Solar Shingles: Get Solar Power Without Changing Your Roof Line

Thin-film solar cells can serve double duty as roof shingles.

Solar shingles are a new way of getting electricity out of your roof. Thin-film photovoltaic cells are being designed to double as roof shingles, thus turning sunlight into electricity that can power your home or be sold back to your utility company.

Solar Panel Installations

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An array of 20 photovoltaic solar panels sits atop the roof of a California house. With each panel producing 250 watts, this array creates a 5-kw system. A south-facing orientation that receives unobstructed sunlight all day is optimal. Photo courtesy of SolarCity  

A photovoltaic array is installed on the south-facing rooftop of a long wing of a California house. A PV array must receive full sunlight for at least four or five hours per day. Photo courtesy of SolarCity  

A gently sloped roof facing toward a home's private pool area offers plenty of surface for an array of 42 photovoltaic solar panels. Photo courtesy of SolarCity  

Two arrays of photovoltaic solar panels are installed on the third-story roof of a traditional brick-and-clapboard house in the Los Angeles area. Photo courtesy of SolarCity  

Three rows of photovoltaic solar panels are installed on the standing-seam metal roof of a California house. Photo courtesy of SolarCity  

A 25-panel photovoltaic array makes maximum use of the shed-style dormer roof on a home in a densely populated neighborhood. Photo courtesy of SolarCity  

A house with multiple wings and an extensive roofline offers more than one place to install solar panels. Photo courtesy of SolarCity  

An array of 22 photovoltaic solar panels is positioned so it receives sunlight without interference from foliage located in other areas of the property. Photo courtesy of SolarCity  

The photovoltaic solar panels on this garden pavilion do double duty: They generate electricity for the property while also creating a shady spot. For houses where the roof is obscured by foliage or is not oriented to the south, the roof of an outbuilding is a good option for a PV installation. Photo courtesy of SolarCity  

Dow POWERHOUSE Solar Shingles, a building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) product, combine solar cells directly into a roofing shingle, to generate electricity. The shingles can be installed alongside conventional roofing shingles, as shown on this house. Visit www.dowsolar.com for more information.  

Few power-generating technologies have as little impact on the environment as photovoltaics. When operating, photovoltaic systems produce no pollution or noise, and they require no fuel (other than the sun) to run them. What's more, they're infinitely renewable, as long as the sun shines. Also, solar shingles can save homeowners up to 60 percent on their monthly energy costs. (Another way of tapping into nature for "free" energy is through small wind-power systems.)

The energy generated by solar shingles can provide power both to the home and to the utility's power grid. While PV systems are capable of powering houses and small businesses without any connection to the electricity grid, many people prefer the advantages that grid-connection offers. This is because any excess electricity you produce is fed back into the grid. When you need it, electricity from the grid supplies your needs, thus eliminating the expense of electricity storage devices like batteries.

Solar shingles offer many advantages:

  • They provide the same protection, durability and flexibility as asphalt shingles.

  • They're visually appealing, designed to blend with standard roofs and normal home construction.

  • They replace roofing material—additional materials underneath aren't necessary.

  • Installation costs are low.

  • They're lightweight.

When considering whether solar shingles are right for your house, think about whether you have a sunny spot free of shading on the roof. Ideally, they should be mounted in a south-facing location. If a southern location isn't available, west- or east-facing locations can provide better than 90 percent of the power of a true south-facing system. In general, small homes will need a 10 X 12 area for solar shingles, while a larger home can require up to 1,000 square feet.

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