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Solar panels are the most popular method for home conversion to solar power, but they are not without their drawbacks. Solar panels are heavy and expensive, and can be difficult to repair. Because of these drawbacks, an alternative type way of gathering solar power is gaining momentum among many homeowners and businesses: solar panel roof shingles. A number of companies are now producing these shingles. Companies hope that the advantages of solar shingles will help overcome traditional consumer aversion to solar panels.
Solar shingles have the added advantage of simplicity: they integrate directly into a roof rather than lying on top. This means that the next time your shingles need replacing, you could make the switch to solar panel roof shingles. But how do these solar shingles compare to traditional solar panels?
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Solar Panel installation vs. Solar Shingles
The major difference between solar roof shingles and solar panels is in the installation process. Installers usually need to bolt solar panels onto the roof, which requires drilling through the roof and can violate its warranty. Solar shingles, though, are installed in the same way as traditional concrete shingles. This means that they integrate completely with the roof, which creates a more aesthetically-pleasing look than do solar panels.
During installation, the roofing contractor drills holes for the solar shingle wiring. After installation, an electrician wires the shingles together beneath the roof and runs wire to the combiner box. The combiner box is connected to power conditioning materials.
The panels are connected together, so homeowners can install as many as necessary. A typically-sized roof can provide about 60-80% of a home's energy needs, according to some experts. The amount of electricity generated depends on amount of incident sunlight; sunnier areas will be better for solar power than cloudier ones. Though much of the electricity generated by panels comes during the daytime, it isn't wasted. Electricity that goes unused goes back into the grid, and the homeowner is paid for this energy.
Image: Flickr - Jsbarrie - Urban Options Roof 2
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Solar Shingle Manufacturers
Though solar roof shingles are a new technology, there are already several manufacturers. Sharp is one of the larger manufacturers, but others include OkSolar, Uni-Solar, Open Energy, and Premier Power. Solar shingles are at about the same efficiency as solar panels. A 60 Watt shingle costs approximately $450, which puts the cost of a 1.5 kW installation at about $12,000, not including contractor costs. There are a number of different tax incentives for home conversion to solar power, though, so the true cost of installation can be much lower.
However, the total cost for solar shingles is still higher than that for solar panels. The aesthetic advantage of a fully integrated solar array comes at extra cost, which some homeowners are willing to pay.
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Solar Shingle characteristics
Solar shingles are designed to be as resilient as typical roof shingles. They are rated for around 25 years of electricity production (down to 80% production), comparable to typical solar panel lifespans. Because of their integrated construction, solar panels can resist heavy winds and snow. They can also support the weight of an average person, making roofing repairs easier. Because of the method of their installation, broken shingles are easy to replace, and don't shut down the whole array.