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Solar Panels vs Solar Tiles

The majority of us are familiar with solar panels and if we don’t have them, the chances are we know someone who does. The technology is becoming more affordable than ever and can significantly reduce both our energy bills and our carbon emissions.

But have you heard of solar tiles or solar roofs? Perhaps not, but they’re on their way to the UK. As the technology is quickly growing in popularity in the US, we’ve taken a look at pros, cons and costs of solar tiles compared to solar panels for the UK homeowner.

What’s the Difference Between Solar Panels and Solar Tiles?

Solar tiles are like smaller solar panels in that they include the same photovoltaic (PV) cells which absorb energy from sunlight. This energy is converted into useable electricity for our homes; this electricity is free which should mean lower energy bills, less reliance on energy suppliers and reduced use of fossil fuels.

While solar panels are fitted to mounting brackets on top of a roof, solar tiles are the roof. They need to be installed as part of a new build roof or replacement as they sit alongside traditional roof tiles and look almost exactly the same from street level. It looks like a roof, but it’s generating solar electricity for your home. Tesla are currently manufacturing and installing solar tiles in the US but not yet in the UK. You can pre-order in the UK via their website (with a deposit), but Tesla are yet to confirm when installations will begin.

Solar Panels vs Solar Tiles

How much electricity will they generate?

The higher the efficiency level, the more free electricity you’ll be able to generate and the less you’ll need to buy from your supplier and the more you’ll earn in Feed-in Tariff payments.*

Solar tiles have a typical efficiency of 10 – 20% (on average) while panels usually have efficiencies of 18 – 22% which should mean you see a faster return on your investment. So currently solar panels are able to generate more energy but solar roof tile technology is developing all the time. Some CIGS models are able to reach conversion efficiency close to traditional panels.

*The Feed-in Tariff scheme closes to new applications in March 2019. If you are planning to install solar panels and would like to earn through the scheme for the next 20 years, you will need to get it installed and apply to the scheme as soon as possible.

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How easy are they to install?

There’s a big difference between the two here. Unless you’re happy to replace your entire roof, solar tiles aren’t right for you. They need to installed at the same time as traditional roof tiles so they all sit flush together; the ratio of solar to standard tiles is calculated according to your energy generation needs. Solar panels are considerably simpler and quicker (and cheaper) to install as they are fixed to mounting brackets which are then attached to the roof.

As solar roof tiles are a fixed structure your home may not be suitable for a solar roof. They need to installed at the correct angle and pitch to maximise energy generation and, while solar panels on a bracket can be adjusted to suit your home to an extent, a solar roof doesn’t offer this flexibility.

Which look better on a roof?

This is essentially a matter of opinion, but one of the main attractions of the solar roof tile is the way it looks. Some people believe traditional panels fixed on top of a roof are unattractive and, because of their blue or black colouring, stand out too much. Solar tiles have been invented as a solution for those people as they are close to invisible within the structure of the roof.

Another potential downside with solar panels is that there is a gap between the panel and roof which could become a nesting area for birds or small animals. This can be prevented with mesh or wire, but again this may not be ideal in terms of maintaining a good-looking roof.

How long will they last?

Solar panels are generally sold with an expected lifetime of 20-25 years and have proven to be very durable. Solar tiles haven’t been around long enough for us to know their average lifetime although many suppliers offer them with a 20 year guarantee. Tesla have gone as far as to claim their solar tiles will last as long as your home is standing. In terms of durability, damaged or faulty solar panels are easier to replace than solar tiles, but solar tiles are built to withstand the elements and act as functional tiles or shingles, protecting the roof underneath.

How Much Do they Cost?

The truth is that solar tiles are currently significantly more expensive than solar panels. Solar panels have been on the market for a while now and the market is more competitive than ever before. Solar tiles are a new technology with very few manufacturers offering them. And, of course, a solar roof replacement is a far more complex installation than fixing panels to an existing roof.

On average a 1kW solar panel system could cost between £2,000 – £3,000 while a solar roof of comparable size could be as much as £5,000 – £7,000. We’ve put together this table to compare the potential cost of a solar panel installation against a solar roof installation:

Size of System (Energy Generation) Size of Roof (m²) Cost of Solar Panels (Average) Cost of Solar Roof Tiles (Average)
1kW 8+ £2,000 – £3,000 £5,000 – £6,000
2kW 12+ £3,000 – £4,000 £6,000 – £8,000
3kW 20+ £4,000 – £6,000 £8,000 – £12,000
4kW 25+ £6,000 – £8,000 £12,000 – £16,000

On average solar tiles will cost twice as much as solar panels. They are also less efficient at generating electricity which means it will take longer to see a return on your investment in terms of lower energy bills. However, if you’re planning a roof replacement anyway, the cost of a solar roof may not be much more expensive than a traditional roof. You could have a new roof with the dual benefit of solar energy for your home and, potentially, a more weatherproofed finish.

The costs we’ve given here are estimations based on research but the actual price you pay will be unique to your home and energy consumption. The brand of panels or tiles you choose, the complexity of the job and the solar company completing the installation will also impact cost.

While the upfront cost of solar technology can be a deterrent for some, it’s important to remember it is a long term investment for both your family and the planet, and could even add value to your home by as much as 10%.

Solar Tiles vs Solar Panels: Which are the best choice for your home?

Solar tiles are not widely available in the UK as yet but it looks likely that this will change in the near future as Tesla begin to rollout UK distribution in 2018. The choice you make for your home will be based on factors unique to you, but here are some key things to consider:

Solar panels are best suited to:

  • Homeowners wanting solar energy without a roof replacement
  • Homeowners on a budget
  • Homeowners who want to generate as much solar energy as possible to maximise the return on their investment.

Solar roof tiles might be a good choice for:

  • Homeowners who want solar energy but don’t want solar panels on their roof for aesthetic reasons
  • New builds projects and homeowners who are replacing their roof anyway as they get the added benefit of solar energy
  • Properties in conservation areas or listed properties which aren’t allowed solar panels but can replace the roof.

Regardless of whether you choose solar panels or tiles you’ll be investing in free, renewable energy, reducing your energy bills and doing your bit for the environment by cutting your carbon footprint.

IMPORTANT: If earning money from the government’s FiT (Feed-in Tariff) payments for the next 20 years is a priority for you then you need to take action sooner rather than later. The FiT scheme is closing to new applications in March 2019 so holding off until solar tiles become more affordable could mean that you miss out.

If you’d like to get quotes tailored to your home and energy needs you can visit Solar Guide. By placing a quick enquiry you can receive up to 3 free quotes for solar installation from MCS accredited companies near you in a matter of hours. There’s no obligation to use any of the quotes, but you could save a significant amount of money by comparing prices.

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