Solar power for the home is gaining popularity every year, but one major factor that is keeping some people from taking the plunge is how unattractive the panels are. OK, I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you have to admit solar panels are a little clinical in appearance.
If you had the luxury of designing your own home from the ground up then you could integrate solar panels neatly into the architecture. Most people are not in this position, however, which means their solar installation is probably going to clash with a given home’s style.
This is why there has been so much buzz around the idea of solar roof tiles. Just as the name suggests, these are solar panels that look like roof tiles and can act as drop-in replacements for them. This means you can have solar power collection on your roof without changing the way your home looks. Is this something that you need to consider? Who are these tiles for? That’s what we’ll try to figure out.
It’s important to clear up the difference between existing solar shingles and the new solar tiles. Shingles are a popular roofing material in the US. These are the traditional flat, square, overlapping sheets made from various materials. Since 2005, solar shingles have been available to buy. While they achieve the same basic goal as solar tiles, they only represent one type of roofing. Solar tiles, on the other hand, come in a variety of styles.
It’s Tesla Again
Reading this site you might get sick of hearing the name “Tesla”, but the fact is that the company is a major innovator in solar and electric energy. Solar roof tiles are an idea that Tesla brought to mainstream attention. Tesla is currently offering four styles of roof tile, including a flat textured tile, a flat smooth tile, Tuscan tiles, and slate tiles.
These tiles are all actually made of glass, but from street level they look like normal roof tiles. That seems too good to be true, right? So what’s the actual deal with these apparent miracle tiles?
One for You, One for Me
The first thing that you should know is that current solar tile installations don’t give you a full array of solar tiles. There are actually two types of tile. One is an active solar panel and the other looks identical, but is just cosmetic. Now, if you have enough money you can technically make every tile solar, but it’s better to simply add as many solar tiles as you need in terms of energy requirements.
Right now Tesla doesn’t offer full solar roofs, and the cap is about 35% solar, but I suppose that will change over time.
Strength of the Bear
Tesla says that their glass roof tiles are three times as strong when compared to traditional roof tiles. It’s one of the reasons they are willing to give such an incredible infinite warranty. They’ll also guarantee their power generation for 30 years. Now I don’t know if Tesla will actually still be around in 30 years, but they sure are confident in these tiles.
So how much power can one of these solar roofs produce? As far as I can tell, the most powerful installation yet done with a Tesla solar roof has a 10KW capacity. That’s more than enough for almost any typical household, and I expect the average solar roof user to come in way under that number.
Tesla has developed a rather ingenious way to connect all of those solar tiles together. Obviously, wiring them together would be too expensive, impractical, and fragile. So these tiles are glued together with a conductive material. This approach also makes it relatively easy to replace tile and add in more solar capacity.
When Solar Tiles Make Sense
As I write this, Tesla indicates that one of their roofs will cost about $21.85 per square foot. Depending on who you are and where you live, that’s quite expensive. For most people it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to rip your existing roof off and replace it with solar tiles – at least not financially. If there’s nothing wrong with the roof you’ve got, it’s far cheaper to just buy some solar panels and put them on your existing roof. Given that solar tiles give you less power per area unit than normal panels, replacing perfectly good tiles with solar tiles makes even less sense. So if your roof is fine, this is a purely aesthetic choice.
However, all roofs must be replaced eventually – that is inevitable. So when the time comes, you should look at the cost of a solar roof not as the total price tag, but as the difference between the cost of replacing your roof and adding the solar technology into the mix. Then compare that amount of money to traditional solar installations. If the number still seems good to you then it may be the right time to make the change.
Also keep in mind that if you already have a traditional solar installation, you may be able to sell your old equipment to someone else. Moreover, your government might offer tax incentives or subsidies, which you can factor into the cost.
Power from Above
I really like the idea of solar roof tiles. In fact, I like the idea of solar power generation being integrated into our lives so that it becomes effectively invisible. The idea that we can tap into these vast solar reserves and yet make things simpler and more pleasant to look at is exactly the sort of future that I wished for as a young person. A roof tile might not seem like much, but to me it’s the first step into the future that many have dreamed of for decades. Here’s hoping these tiles will catch on and that more companies than just Tesla will enter the market, driving prices down and performance up.