Solar Shingles vs. Solar Panels

Solar shingles are less noticeable and easier to put on the roof, but they cost more and can be less efficient.
Roberta Pescow
By Roberta Pescow 
Edited by Tina Orem

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The main difference between solar shingles and solar panels is the way they’re mounted. Solar panels are mounted on a roof (or the ground), while solar shingles do double duty as rooftop shingles. Solar shingles generate electricity the same way solar panels do.

How solar shingles work, what they’re made of and how they’re installed

Solar shingles work the same way solar panels do, but solar shingles look like and function as traditional roof shingles. This means they serve a dual purpose: to generate electricity and to protect your home from the elements.

Solar shingles can be made of silicon (the oldest and one of the most popular options) or copper indium gallium (CIGS).

Here’s how solar shingles (and solar panels) generate electricity:

You can have only solar shingles for a roof, or you can install some solar shingles with your existing roof shingles. Typically, if the solar shingles don’t need to take up your entire roof space, the installer integrates the new solar shingles with the rest of your existing roof structure. Once the shingles are mounted, they’re connected to an inverter, and the inverter is connected to the home’s electrical panel, so you can enjoy usable AC electricity from your solar shingles. The installation process usually takes a few days.

Solar shingles vs. solar panels: Key differences

Although they generate electricity in the same manner, there are some important differences between solar shingles and solar panels.

  • Cost: Solar shingles are generally significantly more expensive than solar panels.

  • Appearance: Solar shingles offer a sleeker look than solar panels. Unlike solar panels, which are mounted on racks, solar shingles sit flush with the home’s roofline and can be indistinguishable from regular shingles from a distance.

  • Efficiency: Solar panels typically are more efficient than solar shingles. This is partly because solar shingles sit flush against the mounting surface, which doesn’t allow for cooling airflow beneath them.

  • Availability: As an older, tried-and-true product, solar panels are more widely available than solar shingles.

  • Installation: Installing solar shingles tends to take longer than installing solar panels  (unless you’re replacing your entire roof or working with new construction). Solar shingles don’t require drilling into the roof to attach a rack; they are installed with roofing nails, which reduces the risk of leaks or roof damage during the installation process.

  • Roof considerations: Your roof needs to be in good condition to support solar panels. Solar shingles, on the other hand, can double as a roof replacement for an old roof in poor condition. Additionally, unlike solar panels, which can be tilted to catch maximum sunlight, solar shingles lie flush with your roof. This means solar shingles aren’t suitable for flat roofs or roofs that don’t face the sun.

How to decide between solar shingles and solar panels

Solar shingles may be your best choice if:

  • Aesthetics and curb appeal are a top concern.

  • You’re dealing with an HOA that has strict guidelines about appearance and might challenge the installation of solar panels. 

  • You’re replacing your roof at the same time or working with new construction. 

  • The angle and orientation of your roof allow the shingles to capture a good deal of sunlight.

Solar panels may be your best choice if:

  • Overall cost and energy efficiency are your major concerns.

  • Your existing roof is in good condition

  • You have a flat roof. 

  • You have a roof that isn’t at the optimum angle or orientation for shingles (some panels can be tilted to maximize the capture of sunlight).

Frequently asked questions

Both solar shingles and solar panels can be eligible for a federal tax credit. With solar shingles, however, be aware that the costs of actual roofing components such as deckings or rafters that only serve a structural function and are not related to solar energy do not qualify for the credit.

Although solar shingles are usually strong enough to hold the weight of an adult and contractors do walk on them while wearing a harness, these shingles can be very slippery and unsafe to walk on.

Both solar panels and solar shingles have similarly long lifespans of 20 to 30 years.

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