Solar Shingles vs. Solar Panels: What’s Better?

By Scott Laskey


Last Updated on January 25, 2021 by Scott Laskey
Mar 06

What You Should Know About PV Panels and the Tesla Solar Roof

If there’s one trend that’s worth paying attention to, it’s the evolution of consumer-ready alternative energy technology. Solar panel options for homes are constantly changing, and the Tesla solar roof has garnered lots of attention following its 2016 introduction.

Traditional panels and Tesla’s integrated shingles both have their own unique appeal. As a practical homeowner, however, you’ll want to know what you’re paying for by choosing one option or the other, so we’re offering a few helpful insights.

Built-in vs. Roof-mounted Photovoltaics

The Tesla solar panel roof isn’t the first system of its kind, although it does feature some major aesthetic improvements. Many companies have created built-in photovoltaic, or BIPV, construction materials that took the form of roof shingles. Some experts believe that Tesla, like its predecessors, might have a few hurdles in its way.

Understanding the Functional Differences

As their name implies, BIPV solutions fulfill the role of building materials and simultaneously act as power generation devices. Products like Tesla roof shingles have aesthetic appeal because they’re designed to be visually indistinguishable from standard roofing. On the other hand, their integrated design also means that:

  • Their position flush with the roof plane robs them of the ventilation that normal modules receive as air flows behind them,
  • Each shingle includes a 6-inch panel instead of the entire unit generating power,
  • Consumers might have to settle for a trade-off between power generation and higher household energy efficiency due to the glass shingle surface’s limited insulating properties, and
  • The need for many individual cell connections and skilled installation by roofers might result in uncertain failure rates.

Historically, thin-film solar panels, like those used in most roof shingles, produced significantly less energy. This tends to make solar tile installations larger and less profitable.

These problems aren’t impossible to overcome, and Tesla will eventually innovate solutions that address them. As it stands, however, separate roof-mounted PV modules remain popular because they:

  • Benefit from more established manufacturing techniques and lower price tags,
  • Are easier to install correctly since there’s already an industry that specializes in them,
  • Can generate more power due to efficiency factors like their ventilation-induced cooling and closer cell spacing, and
  • Are compatible with a wider range of batteries, inverters and hardware.

A Place and Time for Every Solar Solution?

These factors don’t necessarily mean that one solution is unequivocally better than the other. For instance, the Tesla solar roof might still have more kinks to work out than modules do, but it has some clear advantages when compared to your conventional, unmodified roof. It’s unclear, however, whether these benefits will outweigh Tesla’s much higher price tags.

At the Tesla roof shingle launch event, CEO Elon Musk noted that the product was designed to last two to three times longer than a normal asphalt roof. Many people also agree that compared to solar tiles of the past, this version has the aesthetics down perfectly.

By many accounts, Tesla’s solar roof product seems geared primarily towards the new roof market. In early statements, Musk asserted that the solar shingles would cost less than normal roof tiles, which is a plus, but conventional modules are still significantly cheaper.

At this early stage, solar roofs seem like a better idea for those who are already planning complete roof upgrades. Homeowners who just want to start generating power economically might discover that modules simplify the process.

Tesla initially said that its solar roof tiles are about two percent less efficient than current PV modules are. Although they’re probably far better than many previous implementations of BIPV systems, they still may not be right for everyone. Even though Tesla is making its solar shingles visually appealing, the average homeowner may not be able to afford them.

Getting Started With Solar Panel Options for Homes

Experts estimate that traditional modular systems will take less time to pay for themselves than the Tesla solar roof will, at least in the beginning. For most homeowners who want to modify their homes, the choice is clear from a practical, economic standpoint.

Are you feeling more confident about your alternative energy decision? With more than 13 years’ worth of experience, Sandbar Solar can help you pick the best power solutions for your future. We stand out among Santa Cruz solar companies because we’ve streamlined the installation process using smarter techniques.

We’re proud to be known as the premier source of home solar expertise for Californians in Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz, San Jose and the Bay Area. Thanks to our complimentary estimates and custom design services, you can transform your home using trusted technologies and proven methodologies. Find out how today.

About the Author

Scott is the founder of Sandbar Solar & Electric. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from UC San Diego, Scott has an NABCEP certification, and has lectured on and taught many high-tech construction practices and solar PV technical concepts to education institutions, including Stanford University and state-recognized electrician apprenticeship programs. Scott enjoys sharing his knowledge of the evolving renewable energy space and making a difference in his community.