green option.

  • I like the look. Those other types ruin the look of your roof.

  • I live on Padre Island (Corpus Christi, Tx.) and have Dow Powerhouse solar shingles on my home. Between the salt air’s propensity to eat metal and the constant often strong winds solar panels have a tendency to become solar frisbees in this area. The solar shingles are nailed down as are the asphalt shingles and are guaranteed to withstand 125 mph winds with a 20 year warranty. They have cut my electrical bill by 20 to 25 % in the summer and winter when either the AC or electrical heat is running and 33% in the Spring and Fall months. They will pay for the cost of the entire new roof before that warranty expires.

  • I’ve requested information on the Dow solar shingles 3 times over several months & have yet to hear from anyone. Frustrating to want to go with integrated solar roofing yet not be able to find contractors, product, & information.

  • If it is a new roof and you could eliminate the sheeting, you could reduce the cost even more. They have a life equivalent to the new shingles so you eliminate the cost of the shingles and the sheeting and you could bring the cost down to a payback without government support, provided they can make the shingle units close to the price of a standard 250W panel with an inverter.

  • You need to bring down the costs significantly. Technology people can’t afford might as well not exist.

    A metal roof for an average sized home can run $11,000 to $20,000.

    To be economical, a solar roof should cost slightly less than its steel roof counterpart.

    Good try, but dow must focus on cheap mass production where 3-D metal ink printing technology can be used to constantly produce thousands of yards of sheets of non-toxic solar roofing.

    The idea is to save money and the environment.

    Miss either goal, and your product is a failure.

Comments are closed.