FELTON BLOG
30
Apr

Are Solar Roof Tiles Worth It?

by Felton Constructions

[1]

Solar roof tiles, also known as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV), are the next big thing in luxury home architecture, and will likely start popping up in Sydney homes in the near future. For those building a new house, replacing their roof or just looking to embrace an energy efficient lifestyle, there are some questions about solar roof tiles that require answers. Monier, a leader in Australian solar roofing, says, “Australia has more solar radiation energy available per square metre than anywhere in the world[2].” This reveals that Australians, more than anyone else, have compelling reasons to carefully consider this groundbreaking technology.

 

Introducing solar roof tiles

Solar Roof Tiles

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While most energy efficient roofs consist of large solar panels bolted down with a few inches between them and the roof, solar tiles are what you could consider a smart tile. While it looks the same as a normal roof tile, it performs the same function as a solar panel and can be used in replacement.

The leading brands to manufacture these cutting edge tiles are:

  • Tesla
  • Monier
  • Nulok
  • Tractile
  • Bristile
  • Regular PV

The thought leader for solar tiles, Tesla, offers four different looks, pictured above. Although the aesthetics vary (i.e. terracotta, slate), they are all made of extremely durable glass. Perhaps the most effective way to help homeowners decide for or against solar roof tiles is to create a list of pros and cons. This comparison includes solar roof tiles in relation to traditional solar panels as well as regular roof tiles.

 

Pros

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  • More aesthetically pleasing: It’s no secret that solar roof tiles look far better than traditional solar panels. They are less conspicuous and arguably the main reason to purchase them instead of solar panels.
  • Durable: Solar tiles are stronger than most roof tiles, as shown in the test conducted by Tesla (depicted above). Many solar tiles are also considered physically tougher than traditional solar panels.
  • Environmentally friendly: Solar roof tiles are undoubtedly environmentally friendly, with much of your household’s energy needs being produced locally and reducing strain on large power plants.
  • Cheaper electricity bills: Although the set up costs are significant, solar roof tiles are guaranteed to reduce your everyday energy costs, with one of Tesla’s earliest customers, Tri Huynh, reporting that his electricity bill for the three months of summer was reduced from roughly $450 to $40[5].
  • Longer guarantee: Tesla offers a 30 year warranty on the electrical and energy integrity of their tiles (as opposed to 25 years for normal roof tile) and provide a lifetime/‘infinity’ guarantee (or life of the house) on physical damage to their tiles.

 

Cons

Solar Roof Tiles

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  • Expensive: It’s irrefutable. Solar roof tiles are significantly more expensive than traditional solar panels. The same northern Californian customer mentioned above, Tri Huynh, paid $100,000 for a 3000 square foot roof of Tesla solar tiles, despite Elon Musk promising a price equivalent to or less than normal roof tiles[7].
  • Difficult to find: Because of the product’s newness, their availability is limited and many people who have paid either a deposit or in full have still been left on a long waiting list. Leading manufacturers have also revealed that condensing the technology to a miniature size has presented several obstacles.
  • Reliability and safety concerns: Solar roof tiles are more likely to fail than regular solar panels. More electrical connections mean more chances for error and by the same principle, faults are more difficult to find due to so many electrical connections to check. Some brands, including SunTegra, have already had recalls because of concerns about fire hazards[8] (both electrical faults and firefighters having trouble breaking through the roof tiles in the event of an emergency).
  • Less efficient: Although they are obviously far more energy efficient than regular roof tiles, solar roof tiles can’t match the energy production of regular solar panels. A roof tile doesn’t have that 100 millimeter gap between panel and roof like traditional solar panels, therefore can’t cool down as efficiently. In addition to this, the tiles are smaller, requiring more electrical connections, so more heat is generated. These factors make them less a financially savvy choice than traditional solar panels, with customers paying far more for the Tesla tiles but getting less energy generated from them.

 

Why do we really want them?

Solar Roof Tiles

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The question to ask is this: why do people really want solar roof tiles, as opposed to regular solar panels? Financially, they don’t make sense. When it comes to Tesla, you pay far more than regular solar panels and get less efficiency. Is it because we have an insatiable desire for cutting edge technology? Is it the need to win? Is the desire for that picture-perfect home? Either way, many home builders in NSW have to admit that it may have less to do with energy efficiency than a raft of other more subliminal drivers.

Undoubtedly, one of these is the tiles’ aesthetic superiority – it seems almost too good to be true that a ‘smart tile’ can be all but indistinguishable from traditional tiles and yet perform such a vital function; and in the current market, perhaps it is. It may be worth watching this space to see how these products evolve – as uptake increases and the technology improves, it’s likely solar tiles will become a more affordable and efficient option. And for those trailblazers determined to be early adopters, just make sure you do your homework!

 

Footnote:
[1] Gach, M 2017, ‘Roofing industry keeps close watch on Tesla Solar Roof as production nears’, TeslaRati, https://www.teslarati.com/tesla-solar-roof-industry-watch-production-nears/, accessed 26 April 2019.
[2] Monier 2019, ‘The Power of Solar Roofing’, Monier, https://www.monier.com.au/solar-roofing/monier-solar-roofing, accessed 26 April 2019.
[3] EduWeb-an.com 2019, ‘Solar Panel Roof Shingles As Roofing Shingles Prices Metal Roof Shingles, Eduweb-an.com, http://eduweb-an.com/solar-panel-roof-shingles/solar-panel-roof-shingles-as-roofing-shingles-prices-metal-roof-shingles/, accessed 26 April 2019.
[4] @muoiod 2016, ‘Solar Roof Weight Test Tesla GIF’, GFYCat, https://gfycat.com/belovednippylark, accessed 26 April 2019.
[5] CNBC 2018, ‘What Happened to Tesla Solar Roof Tiles?’, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABR4KgXoZPE, accessed 26 April 2019.
[6] Hantile 2019, ‘HANTILE SOLAR ROOF TILES: THIN FILM POWER TO THE MAX’, Hanenergy, https://www.hanergy.eu/hantile-solar-roof-tiles/, accessed 26 April 2019.
[7] Tesla 2016, ‘ Tesla Unveils Powerwall 2 & Solar Roof’, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sfwDyiPTdU, accessed 26 April 2019.
[8] LDSreliance 2019, ‘Solar Roof Tiles – Pros and Cons’, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6r88iXMqxAE, accessed 26 April 2019.
[9] Geuss, M 2018, ‘Remember solar roof? Tesla’s making tiles in New York, installing them’, ARSTechnica, https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2018/01/tesla-making-solar-roof-tiles-in-buffalo-factory-general-installations-begin/, accessed 26 April 2019.