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Solar shingles collect sunlight much like photovoltaic (PV) systems that rely on larger panels, but appeal to those who are worried about marring their home or office building's appearance. Solar tiles (also called Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)) are small solar collectors and are generally installed flush with existing shingles. They provide a relatively uninterrupted roof surface and are perfect for those interested in going green without drawing attention to themselves.

How to install a solar shingles

Why not put that rooftop of yours to work for you? Installing PV shingles along with your more conventional roofing materials is a great way for you to generate local, clean power. But first, consider these solar power questions:

  1. Suitable for solar?: Determine whether your building and location are appropriate for a solar shingle installation. Ideally, you’ll want an obstruction-free south-facing location on your roof to get the maximum power available to you.
  2. Local codes and requirements?: Your state may have building codes and technology-specific requirements for any renewable energy systems installed within its jurisdiction. Look into them prior to plunking down your hard-earned cash for some powered-up shingles.
  3. Sufficient space?: Count on needing at least 300 to 400 square feet of roof space for a solar shingle system, depending on your energy requirements and the efficiency of the system you choose.[1]
  4. On or off the grid?: You can generally choose to either remain connected to your city’s power system or go totally independent. Hybrid systems are also good options.
    • Assert your independence: Solar shingle systems, which require batteries to store power for sunless periods, are ideal for those in remote locations, but can also be used by city-dwellers wishing to claim their freedom from municipal power providers. Generally, you’ll need a combination of energy-generating techniques (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal) to provide consistent power when you’re off the grid.
    • Stay connected: You can choose to have your solar shingles grid-connected, which allows you to access normal power systems during periods when the sun is nowhere to be found. Generally you don’t require batteries for grid-connected solar shingles since any excess power you generate is pumped back into your power provider’s pipeline. The good news? If you produce more energy than you need in a month, your power company may be required by law to buy back the excess power (a process called net metering) at the same price you would have paid for it. So not only will you be making money, you’ll be pumping clean, renewable energy back into your community for others to use.
  5. DIY or pro?: Some brave souls attempt to install solar shingles on their own, and although they often integrate into your roof like other shingles, it’s recommended that you consult a professional.

Roofing basics

Whether you’re covering your whole roof with solar tiles or just a portion, keep these general principles in mind:

  • Upfront isn’t everything: Yes, solar shingles can be pricey, but when considering new roofing, remember that initial roofing costs aren't the only thing you’ll pay for. Though 15-year asphalt may seem like a steal, if you factor in energy inefficiencies and multiple replacements (meaning more disposal waste and greater need for raw materials), it’s not as cheap as it seems. A higher-priced, but longer lasting, efficient roofing system—especially one that’s producing free energy—is kinder to your pocketbook and the planet over the long haul.
  • Check first, then replace: Be sure that your roof needs replacing before doling out the cash for an entirely new system. Sometimes an inexpensive repair will fix the leak or seal energy-wasting joints.
  • The whole nine yards: Consider the entire roofing system when thinking about an environmentally-friendly remodel. Products you may need to replace include sheathing, underlayment, flashing, shingles, gutters, and downspouts.
  • Special alert!: If your old roof was installed between 1940 and 1975, there is a strong chance that it contains asbestos. To avoid possible health problems associated with this material, it is recommended that you work with a licensed professional to remove asbestos roofing. Call 1-800-USA-ROOF to find one near you.
  • Color matters: Keep color in mind when choosing your roofing material, especially if you live in a hot zone. Since dark roofing surfaces absorb more heat (sometimes raising roof temperature by 100°F), they transfer more heat into the building than lighter colored roofs.[2] Smooth, bright white roofing often used in cool roof construction is the lowest temp option for building construction, raising roof temperature by only 15°F compared to 72°F to 90°F for common asphalt shingles.[3]
  • Insurance woes: Are you replacing your roof because of hail or wind damage? If you choose to go through your insurance company, you may face some challenges. Insurance companies often default to asphalt for roof replacements. If you want something more eco-friendly, you’ll most likely have to ask, and chances are you’ll have to pay the difference if your green roof choice is more costly than your insurer's preferred choice.

Find it! Solar shingles

Solar shingles seem to be of particular interest to the US Department of Energy (DOE), since it's compiled a list of companies making these little solar collectors. Call 1-800-363-3732. Here are a few options available around the country:

Before you buy

If you live in an old, historic neighborhood, you may be subject to regulations and bylaws restricting you from installing solar shingles. Check with the local community association before beginning your green re-roof project to be sure you remain within their specifications.

Installing a solar shingles helps you go green because…

  • Solar energy is clean and renewable and reduces the need for dirty energy from coal, natural gas, or nuclear power plants.
  • They can be produced locally, reducing our dependence on foreign energy.

Solar shingles are commonly made of tiny crystalline silicon disks attached to metal conductors, and can be mounted on almost any sun-exposed roof.[4] The semiconducting materials in solar shingles absorb sunlight, causing electrons to flow, producing electricity.[5] Solar cells can range in size from one-half inch to 4 inches, each producing between one and two watts. When connected to other solar cells in a single module, they form an array.[6]

Solar shingles run cleanly and without producing air pollution during operation.[7][8] Grid-connected PV rooftop systems have the potential to provide an average of 16 percent of the energy required by industrialized countries worldwide.[9] If all rooftops in the US were efficiently outfitted for PV power generation, they could provide up to 710,000 megawatts of power, which is 75 percent of the current US electricity-generating capacity of 950,000 megawatts.[10] Currently, solar energy provides less than 1 percent of the energy needed by electricity users in the US.[11]

Solar energy has become significantly more affordable in recent years, and as the market gains steam, prices are expected to drop to as little as five cents per kilowatt-hour, which would put it on par with coal- and gas-fired power plants.[12] Currently, the business of solar energy provides about 20,000 jobs in the US, a number that is expected to increase to 150,000 or more by 2020.[13]

Related health issues

The production of solar shingles can be a risky affair, especially in the presence of potentially toxic and explosive substances, hazardous solvents, and small particulate matter.[14] Technology improvements are making PV manufacturing processes cleaner and less dangerous, however.[15]

Controversies

Some solar shingles contain small amounts of semiconductor material, meaning that discarded PV systems can be classified as hazardous waste. Shingles and panels generally last up to 30 years, so the problem of solar system disposal is not yet that big, but as they become more popular, spent units will begin to pile up. Industry leaders are currently working on ways to minimize any toxicity and make these units more recyclable in the long-run.[16]

Tax breaks and subsidies

Installing a solar shingle system may be costly (anywhere from $12,000 to $35,000),[1] but remember, they’ll pay for themselves within two to five years, and they’ll last up to 30 years in total.[17] For the initial purchase, you’ve got some incentives to lighten the load. Not only are there federal tax credits for a percentage of the cost of photovoltaic systems,[18] but with hundreds of incentive programs in place and something in almost every state, you’re bound to find a rebate that’s right for you on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency Financial Incentives for Renewable Energy table.

For more information on federal tax incentives for solar energy, check out this guide, put out by the Solar Energy Industries Association. (You’ll need to provide an email address to receive it.)

Glossary

  • photovoltaic (PV): The technology used to convert light directly into electricity, generally through the use of solar cells connected electrically in multiples to create solar photovoltaic arrays. The electricity can be used to power equipment directly or to recharge a battery.

External links

Comments

06/01/2010
2:38pm
Solar Lad

Great post. I'm hoping these shingles really catch on. You can also find more info here:
http://www.solarpowerbeginner.com/solar-shingles.html

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